Newsletter January / February 2015


1. Review 2014 - Good Times, Bad Times
2. Radel Milan - eTabla & eTanpura in One
3. StringGym - Finger Training for Sitar
4. Zarin Daruwala Sharma - Master in the Background
5. Kirtan (6): Bauls - The Mystic Madmen
6. Yoga & Music at the Feet of the Himalayas (3/3) - Harmonium Purchase
7. Workshops - February to April
8. Concerts - February & March

1. Review 2014 - Good Times, Bad Times
- Notes by Yogendra -

2014 were good times for India Instruments. We celebrated our 20th anniversary with many gifts: 170 CDs with Indian sounds and 270 art print postcards of goddess Saraswati went to? you, our customers, as a free thank you. We have successfully tested the shipping of smaller quantities from India by air freight. We found a new employee for our workshop. New distributors have ordered from us. We have made progress in the search for new suppliers. And the year was economically very successful as well. We owe that to a team that is committed to India Instruments with enthusiasm and dedication, despite low material wages. And, of course, we owe it to everyone who buys from us or supports us in other ways. Thank you for 20 wonderful and exciting years! May there be many more to come!

2014 was also a difficult year. The takeover of the Californian Ali Akbar College Store (to which India Instruments felt ideationally connected) by an Indian investor has shown how quickly a speciality shop with long tradition and excellent reputation can get into financial trouble and lose its base. The rapid depreciation of the euro in recent months and the resulting sharp rise in purchase costs made it clear how much our small company is dependent on global economic developments on which we have no influence. And hacker attacks on our website and losses of several thousand euros to online fraud have shown us just how vulnerable we are.

2014 was a bad time for the world. The escalation of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the disintegration of the state Libya and the desperate conditions in Afghanistan have clearly shown that it doesn't work to impose Western ideas of democratic state order on other countries by military force - whether by occupying regimes or by direct or indirect support for supposedly good rebels. Instead of freedom and democracy, chaos and violence prevail in all these places. The EU's hitherto seemingly unstoppable expansion by combining economic integration with political alignment has reached a limit in Ukraine. The result is an open war in Donbass and a sanction war between Russia and the EU. War was faught between Israelis and Palestinians again (or still) as well. And in countries such as Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Colombia smolder long-term conflicts that have driven millions to flee, almost unnoticed by the Western public.

According to the UN, a total of over 51 million people worldwide were on the run in 2014 - more than ever before since the second world war. The vast majority of them remain internally displaced in their own country. The bulk of the cross-border refugees end up in neighbouring countries. Pakistan with 1.6 million refugees and Iran and Lebanon, each with more than 850,000, are the largest host countries, followed by Jordan and Turkey, each with more than 600,000 refugees. Given these dimensions, the 200,000 asylum seekers in Germany and 235,000 in the rest of the EU seem quite manageable - less than 1% of the world's refugees made it to carefully sealed off Europe.

Peace We are very well aware of all these depressing facts. But we still believe in the power of music: It brings joy into our lives by simple means. It supports the flow of our emotions and helps us to cope with difficult situations. Music is essentially universally human and therefore transcends all divisions between cultures, races, religions, nations and political parties. It lets us connect with others and promotes peaceful coexistence. You can not shoot, torture or bomb while making music. In this sense, we are trying to make a small, modest contribution to a more peaceful and more joyful world with our work for India Instruments.


2. Radel Milan - eTabla & eTanpura in One
- New in our Assortment -

Milan means juncture in Hindi. The Milan combines electronic tabla and tanpura in a single device with good sound quality and great technical reliability. It offers a basic repertoire of Indian rhythms and a rich drone. 15 Indian rhythms (thekas) are preset in the 15 most common basic rhythm cycles (talas) from 6 to 16 beats. In addition, the Milan emulates a 4-string tanpura. Except for the pitch, all the settings of the two instruments can be controlled independently. The Milan comes from Radel Electronics, the market leader in the field of Radel Milanelectronic Indian instruments. Radel's use of latest sampler technology brings the sound quite close to that of a real tabla and tanpura.

The Milan is now available with us @ 199.- Euros (plus 6.90 Euros shipping within Germany / 19.90 Euros within Europe). Sound sample, photos, more information and product specifications here.

Taalmala Digi-108

Another recent addition to our assortment is Radel's tabla machine Taalmala Digi-108. It offers an enormous range of preset Indian rhythms from classical to folk to devotional, good sound quality, many variations and high technical reliability. Rhythms can be edited and new rhythms can be programmed, too. 108 traditional Indian rhythm cycles (thekas) in 47 different talas from 4 to 48 beats are preset. Thekas can be varied by using fills, laggis, tihais, additional cymbals, random variations or individual editing. Moreover, 5 new rhythm cycles can be programmed and saved according to the ideas of the user.

The Taalmala Digi-108 is available with us @ 189.- Euros (plus 6.90 Euros shipping within Germany / 19.90 Euros within Europe). Sound sample, photos, more information and product specifications here.

An overview of our electronic instruments is available here.


3. StringGym - Finger Training for Sitar
- New in our Assortment -

Painful fingertips instead of joy of music is the lot of many sitar players. The remedy for this problem is building strong callus by means of regular and intense stimulation. Ideally, the fingertips get sufficient stimulation through consistent daily practice. But in everyday life, it is often difficult to find enough time for this regularity, or there might be long periods without any practice, e.g. due to illness or travel. These widespread practical problems can be solved by using the StringGym training device.

StringGym StringGym consists of a piece of steel wire in a plastic holder. The device is held between the thumb and fingers. For training place one or two fingers on the wire as you would when playing the sitar. By pressing your fingertips firmly onto the wire, you can imitate the typical stress of sitar playing and thereby stimulate callus growth. The gripping power of your fingers gets strengthened like that, too. SitarGym fits into any pocket. Therefore you can train your fingers anytime and anywhere? - e.g. during travel in cars, buses or trains, while watching TV or surfing the internet, in school, university or office, alone or in company. That way you can grow and maintain strong callus without an instrument and without spending additional time. And when you sit with your sitar you are rewarded by painless enjoyment.

The training device StringGym is available now @ 19.90 Euros (plus 6.90 Euros shipping within Germany / 19.90 Euros within Europe). Learn more here.

An overview of other tools and accessories for sitar players is available here.


4. Zarin Daruwala Sharma - Master in the Background
- Obituary by Yogendra -

Zarin Daruwalla It is rare that a woman makes it to the top in the world of Indian classical music. The traditional female role model of mother and keeper of family still seems to be too deeply rooted - and the Indian music scene with its informal cliques of artist families, gharanas, organisers, media and sponsors is still too exclusively dominated by men. If a woman makes a career in music in spite of all the difficulties, it is usually as a singer. A successful female instrumental soloist is still a rare exception. The great sarodiya Zarin Sharma, nee Daruwala, was such a notable exception.

She was born into a middle-class Parsi family in Mumbai in 1946. As a small child she showed musical talent and was early encouraged by her father. In 1952 she heard a performance of the legendary duo Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar on sitar and sarod - and fell in love with the sarod immediately. Although the sarod is still regarded almost exclusively as a domain of men, because the right hand allegedly requires special force to strike the strings and because it was associated with Afghan warrior clans until the 19th century, little Zarin got sarod lessons with Haripad Ghosh from then on. She developed into a musical prodigy who was inspired by singers S.C.R. Bhat, Laxmanprasad Jaipurwale and S.N. Ratanjankar as well as violinist V.G. Jog. As early as the late 50's she recorded her first track for the theme music of a Bollywood movie.

Working as a studio soloist in the Indian film industry requires absolute perfection - every note has to be exactly accurate, even on a fretless stringed instrument such as the sarod; any small mistake means embarrassment before the music director and the orchestra musicians. Famous soloists have shunned the pressure of this situation all their life or failed at it. Young Zarin Daruwala, however, made her breakthrough in Bollywood at age 18 with the music for the film Chitralekha. From then on, she was known in the industry as "that Parsi Girls". For decades she played film music for various top music directors. It was at a film music recording session when she met her future husband, the sitarist Ashok Sharma. After their marriage she gave up her maiden name and performed as Zarin Sharma.

She received highest recognition as a classical raga performer, too. The pristine intonation that she perfected in her studio work came to her in good stead. While even great artists sometimes have small lapses in concert (which may go unnoticed in the moment, but can be annoying after repeated listening to live recordings), her performances were impeccable. And there was never any trace of the alleged female weakness of the right hand strokes. On the contrary: The balance between the weight of her right hand strokes and her left hand melodic articulation was simply perfect. In terms of musical contents she remained completely faithful to the classical tradition when performing a raga - she kept her work for Bollywood strictly separate from her classical concerts.

Zarin Sharma could have been a big star, had she hired PR agencies like some contemporary musicians. But she prefered a quiet way and led a modest and reclusive life. Therefore she remained relatively unknown to the larger public. However, she received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for her contribution to classical music in 1988 - one of the highest honours that India has to offer to an artist. Her most important student is santoor player Ulhas Bapat. Zarin Sharma can be considered one of the most perfect among the sarodiyas of her time. On December 20th, 2014, she passed away in Mumbai at the age of 68.

Zarin Sharma plays raga chandranandann.


5. Kirtan (6): Bauls - The Mystic Madmen
- Series by Atul Krishna -

Kirtan has become ever more popular around the world in the past two decades - and so have the Indian instruments used to accompany it. Atul Krishna, himself an accomplished kirtan percussionist, gives background info on history, styles, musicians and instruments of kirtan in an open series.

Bengal used to be (and still is) a source of inspiration for many musicians, philosophers and spiritualists. Kirtan (in the form as we know it today) finds its origin in Bengal. The father of the kirtan movement, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, was the inspiration for several spiritual groups. Not only the Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) and Kartabhajas (tantrics) have the highest regard for this personality, but also the Bauls of Bengal. The word "Baul" is derived from the Sanskrit word "Vatula", meaning mad, possessed or crazy. It's no coincidence that this word was first used to describe Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the one and only big Baul! Bauls are known as mystical mendicants and are mostly found within the Shudra caste or the outcastes. Needless to say, the Bauls do not feel anything for the caste system and thus reject it, just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu did.

Baul The thing that amazes me the most about the Bauls, is their music. It might actually be the only thing that keeps their tradition alive. They sing mostly on spiritual topics, including "the big Baul" (a.k.a. Caitanya Maharaprabhu) and his intimate associates (Nityananda - seen as an incarnation of Shankarshan, Advaita Acharya - seen as an incarnation of Maha Vishnu, and many others), but also Radha and Krishna. Baul music might not be the same as the call and response we know as kirtan. But the songs they present must definitely be classified as devotional music. The feeling they bring with their music is indescribable, filled with love and devotion. The Bauls usually accompany their songs with the string instruments ektara, dotara or khamak. In larger groups they also use simple flutes, the barrel drums dholak and khol, the small kettle bass drum duggi, the cymbals manjeera / kartal and the ankle bells ghungroo and nupur.

The music of the Bauls had great influence on Rabindranath Tagore's poetry and music. Tagore composed the national anthem of Bangladesh, deriving the tune from one of Gagan Harkara's songs (a Baul poet who lived during Tagore's time). A famous contemporary kirtan artist who has been heavily influenced by the Bauls is Jai Uttal.

Lakshman Das Baul sings about Sri Radha at a private gathering in the USA. He accompanies himself with dotara and ghungroos.

A Folk song performed by Basudeb Das Baul. Soloist Basudeb Das Baul plays a dotara, the white-bearded accompanist in the background plays a khamak and the drummer plays a dholak. The video was shot in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, an important centre of the Baul culture.

Debdas Baul performs with his group at a river bank in West Bengal. He plays ektara and duggi. The clip has subtitles with the song text and is an excerpt from Charlie Steiner's Baul documentary "Ami Pagol - I Am Crazy."

The following Baul instruments are available from India Instruments: dotara, ektar, dholak, khol, manjeera and ghungroos.


6. Yoga & Music at the Feet of the Himalayas (3/3) - Harmonium Purchase
- Travel Report by Samante Kamaladiwela -

In 2013/14, Samante Kamaladiwela travelled through India, Sri Lanka and Iran to delve deeper into his passion for yoga and music. He shares some special experiences in Uttarakandh, the Indian state at the feet of the Himalayas with the spring of the Ganges, in this three part series.

Harmonium Purchase

After the yoga training at the feet of the Himalayas, I wanted to spend my last days of Northern India in Rishikesh again. The period of intense yoga practice during training still had strong repercussions. It had been a journey inside, an exploration of the self. The attention of the mind had been constantly directed inward and the outer world had seemed marginal. However, the hustle and bustle of the city changed this mental focus slowly. It caused a permanent distraction and slowly but surely the inner balance and the silence faded and worldly thoughts and emotions tested my patience. In an attempt to restore my inner peace I moved from the noisy hotel where I lived for the first few days to a hotel closer to the Ganges. It was an old forgotten hotel, uncrowded and beautifully located at the river. It was almost unreal - as soon as I moved further up the road into the busy city, my new quiet oasis seemed like a dream.

Harmonium I had planned to buy a harmonium while still in India. However, the music shops in the tourist streets seemed unsuitable to me. Their instruments were rather poor quality and overpriced and they rarely had a harmonium for sale at all. I asked around and was told to take a look at some small music shops in downtown Rishikesh. So I went to the real Rishikesh, where there are hardly any tourists and the turbulent Indian everyday life takes its course. I passed by markets with vegetable and fruit stalls and all sorts of other everyday objects. In one corner there was, for example, a stand that sold lots of jaggery, blocks of solidified sugar cane syrup concentrate, which was heated up to 200° C. Jaggery is quite popular among the Indians. In Europe it is pretty much unknown and only available at high prices in health food stores, but in Northern India a jaggery stall is part of any larger fruit and vegetable market.

Harmonium The music store Shri Ganga Harmonium was supposed to be near the central market, in a side street. After a short search I found myself standing in front of a music shop that matched the description. Actually, it was nothing more than a garage crammed with various musical instruments or parts of instruments, with a strange-looking old man sitting on the floor, repairing a drum. When I addressed him, he just nodded and kept on working on his drum. Then a young man came forward, spoke to me in English, and asked me what I was looking for. It turned out that he was the son of the old man. When it was confirmed that I was interested in a harmonium, the old man pulled out a dusty harmonium and put it in front of me. He had built it himself. I liked the instrument immediately; It was not exactly noble and badly out of tune, but the sound was nice and full. Somehow it represented the spirit of India to me - without frills and very direct.

I insisted that the instrument had to be tuned before I bought it. The old man immediately disassembled the harmonium to access the metal reeds which produce the sound and started tuning. He was very quick at it, working the reeds with his file here and there, correcting their pitch until all the notes were pretty much in tune. In between he looked at me for approval, and when I shook my head he continued tuning with his file. Like that we took a few rounds, because I was not satisfied until my ears could trace no dissonance any more. I was not willing to compromise in this regard. We did not speak a single word to each other throughout the whole process and communicated only with sign language. But it worked and finally I was happy with the sound. That's how I managed to get my harmonium at the end of my journey.


7. 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.

Workshop 07.02 - 08.02. NL - DEN HAAG: Sitar Workshop with Ashok Pathak
14.02 - 15.02. NL - DEN HAAG: Vocal Workshop with Ashok Pathak
14.02. - 15.02. DRESDEN: Kathak-Dance with Ioanna & Ravi Srinivasan
27.02. - 01.03. WANGERLAND (North Sea): Harmonium Beginners with Marija Balic
06.03. - 08.03. SAARBRUCKEN: Raga & Tala Intensive with Yogendra
13.03. - 15.03. BAD MEINBERG: Harmonium Advanced Jürgen Wade
April 2015 - April 2016 BERLIN: Training Voice Meditation with Amelia Cuni
April - November 2015 HOF KUPPEN: Nada Yoga Basic Training with Anne-Careen Engel & Ram Vakkalanka
03.04. - 06.04. OY-MITTELBERG (Allgäu): Harmonium Beginners with Jürgen Wade
05.04. - 12.04. BAD MEINBERG: Mantra Yoga Teacher Training with Sundaram & Katyayani Ulbricht
10.04. - 12.04. OY-MITTELBERG (Allgäu): Harmonium Advanced with Jürgen Wade
10.04. - 12.04. BAD MEINBERG: Intro to Nada Yoga with Anne-Careen Engel
17.04. - 19.04. OBERLAHR (Westerwald): Harmonium Beginners with Govinda Roth
17.04. - 19.04. HEMMOOR (North Sea): Sitar - Step by Step with Yogendra

8. Concerts - February & March
- Szene-Info -

As is common in the winter time, there are only a few events with Indian sounds in the next two months. The highlight is the double concert of khyal virtuoso Kaushiki Chakrabarty, daughter of Ajoy Chakrabarty, and sitar master Krishna Bhatt in March in Lausanne. Please check our concert calendar for more detailed information, venues and times.

Konzerte 07.02. STUTTGART: Katrin Northe / Rupakam - Bharata-Naytam-Dance
08.02. STUTTGART: Hans Wettstein - Sitar & Shrirang Mirajkar - Tabla
15.02. DRESDEN: Akbar's Palace - Kathak-Dance
20.02. AT - MIEDERS: Indian Air
22.02. MUNCHEBERG: Matrameru - intercultural Dance-, Drummming- & Music Theatre
26.02. B - BRUXELLES: Alick Sengupta - Vocal & Ensemble
27.02. AT - HALL: SitarStation
27.02. AACHEN: Alick Sengupta - Vocal & Ensemble
28.02. FRANKFURT/M.: Alick Sengupta - Vocal & Ensemble
07.03. CH - LAUSANNE: Kaushiki Chakrabarty - Khyal Vocal / Krishna Bhatt - Sitar
08.03. AUGSBURG: Satyaa & Pari - Kirtan
13.03. AT - LANS: Indian Air
14.03. STUTTGART: Satyaa & Pari - Kirtan
14.03. NURNBERG: Indigo Masala - World Music Stories
28.03. CH - ZURICH: Satyaa & Pari - Kirtan
28.03. STUTTGART: Ranajit Sengupta - Sarod
29.03. STUTTGART: Ranajit Sengupta - Sarod
29.03. RASTATT: Shirin Sengupta - Vocal

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