Newsletter August 2011

1. Ustad Asad Ali Khan - A Life for the Rudra Veena
- Obituary by Carsten Wicke -

On June 14th North Indian classical music has lost one of its great personalities and the greatest contemporary master of traditional rudra veena with the death of Ustad Asad Ali Khan. He was born and raised in a traditional family of veena players and represented the khandarbani dhrupad style of the Jaipur beenkar gharana. Whether as a musician, teacher, or human being - Khansahib's biography was an example of how much alive the rudra veena can still be today. Nevertheless, the subtle sound of his veena and his lifelong dedication and self discipline often seemed like a memory from a long gone past already in his lifetime. Strict musical grammar combined with aesthetic refinement and artistic greatness were the wings on which the music flowed from his veena like a prayer. Although a devout Muslim it seemed completely natural to him to articulate his longing for God through the sounds of Hindu-based dhrupad music.

In spite of Khansahib's uncompromising strictness in the formal design of his raga presentations, the fragrance of bhakti rasa, the call for divine love, pervaded every note of his music. The "colouring of the mind", ideal of every raga interpretation, could be experienced in a unique depth in the singing of his veena. Although he was able to characterize a vast number of ragas with a few distinctive melodic phrases, he preferred a small range of ragas for his concerts, whose effects unfolded particularly beautifully on the rudra veena. Amongst them was his incomparably sublime yet intense darbari, magical and hypnotic ragas like lalit, todi, multani, marwa, shri, puriya and chandrakauns, but also lyrical interpretations of yaman, bihag, bageshri or khamaj. In his typical combination of cool external precision and passionate internal devotion, his veena performances often resulted in a jor-jhala, that combined the quietness of a single note in perfection with the simultaneous stride along the horizons of melody and rhythm.

For Khansahib music was first and foremost a way of life that required the artist's unconditional willingness to develop his own personality. In his eyes, the music of the veena could evolve only from a mature character. He was aware that the decades-long study of an old, almost extinct instrument could not offer a promising perspective to young Indian musicians in view of the economy-oriented development of modern India, barely existing funding structures and uncertain career prospects. From the 1960s to the 1980s Khansahib taught at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra New Delhi and Delhi University, but for lack of veena students he mainly gave classes in music theory and sitar in veena style. His private rudra veena students were almost exclusively foreigners. In an interview, he expressed the fear that in a few decades his Western students would have to return to India to pass on the tradition of the rudra veena to future Indian generations.

Studying with Ustad Asad Ali Khan meant, above all, a training in patience and perseverance. When I started to learn from him in the mid 1990s , he told me that the traditional training required vocal lessons for several years and after that additional years of practice on the sitar, before one would start with playing the rudra veena. Although he accepted that we started directly with vocal and veena, he did not compromise his quality standards in any way: we spent the first teaching years with perfecting the intonation of the basic note Shadja. Khansahib's focus on detail and his rigorous perfectionism could have been reasons, why none of his veena students has established himself as a performer yet. It is to be hoped that his nephew Zaki Haider, trained on the veena, will continue the family tradition and the traditional rudra veena can continue to resound for a worldwide audience.

Although Ustad Asad Ali Khan's life's work was acknowledged with the hight state award Padma Bhushan by the Indian government in 2008, only relatively few publications of his music have been published so far. Given the uniqueness of his instrument's repertoire and tradition it is to be hoped that further recordings from private and institutional archives will be made accessible. In 2009 the Indian director Renuka George, after years of efforts, succeeded in realizing a documentary with Ustad Asad Ali Khan. This moving portrait of a musician is soon to be released on DVD.

Carsten Wicke was a rudra veena student of Ustad Asad Ali Khan. He now lives in Calcutta. In addition to further studies in dhrupad, he is dedicated to the development and construction of new rudra veenas. His documentary "Music Masala" features, amongst others, Ustad Asad Ali Khan in classes and concerts and is available from India Instruments - more info.


2. The Harmonium in North Indian Music
- Rezension von Yogendra -

The harmonium is nowadays one of the most common and most popular of all Indian instruments. Across all genres, there is hardly any vocal performance without harmonium accompaniment - be it in classical khyal, in thumri and ghazal or in qawwali, bhajan and kirtan. And for us at India Instruments, harmoniums are among the best selling instruments. But although its use in Indian music was hotly disputed for quite some time, the history of the harmonium in Indian music was, until recently, as much in the dark as the reasons for its success. The book "The Harmonium in North Indian Music" now closes these gaps.

Its author Birgit Abels, young professor of musicology at the University of Goettingen, shows how the harmonium - a European invention of the mid-19th century - initially found its way into British colonial circles and the Bengali elite in Calcutta in the second half of the 19th Century, then made its way into the Marathi theater and finally spread into the classical music traditions. She describes how, in the 1880s, an indigenous Indian harmonium industry started developing, while around the same time the original European harmonium was modified for playing on the floor. Finally, in the middle of the 20th century, the harmonium practically disappeared in Europe and became a completely Indian instrument with the introduction of an indigenious Indian reed production.

In great detail Birgit Abels deals with the quarrels about the suitability of the harmonium for Indian music, which culminated in a ban on the harmonium in all broadcasts of state-run All India Radio from 1940 to 1970. With the perspective of contemporary cultural studies, she exposes this argument as a purely ideological conflict that had little to do with the specific problems of musical practice and a lot with non-musical ideological positions.

Birgit Abels' pragmatic reasons for the success of the harmonium as an accompanying instrument in the classical North Indian music are compelling and innovative at the same time. She shows what a great range of flexibility and tolerance can be found in classical Indian music practice and how much the harmonium has benefited from it. She also discusses the advantages of the harmonium over a competing instrument like the sarangi. And she argues with the socio-cultural role assignments between soloist and accompanist, which the harmonium players have never questioned.

Overall, this a very knowledgeable, witty and enlightening book - and it is far and away the only one on the topic. In this respect it ought to be required reading for anyone interested the history of the harmonium in India, and its use in classical Indian music. Unfortunately, the sophisticated language of cultural studies might be quite challenging for lay readers. Those with interest only in the harmonium and with little knowledge of Indian art music and its recent history and of current discourse in cultural studies, might find the book therefore rather too difficult. But it might perhaps also inspire curious minds to go a bit deeper into these issues...

The Harmonium in North Indian Music, paperback, 158 pages, with bibliography, glossary, appendix with experimental data, four notation examples, twelve b/w illustrations and numerous footnotes - now available for 12. - Euros (plus shipping cost) from India Instruments.


3. Mail From Delhi (1) - Flirting With Bureaucracy
- Travelreport by Martin Lamß, Leipzig / Delhi -

I have arrived in Delhi two days ago. One of the first errands that I need to do here: Put together an Indian birthday package for a friend at home and send it. But I'm afraid of simply getting crushed in the post office. After all, the people there, like in many places in India, are not simply waiting in the queue, but they jostle for the counters like dogs for the feeding bowl. The one with the sharpest elbows is first and wins it. And when your turn finally comes, you're told that you're at the wrong counter. At the next counter the game starts all over again. In the next step, you probably have to fill in thousands of forms that definetely require your father's name in each case. And depending on the post office probably also that of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I already had an experience of that kind in the mobile phone store today. When buying a SIM card for getting an Indian mobile number. But the father's name was not the problem. They actually wanted a passport photo of me. Actually I already knew about this requirement and had just forgotten to take one with me. But allegedly there was a photographer around the corner, who could make a new photo in less than two minutes. So I started searching my way through a temperature of 38 degrees celsius and the stink and noise of the city. Asking around I came across the owner of an internet cafe who even gave me two addresses of two photo shops. The first one turned out to be a greengrocer in reality, and the second one was still closed for another three hours for lunch break. I gave up and went to another mobile service provider.

There, the very beautiful and very friendly assistant at first wanted a passport photo, too, but was ultimately satisfied with a copy of my passport. The first real problem occured when I gave her my address in Delhi: The mobile fairy asked me to call the friends with whom I lived, to confirm that I was really staying there. But how was I supposed to make calls without a working phone? Besides my friends were in Laos than, and I could not reach them there anyway. Then she asked me to show a business card with the address. I didn't have one. After another ten minutes of lamentation it finally turned out that I had just mispronounced the address and the assistant simply hadn't understood. Or maybe she had just had enough of the discussion. I gave her the address again, and everything was fine.

A few misunderstandings later, she started, well, flirting with me? It would be naive to believe that, because it would have been unseemly to Indian customs. Anyway, with a little embarrassment but clearly amused she asked how my home address, the "Gutsmuthsstraße", was to be pronounced, and whether it was so hot in Germany as well, and how long it would take to fly down there. And as a farewell she took my picture with her cell phone. Supposedly for my file. Sure, the copy of my passport couldn't have been enough! Probably she just wanted to show off in front of her friends by pretending she knew a Westerner. That's what many people do over here: filming Westerners or taking photos of them. When asked why they do that, they give the simple answer: "Because you are a stranger."

Anyway, I'll have to go back to the beautiful, friendly woman from the mobile phone shop at least one more time: In India - at least with my provider - you can't just buy one prepaid credit card for all services. No, you have to buy one for domestic calls, a second one for international calls and a third for SMS - and I definetely need SMS! My goodness, no wonder that corruption flourishes here! Such a bureaucracy is really forcing you to give a little something extra. In this case perhaps an invitation to dinner?

Martin Lamß studies journalism in Leipzig. He is currently doing research for his diploma thesis on German foreign correspondents in New Delhi and sends us occasional travel impressions.

14. Concert Calendar - New Editor Needed
- Scene Info -

The concert calendar at has been an important feature of our website for a long time, especially for lovers of Indian classical music. On the one hand it depends upon the quality and quantity of the concert information that we receive. On the other hand it depends upon regular updates by an editor. In recent years this job has been done by Sebastian Dreyer. He deserves our thanks for his commitment. Unfortunately Sebastian now has to quit his editorial job due to time constraints.

Therefore we are looking for a new editor for the concert calendar - starting from now or later. The editor should delete expired events and add new ones once a week or every other week. Specific technical skills are not required - it's mainly simple text editing. Information, web space and know-how is provided by India Instruments. The whole thing is a service for the Indian music scene. Anybody out there to take over this job on a voluntary basis? If you are interested, please send an email to! If we don't find a new editor we will have to discontinue the concert calendar.


5. Distributors (2) - Steinklang
- Company Info -

Steinklang is based in the small village of Lampertsweiler, about 40 km north of Friedrichshafen / Lake Constance, is a specialty store for overtone instruments for therapy, music and meditation. The assortment consists of gongs, cymbals, drums, percussion, chimes, sounding stones, singing bowls, sound pyramids, sansulas / kalimbas, stringed instruments, wind instruments, water phones, harmoniums, bells and shrutiboxes. In addition, Steinklang offers a wide variety of accessories and media. Typical of Steinklang are the uncompromisingly high quality standards in terms of products sold, service and design of the showrooms.

India Instruments supplies Steinklang with large and small shrutiboxes from Monoj Kumar Sardar, the Paloma harmonium models premium, compactina and scale-changer, instrumental tanpuras from P. & Brother and Hiren Roy, male and female tanpuras from P. & Brother and Hemen and with the electronic tanpura Raagini. Steinklang usually keeps all these instruments in stock. They can be tried out and bought on the spot in the bright, spacious showrooms covering 170 square meters. Visits are possible Monday through Friday by appointment only. Appointments can be made by phone on +49-7581-2007525. Lampertsweiler is a bit away from the major metropolitan areas, but is located in a popular holiday area. Thus, you can combine inspiring musical experiences with relaxing hours or days in the countryside by visiting Steinklang .

Steinklang was founded in 1994 by Peter Stein. His previous experience as a flute maker, speech and voice therapist, overtone and mantra singer, dental technician and electro-technical assistant gave him the necessary broad base on a musical, therapeutical and technical level. Over the years, Steinklang has grown steadily and is now probably the best provider of its kind in Central Europe. To this day, Peter Stein takes his business primarily as a one-man operation. Continuous cooperation with India Instruments is already running since 2002. Detailed information about Steinklang at Steinklang.


6. New Audio Samples - Kanjira & eTanpuras
- Company Info -

We have recently added new audio samples to our website. One of them is the small south Indian hand frame drum kanjira. The recording was made exclusively for India Instruments on one of our Paloma kanjiras by Tamil singer and virtuoso kanjira performer Manickam Yogeswaran - 20 seconds that capture both the amazingly rich, lively bass sounds and the rhythmic drive of the kanjira.

There are new audio samples of some electronic tanpuras, too. You can now listen to the well pronounced plucking dynamics of the Swarangini. Or explore the amazingly sophisticated sound of our smallest and cheapest e-tanpura, the Saarang Magic Plus. And compare that to the rich spatial acoustics of the Magic's bigger brother, the Saarang Maestro DX.


7. Internal - Yogendra is Back
- Company Info -

India Instruments' founder Yogendra is active in the company again. Since July 1st he has taken over the current e-mail communication with our customers. We hope that this will result in faster and more flexible handling of inquiries and orders. At the same time it is supposed to reduce pressure on our manager Norbert Klippstein in our shop in Berlin. Like that we are trying to give you even more individual and personal care on all levels. We are pleased to get feedback on how we can improve our service for you - simply send an email to!

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