The sarod maestro
The music school Ustad Ali Akbar Khan set up in his name in Marin County, California, 40 years ago has attracted hundreds of young Americans and Indian Americans. Like his former brother-in-law Pandit Ravi Shankar, he is a perfectionist, and those who thought he would water down his art in the West have been happily proved wrong. He was one of the first Indians to receive the MacArthur 'Genius' Award given to those who are path-breakers in fields ranging from literature to science and magic.
'Music is the only thing you can share with a million people; and you don't lose, you gain,' the sarod maestro has said often.
Despite his winning the Padma Vibhushan, a MacArthur Grant and several Grammy nominations, he values the title of 'Swar Samrat' (Emperor of Melody) given him by his legendary father Ustad Allaudin Khan, above all other honors.
|Photo: India Abroad Archices|
The great violinist Yehudi Menuhin called him, 'An absolute genius.' It is at Menuhin's request that he first visited the United States in 1955 and performed an unprecedented concert at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
He also made the first Western LP recording of Indian classical music, and the first television performance of Indian music, on Alistair Cooke's Omnibus, sowing the seed for a wave of interest in Indian classical music in the 1960s. He has also composed and recorded music for many distinguished films beginning with Aandhiyan in 1953. His exquisite music is also heard in Devi by Satyajit Ray and Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci.
'If you practice for 10 years, you may begin to please yourself,' he said 25 years ago. 'After 20 years, you may become a performer and please the audience. After 30 years, you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist -- then you may please even God.'
Nominated for a number of Grammies, last year he became one of the first artists nationwide to win a USA Fellowship from United States Artists and received an unrestricted grant of $50,000 to support his creative work. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is one of only four musicians to receive the honor.