Hafiz Ali Khan
(1888-1972) was an iconoclast figure in twentieth-century sarod music
. A fifth-generation descendant of the famous Bangash Gharana
of sarod players, Hafiz Ali was known for the lyrical beauty of his music and the crystal-clear tone of his strokes. The occasional critic has, however, observed that Khan's imagination was often closer to the semi-classical thumri
idiom than the austere dhrupad
style prevalent in his times.
Khansahib's regal appearance and electrifying charisma made him one of the most sought-after musicians of his time, which was no mean achievement for an instrumentalist in an era largely dominated by vocal music. Old-timers who have seen him in concert recall his stage presence and musicianship with reverence and awe. While still a court musician in Gwalior
, Hafiz Ali would undertake numerous trips to Bengal, where he performed at all major music festivals, and taught a large number of disciples. Khan's music found generous patrons in two Bengali aristocrats, Raychand Boral and Manmatha Ghosh, both of whom studied with him at various points. Apart from his formidable command over traditional sarod compositions, dhrupad and thumri, Hafiz Ali Khan was particularly appreciated in the Viceregal firmament of colonial India for his unique, stylized renditions of God Save The King
on his sarod. This tradition of performing sacred, religious and official state hymns on the sarod is kept alive by his illustrious son, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan as well as grandsons Amaan and Ayaan.
Hafiz Ali Khan died in 1972, at the age of 94. The grand old man left behind three sons. Ustad Mubarak Ali, the eldest, was considered the most serious contender for the mantle of this hallowed tradition, but as per a widely circulated anecdote, fell prey to a conspiracy by his uncle Nabbu Khan, Hafiz Ali's half-brother and legitimate son of Nanne Khan. Mubarak Ali spent most of his adult life as an opium addict and his musical career never took off. Ustad Rehmat Ali Khan, the next in line, had a distinguished career as a staff artiste with All India Radio in Bhopal. The youngest of the three, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
, is one of the most loved and admired sarod players today and is the greatest exponent of his family tradition. His sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan and nephew Ameen Ali Khan are making earnest efforts to take this tradition into the next century.