Alam Khan is a musician, composer and educator. He plays the sarode.  We spoke with Khan about his father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the legacy of Maihar gharana and his love for both Hindustani or North Indian classical music and hip-hop.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was one of the most famous sarode player and Khan is carrying on the legacy of his father’s music and Maihar gharana that traces its roots to Tansen, the court musician in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar.  Members of Maihar gharana include Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Annapurna Devi, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and others.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan founded a music school in San Francisco Bay area in 1967 and his music influenced quite a few iconic musicians like The Grateful Dead and others. Khan teaches at the school just like his father did. The school celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017.

Khan shares how growing up in Marin county he listened to both Hindustani music and mainstream American music like Crosby, Still and Nash, Jim Hendrix and hip-hop. He learnt to play the guitar from Jai Uttal as a teenager. Khan dabbled with playing the sarode as a 7-year old and then returned to it as a 12-year-old and spent many years learning to play the sarode from his father.

Besides Hindustani music Khan is a also a big fan of hip-hop music and recently released an album called Grand Tapestry with Elijh on vocals, Saler Nader on tabla and Alam Khan on sarode.

What did Ustad Ali Akbar Khan have to say about hip-hop and rap music. “Too much talking and not enough music,” was his answer as his son shares in the interview. Rap music is “loop-based and about words,” adds Khan. It sounds like Khan has found a way to embrace both Hindustani and hip-hop music in a happy way.

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Remembering Ustad Ali Akbar Khan With Alam Khan

Ustad Ali AKbar Khan

Ustad Ali AKbar Khan

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922 -2009), the legendary sarode maestro was born on April 22, 1922. He would have been 93 years old today. He spent his formative years in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His father Ustad Allauddin Khan was a court musician and is the founder of the Maihar Gharana of Hindustani classical music.

Khan sahib as he was known gave his first performance as a teenager and went to on establish a name for himself in India. Then in the 1960s he settled down in Marin county in the San Francisco Bay area, which was the epicenter of the counterculture movement. This was the time of  The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janice Joplin. This is where music of a different kind was born that fused different genres, including Indian classical music.  This music went on to influence millions of people. And it was in the San Francisco Bay area that Khan sahib set up his Ali Akbar College of Music and taught thousands of students Hindustani classical music in the guru-shishiya or teacher-student method that is common in Indian classical music.

We spoke with Khan sahib’s son Alam Khan on how he learnt music from his father and his father’s love for music, food and cars. We also spoke about the digital archives of  Khan sahib’s music, the influence of Maihar gharana of music and what he learnt from his father as a student. We also  spoke about  Annapurna Devi, Khan sahib’s sister, whose student includes Hari Prasad Chaurasia, the famous flautist.


When Khan sahib moved to the San Francisco bay area it was the start of the big counterculture movement and The Grateful Dead were a major part of the San Francisco and Marin county music scene. The Grateful Dead did some early benefit concerts for Khan sahib’s school and also helped with the sound for his concerts. The Grateful Dead “loved my father’s music,” Khan points out. That is kind of  far out when you think about The Grateful Dead and Khan sahib knew each other. Did Khan sahib ever use slang terms like “far out?”  You will have to tune in to find out the answer.

And here is a video of Khan sahib playing an Alap in Misra Kafi at the University of Washington in 1967.

Photo credit: Alam Khan