What is Khayal vocal music? What happens at a Khayal concert?

Khayal translates from old Persian as ‘imagination’. A khayal concert is about finding freedom through the voice, showcasing dramatic, elastic improvisations that push at the outer edges of what you previously thought was possible. North India’s classical singers have an unparallelled command of high-register acrobatics, with an approach influenced by Vedic temple chanting, Islamic devotionalContinue reading “What is Khayal vocal music? What happens at a Khayal concert?”

What should I expect from going to a Dhrupad concert?

It would be easy to say that Dhrupad is not made for the impatient. But I think the reverse can often be true – I’ve seen the music’s slow, meditative power exert particular influence on minds that may naturally tend to be in a hurry. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the ancient tradition has enjoyedContinue reading “What should I expect from going to a Dhrupad concert?”

The Sarangi: North India’s hundred-coloured strings

The smooth scratch of the sarangi, unique in its rich resonance, is among Indian classical’s most melodious sounds. Even the word ‘sarangi‘ has a syllabic roll to it – the term translates as ‘hundred-coloured instrument’, reflecting its vast emotional range. Carved from a hardwood block, it has three vibration chambers, each of which symbolises aContinue reading “The Sarangi: North India’s hundred-coloured strings”

The santoor: North India’s magical, many-stringed box

Don’t worry if you’re a relative newcomer to Indian classical music – in historic terms, the santoor is a newcomer too. It was adapted from Sufi folk instruments in the 1950s by Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, who used his expertise in tabla and vocal music to create a fresh musical pathway for his son ShivkumarContinue reading “The santoor: North India’s magical, many-stringed box”

How does the sitar work? What happens at a sitar concert?

The sitar’s many-stringed sparkle is world-famous. Most of the earth’s population have heard its sound at some point, long used to conjure an instant ‘essence of India’ for films, adverts, restaurants, and so forth. But on closer listen, the music is far more mysterious, full of overlapping drones and sweeping bends. The instrument’s mechanics areContinue reading “How does the sitar work? What happens at a sitar concert?”

The sarod: divine cousin of the banjo

If there’s something almost-familiar about the sound of a sarod, the answer may lie halfway across the world. Though it is unclear whether the large Indian lute actually shares a direct ancestor with the American banjo, the textures of the two instruments definitely have a lot of other odd similarities. Both have taut metal stringsContinue reading “The sarod: divine cousin of the banjo”

The Carnatic violin: sliding strings of South India

Though the South Indian violin looks pretty much identical to its Western counterpart, their playing philosophies are worlds apart. For one thing, Carnatic classical violinists improvise most of their music on the spot, with no score or sheet music in sight. For another, they take a different approach to elaborating the notes themselves, focusing onContinue reading “The Carnatic violin: sliding strings of South India”

The bansuri: Lord Krishna’s divine flute

Some say the bansuri has divine origins. Hindu myth holds that it was popularised in part by Lord Krishna, the god of love and tenderness, who used it to (among other things) gain favour with fellow deities and seduce the milkmaids of Braj. It has long been considered a symbol of both Krishna’s beauty andContinue reading “The bansuri: Lord Krishna’s divine flute”

What happens at a tabla solo recital

You need not know anything in advance to enjoy a classical tabla recital. After all, rhythm is a primal, physical satisfaction, derived from our basic need to appreciate sequence and regularity in the world around us. But listening out for a few core features is only likely to enhance your experience. So, how do youContinue reading “What happens at a tabla solo recital”

What should I expect from seeing a Carnatic singer?

Melody is king in Carnatic music – in South India, the singers reign supreme. Their fluid, instantly recognisable approach is now finding millions of new listeners through YouTube and Bollywood, but the home of the music remains the traditional kutcheri (concert). So if you go along to a vocal performance then what might you find there? CarnaticContinue reading “What should I expect from seeing a Carnatic singer?”