Newsletter January / February 2013


1. Visionary of Indian Music (1/2) - Ravi Shankar
- Orbituary by Yogendra -


RAVI SHANKAR - VISIONARY OF INDIAN MUSIC

I grew up in the West German border region next to the iron curtain that separated East and West Europe since world war two. My first record of sitar music as a teenager in the early 1980s was the double album "The Genius of Ravi Shankar", found in a small record store in a small provincial town. My first sitar teacher Darshan Kumari was a student of a student of Ravi Shankar. His book, "My Music, My Life," was a major inspiration at the start of my career. My teacher Ali Akbar Khan, son of Allauddin Khan might have never made it to the U.S. and Europe without Ravi Shankar, wouldn't have founded his music school there and I would never have learnt from him. Even though I never met Ravi Shankar in person, I owe him a lot of my life today. Now the legendary sitar virtuoso passed away on December 11th, aged 92, after a heart surgery in San Diego. Announcing the news, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly called him a national treasure and global ambassador of the Indian heritage.

FROM VARANASI TO PARIS

"Stay in bed at night, but go for pee outside" - little bed wetter Robindro, called Robu, knows this Bengali nursery rhyme by heart. But it does't help. In his new home in Paris he still often wakes up from sweet dreams in a wet bed initially. In winter 1930/31 it is bitterly cold in the French capital, and the way out to the toilet is through frost and snow. Robu is 10 and after a long journey with his mother and his brothers - by train from his hometown Varanasi to Mumbai, then by ship to Italy and finally to Paris by train - just arrived in Europe. He is the youngest and has spent his childhood in material poverty but lovingly groomed by his mother. His father had left the family before Robu's birth to live in England. So had his brother Uday, 20 years older, who had been studying art there for several years and had eventually started a career as a dancer. Paris is Uday's idea. After a successful duet program together with the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova he wants to produce his own stage show of Indian dance and music for audiences in Europe. And now he needs all available family members as participants.

SHOWBUSINESS & ASCETICISM

Paris is like a dream for Robu. He takes in the life of the vibrant metropolis with all senses, learns French, dances and plays several instruments in Uday's show, meets with the international artists' boheme and discovers the charms of the fair sex. From a poor Indian child he is transformed into a young European dandy in no time. Uday's concept of combining elements from various Indian dance traditions into his own style without having had any classical training works, the show is a success, and Robu tours Europe and the US with the family troupe from 1932 till 1937. But in 1938 political tensions in Europe increase so much that touring becomes impossible. Robu is at a crossroads. He renounces his luxury life and goes to the small Central Indian town of Maihar in order to study classical Indian raga music on sitar with charismatic master musician Allauddin Khan. For seven years, he dives into the mysteries of the music in ascetic seclusion, endures moscitos, bedbugs, lizards and snakes and undergoes Allauddin Khan's notoriously strict training. Their connection becomes so initimate that he even marries Allauddin's daughter Annapurna and has a son with her. When Robindro Shaunkar Chowdhury leaves Maihar for Mumbai with his small family in 1944 in order to start his career as a musician, he has a new name and a new vision: He wants to bring the treasures of Indian music to the World. As Ravi Shankar he is about to become Indian music's first world star.

CULTURAL MEDIATOR

It is helpful to know this story in order to understand and appreciate Ravi Shankar's personality and work properly. His thorough understanding of Western lifestyle and worldview made him a most efficient bridge builder between cultures, a great mediator, who was able to build lifelong friendships with key figures in the West, get them excited for Indian music and reach out to a wider public with their help. E.g. Ravi Shankar met the slightly older violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin already as a teenager in Paris in the 1930s. They became true friends in 1952, when Menuhin was traveling India and Ravi Shankar played a house concert especially arranged for him. In 1966 / 67 they played several concerts together and recorded two albums called "West Meets East" which had a great impact on classical Western listeners. The collaboration of Western star virtuoso Menuhin with relatively unknown Indian musician Shankar made it clear to the Western public for the first time that raga music was not mere folk but an art music tradition in its own right. The whole structure of their performances together was Eastern or rather Indian - the music had been composed by Ravi Shankar. The only Western element was the fact that the music was not improvised but had been completely fixed and notated.

POP-ICON

Growing up in the holy hindu city of Varanasi gave Ravi Shankar deep roots in traditional Indian spirituality. These roots helped him overcome several critical phases in his life, were a constant source of inspiration and made him a perfect projection screen for the revolting, spiritually uprooted and searching Western youth in the second half of the 1960s. One of these searchers was George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles and world-famous popstar at that time. They first met in London in 1966 and immediately had a good understanding. Harrison initially saw in Shankar a kind of guru who could teach him both Indian music and spirituality. And Shankar saw in Harrison a young lad with good manners and a serious interest in Indian culture. Learning proved difficult for Harrison, though, due to his many obligations and the hysterical fans who followed him everywhere, but the love of Indian classical music, the deep identification with Indian spirituality and the intimate friendship with Ravi Shankar remained until his death in 2001. The connection with George Harrison opened the doors to the world of pop for Ravi Shankar. His performances at the festivals of Monterey and Woodstock, at the Concert for Bangladesh and on tour mit Harrison, his first autobiography "My Music, My Life" and his autobiographical documentary "Raga" brought him to the peak of his worldwide popularity in the beginning of the 1970s.

... to be continued with Ravi Shankar's work as a composer and raga master, his private life and an evaluation of his life's achievements in our newsletter March / April 2013.

Ravi Shankar's documentary "Raga" is available from us at 24.90 Euros - more info at our media page.
Ravi Shankar's book "My Music, My Life" is available from us at 21.90 Euros - more info at our book page.

 


2. Harmoniums for Beginners & Professionals - Monoj Kumar Sardar
- New in our Assortment -


We have expanded our selection of harmoniums with two new models! The Scale Changer from Monoj Kumar Sardar is a cheaper alternative to our top model, the Scale Changer from Paloma. And our new Monoj Kumar Sardar Standard is a particularly low priced harmonium for beginners.

The harmonium Scale Changer Foldable T 45-5 from Monoj Kumar Sardar is perfect for experienced musicians who are looking for a particularly high quality instrument with all extras and greatest flexibility for different purposes. The entire keyboard of three octaves can be moved (scale-changer) and so the tonic can be chosen freely in semitone steps from g# to e - that way transposing a piece into a higher or lower key becomes easy like anything. Each note has three reeds (T = triple reeds) in high, medium and low octave (female / male / bass). The three reeds can be played separately or in combination, giving you very different sound options. The built-in octave coupler automatically activates the lower octave. With activated coupler you can play up to six reeds with just one key, thus creating a particularly powerful, rich and carrying sound. The more reeds are played, the more air needs to be pumped in continuously. The bellows open to the side and must be moved actively in both directions. This allows for a very precise air supply according to your specific needs. The instrument is collapsible into a wooden case. That way it can be stored away saving space and can be transported safely. A protective cover with zipper is included in the price.

The standard harmonium D 37-3 from Monoj Kumar Sardar is a particularly inexpensive and sturdy beginner's instrument. Built at simple quality standard and without unnecessary extras, it produces a nice, carrying sound. Its 37 keys give the Monoj Kumar Sardar Standard a range of three octaves. Each note has two reeds (D = double reeds) in the middle and low octave (male / bass), which can be played separately or together. This lets you choose between fuller and more delicate sounds. The bellows open to the side and must be moved actively in both directions. This allows for a very precise air supply according to your specific needs. Three drone levers are built in under the cover. Other or additional drone notes can be obtained by taking off the springs that keep the respective keys in position.


3. Review 2012 - India Instruments
- Company Info -


India Instruments looks back on a successful year 2012. We have enriched our assortment with several new items and have done a lot of basic work for a relaunch of our English website. Our sales have grown steadily - a big thank you to all customers and friends who have made this possible with purchases, feedback, recommendations and other kinds of support! However, the ever increasing workload was eventually becoming more and more difficult to manage with the existing manpower. Fortunately, two wonderful freelancers have joined our team in the second half of he year, helping us to reduce the workload problem. We are planning to introduce them in more detail in the next newsletter. For 2013, we hope for your continuing support and wish you health, happiness and joy!

 


4. Closing Down - Tropentheater Amsterdam
- Background Report by Ludwig Pesch -


Tropentheater - Obituary and Call, by Ludwig Pesch (Amsterdam)

An important chapter in the global cultural relations of Europe ended on January 1st with the closing down of the Tropentheater Amsterdam. The closing came just at a time when the Tropentheater had a steady increase in visitors and plans of publishing its own magazine with a focus on world music. For more than three decades, it offered high quality programmes from all cultural backgrounds. Artists with experimental approach or social commitments but without support from their own authorities could expand their network of relationships here. The Dutch government's decision to cut all subsidies for the Tropentheater remains a mistery for every witness of these important developments. Apparently the Royal Tropical Institute had to offer a highly visible painful "sacrifice" due to the pressure of populists who refuse all aid for so-called developing countries. The loss of the Tropentheater seemed more defensible than closing the Tropenmuseum and those departments that provide poor countries in the tropics with scientific expertise. Cultural life in the Netherlands therefore has to cope with the loss of several initiatives, music and theatre ensembles that were considered exemplary all over Europe. And lovers of the music and dance traditions of India will probably miss a regular series of live programs with similar variety and high quality for a long time.

The Tropentheater was founded in 1975 as "basement theatre" (Soeterijn) at the Tropenmuseum with a focus on non-Western music and dance performances. It quickly became an important centre for experts from various fields. Its film programme provided valuable information at a time when documentaries were not yet available on DVDs and on the internet. Many a performance at the Tropentheater became the starting point of a successful international world music career. This was partly due to the close collaboration with committed partner institutions in The Haag, Utrecht, Groningen and Antwerp. European partner organisations that could not invite non-Western artists on their own due to financial constraints or bureaucratic difficulties benefited a lot from the Tropentheater's work, too.

The Indian music scene of the Netherlands owes its flowering to an initiative of two key figures whose Foundation India Muziek organized hundreds of successful concerts since 1973. The musicologist Felix van Lamsweerde (* 1934) was music curator in the Tropenmuseum contributed and charm, expertise and a wide network of contacts in India and Europe. He had organized a performance of Ravi Shankar at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam as early as 1957. Later on he received sitar lessons from Vilyat Khan and Imrat Khan in India and studied ethnomusicology in London. We was responsible for live recordings, introductions, accompanying texts, radio broadcasts and workshops in the Tropenmuseum. The musical layman John Eijlers (who died prematurely in 2004) was the driving force of the ongoing organisational work. With a mixture of his own intuition and openness to the opinions of experts, he managed to find the right artist and get the required public attention. The Foundation India Muziek organised about 160 performances until 1988, predominantly in the Mozes en Aaron Church. The programme of the first years reads like a "Who's Who" of Indian artists. In 1989, the series was integrated into the programme of the Tropentheater and thus became more "professional".

However, this consolidation process met with escalating fee expectations of renowned Indian artists. This development was fueled by wealthy Indian expatriates in countries like the US, Singapore and Australia developing more interest in their cultural roots. They are now willing and able to pay for the social status associated with classical music and dance in the form of higher concert fees, tuitions and memberships. Organisers mainly addressing Western audiences could neither keep up financially nor in terms of audience numbers. Even famous names are no guarantee for full halls in Europe any more, due to changes in listening habits (YouTube) and in cultural interests. In the Netherlands with its large Surinamese-Hindustani population, the interest of the audience slowly shifts from live classical music to classical dance performances with playback music and to large Bollywood shows.

A cultural dialogue at eye level is not a mere luxury for trading nations like the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany. Some people think that globalisation and growing wealth in "emerging" countries like India has made special programmes obsolete. Considering the continuing strong influence of stereotypes, fears and prejudices, this view must be doubted. New approaches are as necessary as critical analysis of past accomplishments. It is important to realise that an open, cosmopolitan cultural life can neither be realised alone nor based only upon economical considerations. If desaster is the mother of invention, it might well happen that support for "other" cultures will be revived. The financial crisis has generally increased the openness for cooperation. The United Nations have stressed the value of cooperative action in 2012. It is worth while to take this seriously and learn from each other.

 


5. 75th Birthday - Shivkumar Sharma
- Felicitation by Yogendra -


With his striking, now white-gray Afro and his polished eloquence Shivkumar Sharma is one of the biggest pop stars of Indian classical music today, celebrated virtuoso and something of an elder statesman at the same time. Although his raga performances hardly offer anything new to the connoisseur, he still plays at the highest artistic level and is a sought-after crowd-puller at large festivals. His philosophical statements in interviews, documentaries and book prefaces convey a degree of sophistication that is rare in Indian musicians. Thanks to his somewhat eccentric but always elegant looks he is a rewarding visual for press and television. His path to the elite of Indian music, however, was remarkably difficult and unusual.

Shivkumar Sharma was born the son of classical singer Uma Dutt Sharma in Jammu in 1938. He learnt vocal and tabla from his father from early childhood. The santoor had been unheard of in India outside the Kashmir valley at that time; it was just a local folk instrument. Hence Shivkumar was taken by surprise when his father suggested him to take up the santoor as his main instrument. It seemed unsuitable for classical Indian music, because it can neither maintain a constant note nor can it produce smooth transitions and microtonal shades between notes. However, Shivkumar managed to overcome these structural limitations with new playing techniques. With subtle rolls of the mallets he blurred the individual strokes and created the impression of standing notes and with sliding the mallets across the strings he created the suggestion of glissando transitions. Moreover he reduced the strings per note from four to three to reduce sustain and gain more clarity and he increased the tonal range for greater possibilities of expression. And by using intricate rhythm patterns and fast runs he highlighted the strengths of the santoor. Thanks to all these innovations and modifiations he gradually overcame the resistence of conservative critics in course of time since his maiden concert in Mumbai in 1955.

The breakthrough came in 1967 with the album "Call of the Valley", a collaboration with flute player Hariprasad Chaurasia and guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra - and one of the best selling records of Indian classical music until today. In 1968, 1973 and 1974, Ravi Shankar took him on tours to the US and Europe. This gave him additional international recognition. In the 1980s, Shivkumar had a kind of parallel career as composer for the Indian film industry in the duo "Shiv-Hari" together with Hariprasad Chaurasia. Starting with "Silsila" in 1981, they created the music for several blockbusters of legendary director and producer Yash Chopra and became known to a mass audience. However, the duo stopped working for Bollywood in 1993 with "Darr" in order to focus on the raga tradition again. Its spiritual depth ultimately meant much more to Shivkumar than money and glamour.

In his long career Shivkumar Sharma has published more than 100 recordings. In 1986 he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his work, in 1991 the Padma Shri and in 2001 the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian Indian state medal. He helped one of his three sons, Rahul, to become a successful santoor virtuoso, too. His mission of establishing santoor as a classical solo instrument has been truely successful. On January 13th, Shivkumar turned 75. Happy Birthday, Shivji!

CDs by Shivkumar Sharma.
Photos and information about our santoors.

 


6. Workshops - Sitar, Harmonium and Vocal
- Scene Info -


In the coming months there is an unusual number of interesting workshops for beginners, advanced and professionals. We can recommend all of them! More information on our workshop page. Here's a brief overview:

8.2. - 10.2. OBERLAHR (Westerwald): Harmonium Beginners with Govinda Roth
15.2. - 17.2. AACHEN: Sitar - Step by Step... with Yogendra
1.3. - 3.3. BAD MEINBERG (near Detmold): Harmonium Beginners with Darshini Devi
15.3. - 17.3. HEMMOOR (near Hamburg / Cuxhaven): Sitar - Step by Step... with Yogendra
22.3. - 24.3. SAARBRUCKEN: Raga & Tala Intensive with Yogendra
14.4. - 19.4. WANGERLAND (North Sea): Harmonium Intensive with Uli Schuchart
19.4. - 21.4. ESSLINGEN (near Stuttgart): Sitar - Step by Step... with Yogendra
3.5. - 5.5. BAD MEINBERG (near Detmold): Harmonium Intermediate with Darshini Devi
14.5. - 18.5. BERLIN: Master Class Sitar with Partha Chatterjee
17.5. - 19.5. WANGERLAND (North Sea): Harmonium Beginners with Gauranga Heinzmann
20.5. - 24.5. OBERLAHR (Westerwald): Harmonium Beginners with Govinda Roth
20.5. - 26.5. BASSANO (Italy): Dhrupad Intensive with den Gundecha Brothers
31.5. - 2.6. BAD MEINBERG (near Detmold): Harmonium Intermediate with Jürgen Wade
19.7. - 21.7. RAMSTHAL (near Fulda / Wurzburg): Sitar - Step by Step... with Yogendra

 


7. Indian Music Online - Live every Wednesday
- Scene Info -


The infinite realm of the internet holds untold treasures of Indian music. But who knows how to find them? Who has an overview? And who can separate the wheat from the chaff? All too quickly, you lose yourself - or the joy of listening - in the confusing diversity. A remedy to this problem are presentations structured according to the needs of listeners. One such presentation is now available with a weekly hour-long show of classical Indian music from Wolverhampton City Radio - and you can listen to it live on the internet! The show is called "Surtarang with Mr & Mrs Sarcar" and runs regularly from 20:00 Central European Time (19:00 UK time). The hour is usually filled with several short pieces. The producers try not only to present the established masters but also carefully selected new talent. You can be pretty sure to make exciting discoveries ...

Here is the link to the website  - just go to "Listen Live Online" at the top right.

 


8. Concert Calendar - February / March
- Scene Info -


Winter is peak season for concerts in India - most Indian musicians are on tour there now, therefore we have very few dates to announce at the moment. However, there is a unique highlight: the Dhrupad-Festival in Utrecht on March 2nd and 3rd - don't miss it! Detailed info and further dates as usual in our concert calendar.

26.01. FRANKFURT: BHAMA KALAPAM - TANZDRAMA mit Vasant Kiran, Bharathi Avireddy & Shoira
26.01. TUBINGEN: GEORG LAWALL - Sitar, Sitarval, Obertongesang, Gongs & Percussion
27.01. DETTENHEIM: GEORG LAWALL - Sitar, Sitarval, Obertongesang, Gongs & Percussion
02.02. NL - UTRECHT: Marianne Svasëk & Céline Wadier - vocal / Bahauddin Dagar - rudra veena
03.02. NL - UTRECHT: Pushparaj Koshti - surbahar / Zia Fariduddin Dagar & Nirmalya Dey - vocal
22.02. PADERBORN: DEODATT PERSAUD - Kathak-Tanz / YOGENDRA - Sitar
02.03. WURZBURG: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion

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