Newsletter July / December 2020


1. Fine Hamoniums for On the Go & Everywhere - Pakrashi Premium Mini & Sarang Kirtan Classic
2. Corona in India - Chaos, Flexibility & Resilience
3. Kirtan - Anyone Can Sing!
4. #MeToo - Sexual Harassment by Classical Indian Musicians
5. Brief News: Pandit Jasraj Passes Away / World Sitar Festival / Wind of Change
6. How to Make (Indian) Music? (24) – What is Improvisation?
7. Workshops & Concerts

1. Fine Hamoniums for On the Go & Everywhere - Pakrashi Premium Mini & Sarang Kirtan Classic
- New in Assortment -

Harmonium Pakrashi premium mini- Harmonium Pakrashi Premium Mini 535.16 € (461.35 € non-EU)

Low weight and small dimensions make the Pakrashi Premium Mini a perfect accompaniment for mantras and kirtans on the road and at home - without cumbersome folding mechanism. It is sturdy and easy to use and has a rich, warm and round sound. The Pakrashi Premium Mini offers particularly fine quality, significantly less expensive than the similar Paloma Companion. The 27 keys from f to g range over 2 1/4 octaves and thus cover the typical range of common mantras and kirtans. High-quality double reeds ensure good response and a warm, full sound. The silky-matt teak surfaces please eyes and hands alike. Precise workmanship ensures good fluency of the keyboard and long-term tightness of the air chambers. However, the Pakrashi Premium Mini has less air volume than normal sized harmoniums. Therefore, it needs more more action of the bellows when playing chords.

Pictures, audio sample & and full details of Pakrashi Premium Mini.

- Harmonium Sarang Kirtan Classic 613.14 € (528.57 € non-EU)
Harmonium Sarang Kirtan Classic
The Sarang Kirtan Classic is a good choice for beginners and kirtan singers who appreciate fine quality. Its main features are equivalent to our Tirupati Kirtan Classic and the 23 B from Bina, but the quality of materials and workmanship is a bit higher. Thanks to Krishna Das or Jai Uttal, the design with fold-down bellows, integrated case, double reeds and simple stick keys is a classic in the western kirtan scene. Its simplicity makes it both inexpensive and robust. Double reeds, octave coupler and four drone notes provide a full, brilliant sound. The folding mechanism makes it so compact that you can easily carry it with just one hand.

Pictures, audio sample & and full details of Sarang Kirtan Classic.

2. Corona in India - Chaos, Flexibility & Resilience
- Status Report by Yogendra -


The official figures of confirmed corona infections and corona related deaths in India had initially continued to rise steadily after the end of the total lockdown from 25.3 - 31.5. However, after record levels in September, they have dropped significantly again. As of November 23.11., there were officially a total of 9.2 million infections and 134,000 deaths in a population of 1.33 billion. After the contradictory experiences with the radical nationwide lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic - the economic and humanitarian consequences were in part catastrophic - the central government is now conspicuously holding back. It‘s the turn of state governments and local authorities. This has resulted in a wild patchwork of regional and local border closures, travel restrictions, quarantine regulations, distance, masking and work rules that stifle public life and slow down the economy. Although proportionally fewer infected people die than in western countries, this is probably mainly due to the low average age of the population - India is a young country. Moreover, the official figures are not considered very reliable. The fear of infection is rampant, especially among older people with pre-existing conditions, because the health system is so hopelessly overburdened that sometimes no medical care is available at all.

TrainWhile industry, trade, commerce and culture are suffering and food donations are being distributed in many places, financed by NGOs, non-resident Indians and rich private individuals, agricultural production still seems to be quite stable, so that for the time being at least there is no threat of famine. All in all, the Indians have so far endured the development with a certain fatalism that has been cultivated for a long time. After all, hundreds of millions have only acquired a certain prosperity in the last one or two decades. Before that, the mass of people lived in very basic conditions. To this day, there is no social security system whatsoever and people have always been forced to deal flexibly with scarcity and chaos and to seek support in family and informal networks.

Purbayan ChatterjeeThe majority of classical musicians in India are also used to a modest life - one does not become a musician for the sake of money. Before corona most musicians had to earn their living with small concerts, lessons, commercial productions and part-time jobs. The flexibility they have developed in this way benefits them in the pandemic. Lessons now take place online, and renowned soloists, formerly too busy for teaching, are now happy to give individual sessions. Countless performances are posted online as recordings or livestreams - some simply filmed with mobile phones in the living room, others with professional technology. Facebook has become a popular medium for this, especially for younger artists who otherwise hardly get any performance opportunities. There is no money to be made, but there is a chance to get public attention. More well-known artists try to earn money with paid streams or sponsorship models. E.g. some of them play in the sponsored concert series of IT Gigant HCL,which now takes place online under the name Baithak, house concert. Thanks to improved real-time data transmission, several musicians sitting in different places are now able to play together live online - and can thus realise creative ideas that would hardly have a chance in a normal concert setting. An example of the new colourful online abundance is the YouTube channel of sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee with over 40 videos released since March - the enormously broad spectrum includes background talks, raga and crossover performances and professionally produced music videos.

For instrument makers in India, the situation remains difficult. There are disruptions and obstructions everywhere - raw materials and components from suppliers are missing, local ordinances restrict operating hours, employees have to go into quarantine, stay at home for fear of infection or cannot get to the workshops because of curfews or breakdowns in public transport. Finished instruments cannot be exported because packaging material cannot be procured or transport capacity is not available. Our supplier Haribhau Vishwanath (Paloma harmoniums) in Mumbai, for example, had to stop production completely from March to October because the manufacturing process involves a strong division of labour, and skilled workers for crucial steps had stayed at home with their families in rural villages for months. At Amaanshi (Sarang harmoniums) in Delhi, the whole team recently had to be quarantined because of positive corona tests. In order to be able to deliver at all, quality standards are sometimes neglected. And since our independent quality supervisors on site can only work to a limited extent, more and more instruments with defects slip through to us in Germany and block our workshop with the necessary repairs. This results in domino effects of delays, bottlenecks and quality problems, which pose great challenges to our suppliers in India as well as to our team in Berlin. The good news amidst all these difficulties: At the moment it looks like all our Indian partners are flexible and resilient enough to survive the crisis period!


3. Kirtan - Anyone Can Sing!
- Personal Field Report by Nadine Webering -

Have you ever been to a kirtan? Kirtan is a part of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. Kirtan is chanting of mantras in call and response form. That is, one person (the wallah) chants a line of the mantra and the listeners repeat it after him. There is no divide - wallah and listeners form one unit. A kirtan can be very quiet, accompanied only by a harmonium, or very loud and with many wonderful instruments. Sometimes it is quite meditative, sometimes it ends in ecstatic dance. In kirtan we connect with the energy of the people around us and with our own. We absorb the energy of the mantras we chant, usually dedicated to a Hindu deity. This is how we practice devotion to the divine. Also to the divine within us. But for me, kirtan is much more than that. Through kirtan I have rediscovered how wonderful it is to sing.  

"I can't sing!" - I can't count how many times in my life I've said this sentence. For decades I was firmly convinced that it was true. But where did this belief actually come from? When I was at school, I sang in the choir. At the beginning we all sang together. But then we had to audition to find out what our vocal range was. I sang with wet hands and a quivering voice. And instead of being told my vocal range, the teacher told me: "You'd better go to the back". That was the last time I was in the choir. And also the last time I sang in front of people. I didn't even allow myself to sing alone anymore. No resounding singing in the car or in the shower. "I can't sing!" was like a mantra that I recited over and over again until it burned itself into my soul like the truth.

Then I was saved in the yoga teacher training. Every training weekend we practiced bhakti yoga and chanted together. At first it was impossible for me to join in. Out of shame that it would be noticed, I only ever moved my lips. At some point, however, the mantras made their way out of my head and into my heart, and I could no longer help but chant them. At the beginning only very softly, but with time I could no longer hold back the energy that the chanting of the mantras generated and it burst out of me. I could feel so many emotions while chanting. Joy, sadness, anger, resentment, love - everything mixed together into a huge potpourri of feelings and burst out from under the surface. At first it completely overwhelmed me, but now I enjoy diving into the emotions, looking at them and allowing them to be. All emotions are there, all of them are allowed to be. They all are me!

Today I am almost addicted to chanting in a group with like-minded people. I take every opportunity to attend a kirtan. My voice is certainly not that of an opera singer. I probably don't even hit every note. But that doesn't matter. Because singing is connecting with emotions. Singing is healing. If you are like me, if you have always forbidden yourself to sing in public, I would like to invite you to give it a try. See where the next kirtan is in your area and just go. Just sit, close your eyes and let the energy work. And then go again...and again. I promise you, it works. The wonderful protected space of a kirtan, where there are only people who wish you well, will eventually allow you to share your voice with others and be one with all beings.

Nadine Webering worked as a neurologist in hospitals for several years. Today, as an independent expert with a special focus on self-efficacy, she combines modern evidence-based medicine with the traditions of Ayurveda and yoga. In 2020, her book „Migraine ganzheitlich behandeln mit Ayurveda“ was published.

4. #MeToo - Sexual Harassment by Classical Indian Musicians
- Background Report by Yogendra -

A discussion about sexual harassment and coercion has been making waves in the media and culture industry since 2017. Initially, individual US actresses declared that influential producers and directors had coerced them into sex. After these allegations became public, more and more people came forward with similar accounts of their experiences - hence the headline Me Too. It became clear that sexual assault, ranging from harassment and humiliation to coercion and rape, is probably more widespread and commonplace in the cultural and media world than was previously known. The consequences for those accused were severe: film producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape; opera star Plácido Domingo had to resign as head of the Los Angeles Opera; two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey became such an unperson in Hollywood that he was even cut out off a film that had already been shot. The breeding ground of the evil turned out to be the great, barely controlled power of mostly older male perpetrators in an environment with little external regulation, in which a high degree of idealism is just as much required as a great willingness to open up emotionally.

Since 2018, the global MeToo debate has also been causing a stir in the Indian classical music scene. The Carnatic music tradition of South India made the start. There, accusations of discrimination had been around for some time: male accompanists were said to have refused to play for female soloists; female musicians complained about less frequent and lower-paid performance opportunities than male artists. Then, in autumn 2018, young women accused several male stars of Carnatic music (including singer OS Thyagarajan and vichtra veena player Ravikiran) of sexual harassment. In most cases, the women were students of the accused and were allegedly sexually approached and sometimes groped in private on the sidelines of special teaching situations. And after they had rejected the lewd advances, they had felt discriminated against and intimidated by their teachers in further lessons. Some of the accused denied the allegations and described them as misunderstandings, others remained silent. There has been no official investigation or judicial clarification of the allegations so far. In a first reaction to the events, more than 200 Carnatic artists signed a statement condemning sexual harassment and encouraging victims to come forward. Shortly afterwards, the renowned Music Academy in Chennai removed seven accused from its annual festival programme and set up a sexual harassment reporting procedure in 2019. Other organisers, however, drew no consequences. In the summer of 2020, another controversy arose over whether the accused should be eligible for benefits from the Global Carnatic Musicians Association, a newly formed society to provide financial support to Carnatic musicians.

In September 2020, the MeToo debate also reached the classical North Indian music tradition with allegations against the renowned Gundecha brothers at their Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal. Dhrupad Sansthan is a kind of music ashram where about two to three dozen adult learners from all over the world  live together and study the dhrupad style with Umakant, Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha, using voice and instruments. Experiential reports of sexual harassment by Akhilesh Gundecha and Ramakant (who passed away in 2019) were first shared on Facebook and WhatsApp around the world and then presented to Akhilesh in person by a group of students on site. Shortly after, Umakant Gundecha, in his capacity as Dhrupad Sansthan chairman, announced Akhilesh's resignation and the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to investigate the allegations, under India's Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, passed in 2013. The students rejected the first manning of the ICC for lack of independence. The group also criticised that the allegations against Ramakant were not being investigated and that the Dhrupad Sansthan, although officially an NGO, was being run like a family business without clearly defined bodies and responsibilities. As a result, the ICC was reconstituted and expanded and now consists of a lawyer, a human rights activist, a children‘s rights activist, and a male and a female student of the Dhrupad Sansthan. The heated disputes have seriously affected the atmosphere at the Dhrupad Sansthan and have deeply shaken and unsettled the global community of Gundecha students. It remains to be seen whether the artistic and pedagogical life's work of the Gundechas will be permanently damaged, or whether the achievements can be preserved and carried on by the next generation through consistent clarification and reappraisal of the events. Shortly after the allegations against Dhrupad Sansthan came to light, 90 North Indian classical musicians issued a joint statement condemning sexual abuse and the "fear-driven culture of silence in the Hindustani music world" and calling for support for victims and safe spaces for women.

The traditional Indian form of personal transmission of knowledge and skills from master / mistress (guru) to student (shishya) is still the backbone of Indian classical music styles. Its processual character with its combination of adherence to tradition on the one hand and spontaneity, creativity and individuality on the other cannot be satisfactorily written down or conveyed through audio-visual media. However, the guru-shishya relationship gives the gurus a lot of power and makes the shishyas dependent and vulnerable. This can create a toxic atmosphere in which gurus cross ethical boundaries while shishyas silently bear infringements. MeToo gives learners their own voice for the first time, thereby reducing the dangerous power imbalance, and can thus strengthen the basis of trust which is essential for the guru-shishya relationship. But if gurus are put under general suspicion as potential perpetrators and shishyas see themselves only as helpless victims instead of self-dependent agents, MeToo can shatter the fragile basis of trust. Gurus are not omnipotent gods but vulnerable human beings whose lives can be destroyed by social ostracism based on public accusations. In a debate as emotionally charged as MeToo, it should be helpful to keep a clear head, look closely and avoid rash judgements. Only then is genuine dialogue possible, can interests be balanced and viable conflict solutions found. Ultimately, gurus and shishyas need each other if the classical Indian music traditions are to remain alive. And sometimes, despite all conventions, a deep and lasting love can blossom even between gurus and shishyas - impressively demonstrated in the Indian music scene by the famous married couples Shubhendra Rao & Saskia Rao-de Haas and Ali Akbar Khan & Mary Johnson Khan.


5. Brief News: Pandit Jasraj Passes Away / World Sitar Festival / Wind of Change
- Miscellaneous -

Pandit Jasraj Passes Away - Classicist with Charisma

Pandit JasrajAt the age of 90, the great singer Pandit Jasraj passed away on 17 August. Jasraj came from a family of musicians and continued to learn from his elder brothers after the early death of his father. As a teenager, he embarked on a professional career as a classical Indian singer in the style of the Mewati gharana. The raga orthodoxy initially criticised him for incorporating elements of other gharanas into his singing. But over the years he became one of the world's best-known stars of the Indian classical singing scene with his slightly raspy timbre and spiritual habitus. Jasraj has made a special contribution to Haveli Sangeet, a North Indian form of temple singing in the context of mystical Krishna worship, which he may have saved from extinction through his performances. Jasraj was innovative with the invention of Jasrangi, a duet of male and female voices in which both use the same scale but refer to different fundamental tones at intervals of a fourth. Through modal shifting, this results in two different ragas artistically intertwined with one another. In addition to his artistic work, Jasraj taught with great passion throughout his life until shortly before his death. Among his best-known students are Khyal singer Sanjeev Abhyankar and violinist Kala Ramnath. For his lifetime achievements, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan (2000) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (2010), two of the highest possible honours for Indian artists

Pandit Jasraj: Classical Ragas.
Pandit Jasraj: Devotional.
Jasrangi Jugalbandi.
CDs by Pandit Jasraj.

World Sitar Festival – Diversity with Heart and Soul and Perspective

Under the title World Sitar Festival, a 6-hour video was put online in August: 33 sitarists from 11 countries and various traditions give short performances of 27 ragas - probably recorded live at home and later edited together. The diversity to be seen and heard is impressive: musicians from South Asia, Europe, North America and East Asia; men and women; older and younger; famous and unknown. The diversity is given an exciting extension through a historical perspective: between the performances, commercial shellac records with recordings of great sitar virtuosos from the first half of the 20th century are presented. The common thread is a continuous moderation in Hindi - an awkward choice of language for a festival that has the world in its title and could also address the world through the medium of the internet. Conclusion: Not everything is glamorous - but everything is done with heart and soul. For newcomers, therefore, perhaps a bit brittle - but a must for real sitar freaks and hardcore rasikas.
To World Sitar Festival.

Zum World Sitar Festival.

Wind of Change - Indo-German Musical Tribute for Reunification Anniversary

The 30th anniversary of German reunification was to be celebrated lavishly on 3 October. But the Corona pandemic put a spanner in the works of the grand plans. However, Walter Lindner - musician, lawyer, diplomat and currently German ambassador to India - found online events uninspiring as a substitute. Instead, he produced a music video... Wind of Change by the Scorpions, THE iconic song of the Wende era, was put online by Lindner in a German-Indian arrangement in a surprise coup on 2 October - as the official release of the German Embassy in India. The lead vocals were sung by the Indian singer Chezin, the chorus by a mixed Indian vocal group, the interludes on bansuri, sitar, sarod and tabla by Indian instrumentalists - and all the Western instruments (except the drums) were played by Lindner himself. He did not succeed in creating a viral hit with this - but it was an original attempt to pay emotional tribute to Germany's national holiday and at the same time pay homage to India, his official residence.

An Indo-German celebration of 30 years of German Unification - Wind of Change.


6. How to Make (Indian) Music?  (24) – What is Improvisation?
- Quote by Ueli Bernays

The series "How to Make (Indian) Music?" presents thought-provoking, inspiring or controversial quotes from artists and intellectuals.

Ueli BernaysWhat is improvisation? Everything is allowed! But everything that is familiar, everything that is used up, should be removed from the senses so that something new can resound. This, at least, is the claim. The aesthetic postulate also reliably ensures excitement and passion. But it is never completely fulfilled. Rather, improvisation proves to be a dialectical game between old and new. The musical adventure is not only guided by presence of mind and quick-wittedness, but also by prior knowledge and virtuosity.

Ueli Bernays (*1964) studied history, Russian and philosophy and worked as a freelance journalist, as a Russian and history teacher and as a jazz bassist. In 1999 he became an editor in the feuilleton section of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. In 2000 his first novel was published. Quote from: Keith Jarrett: Becoming has an End, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 11.11.2020


7. Workshops & Concerts
- Scene Info -

Almost no concerts or workshops have taken place since mid-March 2020 due to the corona pandemic.
From June to October, some events had been possible under certain conditions, but in the meantime, strict restrictions with a ban on all concerts and most workshops are again in effect all over Europe. And at the moment nobody knows when events will be allowed again. Therefore we have suspended our online concert and workshop calendars for the time being - the effort for research and permanent updates is simply too much. We ask for your understanding.

Instead, we have published a list of links on our concert and workshop calendar pages from which we regularly extract dates when we work on a new newsletter. Now you can check for yourself what promoters in your region are offering and what your favourite artists are up to. Have fun browsing!

Our list of links is ever changing. Please let us know If you miss links that you find important or if you notice links with errors! We are grateful for feedback!


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