I am continuing to push the envelope of Sarod playing and what stems from a background of traditional Hindustani classical training: Alam Khan

As a centennial year of tribute for his dad, the legendary Late Sarode Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, Alam Khan has released an album by the name Mantram. A powerful rumination on our changing world, Mantram by Alam Khan is perhaps his most forward thinking release to date. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alam Khan is the son of the late legendary Sarode Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. Since his youth Alam has performed all over the world and is regarded as a torch bearer and virtuosic Sarodist of the Maihar Gharana. Along with his Sarod playing, he is known as a genre-bending composer and innovator, blending different musical styles, cultures, and moods. His classical work, and many years of producing, composing and collaborating with some of the world’s most gifted musicians, have given Alam his unique and powerful sound. Here’s a snippet of an interaction with Alam Khan on the occasion of his album release.

What is the music video about? 

The video to me is about a day in the life of a child (shot in Mumbai) that is enchanted by life in a way children often are as he looks to the sky (Akash) in wonder. From his mundane day of riding in auto rickshaws to taking a train ride, everything is fresh, beautiful, and filled with possibility as we are all one people under the sky through a child’s eyes. 

Watch the video song “Akash” here:

How did the collaboration with Avani Rai on this video come up?

Avani’s father Raghu Rai had photographed my father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at different times over the years and was/is a great admirer/lover of my father’s music. I found Avani when looking up more of her father’s work. We connected online with the interest of collaborating and ultimately ended up working on a series of NFT videos which are being released soon through “mysterious.xyz”. After making this series of videos set to select tracks off of “Mantram” we decided to do one longer video for “Akash” which is what is being released through snakesxladders alongside the album. 

Creatively my music had all been made already so everything else visually came afterward and was set to the music. Avani has a great eye like her illustrious father, and I asked her primarily 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 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 artist, which 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 sound and picture. 

How is this album different from your other albums?

How is it different from others albums well…it is kindred to my ep “Vignettes” in the more contemporary feel. I would say this type of sound is something that I arrived at by blending my Sarod playing and many years of production/composing experience to create fresh sonic elemental landscapes (again, Tarun wrote more about this). I am continuing to push the envelope of Sarod playing and what stems from a background of traditional Hindustani classical training into a sphere of musical creation period. Going outside of tradition because I come from tradition and a great part of my life is not only rooted but exists entirely in that tradition. For this contemporary type of music, I feel one must know tradition first in order to stretch, bend, and go beyond it. 

As for how it compares to Hindustani classical releases, while some of the pieces are more closely based off Ragas, it is a departure from the heavy classical treatment and is much more of an open creativity, no rules, sky is the limit type of approach. The music was originally composed for a contemporary Kathak dance production with the Chitresh Das Institute here 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. 

Who did you work on the album with and what did they bring to the project?

The musicians I invited to play on this album were Sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, as well as Sabir Khan on Sarangi. Genre pushing Carnatic vocalist Aditya Prakash, Bansuri player Jay Gandhi, core member of the mighty “Beats Antique”, Tommy Cappel aka Sidecar Tommy on drum kit, as well as son of Tabla maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Nilan Chaudhuri on Tabla. 

These musicians added such richness and creative beauty to my compositions and through production and editing, both the original ideas and new ideas were created from their takes as well. From my background in beat making and production, I love to take original numerous recorded takes and create new sonic pictures by intertwining them in fresh ways that appear in the process. It’s like sampling in a sense though the takes were originally recorded to my music and then took on a whole new life afterward. 

With Mantram, Alan Khan brings us a shimmering vision of light, shadow, and the cyclical nature of being. Emotional and cinematic, in Mantram he explores mantras as loops, seed phrases or musical ideas that gain meaning through repetition. At times reminiscent of Talvin Singh, at times Philip Glass, Mantram is a bold and original statement on where we are right now and the work that needs to be done by a composer at the peak of his powers.

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