Tag Archive for 'tambura'

A Musical Story of India.

Toss Levy lives in Warmenhuizen, a town in the Dutch province of North Holland & maintains & restores Indian musical instruments. He wrote us about how he came to this…

Toss Levy“I was turned onto Indian music from George Harrison with “Within you and Without you” back in I believe 1967. I was then 12 . A few years later I discovered Indian classical music and immediately realised this is what I was destined to follow…  the path of Indian music.”

“I went to India in the early 70’s with the magic bus ( 60 pounds one way London-Delhi!) and came back with 2 sitars and no shoes… those were the days.”

Toss & Jamaluddin Bhartiya, 1986“Since then Indian music has been the red line running through my life. I moved to Holland and started lessons on sitar for 3 years with the late Jamaluddin Bhartiya, one of Ravi Shankars top students. I switched to tabla and within a couple of years was accompanying him in concerts. He was a Sufi at heart and I learnt through him in my view the emotional essence of the music.”

“I went on to study tabla under Latief Ahmed Khan and Ustad Fiyaz Khan, both from the Delhi gharana.  I got my degree for tabla and secondary subject sitar at the Rotterdam Conservatorium in 1995. I have played concerts with other great artists such as Uday Bhawalker, Lakshmi Shankar, Prince Rama Varma and Roshan Jamal, and besides many European lands have also had concerts in New York , the Middle East and India. As one of the five co-founders of ISTAR Nederland,  with Professors Joep Bor and Wim van der Meer, we were responsible for the start of the Indian Music course at the World Music Department of the Rotterdam Conservatorium.”

“I have in all these years acquired a lot of experience giving workshops and lessons in Indian music, and about the Indian instruments themselves. I gave a lecture at the India Instituut and demonstrations at the Tropical Museum, both in Amsterdam.
I have also been involved with the repair and restoration of Indian instruments for almost 40 years and have had several trips to India for this purpose. Having sat with some great builders and musicians to learn the trade, I feel I have accomplished a true understanding of the requirements for the special Indian sound quality production and its possibilities.”

 About his web site he writes…

Tambura I“You will read about the meaning and the profound importance of the sound quality and the process of jawari (the filing of the bridge from where the main sound and overtones are produced). Also you will find a history of the origin of the flat bridge, jawari and its development.”

“I have looked into the tanpura, the drone instrument that supplies the backbone to all Indian music. Its history, building of the tanpura and basic will be found here. Information about playing positions and techniques can be found here too.”

“Studying tabla and sitar at the Rotterdam’s Conservatory in the early 90’s, I wrote my thesis on tabla. I will also share some interesting parts from this paper.”

Tambura head“And as a service I will explain some basic instrument maintenance. It’s for those of you who are new to the instruments so you understand a little more how to care for them.”

Toss Levy.We will be publishing articles by Toss & in the meantime you can enjoy his web site TossLevy.nl

Read a review of a 1980 LP by Jamaluddin Bhartiya (with downloadable tracks) from the excellent Anthems for the Nation of Luobaniya.


Ragascape I – The Tambura

It seems appropriate to write the first ragascape essay on the tambura, as the all-encompassing sound of this instrument is the source from which arise the melodic centers (notes) of Indian music.

Tambura IThe tambura is more than just a four-stringed instrument providing the sonorous drone and the basic environment in which the music enfolds. The tambura is the acoustic potential for the whole harmonic series; and, as such, represents the cosmic potential for all apparent phenomena. Although the tambura is tuned with three strings tuned to the tonic (in Indian music we call this tonic Sa or shadja) and one string to the fourth or fifth, we can find all twelve notes in the harmony that is created by the four strings vibrating simultaneously. This acoustical phenomena occurs because the harmonic series is activated through a process called jawari or cyclical wave formation in which the bridge upon which the strings are resting is filed into a particular curve.  When this process is completed properly, the notes are no longer just blunt tones but rather rich tonal landscapes with a precise sharp center and expanding periphery.

TamburaLike a mirror, the tambura has the capacity to reflect whatever is sung or played ‘over’ it. For example if you sing a note along with the tambura other than the notes that are part of the tambura, you can hear the tambura mirror that sound and ‘sing’ it back to you. The tonic in this instrument has the capacity to appear in the form of  whatever you place before it. It is as if you took a piece of clear glass and put it on top of a blue cloth. The glass does not become blue, but it appears blue. In this way the tambura is an acoustical symbol of total integration.

Tambura headWhen tuned properly, the tambura is a clear support for the vocalist or instrumentalist. He listens to the tonic note of the tambura, integrates with it, and adjusts his ‘sur’ so that each note finds a perfect resonance in the vibrational field of the tambura. Notwithstanding the great support the tambura provides to a musician, it is possible for Indian musicians to sing or play tunefully without the support of the tambura. By tuning into the anahata (unstruck) quality of the tonic, the musician becomes his own silent drone; and as he begins to vibrate with the tonic, his tuneful precision arises. This is obviously more difficult as there is no external support for the tuning.

Tambura bridgeThe tambura, as a plucked instrument, is the acoustical metaphor for all unstuck sound. It represents the empty side of clarity and the potential for all apparent phenomena.  It is the feminine space to be filled by the masculine skilfulness of melodic form.

When a musician plays or sings along with the balanced stroking of the tambura, it is not the case that he hears two different sounds—the droned tonic of the tambura and the sound of his voice or instrument. He plays and at the same moment releases the melodic configuration into the field of the tambura.

Shrimati Subbulakshmi with tambura

MS Subbulakshmi with tambura.

The artist blends with the space filled by the cyclical expansion and contraction of the tambura and allows the tonal centers of his melody to spread into that edgeless expanse. When he does this without conceptualizing either the sound of his creation or that of the tambura, there is a moment when the division between singer, song, and the act of singing dissolves.  The artist, fabricator of forms, suddenly jumps the hoop of time and space and enters the dimension where pure sound becomes a vehicle to supersensory cognition and awareness. Although conventionally we say that the singer is singing a song, in this case it is as if the song is singing the singer.

In the next Ragascape article we’ll be looking at “Swaras, Ragas, and Rasas – The Path of Indian Music.”

Tambura (Wikipedia article).
Tambura  (Article at Music of India).
Ragascape (original article in Ragascape by Steven Landsberg, 1999).
Mushtaq Ali Khan (recordings from the collection of Steven Landsberg).