Newsletter January 2010

1. Review 2009
by Yogendra

In spite of the general economic crisis, 2009 has been another good year for India Instruments. Our manager Norbert Klippstein has been getting better and better at his job, and our turnover has nearly reached the level of 2007, our best year so far. Thanks to all of you for trusting us, buying from us, and supporting our work in various ways!

  • Our 15th-jubilee celebration has been a special highlight. Live music, summer rain, mango lassi and a number of friends, customers, neighbours and musicians created a wonderful mood. Our shop is turning more and more into a meeting point for Indian music lovers from Berlin, Germany and from all over Europe. We are quite happy about this development and invite everybody to come and take a look! There is always a large number of instruments and accessories in stock, and most of the time you will also find unique single items, that are not listed in our online catalogue.
  • All year through we kept on working on our new website. Actually we wanted to get it online in 2009, but there have been too many ideas for improvements and new features and too little time to get all the work done. However we have made good progress and hope to get the new site online, soon.
  • A by-product of working on the website has been the production of many new pictures - they are available for nearly all percussion instruments now. Please take a look at the overview and check out the pages for the individual instruments. We also have pics of our new Paloma surbahar and the new top quality sitars from Monoj Kumar Sardar in Kolka design
  • We are happy that we got the English version of our e-mail newsletter started, and we hope that you appreciate this service. Our German newsletter includes more and more articles, reviews and reports by various musicians, friends and journalists and slowly turns into a kind of magazine on Indian music. Many of the contributions are specific to the situation in Germany and are therefore not included in the English version. However we invite YOU, our international readers, to send us contributions of broader relevance! Share your experiences, opinions and knowledge with the community! Our German and English newsletters reach several thousand readers every month!
  • How has Indian music developed in Central Europe in 2009 as a whole? With Ali Akbar Khan and Charlie Mariano the Indian music scene has lost two charismatic figures, who have opened many doors for Indian music in the West, each in his own specific way. Theirs deaths have been a severe and personally painful blow for many people. Another sad news was the closing down of the record label Chhanda Dhara, based in Stuttgart. Chhanda Dhara had been a leading producer of recordings and concerts with nearly all great masters of raga music and with a worldwide distribution and reputation for decades. On the positive side the Tagore-Award of the Indo-German Society for musician, writer, journalist and producer Peter Pannke and the Waldschmidt-Award for Kutiyattam-dancer Heike Moser have been encouraging signs. After the slowing down of the Bollywood wave, Indian sounds seemed to spread mainly in the form of Bhajans, Kirtans and Mantras in the ever growing Yoga circles. The more demanding raga music, however, seems in danger of drowning in the vast and rapidly expanding world music market. The relevance of raga music with media, concert organisers and educational institutions seems to be decreasing, too.

We hope for your ongoing support in 2010 and send our best wishes!

2. Tabla Straps Available Again
- Company Info -

Good news for everybody in need of a new tabla strap (baddi / chot): They are back in stock with us! We had a few shipments of straps that had been cut too short, so we could not sell spare straps for some time. Now it is time to get one as long as supply lasts! Our tabla straps, 11 meters in fine Calcutta quality, are available for 29.- Euros (plus 3.90 Euros shipping cost within Europe).


3. Sarod Maker Hemen Sen Passed Away
Orbituary by Yogendra

Hemen Chandra Sen, founder and head of Hemen & Co. and most influential sarod maker of the past decades, passed away in Calcutta on January 2nd. Hemen was aged 87 and had suffered a heavy heart attack. Nearly all leading sarod players of the 2nd half of the 20th century, from Ali Akbar Khan to Amjad Ali Khan, have collaborated closely with Hemen and have played only his instruments. Apart from his famous sarods, Hemen had also been making highly appreciated tanpuras and sitars. In 2003 he received the Hafiz Ali Khan award for his lifetime achievements from then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Hemen Chandra Sen came to Calcutta from East-Bengal, today's Bangladesh, when he was only 13. He became a student of sitar player Ali Ahmed Khan, an uncle of Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Ahmed advised him to make instruments for a living. Thanks to his able hands, his good sense of music and his close association with leading musicians, Hemen was able to establish his own shop called Hemen & Co. in 1946. Together with Ali Akbar Khan and Ali Akbar's father Allauddin Khan, Hemen was a key figure in the development and refinement of the contemporary Maihar-style sarod. Throughout the decades he established a worldwide reputation for the unique sustain and richness of sound as well as for the clear and noble design of his sarods. Practically all present day sarod makers have learnt directly from Hemen or have been substantially influenced by his craft

Hemen had remained very active until just before his death. He used to sit and work every day in his little open shop at crowded Rashbehari Avenue, just a few hundred meters away from the previous shop of legendary sitar maker Hiren Roy. If you met him with his scrubby white hair and worn-out shirt and dhoti you would have considered him a simple spent helper rather than the world-famous master craftsman that he was. He didn't care much for his outer appearance. All that mattered to him was the nearly magical sound that a sarod could receive under his hands.

Hemen's views of our modern times have been rather sceptical. In an interview he once said: “Sitar or sarod making is no longer what it used to be. Once upon a time people were passionate about classical music. The quality of musicians was also much better. They would train for years before being allowed by their gurus to perform publicly. Those days are gone. The only music today’s kids want to learn is the kind that will get them to win television competitions.” Nevertheless Hemen trained both his sons Ratan (50) and Tapan (44) from an early age and has been working with them for many years. After his death they are determined to carry on his tradition.

India Instruments still has a few sarods and tanpuras from the hands of Hemen himself in stock. If his sons manage to keep up his high quality level we will continue selling instruments from Hemen & Co. in the future. However, Oriental Musikraft and Kanailal & Sons have recently become interesting alternatives for top quality sarods.


4. Write-up Amjad Ali Khan
Review by Sebastian Dreyer – 

A long awaited, memorable concert took place in Berlin on December 13th: sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan performed together with his sarod-playing sons Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali, accompanied by tabla players Tanmoy Bose and Mithilesh Kumar Jha. It was long awaited, because concerts of the great names of Indian music have become rare in Germany. And it was memorable, because Amjad Ali thrilled a big part of audience, but left the lovers of raga music puzzled and disappointed. Amjad Ali Khan, son of legendary Hafiz Ali Khan, mentor of his sons Ayaan Ali and Amaan Ali, recipient of highest awards, is probably the most famous living sarod player. He has gained his position by decades of publishing high quality raga recordings and giving acclaimed raga concerts. His second field of activity, however, is much lesser known: it is the area of tribute-, memorial- and entertainment-music. Examples for this are his raga creations „Tribute to Germany“, „Tribute to USA“ and "Priyadarshini" (dedicated to Indira Gandhi) as well as his CDs „Yaara“ (with ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas) and „Breaking Barriers – All time favourite Christmas Hymns and Carols“.

It was the entertainment aspect, which the maestro chose to present to the German public during his recent tour. Those who had watched his video clip "Joy to the world" might have thought twice before going to his concert. Instead of in-depth raga performance, Amjad played a medley of favourite songs, dedicated among others to Mahatma Gandhi, Ganesha and Rabindranath Tagore - easy-listening stuff instead of creative raga elaboration. Spontaneousness did not have any place in this event - in contrast to the habits at raga concerts, all compositions had already been printed in the programme.

Only the duet of Amaan and Ayan Ali in raga desh and the trio of Amjad with his sons in raga kirwani presented a more classical approach. Especially the kirwani had touching moments, e.g. when Amjad was visibly proud of his sons' performance during the question-answer section. It was irritating, though, that even in the raga interpretations, the two great tabla players were given scope for only one (!) single solo part each. Their inappropriate subordinate status was further stressed by seating them at the far corners of the stage, outside the huge carpet reserved exclusively for the sarod players.

The final applause clearly demonstrated the split reactions of the audience. While many people were giving standing ovations, others were rushing angrily out of the hall, starting heated discussions with fellow connoisseurs in the lobby. Sometimes an event raises much higher expectations than it is able to fulfill.

The recording of the concert will be broadcasted by Radio Berlin Brandenburg (RBB) in two parts on February 9th and February 16th, starting at 9:04 pm.


5. Circus-Show India
Review by Yogendra

The spectacular circus-show "India", an ambitious mix of acrobatics, dance, visual effects and music, has started its tour around the world in Frankfurt last December. The 85 performing acrobats, jugglers, dancers and artists do not come from state-run circus schools like in China, but are individual talents, who have been casted throughout the whole of India. 32-year old director Brian Burke, much in demand for top shows between Las Vegas and the Broadway, describes them as "gifted, disciplined, assiduous and always in good mood". The creative team for choreography, music, special effects, light and set design, headed by renowned circus expert Pascal Jacob, is an exciting mix of top-notch American, European and Indian show professionals. Financing for "India" is done privately with several million Euros by producer Matthias Hoffmann. The overall aim of the show is entertainment in its purest form.

So far the concept seems to be a success: the media have given enthusiastic reviews and additional afternoon performances had to be scheduled to meet the demand for tickets. The unique combination of traditional Indian elements, e.g. certain forms of martial arts or the popular pole acrobatics known as "mallakambh", with mass choreographies in Bollywood style and latest show technology creates a new and compelling impressions indeed. The experience is completed by the exquisite peripherals: The production travels with its own city of tents, all fashioned like fancy Indian palaces inside, and the audience can enjoy delicacies from the Indian cuisine before and after the show.

After the premiere in Frankfurt, "India" will play in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Hannover, Dusseldorf and Vienna throughout 2010. In 2011 its next stations will be Mannheim, Bruxelles and London - before it moves around the globe... Further info and videos at

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