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The Legend Lives on… Ustad Amir Khan

Times Music, 2 CD pack, Rs. 295

“The seeking is the goal and the search is the answer.”


If word could capture experience, writing about Ustad Amir Khan’s music would still remain incomplete. If we concede that the written word can never arrest the intangible, then such an exercise will be much less complete.

Renowned sitarist Nikhil Banerjee, among the finest musical minds had this to say about the legendary Ustad Amir Khan: “Music with Amir Khan Sahib was a spiritual pursuit; something which by awakening in our mind the image of beauty and harmony, keeps the idea of eternal truth alive.”

In fact, Nikhil Banerjee was greatly influenced by the extraordinary understanding of Khan sahib; music circles even talk of how he brought elements of his gayaki into sitar.

This pioneer of Indore gharana was a seeker; he looked beyond tradition to find his own musical idiom. Khan sahib in fact, was a firm believer of absorbing elements from various gharanas.

“The Legend Lives On” by Times Music brings five ragas sung by the legendary Ustad. His graceful and elegant approach, his flowing voice, and his solemn approach gave his music an extraordinary depth.

Marwa, a raga that is sung during the last prahara of the day is a shadava-shadava raga. With dhrupad resonances Khan sahib bestows this raga with a charm that is at once so spiritual and rigorous.

For a good length of the rendition, he explores the lower octaves, the mandra sapthak, before he gradually moves on. The nature of his music is so profound that it demands total participation from the listener; even as it lulls you to belief that it is a stream of consciousness mode, you realise that Khan sahib is very attentive to the architecture of his music.

His profound involvedness and an innate rendering unravels the raga with a clarity that is both exquisite as well as moving. How beautifully Khan sahib halts on ri and dha!

The suspense of the shadja is built in such a way that only when it comes you realise how much you missed it. In Ustad’s rendering of Marwa it isn’t so much an anticipation of the shadja, probably because you cannot keep yourself disengaged from his music.

The drut teentaal cheez “Guru Bin Gyaan” strikes you for its self-effacing nature. There is devotion and surrender, but does not exult. In a khyal that completely lends itself to high-strung emotions, what you get in Khan sahib is a prayerful ecstasy; one of deep devotion, surrender and gratitude to the guru. His amazing layakari and taankari only heightens the reverent expression of his music and never stays apart as technical brilliance.

When Lalit comes (also Marwa Thaat), it comes as a disturbance. Considering the nature of the musical experience, it is unfair on listeners to switch emotional states so swiftly.

The early morning raga is marked by a very pleasing quality and the placement of the two madhyamas, next to each other, is remarkable; especially the “ma dha ma ma ga” phrase.

In Shuddh Kalyan (CD 2) he sings the same Sadarang khyal that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi sings, “Maundar Bajo Ri”. While Joshi’s is a robust rendering, a cascade of musical ideas, Amir Khan’s is full of supplication and deep. Haven’t heard a more soothing Malkauns. He strokes, glides, stresses and gently caresses the madhyama, making it one of the best Malkauns renditions in “Jinke Man Ram Biraje”.

He unfolds each note with such care and detail, that you could well feel that the music hasn’t moved any forward; it grows in depth.

G.N. Joshi in his “Down Melody Lane” says: “He had cultivated his voice till it was chiselled as a piece of scultpture. While presenting a raga he unfolded it with extreme skill, delicacy and purity. His mastery over layakari and swaras was complete.”

No great art is born without pain and suffering, and one can see in Amir Khan’s music an anguish, a struggle to find new meanings in his musical search.

How does one describe Khan sahib’s understated music? Do you call it unadorned, austere? Or is it a music that leaves you awestruck with its intellectual and emotional clarity? Depends on individual aesthetics perhaps. But this most infuential musician of the 20th Century captures best the turbulences of a complex artistry.


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