Saaz-e-Sarod | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 08, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 08, 2008

Saaz-e-Sarod

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan performs at Dhaka Club


Immersed in music: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan performing at Dhaka Club.Photo: Mumit M.

At 10 past 9 pm, the audience was starting to get a tad twitchy. The ustad had taken the stage. Tuning the four 'jawari,' four melody strings, two 'chikari' and fifteen sympathetic pegs do take a while. "A raaga can be played for hours," the maestro said prior to his performance, "I recall playing from 9 pm to 7 in the next morning in Calcutta (now Kolkata) once." Connoisseurs seemed delighted at the possibility. "But tonight I'll play an array of compositions," he said.
As artiste Nashid Kamal greeted the scion of the legendary Bangash gharana on behalf of the Dhaka audience, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan acknowledged the admiration with humility and reciprocated by promising a brand new composition -- "a tribute to Bangladesh," as he called it.
The ustad was invited by Dhaka Club and the concert was held at the club premises on November 6.
Sadat Hossain Salim, president of Dhaka Club Ltd, recalled how he met the ustad at a performance in Bombay (now Mumbai) 27 years back. "I'm not a classical music buff, but his performance made an indelible impression on me," Salim said. "In the ustad's own words, 'Sangeet mehsoos karne ki cheez hain,'" he added.
And that seems to be the USP of the instrument. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's ancestors had developed and shaped sarod over several hundred years -- the result, an instrument that can foray into new spectrums with less effort.
The instrument speaks eloquently of the close connections between India and Afghanistan and the Persian world. The sound of the sarod as one knows it today is distinctly Indian in character, but it links to the sinewy, raw style of the Afghan rabab -- a wooden Central Asian lute, covered with skin.
For Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, it's the tone quality that's the attraction. One of the principal modifications of the sarod from the Afghan rabab is its long metal fingerboard, which allows swooping melismatic slides between the melody notes.
"I am singing through my instrument," the ustad said at the concert.
According to him, there are two ways of sarod playing -- one in which the strings are stopped by the fingertips and the other employs fingernails of the left hand (the ustad follows the latter technique). As he was filing his nails, the ustad jocularly said, "I'm not beautifying my nails." "It's essential maintenance. They get little grooves cut into them from the strings," he added.
Tanmoy Bose and Fateh Singh -- on tabla and pakhawaj -- were accompanying the ustad.
"Raaga Ganesh Kalyan" was the first composition performed at the concert. It was composed on the occasion of Ganesh pooja in Maharashtra. According to the ustad, "Everyone thought I'd composed it but to me these are familiar 'dhun.' They originate from some cosmic source; I'm just the medium."
The next composition titled "Raaga Subhalakshmi" was the ustad's gift for his wife Subhalakshmi Khan, a renowned Bharatnatyam exponent. The composition strolled from subtle, graceful, effeminate notes to a fiery, fast 'sawal-jawaab' between the sarod and tabla. It was like a cat and mouse play and if the sarod was the mouse, the cat missed on a number of occasions.
That's not all. Unfortunately for the organisers, the performance was marred at times by uncomplimentary sound system. Many among the audience that included seasoned music connoisseurs and classical musicians complained that accompanying musicians with the ustad were not on top of their game. A programme of this magnitude deserved utmost attention and precision.

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