The Week, December 2011
I have often observed that many North Indian classical musicians, both vocalists and instrumentalists often looked down upon lighter aspects of music like popular songs. I feel that playing songs on a classical instrument is perhaps a very great challenge and to play it as the songs have been interpreted is indeed a responsibility. Back in the day, many of our great vocalists often recorded songs both devotional and nationalistic of 75 rpms and EPs. We can never forget the celestial version of D. V. Paluskar’s Payoji Mainay or Omkarnath Thakur’s Vanday Mataram. Contemporary classical vocalists too have contributed to popularizing certain devotional songs and bhajans. The story of the instrumental world was rather different. It was somewhat a taboo to play songs or not play songs by choice. The closest an instrumental got to playing songs were just lines of popular thumri songs etc. However, to play a song as it was composed was not in the system on instrumentalists and even if it was, the version would keep changing almost like a Chinese whisper! South Indian instrumental music however is a unique tradition in itself with the use of instruments such as the Veena, Violin and Nadarswaram etc revolves around instrumental interpretations of vocal forms. The universal character of music is that every song is always based on the same twelve notes. With all the amazing discoveries happening today, no one could create a thirteenth note!! I always was keen on bridging gaps between a classical listener and an uninitiated listener and therefore became one of the earlier instrumentalists to convey the message of playing and recording songs like Vaishnav Janato, Ram Dhan and Tagore’s Ekla Cholo very intensely for the past many decades. In fact, I recorded whole albums with such songs like ‘Tribute to Tagore’, a project with Suchitra Mitra which had over eight songs of Tagore. I had also recorded an album for children in 1984 which even had me playing ‘Old McDonald had a Farm’! The frenzy and excitement that a child would have on listening to these songs was a treat. The initiation was done.

More recently I recorded an album of Christmas Hymns and Carols. For the longest time, I had always wanted to perform the beautiful Christmas hymns and carols. The prospect of performing these occurred in 1995 at the Church of Northern India located in New Delhi. It was an atmosphere which was most memorable for me. When I played Silent Night that evening, the lights went off for a while in the Church and candles were lit up for that piece. It has ever since been a project that I wanted to record. Due to my travel and concert commitments, this idea took a back seat until 2006. So twelve years later, I was able to make this dream a reality. This album is only my interpretation of the evergreen and popular Christmas hymns and carols. I have played all the hymns and the carols and improvised them within the same notes. I recorded Joy to the world, The Lord is my Shepard, O come All ye faithful, We Three Kings, Silent Night, We wish you a Merry Christmas, O Lord and Master of us all and of course Jingle Bells.

Through this album, I also pray for the peace and harmony in the world. Today, man has become a symbol of arrogance and hatred. I hope and pray that we always have kind people in the world and that there is love around us. Like air, water, flowers and colour, music too has no religion, but every religion needs them. I feel connected to every soul and every song in the world. Our gods are common and the message is all the same. I wish all my readers Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Musical 2012. -By Amjad Ali khan