‘Like cosmic divinity, music knows few boundaries’: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

"Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers; one that I am constantly sharing," said the sarod virtuoso, who recently collaborated with maestro Joe Walsh for a three-song EP titled 'Prayers'

Sarod virtuoso and composer Ustad Amjad Ali Khan along with his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash recently collaborated with maestro Joe Walsh to launch a three-song EP titled Prayers. Released on June 4, the three songs — Healing Love, Goddess and Hope (We Shall Overcome/Hum Honge Kamyab) — were produced after a week-long jamming session between the two musical legends along with other musicians.

“The two first met while Joe was visiting India. After playing together at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, Joe invited Ustad Amjad and his two sons to come to Los Angeles and record with him to see what they could create together. This EP is the result of the second of those sessions, which took place in Joe’s home studio in Los Angeles during 2020,” read an official statement.

In an exclusive email interaction with indianexpress.com, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan talked about the latest collaboration, the power of music, the effect of the pandemic on the music industry, and much more.


You have recently collaborated with Joe Walsh and other musicians for a 3-song EP Prayers. Could you please share some more about this collaboration?

I have always valued the western world for its discipline, tradition, conduct, and sensitivity. Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. Prayers is my first collaboration with the Rock and Roll world. It’s truly been an honor to collaborate with Joe Walsh who is such a legendary figure. This project is a spiritually infused three-song EP which is an offering for widespread human suffering.

What are the three songs about, and when were they recorded?

The album has a meditative, transcendent spirit that permeates. The EP’s tracks are Goddess, Healing Love and Hope (We Shall Overcome), which was an organic feeling of both the cellular and cosmic levels of two traditions, which are often held to be radically different. Along with Amaan and Ayaan, I was very honored to be joined by several iconic Los Angeles-based musicians — drummers Stewart Copeland (of the Police) and Jim Keltner, bassists Nathan East, Leland Sklar and Abe Laboriel Sr., keyboardist Ed Roth, guitarists Davey Johnstone (Elton John’s longtime lead guitarist) and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale, with whom Joe Walsh has been a bandmate.

In what ways is this collaboration different from your previous projects?

Through this collaboration, the aim is to preserve the essence of both Indian and western traditions so they can flow into each other without artistic compromise. We didn’t really have a plan but one knew that something profound would come out of this. You are almost guided through by an unseen power called music.

Music is believed to have the power to heal. How do you think it can help the post-pandemic world?

This pandemic has shown us a different experience. It is a new life for all of us. Thanks to the precious gift of music by God that we are connected and serving the people. When we started out during one of my tours in the US, little did we know that this creation will come to fruition at a time when humanity will need to consider meditation and contemplation more than ever. I’m glad that we are able to contribute in our humble ways to bring serenity and peace. While I pray for the world to heal and overcome this crisis, I feel this a huge lesson for all of us to learn from. I believe we will come out of it as better versions of ourselves.

A prayer for ‘Black Lives Matter’, along with special songs for frontline workers, are also part of your collaboration. Could you please share the inspiration and idea about the songs?

Prayer is a tribute to the doctors, frontline workers and towards ‘Black Lives Matter,’ taking the beliefs of the artists that the discourse between instruments is a kind of meditative exploration on the nature of sonorous divinity. The idea was 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, which are often held to be radically different.

Was it not challenging to record the songs amid pandemic?

Joe and I met in Mumbai in 2018. Following that meeting, we were very keen to do something together. So during my tours in the US, we recorded in Joe’s beautiful studio in Los Angeles over two sessions in 2019 so we had just finished our sessions pre-lock downtime.

The pandemic also affected the arts and music industry world in a huge way, with many performances going virtual. What do you anticipate the new normal to be in the post-pandemic world?

Like all industries, the music industry, too, has been hit very badly with the pandemic. So many concerts and projects have all been invariably postponed, so it has been a big blow. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Our salutations to all the doctors, nurses and front-line workers who are doing such a great job round the clock. We also hope for peace and oneness to prevail with kinder and happier times ahead for the world towards hope and inspiration.

What is your take on performances going virtual? Do you feel one can establish the same connection with the audience?

In the wake of a pandemic, virtual concerts are something that has come to fruition at a time when humanity will need to consider meditation and contemplation more than ever. I’m glad that I’m able to contribute in my humble ways to bring serenity and peace. A live event can never be replaced however, digital concerts are a need of the hour for some. I wish to have music shape the consciousness in a way that contributes to oneness in children, it must be more practical and less theoretic! Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers; one that I am constantly sharing. Therefore, there isn’t an instant coffee culture that I can follow. However, I hope that the world heals soon.

How would you describe your journey?

I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember. Indeed, I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life. Life itself was Music. And Music was Life. And so I came to inherit from him the legacy of five generations of musicians as naturally as a bird taking to the air. Music is a unique and precious gift of God to mankind. Music is a celebration of life.

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