Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In Pursuit of Music: Qissa Doam

In continuation to the last piece, I found bits of information on the Jews Harp, the Gopichand and Tumbakh Naer; enough to string up a few hundred words. 

I’d gone to the store looking for the Jews harp; an instrument I first discovered while hearing Ali Sethi’s rendition of a ghazal by Faiz. Although I cannot comment on his writing, not having had the chance to read him, his voice made me want to ask for his hand in marriage. In the background Chugge Khan accompanies him on the Morsing. A lovely instrument; this mouth harp and produces a trippy, twang of a sound you might associate with the backdrop in qawallis. It won't take you more than a day to learn how to pluck it and with a good sense of rhythm you'll easily get the hang of it.

The unique sound , so characteristically folk, got me curious of it origins so i went and looked it up; a plunge into cultural history transcending borders. This simple plaything of a harp turns out to be one of the oldest musical instruments to have existed. Over centuries it has made appearances in many cultures, crossing continents with its sheer simplicity.  You may it call it Morsing, Changu, Khomus or by any of the thousand other names that exist for it across the world, but the essence of this instruments mind boggling popularity binds you. History engulfs you while playing this tiny piece of iron which, from China in the third century BC spread to the Middle East and eventually Europe becoming an inherent part of their culture. In India, you find its presence in traditional Carnatic and Sindhi music.

On my last visit to the store, fidgeting around I happened to pick up this elongated single stringed bamboo instrument. Pluck it and the sound brings back visuals of mythology shows on Doordarshan. The Ektara or Gopichand, has long been associated with minstrels and is played by plucking the string and changing the pitch by pressing the neck together. A distinctive trance like sound, every bend of the body produces a sound quite different from the last, and you make music just by using your ear and instinct. Very popular in Bengali, Punjabi and Sindhi folk music, the sound of this is still associated with devotion and wandering bards. This simple, unsophisticated, rural folk instrument is now gaining a global appeal. Mix it with the Morsing for your own tribal dubstep.

In Paharganj I tried finding one of the first instruments I was acquainted with; the Kashmiri wedding drum called Tumbakh Naer. This, together with the Noat, is played by the women in the backdrop of Kashmiri wedding music, Wanvun.  Although I couldn't find it, I found the djembe. A fairly popular African goblet drum, it is very similar to the Persian Tonbak or the Kashmiri Tombakhnaer. Though very distinct in the sounds they produce their similarity is striking. The Tonbak is the main percussion instrument in Persian Music. In Kashmir the tonbak is called Tombakh Naar and is fairly similar except it is made of red clay instead of wood. History suggests, like influences in art and architecture, the tumbankh near might have come to Kashmir from Central Asia where too, it is played by the women folk. 

The noat is arguably the most plebeian of musical instruments. An ordinary earthen or brass pot, it is typically used to store water and easily converted into the most basic of percussion instruments. It is similar to earthenware being used as instruments in other parts of India; the Matki in Rajasthan and Ghatam in South India. This coincidence, like many others,  must be a consequence of travels down winding paths of a journey of musical influence.

Music thrives on this influence. It is not born out of nothingness, nor does it live long enough in its originality. It is phenomenal how each of these instruments weaves into itself, a story. Each has a story that speaks of traditions crossing cultures, interspersing beautifully on their way and creating a niche in a different ethnic universe, far away. 

You must check out:

Pictorial World Map of Jews Harp’s Across the World:

Ali Sethi Singing:

Dan Moi on the Gopichand: 

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