Sarod icons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash on performing as a family, and more

In a candid conversation with musicians Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash, YS Life discusses music, life, inspiration, and the future of the art.

Sarod icons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash on performing as a family, and more

Saturday February 11, 2023,

6 min Read

‘I love great music – it has no colour, it has no boundaries’.

These words by the late legendary American singer and songwriter Michael Jackson hold true in every way. Back in India, we have a lineage of musicians who have not only blessed our soul with their magical compositions; they have also, time and again, collaborated with the biggest names in the world, taking India to great heights. 

The genre of classical music is incomplete without the mention of sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. The duo were initiated into the fine art of sarod at an early age. Steeped in cultural and musical traditions, their music compels the audience to listen from their hearts, breaking through the troublesome polarities of continuity, change, and tradition.

Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash

Amaan Ali Bangash, Amjad Ali Khan, and Ayaan Ali Khan (L-R)

Along with their father, they are Gold Medal Winners at the Global Music Awards for their outstanding contribution to the global music industry and excellence in the classical music sphere. This honour was bestowed on them in recognition of their Peace Worshipers album, which was released in July 2017 by Affetto Records and distributed by Naxos.

Interestingly, the 10-year-old sons of Ayaan Ali Bangash—Zohaan and Abeer Ali Bangash—are the eighth generation of sarod musicians in the Senia Bangash family. They released their first single Our Love in 2020, which is based on the raga tilak kamod, and has the twins performing a soulful arrangement originally created by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and arranged by Sai Shravanam.

Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash

The three generations performed together at the Three Generations, One Nation, presented by HCL Concerts

YS Life met up with Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash in New Delhi, on the sidelines of Three Generations, One Nation, presented by HCL Concerts that is dedicated to nurturing and promoting talent rooted in the heritage of Indian classical performing arts. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YS Life (YSL): What was the motivation behind Three Generations, One Nation? 

Ayaan: Zohaan and Abeer are blessed to have received so much love and blessings from music lovers, early on in their lives. They are fortunate to be sitting on stage alongside their grandfather. I wish they build their own legacy and take forward the universal message of the music. This is just a beginning for them to seek blessings and refine their craft.

YSL: So much has happened during the pandemic. Do you believe your approach to music has also undergone a transformation? 

Amaan: Like all other industries, the music space has also reinvented itself, adapting to several new facets. Even now, some venues like Carnegie Hall need a COVID test for artists, just to be safe. It’s been a challenge for festivals and venues, but fortunately, things are finally almost back to normal. One only has gratitude for being able to be back in the row to do what we love.

Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash

Ayaan Ali Bangash

YSL: Your music has always been a great tribute to Indian and Western traditional styles. How do you ensure that a fine balance is maintained? 

Ayaan: The aim is to preserve the essence of Indian and Western traditions, and explore the musical DNA of these two styles. The idea is to bring the spirit of sharing the great unique treasures of their own artistic traditions, as well as finding common ground at both the cellular and cosmic levels of two musical traditions, often held to be radically different.

YSL: How is it working with your father, one of the biggest music maestros we have ever seen?

Amaan: Growing up in a household where the language spoken was of music, the air we breathed was that of music, we took the shape of a vessel just like water. Our father is a traditionalist, who is adaptable to change. In all honesty, Indian classical music has no rules about how it should be presented or executed.

Ayaan: The relationship with our father was more father-son than guru-student initially. Of course, the change in role for us and for him from guru to father, and back to the guru is somewhat effortless. He has been the most patient teacher and the most loving father. Abba saheb’s teaching and philosophy is beyond music. Music is who we are and our nature reflects in our music. It’s a blessing to be on stage with my father. I make humble suggestions but it’s entirely up to him to agree or not. 

Our mother’s role has been immense in our lives. An artist who learnt from the great Rukmini Devi Arundale, she sacrificed her career for the family. Today what we are, and who we are -  it’s all due to her contributions. As our father says, a mother is every child’s first guru.

YSL: We have seen you collaborate with so many artists all over the world. Who has been your favourite?     

Ayaan: We just released Music for Hope a few days ago, where we are partnering with the brilliant, multiple Grammy nominee and Chinese pipa soloist Wu Man. This cross-cultural project supports the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) movement, raising awareness around the discrimination, victimisation, violence and racism they have been subjected to in America. I also look forward to our concerts going on in the US and in the UK, at the end of November. 

YSL: Tell us more about Sand and Foam, and how it interprets Kahlil Gibran's works? 

Amaan: We recently released Sand and Foam with our collaborator and Grammy winner Kabir Sehgal. We have fused East and West artistic traditions and turned to the eclectic works of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese writer and painter, for inspiration. The album and almost all tracks are named after Gibran's works. The eight tracks are an unfolding fusion of classical Indian music, with jazz harmonies, trap drums, and neo-synths. 

Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash

Amaan Ali Bangash

YSL: Who is your biggest muse and why? 

Amaan: The journey called life evolves you. It’s the combination of experiences, the highs and the lows…all that combined is what you are or even what your music is. I always question my musicality and my thoughts. I am in a constant search to keep challenging myself and doing things differently.

YSL: What does the future of music really look like? Do you believe that the younger generations are more receptive to diverse kinds of music?

Ayaan: I’m all for change and relevance. However, a trend is just a trend. Therefore, the magnitude of sustainability is very bleak. Now we have come to 30-second reels but that doesn’t mean that the takers for a six-minute track are gone. So, the changing time impacts who we are as human beings and as people because music reflects who we are. Therefore, anything that works is because it’s liked and loved so we have to respect that. 

The universal concept of togetherness and unity has a beautiful message throughout the world. Today, the audience knows what they like and also what they don’t like… As long as it’s appealing, you are sorted.

Edited by Teja Lele