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I don’t like to be boxed in: Sarodist and composer Alam Khan on his new album

CultureI don’t like to be boxed in: Sarodist and composer Alam Khan on his new album

Son of the late legendary sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, Alam Khan was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has performed all over the world.

Described as a ‘powerful rumination on our changing world’, Mantram is the new album released by renowned Indian classical Sarod player and composer Alam Khan. Son of the late legendary Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, Alam was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has performed all over the world. He is regarded as a torch bearer of the Maihar Gharana, who also composes his own brand of music by blending different musical styles, cultures and moods. The release of his new album Mantram is accompanied by an official music video made by acclaimed photographer and director Avani Rai, as well as a Web 3.0 NFT release with On the occasion, he joins Sunday Guardian Review for an exclusive chat. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. Please tell us about your journey in this field so far.
A: I was born into this rich lineage and was trained in Sarod and vocal music by my late father. I also learned to play the guitar in my youth as well as the art of music production which I use today as well.
Over the years, I have released the following albums: Shades of Sarode, Immersion, Vignettes, Solace, Grand Tapestry, Tides and now Mantram. They are all available online.
My music has influences of Hindustani classical, contemporary classical, contemporary instrumental, experimental, world, global, and I’m sure there are other categories it fits in too! But I don’t like to be boxed. My musical creativity stems from tradition but goes outside it by pushing the limits and bending genres.
Q. What is your new album about?
A: I arrived at this sound by mixing my Sarod playing skills with many years of production / composition experience. This created fresh sonic elemental landscapes. I believe I am pushing the envelope of Sarod playing by using what stems from a background of traditional Hindustani classical training into the sphere of modern musical creation. Though I’m going outside of tradition, I cannot discount it as I come from tradition and a great part of my life is rooted and even exists entirely in that tradition. To make this contemporary music, I feel one must know traditional forms first in order to stretch, bend, and go beyond them.
While some of the pieces are closely based on Ragas, the album is a departure from the classical genre. It is made with more of an open approach. The music was originally composed for a contemporary Kathak dance production with the Chitresh Das Institute in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. I had pictured what I thought the visual elements of the dance would look like and created the cinematic soundscapes to that vision. The dance was choreographed almost entirely to my music, and I never saw any of the choreography until after my music was created. So, in that sense I had always envisioned the music as being a standalone album as well as the score for the dance production.
Q. What was the experience of shooting the video like?
A: The video of the song Akash is shot in Mumbai, and it captures a day in the life of a child who is enchanted by life as he looks to the sky in wonder. Even with mundane activities like riding in auto rickshaws and taking local train rides, everything is fresh, beautiful, and filled with possibility in a child’s eyes.
Our director Avani’s father Raghu Rai had photographed my father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan many times over the years and is a great admirer of my father’s music. I found Avani when I was looking up her father’s work. We connected online with the intent of collaborating and ultimately ended up working on a series of NFT videos which are being released soon through After making this series of videos for select tracks on Mantram, we decided to do one more full-length video for Akash which has been released through Snakes x Ladders along with the album.
I had already made my music, so all the visual elements came afterward and were set to my music. Avani has a great eye just like her father, and I requested her to just go with what she felt. Through the shorter NFT video shoots, a type of style and feel came into focus which is how we approached the full-length video for the song Akash. Conceptually I may have my individual thoughts and feelings about the music, but visually it can take on a different creative tone when working with another person, which is what I wanted her to explore. I would see what she had made, offer feedback, and after some editing together we would find a harmony between the sound and the imagery.
Q. Why did you decide to release an album in this day and age when everyone prefers singles or smaller EPs?
A: I have released both albums and EPs in the past, and I don’t think one is favoured over the other as it’s about personal preference. Some works of music deserve more time to tell a story. The singles and EP trend is not always conducive to creation. Sometimes I like to tell stories through my music which gradually unfold during the course of an album. Mantram is like that. Most songs of the album act as standalone singles too.
Q. What are you working on next?
A: Next, I’m working on an ambitious contemporary release between Indian classical instruments and a western classical string quartet. I also have a few other ideas for projects I am developing. Numerous things are always in the pipeline.

Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog

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