Newsletter January / February 2014

1. India Instruments - Thank You for 20 Years
- Company Info -

Once again it is time to say thank you. This time, however, not only for another successful year behind us, but for two full decades! Thanks to all of you, who have at some point decided to buy quality  instruments from us for your artistic, teaching or healing work, or just to make the sound and beauty of Indian instruments part of your personal life! Without you our shop would not exist - for you we run it and we give our best! As a small gesture of our gratitude, we make a gift to every buyer in our 20th jubilee year 2014. And we give 20% discount on all our CDs - check them out here. More about our anniversary activities here.

But it takes a lot more than good customers to make a place like India Instruments. Our thanks also goes to all those who have worked for us over the years. With little material reward and a lot of passion you have enabled us to cope with the work load and helped the store to grow. Family members and friends have supported you in this as well when overtime or work on weekends, holidays and evenings was needed - thanks to them, too.

Without our partners in India we would be empty handed, with nothing to sell. We have been working with most of them for many years on a regular basis and we have developed relationships beyond pure business with some. When we speak of our partners, however, we do not only mean the owners of the small instrument workshops with whom we arrange everything. We also mean the many nameless artisans who do the actual work of making the instruments with impressive skills under difficult circumstances, be it as day labourers, temporary staff or regular employees. Thanks to all of them.

The instruments travel long ways from the makers to you as buyers via India Instruments as a dealer. This is only possible thanks to today‘s global logistics networks. Equally important are internet, phone and computer. Without these inventions we would not be able to present our assortment, communicate with you and our Indian partners, or arrange our internal processes - India Instruments would not exist in its present form. None of this is set up specifically for us, we can hardly influence it directly, and yet we depend on it completely.

This wider perspective makes us realise how much we are all part of and dependent on elusive larger contexts. And at the same time we also contribute to these larger contexts, however small and insignificant our contributions may seem. Based on and motivated by this knowledge, India Instruments tries to contribute to the whole by fostering beauty and joy. We believe that playing Indian musical instruments and studying the underlying traditions can be a good means to this end. Therefore India Instruments is not only a shop with unique expertise, but also an affair of the heart. And we hope that you will keep on helping us to make it prosper!


2. Price Reduction - Bags & Cases
- Company Info -

Usually everything tends to get more expensive in course of time. But sometimes the unusual happens - we reduce the prices of many cases and bags for our string instruments! This is possible because we get better buying prices in India nowadays. And we would like to share this advantage with you! One reason is a higher production of fibreglass cases and padded bags, items that had been made very rarely in India when we started selling them. Another reason is a better access to makers of these items. From now on we sell at the following prices:

* Dilruba case fibreglass: 119.- Euros (previously 180.- Euros)
* Dilruba case artificial leather: 89.- Euros (previously 119.- Euros)
* Esrajk case fibreglass: 119.- Euros (previously 180.- Euros)
* Esraj case artificial leather: 89.- Euros (previously 119.- Euros)
* Sarangi case artificial leather: 89.- Euros (previously 110.- Euros)
* Sarod case fibreglass: 190.- Euros (previously 290.- Euros)
* Single tumba sitar bag simple (clearance sale): 49.- Euros
* Sitar padded bag single or double tumba: 89.- Euros (previously 119.- / 129.- Euros)
* Sitar cardboard case single tumba : 89.- Euros (previously 110.- Euros)
* Sitar case artificial leather single or double tumba: 119.- Euros (previously 139.- / 169.- Euros)
* Sitar case fibreglass: 190.- Euros (previously 290.- Euros)
All prices including 19% German VAT, plus shipping costs.

These lower prices are an invitation to take a matching case or bag with your next instrument purchase. Or you might now consider buying a case or bag for an instrument already in your possession. We‘ll be glad to help you choose the right type for your specific needs. A proper bag or case is the most effective way of protecting your precious instrument and to be mobile with it.

An overview of our cases and bags is available here.


3. Farewell to Great Masters - Lakshmi Shankar & Purushottam Walawalkar
- 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. Kirtan (4): From Calcutta to New York - The Story of the Khol
- Background Series by Atul Krishna -

Play with clay
The Bengali khol (a.k.a. mridanga, literally: body of clay) is a popular drum within the kirtan scene. The term mridanga is mainly used outside of Bengal and is sometimes confused with the mridangam, the classical South Indian drum. Traditionally, the body of a khol is made of clay. This makes the body vibrate in a unique way, giving the drum a sound that is one of a kind. Besides its clay body, the khol has two heads and straps made of rawhide, with a paste made of rice and iron or clay powder on top of both heads.

Transforming the body
One of the downsides of having a clay drum is its fragility. The body can break easily, and any crack in it chokes the sound of the drum drastically. Therefore drum makers came up with unbreakable brass and fiberglass bodies. This invention gave khol players a much more sturdy instrument. Most fibreglass bodies do not sound that great though, but the brass khol‘ sound pretty similar to the clay ones. Unfortunately they are much more expensive due to the high cost of brass.

Khol in the West
The East Indian Krishna bhakti movement was brought to the West in the 1960s by Srila Prabhupada. He inspired people for Indian philosophy by singing kirtan with khol accompaniment in public places, e.g. in parks or on the streets. His followers continued this practice and went out to sing on the streets as much as possible. However, the traditional rawhide drum heads with their rice paste do only sound perfect in the right climate. They get slack and muffled when it‘s humid, or they tighten and get rigid when it‘s hot and dry - loosing all their tonal beauty either way. Therefore the practice of public kirtan irrespective of the weather required changes on the khol. A Krishna devotee called Ishan Das addressed the task and developed a new unbreakable and weatherproof fibreglass khol with synthetic skins, called the balaram mridanga.

Khol today
Due to the use of the khol within the Krishna movement, it now enjoys great popularity within the kirtan scene as well. It can be played from very softly to tremendously loud, which is the perfect combination for your average kirtan! Fibreglass khols are very practical instruments for extensive travelling and playing in different climatic conditions. However, the sound quality of traditional clay khols is still unmatched. The high-pitched treble-side makes you want to dance and low-pitched-bass-side makes your body go boom-boom-boom! Therefore, clay is the way to go for perfect sound!

The following videos show different aspects of khol playing:
The Mayapuris perform a khol trio.
The Kirtaniyas perform Radhika Stava Sanskrit poem.
Traditional Bengali village kirtan.
Classical khol improvisation by Samir Chatterjee.

India Instruments offers two kinds of khols. Info on clay khols is available here and info on fibreglass khols here.
Teaching material for khol is included in the 4-DVD set Devotional Music Lessons - available for 26.90 Euros (plus shipping). More info on Devotional Music Lessons and other percussion teaching material  here.

5. Sitar Fusion from Germanistan (2/6) - Tri Atma , Orexis & the 70s
- Background Feature by Yogendra -

Ravi Shankar‘s heirs keep the sitar alive - not only in India but also in Central Europe! It is a little-known fact that sitarists with German roots have already been successful professional performers for decades. They have explored original new ways of combining Indian sounds with other musical styles and have thus contributed substantially to what is known today as world music. Time to take a closer look and tell the story of this ignored tradition...

What Ravi Shankar later called the „great sitar explosion“ of 1968 turned the sitar master into a world-famous pop star almost overnight and made any creative Anglo-American band dabble in raga rock with sitar sounds. In Germany though, this sitar explosion passed by without any immediate consequences. In the 1970s, however, sitar music slowly seeped into German ears thanks to radio broadcasts, records and teaching and performing Indian sitarists. Among the first German musicians who used the sitar in their own music were jazz guitarist Volker Kriegel (1943 - 2003, LP „Spectrum“ 1971) and the spiritually oriented sound designer Georg Deuter (* 1945, LP „D“ 1971). Multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus (* 1953, LP „Implosion“ 1977) may be mentioned in this context as well. However, none of these musicians used the sitar as an essential and characteristic element of their style. Only the ambient pioneer Al Gromer Khan (* 1946 ) dealt more deeply with the sitar - his story shall be told in the next episode. But then, with around 10 years of delay, a small sitar explosion hit Germany, too...

In 1975 composer Georg Lawall (* 1952) founded a band called Orexis, and in 1977 they published their first album under the same name. With Lawall on guitar and sitar, Gert Kilian on drumset and percussion and Erik Erker on bass, Orexis‘ jazzy rock debut won the German Record Prize for newcomers and the band was honored as Artists of the Year. Lawall, head of the group, had his first live experience of a sitar in 1973 at a concert of Ghulam Hussein Khan in Essen and fell immediately in love with the instrument. He traveled to the last concert of Khan‘s tour in Zurich, took two lessons from him there and finally bought his sitar. As a classically trained guitarist and composer, he knew from the beginning that he would not go into Indian raga performance, but play his own music on the sitar instead, and that he would use his guitar fingering technique for that purpose. That way Orexis created a very unique form of acoustic ethno-jazz fusion. German jazz guru Joachim-Ernst Berendt said about it: „No one can say what Orexis plays, everything is so mixed. Lawall does not play jazz, but he plays with jazz, and with many other things, too...“ Until 1986 Orexis published seven more albums in various line-ups (including Trilok Gurtu, Büdi Siebert, Joe Koinzer and Willi Kappich), gave radio performances and toured Europe and Asia. „Turkish Blend“  from the second LP „Inspiration“ (1978) is a characteristic example of with Lawall‘s sitar.

After the successful years with Orexis it got a little quieter around Georg Lawall, but in addition to his work as a classical guitarist and composer he is still very active as a creative musician with the sitar to the present day. Not only does he perform and write music for sitar, but he is also working on modifying traditionally built sitars to better implement concepts of Western music such as harmony and polyphony. Numerous audio samples of his work can be found on his website.

The album „Karuna Supreme“ by sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and saxophone virtuoso John Handy, accompanied on tabla by Zakir Hussain and produced by Joachim-Ernst Berendt, came out in 1976. This milestone of fusion music sparked a creative boost in three young musicians from Hannover in 1977. Saxophonist Herbert Koschmieder, guitarist Manfred Flathe and tabla player Asim Saha initially covered pieces from „Karuna Supreme“. Flathe (* 1953) had just gotten hold of a sitar, brought from India by his father, and played the sarod part on it. But soon original compositions emerged from these sessions and eventually, after guitarist Jens Fischer and tanpura player Martina Specht had joined, Manfred Flathe focused entirely on the sitar and the first LP was recorded under the band name Tri Atma. Its music was a refreshing  combination of Bengali folk with brisk grooves, pop song structures and jazz elements. „Ramu Ka“ is an audio example.

Even before the record was published, Tri Atma won an ad hoc created interdisciplinary special award at the Pop-Youth Festival of the German Phono Academy in 1978, after a rousing performance. With the backing of this success the debut album reached impressive sales in 1979, and Tri Atma filled the clubs all over the old Federal Republic of Germany. Flathe used the tours to sit with the sitar all around the clock, and acquired the basics of Indian classical playing technique through lessons with Manfred Junius and Imrat Khan. Tri Atma‘s second LP „Mighty Lotus“, with keyboard instead of guitar, was released in 1980. The third album „Instead of Drugs“, with many elements from Indian classical music, inspired by new member Kamalesh Maitra, came out in 1981.

After that the band broke up in dispute. In the 1980s several further LPs under the name Tri Atma were released, but instead of sitar the newly formed band used electronic sounds and loops. Although these records were commercially relatively successful, they meant the end of German sitar fusion by Tri Atma. Sitarist Manfred Flathe‘s sequel band Chapati failed to build on the success of Tri Atma. Disappointed he turned his back on the music business and worked as a guitar teacher in a small music school until 2013. However,  in recent years he has started performing again on a smaller scale with his own project called Sangit Family and with classical Indian ragas.

The story of the German sitar explosion in the late 1970s would be incomplete without mentioning the music collective Embryo. The group, founded in 1969 as a Krautrock band, did not use any sitar, but performed with musicians from South Asia and North Africa in its projects regularly. That way Embryo became one of the first true world music groups. Especially Embryo‘s journey overland to India in 1979, later on released with numerous field recordings as a double LP and a documentary film, worked as an ear opener for sounds from South Asia. Listen to the complete album here. Video clips from the journey are available here.

6. Workshops - February to April
- Scene Info -

Workshops are a great opportunity of getting fresh inspiration for the study and practice of Indian instruments, Indian music and Indian dance. We support that! Therefore we publish an overview of current workshops regularly. Details of all workshops are available in our website‘s network section on the workshop page.

21.02. - 23.02. SAARBRUECKEN: Raga & Tala intensive with Yogendra
28.02. - 02.03. BERLIN: Classical Indian Kathak dance for intermediate level with Ioanna Srinivasan
01.03. - 02.03. BERLIN: Classical Indian Kathak dance for beginners with Ioanna Srinivasan
07.03. - 09.03. BAD MEINBERG: Harmonium learning seminar with Juergen Wade
14.03. - 16.03. HEMMOOR ( Cuxhaven ): Sitar - step by step... with Yogendra
15.03. & 29.03. BERLIN: Vocal meditation and raga singing with Amelia Cuni
21.03. - 23.03. BAD MEINBERG: My harmonium with Ganapati Leonhardt
23.03. - 28.03. OBERLAHR / WESTERWALD: Harmonium Intermediate Seminar with Govinda Roth
04.04. - 06.04. BAD MEINBERG: Sitar - step by step... with Yogendra
06.04. - 11.04. YOGA VIDYA NORTH SEA: Harmonium Intensive with Uli Schuchart
18.04. - 21.04. YOGA VIDYA BAVARIA: Harmonium learning seminar with Juergen Wade
25.04. - 27.04. YOGA VIDYA BAVARIA: Harmonium Intermediate Seminar with Juergen Wade


7. Concerts - February and March
- Scene Info -

As usual there are relatively few concerts with Indian music in Central Europe in the winter months. Almost all performances are by resident artists. Please check our concert calendar for more detailed information, venues and times as well as further dates in 2014.

10.02. BERLIN: Sebastian Dreyer - Sitar
11.02. BERLIN: Ludwig Pesch - Bamboo Flute
12.02. BERLIN: Tabla Ensemble „ Kamalesh Maitra „ & Midrangam Ensemble of Global Music Academy
13.02. BERLIN: Matyas Wolter - Surbahar & Sitar
14.02. POTSDAM: Matyas Wolter - Sitar & Surbahar
24.02. BERLIN: Eva Isolde Balzer - Bharatnatyam Dance
25.02. BERLIN: Elena Jacinta - Bharatnatyam Dance
26.02. BERLIN: Lucretia Maniscotti - Bharatnatyam Dance
27.02. BERLIN: Johanna Devi - Bharatnatyam Dance
28.02. A - VIENNA: Trio Ganga
01.03. A - STRASSHOF: Trio Ganga
05.03. ZWICKAU: Avant - Rag
07.03. CZ - PRAGUE: Sebastian Dreyer - Sitar Solo
08.03. CZ - PRAGUE: Sebastian Dreyer - Sitar Solo
11.03. BERLIN: Sebastian Dreyer - Sitar & Surbahar
15.03. BERLIN: Amelia Cuni - Dhrupad Vocal
15.03. AUGSBURG: Satyaa & Pari - Mantras
22.03. UNNA: Satyaa & Pari - Mantras
30.03. Darmstadt: AMANO Indo-Euro Music Group
30.03. SELIGENSTADT: Satyaa & Pari - Mantras

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