Murad Ali represents the sixth generation of a family devoted to the lovely string instrument. Ahead of his Bangalore concert, he talks about why the sarangi should survive and thrive
One of the leading players of his generation, 37- year-old Murad Ali comes from a family of sarangi players of the Moradabad Gharana. A sixth generation musician, he was trained in the instrument by his father and grandfather, both legendary players. He has performed at concerts across the globe and also composes music for his fusion band Soul Samvad. Murad Ali has also played with popular bands such as Euphoria, Indian Ocean and Bandish Project. Excerpts from an email interview:
When did you start learning the sarangi?
I’ve been fortunate enough to belong to the sixth generation of an unbroken chain in sarangi playing. I grew up hearing my grandfather, the late Ustad Siddique Ahmed Khansahab and my father Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khansahab, who are also my gurus, play this melodious instrument. I was introduced to it at the age of ten, but had started my musical training earlier. I first trained in vocals under my grandfather’s guidance because he insisted that it is necessary for a sarangi player.
Did you ever feel weighed down by your musical lineage?
Never. In fact my ancestral link to the instrument has always given me a positive energy to go further with what I have learnt from my grandfather and my father. But yes, when you come from a family of great musicians, it is a big responsibility to live up to the heights they have reached.
The sarangi is known to be a particularly difficult instrument. Did the challenges it posed discourage you at any point?
No matter what challenges I faced, I could not even dream of giving up the sarangi. In fact, I think challenges are very important for a person to grow stronger and to prove yourself and to face the world. And today, despite being an established artist who performs in different streams, I still come across a lot of challenges, which I try to face with dignity and joy.
Which has been your most memorable concert?
By the grace of God and blessings of my gurus, all my concerts have been very memorable, whether as a soloist or as an accompanying artist, in India or abroad. What I would like to do is mention some very special names who I have been blessed enough to perform with. Such legendary figures of Indian classical music like Pt Ravi Shankarji, Ustad Rashid Khan ji, Smt Shubha Mudgalji and many such eminent artistes.
What is the nicest thing you have heard from a fan?
What really touches my heart is when people in the audience come up to me and say that the melody of my sarangi sounds as if someone is singing. This is a special compliment since the sarangi is considered to be the instrument closest to the human voice.
How popular is the instrument with aspiring musicians?
In the Mughal courts, the sarangi was played only for the courtesans, so for a long time people would not play it in decent platforms. With time, things have changed, and now the sarangi is given a special position in Indian and Western dance and music. Many people are coming forward to learn sarangi and choose it as their profession. But one thing that hurts me is that, while there are so many schools and institutions for most instruments, there is none for the sarangi. Nor can you get a degree in it, unlike with other instruments.
Why is it increasingly rare to find sarangi accompanying Hindustani vocalists?
Well, this question should be posed to those who don’t choose sarangi for accompaniment. Of course, it is their choice, but there are a few gharanas where the sarangi is a must as an accompaniment, and they do have it.
Who do you rate as the greatest sarangi players in recent times?
Many names come to my mind, which are well known for their own styles and who are responsible for giving sarangi the prestige it enjoys today. Ustad Bundu Khansahab, Ustad Shakoor Khansahab, Ustad Hamid Hussain Khansahab, Ustad Siddique Ahmed Khansahab, Ustad Zahid Hussain Khansahab, Pt Gopal Mishraji, Pt Hanuman Prasad Mishraji, Ustad Abdul Latif Khansahab, Ustad Sultan Khansahab, the living legends Pt Ram Narayanji and Ustad Sabir Khansahab, and last but not least, my father Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khansahab. They all belong to different gharanas and they are all kings of their styles. They are my idols and my inspiration.
Besides classical, what genres of music do you listen to? Any favourites?
I can’t survive without music whether it is on stage or in my room or anywhere else; there has to be music around me all the time. I love old Hindi film songs by Mohammed Rafisahab, Manna Da, Kishore Da, Hemant Da, Mukeshji, Lataji, Ashaji and others. Other genres I love are ghazals, geet, nazm, and any music with good lyrics, feeling, and, of course, melody. I also love reading poetry and composing music. In fact, I have composed music for several of my own albums and for my fusion band Soul Samvad.
What are your plans for the Bangalore show?
I will be playing traditional Khayal Andaaz ki Sarangi, thumri, dadra, one seasonal raga, and, of course, improvisations.
How receptive is the Bangalore audience to classical music?
I’ve always got a positive response. People here are well versed with classical art forms, and Karnataka as a state is rich in art and culture.
Murad Ali performs on July 6 at Chowdiah Memorial Hall