Newsletter July / August 2012

1. New Shrutiboxes - Medium & Triple
- New in our Assortment -

Shrutiboxen are extremely simple to play, almost indestructible, portable, light and create a warm, breathing, alive sound - all that makes them our best-selling group of instruments. The ever increasing demand prompted us to introduce two new models. Both are now available from India Instruments.

  • Shrutibox Monoj Kumar Sardar medium - 210, - € (+ 6,90 € shipping within Germany)
    Our shrutibox Monoj Kumar Sardar medium is a great all-purpose box with a balanced, warm, full sound and attractive solid wood design. The shrutibox medium combines the pros of bigger and smaller shrutiboxes into an interesting hybrid. It is considerably lighter than Monoj Kumar Sardar’s shrutibox large, making it a rather pleasant instrument to carry. At the same time it has noticeably bigger bellows than Monoj Kumar Sardar’s and Paloma’s shrutiboxes small, which even facilitates a fairly constant sound of chords. The shrutibox medium is the only Monoj Kumar Sardar model with side parts made of solid wood instead of laminated wood, giving it an especially attractive appearance.
    Pictures and more info
  • Shrutibox Monoj Kumar Sardar Triple - 290, - € (+ 6,90 € shipping within Germany)
    The shrutibox Monoj Kumar Sardar Triple is designed for professionals with particularly high demands. Due to its greatly extended range it produces a unique rich and vibrant drone sound, appreciated especially by music and sound therapists. Like all shrutiboxes, the Monoj Kumar Sardar Triple is very reliable and extremely easy to handle. The range stretches over three octaves from C3 to B5. Thus is becomes possible, e.g. when playing individual notes or entire chords of the basic octave starting from C3, to play additional octaves, fifths and fourths from both higher octaves simultaneously, simulating the basic principles of the harmonic series in this way. Any other imaginable combination of the 36 available chromatic notes can be played as well, of course. Pictures and more info
  • Special Offer
    Currently we have several large, small and Triple shrutiboxes from Monoj Kumar Sardar with slight shipping damage (scratches, dented edges) in stock. We sell them with a 10% discount! Please get in touch with us If you're interested!

2. Tanpura Cases - Price Reduction
- Special Offer -

We have lowered the prices for our male and female tanpura cases considerably. Effective immediately and until further notice all male and female tanpura cases only cost as much as simple tanpura bags - just 89.- Euros!

Over the years, we have accumulated more and more large tanpura cases. By now they block so much storage space that we want to reduce our stock. The price reduction will be maintained only until we have enough free space in the warehouse again. If you're interested in any tanpura case please order as soon as possible to take advantage of the reduced price! Please give us the size of your tanpura when ordering (total length as well as diameter and depth of the gourd sound box), so that we can look for a fitting case!

Artificial leather cases offer a very good mechanical protection. They are very sturdy and durable, but also relatively heavy (about 8 kg male and 6.5 kg female). They are ideal for frequent travel on public transport with high-quality instruments.

Cardboard cases are relatively lightweight (about 6.5 kg male and 5.5 kg female) and provide good mechanical protection. Unfortunately they are also quite susceptible to wear They are ideal for keeping the instrument at home, for short (foot) walks, travel in the car and general transportation of simple instruments.

Photos and more about suitcases and bags for tanpuras and other instruments


3. Navras Records - 20th Anniversary
- Scene Info -

Navras Records, the London-based label specialised in Indian music, celebrates its 20th birthday this summer - congratulations! Since no label wanted to release live recordings of great Indian concerts taking place in London at that time, Vibhaker Baxi simply founded his own label in 1992. Once started, Vibhaker Baxi quickly got support from India's leading musicians, who were all happy to publish their concerts at Navras. Besides Indian classical music Navras soon produced CDs with the full range of traditional Indian music, such as Ghazal, Thumri, Bhajan, Qawwali and various folk styles. Moreover, fusion and crossover projects with Indian music found their way into the assortment as well.

A first milestone was the opening of a Navras office in India in order to tap the huge Indian market in 1995. However, it soon became clear that Navras was simply too small a company to accomplish this huge task. Therefore all Navras productions are distributed by Sony Music in India since 1998 under the name Sony Nad. A special honour for Navras was the exclusive contract with sitar virtuoso Vilayat Khan in the last years before his death in 2004. 13 albums with the legendary master bear testimony to this unique cooperation. And while CD sales have collapsed globally in recent years and many Indian musicians can only publish their music online or at their own expense, Navras keeps on and on extending the catalogue. The latest coup are the publishing rights to archival recordings of the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai. Founded in 1969, NCPA is one of the most important Indian concert promoters and has since collected thousands of hours of live recordings from all leading Indian classical musicians. The first NCPA-CDs from Navras have just been released - see below!

What started out as just a mere hobby grew into a globally active family business over the years. Apart from founder and chairman Vibhaker his nephew Rahul Baxi and his niece Neema Joshi are also involved full time. Today, the Navras catalogue consists of well over 300 CDs and almost 20 DVDs - all of them available from India Instruments...! May Navras continue to thrive and succeed and delight all lovers of Indian music with many more inspiring releases!


4. New CDs - Nikhil Banerjee, Gangubai Hangal and Others
- New in our Assortment -

  • Nikhil Banerjee (sitar): Ragas Maluha Kalyan & Nat Bhairava; NRCD 8504 -15.- Euros
    Digital re-mastered live recording of the National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, 1975. Nikhil Banerjee (1931 - 1986) was a widely admired and respected master of Indian music and undoubtedly one of the greatest sitarists of his generation. His sophisticated style combines the best of all the great sitar schools and makes him an ideal representative of this instrument. The tabla accompaniment is played by Anindo Chatterjee.
    Maluha Kalyan (36 min.) is a very rarely played evening raga. Like an architect Nikhil Banerjee builds tone upon tone in the Alap, Jor and Jhala, unfolding the imposing structure of the raga. Nat Bhairav ??(25 min.) is a blend of ragas for the time after sunset and before dawn. Its mood is dominated by romantic devotion.
  • Gangubai Hangal (Vocal Khyal): Ragas Adana, Ahir Bhairav ??& Yaman, NRCD 8502/3 - 26.50 Euros (double CD)
    Digital re-mastered live recording of the National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, 1974. Gangubai Hangal (1913 - 2009) was a representative of the Kirana Gharana. As a woman and coming from a lower caste, she had to overcome tremendous resistance to succeed as a classical singer. With her characteristically deep, almost masculine voice, she was for decades one of the very great, most respected artists of India. For her life's work she was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest Indian state order. She is accompanied here by Sultan Khan (sarangi) and Shesh Giri Hangal (tabla).
    Raga Adana (17 min.) is rarely performed by artists of the Kirana Gharana. Gangubai Hangal's powerful, husky voice brings a chord in the heart of the listener to vibrate. The great evening raga Yaman (31 min.) is sung with deep inner involvement and devotional fervor. With Gangubai Hangal's Alap, at the same time moving and soothing, and her explosive Tanas it develops a tremendous emotional power. Ahir Bhairav ??(48 min.) is a very popular morning raga; Gangubai Hangal presents it here with a feeling of great peace.

Upon request, we also order the following new Navras releases:

  • Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod): Ragas Hemavati, Khamaj & Shyamshree; Live 1978; NRCD 8501 - 15,- Euro
  • Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod): Raga Bihag; Live 1971; NRCD 248/9- 26,50 Euro (double CD)
  • Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod): Ragas Darbari Kanada & Shahana; Live 1971; NRCD 250/1- 26,50 Euro (double CD)
  • Rajeev Taranath (Sarod): Ragas Yaman Kalyan, Mishra Kirwani & Sindhu Bhairavi; Live 2003 & 2008; NRCD 0247 - 15,- Euro
  • Parveen Sultana (Vocal Khyal): Ragas Madhuvanti, Maluha Maand & Jog, div. Bhajans; Live 2009; NRCD 0245/6 - 26,50 Euro (double CD)
  • Hans Raj Hans (Vocal): Arz Hai (An Offering) - Ghazals, Sufi Songs & Qawwalis; Live 2006; running time 139 min; NRDVD 018 - 29,- Euro (DVD)

5. Mehdi Hassan - King of Ghazal
- Obituary by Yogendra -

The great Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan died in Karachi on June 13th after a long illness. Mehdi Hassan was regarded as the uncrowned king of Ghazal and enjoyed as much popularity in his adopted Pakistan as in his native India. By 1985, Mehdi Hassan had given countless concerts, made numerous recordings, and sung in about 60 films as a playback singer. In the late 1980s a serious illness forced him to abandon playback singing. Since about the turn of the millennium he was suffering from lung and chest problems and also ceased to give live performances.

Mehdi Hassan was born in 1927 in Rajasthan into a family of traditonel musical. His father and his uncle were Dhrupad singers. He received an intense musical training in his early childhood and gave his first public concert of Dhrupad and Khyal when he was only eight years old. In the wake of India's partition in 1947 his family moved to the newly formed Pakistan. There they had to cope with major economic difficulties. Mehdi Hassan then worked as a bicycle and car mechanic for some years to make a living.

In 1957 he got a chance to sing on Radio Pakistan and became known in musical circles. At first he was hired primarily as a Thumri singer, but his passion for Urdu poetry led him to experiment with the singing of Ghazals. Ghazal had by then a centuries-long literary tradition, but was hardly established as a musical form in the general public. Only Begum Akhtar, born in 1914, already had some success as a Ghazal singer in the 1930s and 40s. Mehdi Hassan's breakthrough came in 1962 as a playback singer in the film Susraal. His voice and his musical setting of classical Urdu poetry based on traditional ragas became the epitome of modern Ghazal. Above all, the inimitable manner in which he conveyed emotions, was universally admired. The legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar is quoted as saying that God speaks through his throat.

Mehdi Hassan's Ghazals are available from India Instruments on a triple-live CD entitled Classical Ghazals (NRCD 001/2/3, 36.50 Euros). He is accompanied by Sultan Khan (sarangi) and Shaukat Hussain (tabla). These and other Ghazal CDs can be found here.

6. Concert Life in Calcutta (3/5) - Sangeet Research Academy
- Travel Reportage by Yogendra -

In February 2012, Yogendra had the opportunity to experience classical concert life in the Bengali music metropolis Calcutta. He tells of the many facets of the current scene in a five-part series.

The transport hub Tollygunge in South Calcutta is the raging inferno one is used to in Indian cities. Yet in the midst of its cacophony, behind high walls, like an island of harmony, lies a magnificent colonial mansion with a spacious park-like garden - the Sangeet Research Academy (SRA). Its elysian fields are not normally accessible to the public. Only a dozen famous music gurus, their assistants and hand-picked students, as well as some tabla accompanists and salaried personnel regularly pass through security at the gate. No hectic gear inside shall distract from the central purpose of the SRA: training classical Indian music soloists in the old teacher-student tradition. The concept has already been successful to some extent, with SRA graduates Ajoy Chakrabarty and Rashid Khan being among the top stars of Indian music today.

On Wednesdays though, the doors of this temple of music open for everyone for concerts with SRA's scholars and tutors. It's a good opportunity for connoisseurs to hear the upcoming next generation - and for the youngsters a chance to prove themselves in front of a critical expert audience. The Wednesday Concerts take place in a medium-sized hall in the ground floor, just behind the entrance hall. At the top end is a small panel that serves as a stage, the floor is covered with carpet coverage, and on the walls large scale portraits of former SRA teachers and of renowned virtuosos of the 20th century watch the scene. The endless honking of Tollygunge is muffled by the closed windows, and is easily drowned out by the powerful but still moderately cranked PA system at the start of the performance.

The opening act this Wednesday is London-based Soumik Datta on the sarod, a 1984-born student of SRA guru Buddhadev Dasgupta. In his native England Soumik is a rather successful young musician, who has already worked with renowned artists like Beyoncé, Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and dancer Akram Khan. However, he can not really convince as an Indian classical performer in the raga stronghold of Calcutta - the audience sends Soumik off the stage with a merely polite applause after a too nervous and disjointed performance. Considerably more impact than his play would have made his hairstyle - a mohawk haircut was probably never seen before on a sarod player's head in Calcutta...

The audience, a good crowd of about 60 people, is a healthy mix of young and old, students, teachers and employees of the SRA and external music lovers, pell-mell on the floor or sitting on the few chairs along the walls. Most are somewhat solemnly dressed in freshly ironed kurtas or saris and men and women are separated cleanly from each other by a center aisle. A spirit from a bygone time seems to be still alive in this most venerable institution.

One is curious that evening to hear the main artist Waseem Ahmed Khan, a vocalist of the Agra Gharana. Waseem, born in 1974, comes from an old musical family tradition, was a former scholar and has recently been employed as a musician tutor at SRA. His main job is teaching promising vocal talents who are still too young or too immature for a proper scholarship. Waseem's interpretation of the difficult evening raga Puriya initially impresses with clear, majestic lines. His voice, a little rough, with a very masculine timbre, fascinates as well. But as the performance progresses, it becomes more and more static, schematic, harsh, lacking the imagination, the elegance and suppleness that characterizes today's great Indian singers. It is certainly no coincidence that the slightly archaic pure Agra style has been vanishing from major concert platforms in recent years. Many listeners probably feel the same, because after having waited politely until the end of Waseem's Puriya, they spare themselves more pieces and encores by leaving quietly.

I have heard enough for that day as well. Although there were no great artistic highlights, the evening has shown a very lively side of today's Indian classical music scene. Traditions are maintained very carefully and are always respected - but they fail to elate and inspire when they loose their spirit and are turned into a mere museum. And an open-minded, critical and adventurous new generation gets ready to carry Indian classical music into the 21st century.

7. The Young Masters (3/8) - Manjusha Kulkarni Patil
- Background Reportage by Arunabha Deb -

In the first edition of the new Indian music, dance and theater magazine Avantika (published in January 2012), music journalist Arunabha Deb wrote about the new generation of great Hindustani classical musicians aged between 30 and 40. We present his article with an introduction and seven portraits of musicians as a series in eight parts.

Manjusha Kulkarni Patil, 40, Pune, Singer of the Agra, Gwalior and Jaipur Gharanas

Manjusha Kulkarni Patil, another fierce young vocalist, is flying Maharashtra's flag high. Listeners find her only on the classical stage and from the kind of following she has generated, it seems that she doesn't need to look beyond that space. Hers is almost a textbook success story: small town, backbreaking riyaz, slow start, and finally, the light at the end of the tunnel. She was born in Sangli, Maharashtra; after initial talim under Chintubua Mhaiskar, she became a disciple of Pandit D. V. Kane (popularly know as Kane Bua). Kane lived in Ichalkaranji, a town close to Sangli: Manjusha had to travel daily between the two towns for her talim. On weekends she would stay over at her guru's house for intensive talim and riyaz. "The weekends were special", she says. "It was a continuing process of learning and then practising in front of him. If I made a mistake, he would immediately stop me and I would have to keep singing the part until I got it right."

She narrates stories of how she has sat with the tanpura for ten hours at a stretch while her guru has taught her. Her value system, expectedly, is more attuned to the old school: "I see students using recorders now to record their talim sessions. I think this is quite harmful: your attention is never as focused. When you know that you have one shot at internalising what your guru is teaching, the talim is immediately elevated to another level.!

Kane was an exponent of the Agra and the Gwalior gharanas. Manjusha's gayaki is faithful to both gharanas. Her present guru, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, is also an Agra and Gwalior exponent (as well as Jaipur - Atrauli). She feels that the Agra gharana has, of late, been on the wane and vocalists partially trained in the Gwalior gharana tend to prioritise the Gwalior elements over others. "That's why I try to bring out the Agra flavour in my renditions. Sometimes I do nom-tom alaps (a dhrupad-inspired Agra speciality), but this depends on the raags and whether it fits into the Agra style", she says.

She offers a rich variety within her khayal presentations; she also traverses with ease across different genres of light classical music. Thumris and bhajans are part of every vocalist's repertoire; her command over tappas, natyasangeet and lavanis differentiate her from her contemporaries The combination of her robust voice and her repertoire initially made her a favourite in western India, but now she is being regularly invited to perform at Delhi and Kolkata. Her recital at the Dover Lane Music Conference last year created a buzz that few young artists can achieve in Kolkata, which, as Pandit Ravi Shankar puts it, is still "the final frontier of music" to be conquered by any artiste.


8. Concert Calendar - August / September
- Scene Info -

Numerous dance events take place within the framework of the Days of India 2012 - 2013 in Germany, and also some independent dance productions - good times ahead for fans of classical Indian dance!

17.8. BERLIN: RAJA REDDY & RADHA - Kuchipudi dance
18.8. TAUNUSSTEIN-HAHN: Indian Dance - Bharathanatyam, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Kathak and Kuchipudi
18.8. BERLIN: RAJA REDDY & RADHA - Kuchipudi dance
24.8. GUSTERATH (near Trier): SAMIR CHATTERJEE - tabla solo
25.8. MAINZ: Sharmista MUKHERJEE - Kathak dance
27.8. BERLIN: Sharmista MUKHERJEE - Kathak dance
28.8. BONN: Sharmista MUKHERJEE - Kathak dance
29.8. BERLIN: P.T. Narendran & SHANY MATTHEW - Bharatanatyam dance
31.8. MUNICH: Sharmista MUKHERJEE - Kathak dance
14.9. HANOVER: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
15.9. NEUSTADT (Holstein): INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
16.9. CELLE: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
27.9. BERLIN: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
28.9. MUNICH: DRUMS OF INDIA - "The tradition of Indian tabla drums"
29.9. NL - AMSTERDAM: RAZA KHAN & PARTY - Qawwali singing

For more detailed information, place and time as well as additional dates for 2012 check here


9. Indian Classical Music (4/7) - Dhrupad, Khyal, Thumri and Instrumental Style
- Background Info by Yogendra -

Indian classical music and its instruments are the basis for the work of India Instruments. But what's so special about this tradition? In a 7-part series by Yogendra, we are giving an introduction for beginners.

Singing - The Foundation
In classical North Indian music, there are a number of different styles in which a raga can be performed. Each style has its own rules in the formal structure and aesthetics of sound. But the flexibility and nuances of the human voice are the common ideal to which all of them refer.

Dhrupad - Centuries-old Tradition The oldest style still alive is Dhrupad. The name is derived from dhruva pada = fixed verse. Dhrupad had its heyday in the second half of the 16th century at the court of Mughal emperor Akbar. Many contemporary musicians trace their musical lineage back to Akbar's legendary court singer Tansen, who is ascribed almost magical abilities and the invention of many new ragas. Over the centuries, Dhrupad was however supplanted by more modern styles. But it is still cultivated by a few families, and has kept its own niche in classical Indian concert life. Today many musicians study Dhrupad, because a very old musical and spiritual knowledge is preserved in it, which is a solid foundation for all other styles. Well-known Dhrupad musicians are the Dagar and Mallick families and the Gundecha Brothers.

Dhrupad - Strict Form & Grandeur
Typical of Dhrupad is a very strict form, greatest emphasis on the precise intonation of each single note and a systematical development of the raga note by note - first in the unmetered Alap, then in the pulsating Jor. Alap and Jor often make up most of a dhrupad presentation. Lush ornamentation of the notes is omitted here - the focus is on pure sound, sung with abstract syllables. Thus, Dhrupad usually has a very meditative, solemn and majestic character. The powerful barrel drum pakhawaj comes in only towards the end of a raga performance, when a song composition with sophisticated text is sung. Improvisation is then focused on rhythmic variations of the text. A full Dhrupad concert is often completed with one or more shorter songs at a rapid pace.

Khyal - Flight of the Imagination
Khyal has supplanted Dhrupad in the 19th century and is today the most widely performed style of North Indian classical music. The word comes from the Arabic and means idea or imagination. Fitting to its name, the creative genius of the soloist is at the center of Khyal. It is usually accompanied by tabla and tanpura plus the stringed instrument sarangi, or even the keyboard harmonium for melodic support. Khyal celebrities today are Pandit Jasraj, Ulhas Kashalkar, Ajoy Chakraborty and Rashid Khan, amongst others. Female Khyal singers are highly appreciated as well, e.g. Kishori Amonkar, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Prabha Atre, Parveen Sultana and Shruti Sadolikar.

Khyal - Flexible Form & Creative Freedom
Usually there is only a very short Alap in the beginning, and after a few minutes the tabla joins in. It plays at an extremely slow pace, giving the soloist virtually unlimited freedom for systematically developing the raga, playing with melodic and rhythmic variations, weaving ever more complex patterns and to finally shine with fast virtuosic runs. The detailed and cleverly built up slow part is usually followed by a fast composition, which mainly features fast runs and rhythmic variations in highest virtuosity. The lyrics play only a minor role in Khyal - they serve more as a syllabic base for improvisation. Quite often Khyal singers just use the names of the notes for a text or sing on the vowel A.

Thumri - Romantic Love Mysticism
Thumri and related styles are considered semi-classical, because they don't maintain the purity of the raga. More important in Thumri is the highly emotional interpretation of the lyrics. They are mostly about unrequited romantic love, which is a symbol for the never fully satiable longing of the soul for the divine. Often a line of text is repeated in ever new variations, in order to explore the full range of associated emotions. In that context notes that are not part of the basic raga may be used, when they seem appropriate for the expression. Thumri is often presented by Khyal singers at the end of a concert. The best-known living Thumri specialist today is Girija Devi.

Instrumental Style - The Best of Everything
The instrumentalists of Indian classical music follow the ideal of the human voice as much as possible, too. From Dhrupad they use the systematic meditative raga development in Alap and Jor. From Khyal they use the varied, ever-expanding and intensifying improvisations over a slow basic tempo and then the fast form with virtuoso runs as an ecstatic finale. And from Thumri comes a delicate, rich and emotional ornamentation. In addition, they also use the technical characteristics of their respective instrument - e.g. the rhythmic plucking patterns and the groovy momentum of the open drone strings on sitar and sarod. The modern instrumental concert form thus combines the strengths of the different styles in complex variety and is often more easily accessible for laymen than pure vocal music. No wonder then that today's real world stars of Indian classical music, such as Ravi Shankar, are instrumentalists rather than singers. Some of these masters of the raga will be presented in the next chapter of this series.

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