Music: Divine Sounds

Ali Akbar College of Music turns 50

Manik Khan says that spirituality is at the heart of Indian music. Photo courtesy of Manik Khan.

By Lily O’Brien

From the outside, the Ali Akbar College of Music, in San Rafael’s West End, looks like an ordinary house. But for the many students, teachers and extended family who gather inside, it is a beloved hub of Hindustani Indian classical music.

Celebrating 50 years this year, the college will be presenting its first concert of 2017 on Saturday, January 14. One of the performers, Manik Khan, 31, is the youngest son of the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, one of the world’s most renowned sarode players, and founder of the school.

Although Manik was only 23 years old when his father passed away in 2009, he enjoyed a deep and rewarding relationship with him. At age 13, Manik began studying sarode with his father, and at 14, he started joining his father on stage on the tanpura, a stringed “drone” instrument.

“My father told me that it takes 20 years to please yourself, 30 years to please the box office, 40 years to please your teacher and then a lifetime or beyond to please the higher powers,” Manik says.

Growing up, Manik was also exposed to the rock and psychedelic music of the ’60s, thanks to his “hippie” mother, Mary. Khan introduced him to Indian and jazz fusion, but Manik says that his father joked that it could be “Con-fusion music,” unless it was played really well.

After earning a degree in Cultural Anthropology from San Francisco State University, Manik became involved full-time with the Ali Akbar College of Music, where he does the bookkeeping, teaches, studies and performs. His mother, a tabla player, is the director, and his brother, Alam, a sarode teacher and performer, manages the office. Acclaimed master percussionist Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri also helps run the school. The college attracts around 80 to 100 students from all over the world each semester.

The upcoming concert will feature Hindustani classical vocalist Gaayatri Kaundinya, accompanied by Rajvinder Singh on tabla and Manjeev Singh on the dilruba, in the first half. The second half will feature Manik on sarode, along with Nilan Chaudhuri on tabla.

Currently, Manik is deeply involved in the study of sarode and Indian classical music, but feels that he has a lifetime of learning ahead of him.

“The better that I can get, the more I improve, and the more that I am able to teach, the more justice I can do to our family and the music as a whole,” he says.

Ali Akbar College of Music, 215 West End Ave., San Rafael; 415/454-6372;


  1. It has been years since I have heard the beautiful music of Ali Akbar Khan! Thanks for this article and reviving my memories. It is so refreshing to know that the school thrives and that this family “affair” continues to be a San Rafael treasure…
    thanks, Lily.


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