In American music, a new artist can be said to have the music "in his blood" if his father played it: Your dad was Bob Dylan? Okay, Jakob, you have a head start.
That's not entirely unreasonable. Even a one-generation legacy goes back to a time when our pop music was still in its infancy. In India, where classical instruments and techniques have evolutionary paths that can be charted over millennia, having a legendary father means something else entirely. There, whole styles of playing can be attributed to a particular family line. Each Gharana (musical family) passes down its approach from parent to child, and from guru to student, over hundreds of years. The outline of a particular Gharana's history is as dense with Westerner-baffling names as that chunk of the Old Testament where "so-and-so begat so-and-so" ad infinitum.
Fans of "world music," though, will find a familiar name or two in the lineage of Aashish Khan. His father, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (who has been called "the Indian Johann Sebastian Bach"), recorded the first Western LP of Indian classical music, and was the first Indian musician to perform on American television, debuting stateside in 1955 at NYC's Museum of Modern Art in a concert arranged by legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin. (Many readers will be more familiar with the music of sitarist Ravi Shankar, who is a contemporary of Ali Akbar Khan; both were disciples of Ustad Baba Allauddin Khan, Aashish Khan's grandfather.)
Aashish Khan, like his father, plays the sarode, an instrument less familiar to Western eyes than the longer sitar. The sarode is a stringed instrument carved from a single piece of wood, with a round, skin-covered base and a fretless neck that tapers dramatically. It has 25 metal strings: four are used for playing, the others provide rhythm and harmonic effects. The instrument's form has evolved dramatically over the last few hundred years, and here Aashish Khan's family again plays an important role: Baba Allauddin and his brother, a gifted instrument maker, introduced the most recent changes to the sarode's mutating form. An excellent pairing of the sarode and sitar can be found on Khan's recent Homage to Our Guru, a duet recording with Indranil Bhattacharya, on Chhanda Dhara records. (If your local corporate record store clerk says "Ali Wha?," there are many India-friendly Internet vendors out there, like H&M (www.handm.com), which also sells movies.)
Aashish Khan was raised in his family's tradition, and performed as a child with his grandfather and father. But he also came of age in a period when Western pop was discovering Indian music and philosophy. In 1969, four years after the Beatles put a sitar on Rubber Soul, he founded Shanti, a group that fused Indian music with American pop and rock sensibilities. Though short-lived, the group was a touchstone for many of the musicians who have come since, collecting instruments from around the world to add to their own creations.
The "world fusion" trend has, as with any other musical movement, produced work of wildly varying quality. From the '60s to today, thoughtful hybrids and inspired juxtapositions have had to compete with the slapdash and the hippy-dippy; it doesn't help that this pan-cultural approach lends itself to every kind of piecemeal New Age philosophy out there. But Khan, unlike some other musical foreigners, has never forsaken his heritage in the pursuit of success. Yes, he has collaborated with George Harrison and Eric Clapton (and with Alice Coltrane, whose lifelong search for spiritual transcendence through jazz is a continuation of her late husband's work), but he continues to record and perform his own music that makes no concessions to the West. In his music and in his teaching — he has students everywhere — he is continuing the Gharana tradition.
And that's what San Antonio is getting the rare opportunity to see this week. Khan is in the U.S. to spend time with students, some of whom are acquainted with the Center for Spirituality and the Arts' Diana Roberts. Never one to pass up this kind of opportunity, Roberts invited Khan to perform with a tabla virtuoso, Gourishankar Karmaker, who is also in the area conducting workshops. Rounding out the trio of sarode (melody), tabla (percussion), and tanpura (drone) is one of Khan's students, Amie Maciszewski. (Given the magnitude of the performers and the size of Roberts' venue, the Center recommends calling for reservations in advance.)
This is one of those occasions where the public's ignorance can work in your favor. If Ravi Shankar were performing in town, he'd play in a huge auditorium and fans would be turned away at the door. Khan, though much younger, is an artist of similar importance — and you can see him in an intimate setting, surrounded by art. Don't miss it.
Sunday, May 12
Suggested donation $5
Center for Spirituality and the Arts