WESTERNERS AND INDIAN MUSIC IN EUROPE

Charly Wintermeyer 

photo charly1Indian music covers a broad range of different styles. There are two major systems of classical music – the south Indian or Karnatik – and the north Indian or Hindustani. In addition there are many folk styles and the hybrid film music of Bollywood and other important film cities in India.

 

I am a representative of the Hindustani tradition and a product of the so-called guru shishya parampara (can be freely translated as the teacher disciple tradition). This music is played to the background of a drone (usually the instrument used is the tanpura, a stringed instrument creating a broad range of overtones), which enables the listener to hear microtones. From the performer it requires a high degree of virtuosity. The music is known as raga music, which is soothing relaxing and meditative. A strong influence of this music on the new age and meditation music in the West cannot be denied. Western musicians with healing inclinations have also been influenced by Indian music and musical theories in their work. Long introductions to a raga (alaap) are common practice and an invitation to meditate. Indian classical music be it north or south has existed for thousands of years as a living tradition and therefore has undergone and is still undergoing many changes keeping up its traditional spirit. Indian light classical music is a genre between folk and classical style and uses folk melodies interblended with classical improvisations. The pieces are shorter than in raga music and leave more freedom to the musician. Indian classical- and light classical music of all types has received high appreciation between the western audiences in Europe. Media coverage ebbs and flows with its popularity. Indian emigrants often bring their music with them; particularly cinema- and folk music. Cinema music in India has always been influenced by western musical ideas, which were blended with Indian sound material. On the other hand, the market for film music from the subcontinent not only covers Europe, but also the Gulf, Arabian countries and Turkey as well as countries in Africa. Indian pop fusion lately even conquered the charts.

  

After the sixties myriads of western musicians, following the experiments of George Harrison, flocked into the houses of Ustads and Gurus (Masters) to study at their feet. As a result the increased production of fusion music laid the ground for a proliferation of teachers and disciples since the sixties. Some less competent artists jumped on the speeding train, which have not been able to match the previous high performance standards of the masters. The wider public unable to judge the different quality of the art, may have become disappointed with the less skilled performers. Indian classical music takes a considerably long time to be studied. Ravi Shankar and Uday Shankar are in large part responsible for popularizing to a broader Western audience a sort of chamber music that was used to be relished by kings and their courts.

 

Defining the position of Indian classical music in the west today is not an easy task. The famous great artists perform in select international circles and have

photo charly2 accomplished virtuosity on their instruments. Many other international performers have not matched their level of ability; therefore their impact on audiences may be less effective. The masters often perform for relatively small audiences in the west, as compared to the numbers exposed to rock concerts. At the same time there are Europeans and other groups of people who dedicate their lives to practicing Indian classical music, as it is a spiritual discipline in its own right. Some such musicians draw fair-sized audiences others may produce beautiful fusion attempts. The East with its richness in melody has always attracted musicians from the west, as the main achievement of the west has been harmony. On top India has a richness in rhythm reached by few other cultures. It seems the market for Indian classical music in the west has a strong future. Jazz and other musicians from Europe will always be attracted by the considerable musical heritage of the Subcontinent.

  

Talented European musicians who have spent long periods with their teachers in India (on average it takes 12-15 years as the disciple of a master to achieve mastery) have set up centers and institutions in Europe for the traditional study of this music. The overall picture is positive. More and more facilities in Europe are available for introduction to Indian classical music, producing more and more audiences that bear able to appreciate the music in a sophisticated and knowledgeable way. Yoga centers and ashrams have also helped to spread Indian culture in a dedicated way. Some bilateral societies also perform the same function. The Indian ancient system of Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) gets also known to more and more people in the West. The Indian approach is always holistic, no matter in which field and offers a universal viewpoint. So the landscape is amenable to the music, but one drawback is the constriction of public funds for Europe and all progressives.

 

In photos:

Kajal Sonali: Kathak Dance

Charly Wintermeyer: Bamboo flute

Akaash Wintermeyer: Tabla 

 

About the author:

Charly Wintermeyer born 28 th dec, 54, went to India in 78 and studied Indian classical music in the oral tradition of Benares gharana ( family tradition). Since 93 he worked on the following projects: the ethno-fusion group «Ganga & Friends» and «Blue Karma» as well as «Trishakti» with the famous guitar virtuoso Georg Lawall,  the kathak ensemble «Kajal Sonali». His discography includes a wide range of productions from traditional over fusion to trance, dub and ambiance (Heaven No. 7).Wintermeyer has toured Germany, France, Spain,  Ireland and India.