San Francisco sarod player and songwriter-producer Alam Khan. Photo: Courtesy of Snakes x Ladders

The year 2022 marks the centenary of the birth of Indian classical legend and sarod pioneer Ali Akbar Khan. One hundred years later, the heritage and the limits of the sarod are still pushed back by its people. The son of the late maestro – Bay Area sarod player, composer and producer Alam Khan – has launched a new cinematic album Mantra this week and it’s accompanied by a gripping music video for the opening track “Akash”, directed by photographer and filmmaker Avani Rai.

Interestingly, Rai and Khan’s connection goes back a generation, when the former’s father – photographer Raghu Rai – worked with Ali Akbar Khan at different times over the years. Alam Khan says he and Rai went online to collaborate, which led to not only the music video for “Akash,” but also a series of NFT videos that are released through a platform called mysterious.xyz. “After making this series of videos to select tracks out of Mantra we decided to make a longer video for ‘Akash.’ […] The music and visuals of Mantra are a whole atmosphere to live. he adds.

Released via Canada-based South Asian music label Snakes x Ladders, “Akash” sets a gripping beat for Mantra and visually, Rai dives right into the childlike wonder in the eyes of its protagonist. Based in Mumbai, Khan says of the video, “From his mundane day of rickshaw driving to a train ride, everything is fresh, beautiful and full of possibility as we are all one people under the sky across the eyes of a child.”

Mantra was originally conceived in 2019, when Khan began composing for a contemporary kathak dance production with the Chitresh Das Institute in San Francisco. Collaborators on the eight-track album include Carnatic singer Aditya Prakash, sarangi veteran Ustad Sultan Khan, Sidecar drummer Tommy aka Tommy Cappel, bansuri player Jay Gandhi and tabla artist Nilan Chaudhuri, among others. Khan – who has previously released informed hip-hop music as part of the duo Grand Tapestry – adds of the album: “Although some of the tracks are more closely based on ragasit’s a departure from the classic quite sharply and in much more of an open and creative skies with no rules, it’s the limit type of approach.

Watch the video for “Akash” below. Stream ‘Mantram’ here.

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