The American guitar great and sarod maestro’s friendship led them to a “spiritually infused” three-song EP
(from left) Ayaan Ali Bangash, Joe Walsh, Amjad Ali Khan and Amaan Ali Bangash. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Music India
At the age of 75, sarod legend Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is out with what he calls “my first collaboration with the rock and roll world.” He’s referring to the new EP Prayers – East Meets West (released on Universal Music India), which is a collaboration with American rock guitar legend Joe Walsh.
Walsh, at 73, has had a long run of constantly innovative and eyebrow-raising guitar music in his discography – whether it’s with Eagles, Ringo Starr, B.B. King or even his solo material. Prayers sees a three-track jam that’s heartfelt and uplifting all the way through. Khan says, “During my tours in the U.S., we recorded in Joe’s beautiful studio in Los Angeles over two sessions in 2019 so we had just finished our sessions just pre lockdown time.”
The record – which even adapts the traditional song “We Shall Overcome/Hum Honge Kamyab” on “Hope (We Shall Overcome)” – features Khan’s sons and sarod experts Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Ayaan says about the collaboration, “The world of rock and roll is epic. Through this collaboration, the aim is to preserve the essence of both Indian and western traditions so they can flow into each other without artistic compromise.”
During the course of meeting Walsh and recording with him, the father and sons also met and jammed with veteran artists such as drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police, drummer Jim Keltner (who worked with George Harrison, Traveling Wilburys and more), guitarist Davey Johnstone (Elton John’s lead guitarist), plus bassists Nathan East (who’s worked with Michael Jackson, Leland Sklar (James Taylor) and Abe Laboriel Sr. (Dolly Parton). Amaan adds about the EP, “It was a complete pleasure and an hour to work with two icons of their fields along with such amazing artists from California. The warmth came through in the process of creating music. I feel very blessed to be a part of this journey.”
Over an email interview with Rolling Stone India, Walsh and Khan speak about their friendship and the making of the record, proceeds from which global health nonprofit IntraHealth International. Excerpts:
How was the experience to capture the essence of your friendship as well as the theme of Prayers?
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: We didn’t really have a plan but one knew that something profound would come out of this. You are almost guided through by an unseen power called music. The album has a meditative, transcendent spirit permeates. The EP’s tracks are “Goddess,” “Healing Love” and “Hope (We Shall Overcome),” which was an organic feeling both the cellular and cosmic levels of two traditions, which are often held to be radically different.
Joe Walsh: We wanted to gift this music we created in hope that people would hear it and get inside it for some relief from the pain and fear of these troubled times. We had no other agenda.
What is it that you hope your sons, who are at a different level of experience than you of course, get out of this kind of collaboration?
Amaan and Ayaan today do strike a correct balance between the two worlds of traditionalism and contemporary times but it’s not something easy to do in today’s times. I see a great journey of music being carried forward by brilliant musicians of the younger generation. They were very fortunate to be a part of this project and played key roles in the process with Joe and I.
Joe, you’ve been gifted a sarod, right? What according to you is the common ground shared between the guitar and the sarod?
Walsh: Yes I was gifted a beautiful sarod. Eastern and western music are vastly different but guitar and sarod have a common ground in that the mechanics are similar. I have a better grasp of eastern music now that I understand the sarod.
The track “Hope (We Shall Overcome)” is based on a very popular traditional song. How did you all decide to improvise with that tune as your launching board?
Walsh: Amjad started playing and we all followed him. The song was launched in that way. We had been talking about Martin Luther King and Gandhi before we all sat down to play. I’m confident that our inspiration came from that discussion.
The aim of this definitely comes across as music for healing. Do you have a message for your fans in India who are right now in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic situation?
Walsh: It is a time of great sadness and loss in India and I feel powerless. I ask my fans to please stay in faith and take care of each other. Know that I pray for the world’s healing.
Lastly, will there be more collaborations recorded between the four of you in the future? What’s the outlook on that front?
Walsh: We just scratched the surface with these songs. We have plans to keep going both in the studio and live concerts God willing.
Listen to ‘Prayers’ on more platforms here.