More morning ragas

Ayaan Ali Bangash is the Indian equivalent of a rock god. He is young, handsome and plays the sarod, not the electric guitar. Last month, he performed at a Sunday morning concert in the morning raga series, staged at the India Habitat Centre. He was outstanding, the best Indian classical music artist I have seen so far.

“Dreamy, exciting and dramatic…. ”
Songlines World Music Magazine, 2005

If you are a fan of World Music, you may have heard of him. He has played at WOMAD (in Adelaide), Sydney Opera House, Royal Festival Hall and Birmingham Symphony Hall in UK. He’s even performed for Prince Charles at Highgrove and plucked his sarod for a PETA commercial, pleading for birds to be set free from cages.

When he was formally introduced at the start of the concert, the master of ceremonies asked the audience not to clap during the performance. He interrupted her, saying, “C’mon, it is 2017. Clap when you want to.”

He arranged his dupatta (scarf) over his thighs, and covered it with his long kurta (shirt). Then he laid the sarod across his lap and started to tune it. There were no frets on the neck of the sarod. It had additional strings on the top, with separate tuning pegs. The belly of the sarod was beautifully polished wood, but the neck was shining steel. In front of him he arranged a locket – perhaps a photograph of a teacher or a loved one – and a watch.

He plucked the strings, giving rise to an echo around the buildings of the courtyard which sounded curiously like a tabla. The instrument needed frequent tuning during the first lalit raga.

As he played, Ayaan kept in constant touch with his accompanying tabla players. He would nod his head and smile at each of them. They would respond with a bit of virtuoso tabla tapping. But he was the real star of the show. His eyes closed and his face contorted as he squeezed the notes out of the sarod, playing faster and faster until he reached a climax. The audience erupted in joyous appreciation. He nodded back in gracious acknowledgement.

He reminded me of Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen, but playing less exuberantly. He angled the sarod up slightly, moving it passionately as the mood of the music took him. However, no one can jive about on stage with a sarod.

The last piece in his repertoire had been composed by his father, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, who was in the audience. He began by saying he couldn’t do it justice, but he played it exceptionally well. At the end, the spectators gave him rapturous applause. I stood up and shouted “Bravo, encore!” but he didn’t play another piece.

IMG_20170305_121217 (1)
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

That’s the end of the morning raga concert series for this season. I will have to find my Sunday morning music in a different location. But I’ll be lucky if I stumble across anyone quite as good as Ayaan Ali Bangash. Check him out on YouTube after a boring advert for Mutual Fund Investments.

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