Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash are two of the most celebrated classical musicians from India. The brothers are seventh-generation musicians belonging to a musical lineage that is referred to as the Senia Bangash school. In the last two decades, the Bangash Brothers have released multiple albums but their recently released album ‘We For Love’ is special for multiple reasons. Through this album, they aim to raise funds for the ‘Justice For Every Child’ campaign organized by social reformer Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) and create awareness around the serious issue of child sexual abuse that plagues our society. On this album, the Sarod players have collaborated with several respected artists like Padma Vibhushan Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Karsh Kale, Malini Awasthi, Shubha Mudgal and Karan Johar.
In this interview, the musician brothers talk about the process of creating the album, lessons taught by father Padma Vibhushan Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, getting back to doing live performances, digitalisation of music, acting ambitions and composing for films.
You met Kailash Satyarthi for the first time in the year 2014. Both of you were performing at the ceremony in which he was given the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ayaan: That’s right! We had performed at the peace ceremony that was held in Oslo. Kailash Satyarthi ji is a very inspirational figure and right from the time we met him, we wanted to be associated with his mission in some way.
Amaan: Child sexual abuse is a bitter reality of our world. ‘Justice For Every Child’ was a campaign we really wanted to be a part of. Music is the greatest wealth we have as a family. Through music, we wanted to create awareness around this campaign and raise funds for the organization. ‘We For Love’ is a very special album for us as it has been put together for a cause.
Once you choose a particular theme for the album, how do you go about designing the tracks?
Amaan: With this album, everything fell into place quite organically. I am sure there was some divine intervention here. We spoke to a lot of musicians for this project. Some of them showed interest and there were many who didn’t even answer back our messages. We wanted to collaborate with artists who would have compassion and understand the importance of creating awareness around this cause.
Ayaan: All the money we make from this album will go to the organization. I am really grateful to the media for writing about the album. They have played a huge role in creating awareness around this cause.
Child sexual abuse is an issue which most people don’t talk about in our country. The government has often opposed to the introduction of sex education in schools. In such a scenario, it becomes all the more important to create awareness around this issue.
Ayaan: You are right. This is an issue which most people don’t talk about for various reasons. As classical musicians, not many would have expected us to be associated with a cause like this. We wanted to contribute to this cause right from the time Kailash ji spoke to us about it. I have nine-year-old twins. Therefore, I, as a father and Amaan bhai, as an uncle, could resonate with this campaign very strongly.
Amaan: All the wonderful artists who joined us understood the importance of creating awareness around this campaign. People who wish to be a part of this campaign can directly donate to the organization as well.
You have stated that music is a powerful medium that connects humankind. Would you like to lend your support to some other cause in the future as well?
Ayaan: Another cause that is very close to our heart is extending help to the elderly individuals who are residing in old-age homes. It’s hurtful to see children forgetting their parents who nurtured them and looked after their well-being for so many years.
In the last two years, musicians didn’t get to perform in front of a live audience very frequently because of Covid-19 restrictions. You did a handful of shows during this period in Indian cities like Kolkata and Delhi and in the United States. Now that the situation is getting better, are you looking forward to doing more live performances?
Amaan: Music is our soul and we also create music to be heard by the listeners. The stage is a sacred entity for us. For us, audience interaction is very important. We definitely hope to do more shows this year.
Ayaan: We did a lot of recordings in the last two years but live performances were few and far in between. We did a couple of virtual shows to raise funds for our frontline warriors. By God’s grace, things are opening up we hope to do a lot more shows. Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill but it also taught us many important lessons. I hope we become better versions of ourselves and the planet heals.
Right from your childhood, both of you have been disciples of your father Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Amaan, in an interview, you described him as a traditionalist who thinks out of the box and is open to new ideas. Both of you must have learned so many valuable lessons from him. What is that one lesson taught by him that has stayed with you all these years and has contributed towards shaping you up as the musicians and human beings you are?
Ayaan: One of the first things our Waalid saab taught us as children is that an artist needs to have two things, riyaaz (practice) and mijaaz (temperament). He told us that if you lack one of these things, it will be very difficult for you to succeed. He said that mijaaz brings humility and helps you to deal with success. A lot of good artists fail to digest success or adulation and that leads to their downfall.
Amaan: These days, people give a lot of importance to social media. Being popular on social media is like being rich in Monopoly (laughs). You have to be successful and true to yourself in real life. You must be down-to-earth, humble and hardworking. Till date, our father says that he is a student and has a lot to learn. If somebody of his stature says this, then we, as musicians, are yet to be born.
Ayaan: We try to become better musicians every day. We try to ensure that our next concert is better than the previous concert. The process of learning new things should never stop.
The world knows your father Ustad Amjad Ali Khan as one of the finest Sarod players but there was a time he had a very strong affinity towards the tabla. Have the two of you been attracted to other instruments as well?
Ayaan: I have tried my hand at playing the guitar and the sitar. Amaan bhai can play the tabla very well.
There was a time when there would be a separate section for Indian classical music in music stores. Music stores don’t exist anymore and the frequency with which classical albums would be released has gone down drastically. How do you look at the digitalisation of music?
Ayaan: People stopped making CDs as streaming platforms arrived. Now, instead of full-fledged albums, most musicians are releasing singles. However, albums still come out. ‘We For Love’ is an EP with six tracks and it revolves around one particular theme. We plan to release both albums and singles in the future.
Amaan: Things will keep changing. Change is the only thing that is constant. The one thing I feel sad about is that we are not able to gift a CD or a vinyl record to somebody now. Some labels are still releasing albums on vinyl records but it doesn’t happen very often. I remember our father telling us that when he would go to record an album at EMI Recording Studios (now known as Abbey Road Studios), they would get a photoshoot done for the album first and then, start the process of recording the tracks inside the studio.
We know both of you as musicians. However, you have dabbled in several other things as well. In the late ‘90s, both of you hosted the popular music reality show ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ (now titled ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’). Around 2008-09, you had shot for a J.P Dutta-directed film as lead actors. The film, which you had also scored the music for, got shelved after 50 per cent of it was shot. Do you plan to act again in the future or compose the music for a feature film?
Ayaan: If we get interesting offers, we would definitely like to try out newer things. At the end of the day, we are creative people and want to explore ourselves in different ways.
Amaan: If somebody puts his faith in us and believes we can do something which we haven’t attempted, we would definitely try it out. We would like to experiment with anything that is within the realm of creative arts.