"For the last 17 years on every single airplane flight that I have taken and every train ride I have worn an N95 mask for 17 years, the entire flight, whether it's 21 hours or five hours or eight hours. And I haven't shaken hands for 22 years."
That's one way in which guitarist Sharon Isbin has protected her priceless hands over the years, as she's travelled the globe to collaborate with various musicians. One of her recent collaborations took her to India for the first time, and resulted in a project called Strings for Peace.
"It's a collaboration that I'm doing of Indian ragas that were composed for me by the legendary Amjad Ali Khan, with whom I perform them and along with his incredibly brilliant sons, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash We did a tour together in India in February of 2019. It was something that began in a very organic way more than 10 years ago when I received, out of the blue, an email from Amjad Ali Khan. He is considered a national treasure in India and is part of the lineage of a family that has created the sarod, the instrument that he plays and its style of playing now through seven different generations. When you count his two brilliant sons, Amaan, Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash.
And suddenly he did find a collaborator who could do this, who could notate it and who could explore the imagination that he had combining the guitar with a sarod. So one day in December of 2018, his son Ayaan wrote to me and said, we're very close to finishing this; in fact, open up your inbox. There are some ragas there waiting for you to hear.
I just loved them. They were so beautiful. Really, really touched me. And he said, that's good because we've already booked a tour for you to do with us in India in February. I said, but that's in two months. How is that going to happen? Two and a half months? He said, well, the halls were available. We just decided to go with it.
One of the things that was really important in this collaboration was the tabla players. And we have a marvelous one on this album, Amit Kavthekar. And that sense of rhythm is what really informs everything in what we do. Now, before you get to these rhythmic fast parts, there's this whole exploratory section. So, that is part of. I think, kind of a reverence that happens in the music where there is no rhythmic component and the musicians are all improvising."
I'm looking at the titles of the four pieces that are on this recording. And there's a title, and then is it an explanation of the style, or the roots from which it comes?
"The titles are actually evocative. So, if you look at the first one, 'By the Moon,' it's a style called the bihag. You're talking about the sharp fourth and a natural scale and the alaps and the jors and the talas. It's less important, I think, to a listener than just the immersion into the music itself. And just disbanding from any Western preconceptions of what music might be like and just letting yourself experience something that's new and different.
"The second one is quite different from the other three ragas. It's called 'Love Avalanche.' They call it a light classical and we're talking about North Indian classical music. That's what all of this is coming from. When I first heard it, I listened to it over and over and over again in the sample that they had sent me. Just because it was magical. It really was."
Strings for Peace, a mystical exploration of Indian classical music with guitarist Sharon Isbin.
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.