Newsletter July / August 2013

1. Kirtan Accompaniment on Harmonium - Introductory DVD
- New in our Assortment -

In the penultimate newsletter, we had presented a media set for harmonium learning by Daniel Tucker - excellent material, but perhaps too extensive and too expensive for beginners. Daniel Tucker has noticed this problem, it seems, and has taken this media set off the market. Instead, he is now offering the Bhakti Breakfast Club online (see below) for all those who wish to delve deeper. And he has produced a simple introductory DVD for beginners who are looking for an inexpensive help to get started.

"Playing Kirtan on Harmonium - A fun step-by-step introduction to the squeeze box" is probably the best introduction to the harmonium that is currently available. It is perfect for beginners with no musical training - no prior knowledge required! Daniel Tucker shows and explains the most important basics systematically, clearly and with infectious enthusiasm. He addresses all kirtan friends, who like to sing with harmonium accompaniment alone or together with others, as well as yoga teachers who want to use the harmonium as support in their classes. The contents: Introduction, structure of the harmonium and function of various parts of a simple folding harmonium, Om chanting with drone sound, setting the desired drone notes, pumping technique, musical basics, Indian note names, fingering for major scale, accompaniment for mantra Lokah Samastah with drone and bass and further learning options.

Daniel Tucker learnt Western music from early childhood. As a young man, he discovered his passion for kirtan and harmonium. He first learnt from different teachers (including Jai Uttal) in California, and then went to Mayapur, a major center of the Indian kirtan tradition, for in-depth studies. On this basis, he developed his own harmonium teaching system that combines Indian melody and rhythm concepts with Western chords in a unique way. His teaching conveys not only individual songs, but also the basic understanding that enables you to understand the chords, scales and rhythms of kirtan, read notations and continue life-long learning. In addition, he wants to encourage you to deepen your relationship with the divine name, open the heart, develop confidence in your own voice, enjoy public performances, build a love affair with the harmonium and sing out every day.

DVD produced in 2013, playing time 45:10 - now available from India Instruments @ 18.- Euros (plus shipping cost).

More details, cover art and other educational materials for Harmonium here.


2. Harmonium Learning Online - Bhakti Breakfast Club
- New in our Assortment -

Why still buy instructional DVDs for harmonium when such videos are available in abundance and excellent quality on the internet? of Daniel Tucker's Bhakti Breakfast Club makes for perfect learning online! It is probably the best and most comprehensive teaching material for harmonium available anywhere today. For a reasonable monthly fee of 25.- US dollars (about 20.- Euros at current exchange rates), it offers unlimited access to a huge and constantly expanded treasure of teaching vidos and sheet music in dozens of systematically structured course units.

The Bhakti Breakfast Club is currently made up of four levels:
- Level 1 teaches the theory and practice of harmonium for kirtan accompaniment: construction of the instrument, Western and Indian note names, fingerings, exercises, basic chords, complex chords.
- Level 2 presents the accompaniment to many beautiful kirtans from ancient Indian tradition and from famous contemporary artists such as Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Snatam Kaur and Deva Premal.
- Level 3 provides an opportunity to learn and practice transposing and thus to deepen the understanding of the musical material.
- Level 4 gives practical tips to help with common technical problems and to do small repairs yourself.
- More levels with material for percussion accompaniment and with master classes with renowned artists are in the planning.

At each level, several course units are available, each one presenting its content step by step. Usually this is done in four to five consecutive instructional videos, each about ten minutes long. In addition to the videos, most course units also include notations of exercises or kirtans in separate files. That way the music can be visualised and therefore accessed from another perspective. An overview of all the contents and the first video of each course unit is open to non-members - here you can get a good look at what's in for you, before deciding to join.

Presently (July 2013) the Bhakti Breakfast Club already includes over 30 course units, each with a video length of about 45 minutes - an enormous pool of over 20 hours of inspiring kirtans and musical knowledge! Membership provides unlimited access to all the material - and each month more course units are added! The monthly fee of 25.- US dollars is far below the cost of private lessons or workshops and is payable by credit card. The monthly membership can be canceled at any time with a simple message - there is no minimum membership period or longer cancellation notice period. We find these conditions extremely fair and highly recommended the Bhakti Breakfast Club! If you're ready to go for it you can join here right away!

Daniel Tucker learnt Western music from early childhood. As a young man, he discovered his passion for kirtan and harmonium. He first learnt from different teachers (including Jai Uttal) in California, and then went to Mayapur, a major center of the Indian kirtan tradition, for in-depth studies. On this basis, he developed his own harmonium teaching system that combines Indian melody and rhythm concepts with Western chords in a unique way. His teaching conveys not only individual songs, but also the basic understanding that enables you to understand the chords, scales and rhythms of kirtan, read notations and continue life-long learning. In addition, he wants to encourage you to deepen your relationship with the divine name, open the heart, develop confidence in your own voice, enjoy public performances, build a love affair with the harmonium and sing out every day.

3. CDs - Sellout
- Special Offer -

The launch of the CD for music recordings revolutionised the music industry from 1982 onwards. Digitally mastered music was now widely available in a sound quality which was previously unattainable. The rise of the CD had records and turntables look completely outdated and reached its climax in 2001 with about 130 million CDs sold worldwide. Since then, CD sales have dwindled continuously, though. Digital music recordings can be stored on various physical media nowadays, can be copied easily and are available on the Internet for free. And the production and distribution of music recordings is now so easy and cheap that it has become feasible for everyone without large investments.

This development has far-reaching consequences for CDs of Indian music as well. The overall demand has slumped and many traditional labels have disappeared from the market, because they are no longer economically worthwhile. At the same time more and more Indian artists produce CDs of their music on their own and distribute them in small print runs at concerts and on the internet. And connoisseurs make their collections of live recordings, records and out of print CDs available on the internet for free on remote insider sites. Thus the CD offer in classical trade is getting smaller - while an abundance of niches bloom in virtual space. Thus the fragmentation of the public, already visible in many other areas, is taking place in Indian music as well.

Since the success of the group Shakti in the late Seventies, with Ustad Zakir Hussain as one of the driving forces behind it, the tabla has probably emerged as the most popular cross-cultural instrument. Consequently, tabla players have been in great demand to participate in collaborative ventures. Satyajit is among the finest young tabla players in the country today; it is not surprising that he has been asked to collaborate with several groups. But, like sarangi player Murad Ali, he has taken his time before taking the plunge.

At India Instruments we have therefore decided to slowly shut down our CD department. We will no longer add new titles to our assortment and we will keep on selling only CDs that are currently in stock. Sold out item will be removed from our catalogue - we will not place fresh orders any more. We sincerely regret this step, because CDs have been great for making Indian music available round here - and that is important to us.

We now recommend all friends and collectors of CDs to order any interesting titles from us as soon as possible - as long as they are still available at a normal price! Today you already pay a multiple of the original price for some out-of print CDs with Indian music (e.g. at Amazon)...

Here is an overview of our range of Indian classical CDs (in German) with regular updates.
Here is an overview of CDs with world music, folk and spiritual music from India (in German) with regular updates.
Our English CD catalogue is here


4. Hariprasad Chaurasia - The Sweetest Side of Indian Music
- Homage to his 75th Birthday by Jan Reichow -

Hariprasad Chaurasia turned 75 on July 1st.

If I'm not mistaken, December 5th is a special date for me this year - not because it's my birthday, but because it is the 30th anniversary of my first live encounter with the sweetest side of Hindustani music, which I no longer want to miss since then: the real sound of the bansuri flute. I had often seen it in images of the god Krishna: it is said that his face has the dark color of a fresh storm cloud, but the raised flute in his hand means sensuous and transcendental pleasure. But to the point: The "Days of Old Music" in Herne were to focus on old flutes that year, the recorder and baroque flute, and my colleague from WDR (West German radio) asked whether I'd like to contribute anything. My informant Gopinath Nag in Stuttgart was immediately hooked - there can be only one guy for this, he said: Hariprasad Chaurasia, from whom you will hear much more in the future! In fact, Hariprasad's appearance for WDR on December 5th, 1983, at Cultural Centre Herne turned out to be the first in a long series of Indian events and radio broadcasts featuring the bansuri, and I'll never forget how, at the end of this premiere, he took a tiny tube from his pocket and started blowing it in highest tones. The audience was enraptured. Two years later he absolutely had to come back, this time as part of our festival of North Indian music at the Cologne Music Academy, which focused on Ravi Shankar: Shivkumar Sharma was to perform the day after the legendary maestro, and Hariprasad Chaurasia the day before. And despite the absolute prominence of the sitar player the Cologne festival appeared as a summit meeting of artists of the same rank in retrospect. March 4th to 6th, 1985.

But how was the veritable triumph of the gentle bansuri flute in the west possible, 20 years after the "sitar explosion" (quote Ravi Shankar)? Probably because it was catchy even to people, who otherwise had difficulties opening up to alien music. In addition, the artist got a lot of attention for some very successful experiments in fusion music. The common amalgam came from tabla wizard Zakir Hussain, who was also involved in Cologne in 1985, but had already stirred crowds in the 70s with the band "Shakti". In 1986, he recorded the album "Making Music" together with Hariprasad Chaurasia, John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek, which was received as one of the most compelling examples in the history of musical East-West meetings. The word bansuri became a household name. Whether in rhythmic jazz or in silent meditation centres - where the bansuri was sometimes explicitly required solo, without the nuisance tabla! -, everybody loved the Indian flute with its blend of virtuosity and mellifluousness. And yet this artist never lost his credibility for grand traditional raga presentations, with his great development in classical purity and with stunning accuracy. I'll never forget that it was his interpretation of the raga Lalit which inspired me when I was looking for an Indian counterpart to Mozart - especially for the sensual ambivalence, as it unfolds in the opera Cosi fan tutte. Was it not the same phenomenon that is shown in Raga Lalit? And no one expressed surprise when the classical music station WDR3 presented about 30 minutes of Indian music in the afternoon, changing back and forth between Mozart and Raga Lalit - one experienced first hand that both musical worlds are supported by the same spirit.

Hariprasad Chaurasia was born on July 1st, 1938, in the northern Indian city Allahabad, the ancient Hindu pilgrimage destination where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers merge. One of the most astonishing facts in the biography of this sensitive artist is that he was born the son of a wrestler and was trained in his father's profession from childhood. He only realised at age 15 that music was his true vocation. He received his first lessons from a singer in the neighborhood and learned vocal techniques, until he heard Pandit Bholanath, a flute player from Varanasi, who became his teacher for eight years. Soon after, he took an assignment at the All India Radio station in Cuttack (Orissa) as a musician and composer, and in 1960, he came to Mumbai in the same function. And here he met the daughter of legendary musician and guru Allaudin Khan, the surbahar player Annapurna Devi. Learning from her father she had gone through India's hardest and most ingenious school, just like her brother Ali Akbar Khan, who became a world-famous sarod player, and just like Ravi Shankar, with whom she had been married. In this encounter Hariprasad Chaurasia experienced a whole new dimension of music that would shape his entire artistic life.

The awards, prizes and honorary doctorates awarded to him make for a long list. For decades, he was the artistic director of the North Indian music department of the Rotterdam Conservatory. And, with a wink, he mentions the physical discipline of wrestling in his early youth as an explanation for his continued ability to still endure grueling concerts and concert tours today.

In truth no one fights less on stage than him. Yes, when he plays - and he plays in the truest sense of the word - he disappears completely in his music. He told a German journalist who interviewed him for a WDR programme 10 years ago: "I just sit there, I am mute, holding a piece of bamboo in my hands, but someone plays it and someone listens, and there's someone between the audience and me, too. This is, I guess, a higher force. And for this higher force I play, and if this higher force has joy in the music, then we also enjoy the music, the music lovers and myself."

Most touching for me was how he started singing when he was asked about a favorite piece of Western music. He mentioned Swedish folk music, French, and then - he quoted my favorite tune: "For example I heard some music from Sweden, Swedish folk music. I heard music from France ... like .... (he thinks and sings a line of 'Au clair de la lune'). It is so pleasing, so simple, so nice!" That's another reason why I love him.


5. Cultural Exchange in Transition - Sasha Waltz & Kiran Nagarkar
- Background Reportage by Yogendra -

The 1990s: North America and Western Europe had won the Cold War against communism with democracy, capitalism, and atomic arms build-up. Their economic and social system seemed superior and without alternative, and some thought it was only a matter of time until that view would spread everywhere and world peace would prevail. In those days, German-Indian cultural exchange meant that one country tried to impress the other with its great cultural achievements. At the Indian Festival in Germany in 1991/92, India meant to score with top-notch ensembles of its classical music and dance traditions. And Germany sent established contemporary artists such as Pina Bausch, pioneer of modern dance theatre, to India.

It remains questionable whether these efforts had any lasting impact or helped mutual understanding. The single spectator who jumped up and expressed his appreciation loudly in the middle of a classical Indian concert in the auditorium of the Technical University of Darmstadt, in perfect accordance with customs in India, was a unique exception - and ample demonstration of the utter lack of understanding of the rest of the audience, sitting stark and stiff and mute through the performance. And the audience at the performance of Pina Bausch's ensemble in Calcutta probably only sat in complete silence, because they did not have the slightest clue of what was happening in front of their eyes.

Today the world is multipolar, complex and confusing. Everyone is intertwined with everyone else economically. The international financial system is about to collapse from time to time, and climate change threatens our livelihoods. Simultaneously global and regional powers are jousting for power and spheres of influence. The promotion of cultural exchange in the traditional sense hardly seems to be an issue any more for state agencies in Germany and India. When Germany organised "Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities" in India, its main project was the "Indo-German Urban Mela", mobile pavilions travelling from city to city with presentations of German business corporations and a cultural programme which, amongst other things, included a beer garden. And during the much-heralded "Days of India in Germany" 2012 - 2013, India mainly restricted herself to sending envoys to cultural events that took place anyway. It seems as if cultural exchange between India and Germany is not running any more in state-controlled, one-way streets separated from each other. Instead, protagonists from different areas act as producers, and artists from both cultures work together in multidisciplinary projects. Two recent examples may illustrate this.

In January 2013, the Berlin-based choreographer Sasha Waltz, 15 dancers of her company and four soloists of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra were working guests in Calcutta. They did not just show one of their finished productions but developed something new from scratch together with an Indian dance troupe led by Padmini Chettur. The project was specifically tailored to its venue - the performances took place in a 250 year old former city palace. The audience could walk through the rooms and watch site-specific music and dance performances everywhere, partly fixed and partly improvised, with a musical spectrum that ranged from Bach to Stravinsky, Ravel, Berio and Penderecki and large group choreographies taking place in the inner courtyard of the palace. Such a project does not produce any lasting work by its very nature, but its unique and unrepeatable interweaving of space, dancers, musicians and audience certainly created a sharp contradiction to a mass culture merely fuelled by economical considerations. Here is a short documentary on this project (in German).

In May, a stage version of "God's Little Soldier" by Indian novelist Kiran Nagarkar had its world premiere at Theater Freiburg. The controversial 700-page book reflects religiously motivated extremism in the modern age of globalisation by means of two very unequal Indian brothers, and was taken to the stage with a dazzling colourful Bollywood musical touch. Showpieces of the staging of German-Swiss director duo Jarg Pataki and Viola Hasselberg were the dance and music scenes, with a motley multicultural live music ensemble and the theatre's movement choir. In charge of the dance was Aakash Odedra, a choreographer and dancer with Indian roots from the UK, who combines classical Indian Kathak techniques with contemporary dance. And the music was mainly developed by Ravi Srinivasan, a composer, singer and percussionist with Indian roots living in Berlin, drawing heavily on Indian classical and spiritual music, as well as Bollywood elements. The production continues playing at Theater Freiburg, will also be shown in Oberhausen and Hamburg in 2014, and is later to be staged in Mumbai. Next performance dates and short video impressions here.

Most likely, the audience in Calcutta has grasped as little of Sasha Waltz's project as it has of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater. And the German theatre audience's appreciation of Freiburg's production of "God's Little Soldier" probably merely dwells on well-established Western traditions of enjoying a certain exotic oriental feel. But at least the artists involved in these two projects are likely to have engaged in a deeper analysis of a different culture in course of their work, however alien it might have appeared in the beginning. The projects might really have broadened their horizons. That alone would be a good result and a remarkable progress.

6. Kirtan (1) - A New Revolution
- 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 musician, gives background info on history, styles, musicians and instruments of kirtan in an open series.

Kirtan is a form of devotional music with call and response chanting and is practiced in various religious groups from South Asia, such as Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas and Sikhs. Qawwali, Sufi-chanting, has similarities with kirtan as well. Harmonium, tabla, dholak, khol, pakhawaj, manjeeras, to name a few, are all instruments used in kirtan.

The style of kirtan we know today has its roots around 1500 in Bengal, India. The saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is also believed to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna, started a kirtan movement that revolutionised the Hindu belief system. Hindu scriptures and their knowledge used to be only accessible to men of the Brahmin caste (priest caste). Neither women nor men from other castes were allowed in the realm of the Vedas. Chaitanya started his revolution by opening the gate to Hindu knowledge for everyone. One way of letting everyone know, was by doing kirtan on the streets. Chaitanya dedicated his life to kirtan and wandered across India, chanting on the streets. He inspired many thousands of people during his lifetime and many millions more as his legacy continues today.

The first kirtan in the western world was held in 1923. Paramahamsa Yogananda visited America and lead a kirtan for an audience of 3,000 people. The concept of kirtan got more popular in the 1960s, during the hippie movement. George Harrison introduced kirtan on a much larger platform. A new generation of western kirtan leaders, next to the traditional Indian singers, revolutionised the kirtan movement yet againin the 1990s. Traditional Indian music was mixed with western influences. Famous singers of this movement are Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Bhagavan Das, Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Dave Stringer, to name just a few. Their styles of kirtan have been ruling the kirtan scene for about 20 years.

But with time, music evolves, and so does kirtan. Digital beats and samples have taken over the music industry. Young kirtan leaders today are making use of these new developments. E.g. Srikala started a Hip-Hop project, Srikalogy, trying to reach a broader audience with Mantra music. And the Kirtaniyas, a group of musicians known for their very traditional style of kirtan, started a project called „Kirtaniyas BassMantra.“ The following video" illustrates what the digital kirtan revolution can sound like.

7. The Young Maestros (8/9) - Debanjan Bhattacharjee
- Background Reportage by Arunabha Deb -

In the first edition of the Indian music, dance and theatre 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 eight portraits of musicians as a series in nine parts.

Debanjan Bhattacharya, Sarod Player of the Senia Maihar Gharana

Debanjan Bhattacharya, the youngest of the artists featured here, largely chooses to walk the pure classical path. At 25, he is already an empanneled artist with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (which is the pool the ICCR chooses from when it organises events in India and abroad); has won the first prize in a national competition organised by All India Radio; and has performed in most of the major music festivals in his home town of Kolkata. No wonder, then, that he is being tipped as the new face of the sarod for the Maihar gharana. He gave his first public performance in 2003, as a curtain raiser for a recital of his guru Ustad Ashish Khan, at a packed Nazrul Manch in Kolkata. In the eight years since, he has more than fulfilled his promise.

Debanjan did well in school and went on to study electronics and telecommunications engineering. In fact, he received a job offer from Infosys while he was still in college, which is when he had to battle the dilemma of choosing a conventional career or following his passion for music. "I decided to do a master's instead," he said. "Taking up the job would have meant the end of my music." That turned out to be a stellar decision (Bengali engineers are not in short supply); since then, Debanjan has surged ahead as one of the brightest hopes in instrumental music. His recitals invariably display uncanny maturity: his rendition of Marwa in a tribute concert to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan had stunned listeners. It is one of the more difficult raags to execute on the sarod; Debanjan had performed it with a balance of aesthetic judgement and virtuosity that would be beyond most established maestros. His judgement in charting a performance career displays equal maturity. Collaborative opportunities abound for sarod players but he is steadfast in his decision to first establish his identity as a pure classical musician.

Debanjan's decision and success reinforce the same truth that is evident through all these young artists: in spite of the media waxing eloquent about the need for classical musicians to rethink and reposition themselves for better marketability, musicians who are following the traditional route are doing just fine. Just as it is a myth that young classical musicians are disappearing, it is equally a myth that young audiences are looking for new soundscapes and are turning away from classical concerts. A visit to any of the several music festivals, especially in smaller towns, will reveal hundreds of young faces in the audience. Yes, there is a growing demand and hence an expending market for collaborative music, but it would be incorrect to say that this has eaten into the space occupied by pure classical music. The two markets are quite separate and, happily, seem to be coexisting well. What is significant is that none of the young musicians with promise of greatness has put the cart before the horse: like their gurus, they have first slogged at their craft, established their credentials as classical musicians and then have opened themselves up to experimenting. Their stories, like all the stories in the world of Hindustani music, have the same age-old moral: there are no short-cuts to being a maestro.


8. Workshop Calendar - August to October
- Scene Info -

29.8. - 1.9. MELLE (near Osnabrück): Indian singing with Ashes & Alick Sengupta
13.9. - 15.9. BAD MEINBERG (near Detmold): Sitar - step by step ... with Yogendra
3.10. - 06.10. Mellatz (Allgäu): harmonium learning seminar with Tobias Dickbertel - Gyanaroopa
11.10. - 13.10. HEMMOOR (near Cuxhaven): Sitar - step by step ... with Yogendra
11.10. - 27.10. BERLIN: DANCE KATHAK Tanzwerkstatt mit Ioanna & Ravi Srinivasan


9. Concert Calendar - August to September
- Scene Info -

02.08. WREDENHAGEN: PREM JOSHUA & Band - World Fusion
03.08. SAUNSTORF: PREM JOSHUA & Band - World Fusion
04.08. BERLIN: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
10.08. TAUCHA / LEIPZIG: INDIGO MASALA - Acoustic Asian World Fusion
18.09. WITZENHAUSEN: PREM JOSHUA & Band - World Fusion
21.09. HORN BAD-MEINBERG: PREM JOSHUA & Band - World Fusion

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