Channeling George Harrison
June 1, 2012 10:46 PM   Subscribe

Musical Tourism: I'm traveling next week to Delhi for business, but will have a weekend for shopping, sightseeing. I'm a nerdy musician and would like to bring home a meaningful musical souvenir from India. Preferably an instrument I can play. What should I get and where should I get it from?

I'm landing in Delhi late next Tuesday, and will be in India for about 8 days. Most of these days I'll be working and won't have time to explore, but will have a full weekend to check things out.

Looks like my companions and I are planning to go to Agra Friday night, stay over and then visit Taj Mahal in the morning. Beyond that I don't have any big plans beyond the usual stuff. I am willing to venture on my own and go off the beaten path if it means finding something highly musical and neat.

When I think about all the interesting stuff I can take home –and I will be buying things for my wife and children, not to mention taking lots of pictures – what I really want to bring home is something musical. Music is such a big part of my life, you could say it's my overriding passion. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to travel to a different part of the world with its own musical heritage largely distinct from the Western music of my upbringing. I want to absorb that opportunity as much as possible.

I'm mostly a keyboard player, though I play violin and guitar too. So I think I'd like a small stringed instrument of some kind. Tabla drums look awesome, but maybe too bulky? I looked at the wikipedia article about Indian musical instruments. There are a LOT. I wouldn't be against a wind/reed instrument either, but this is not in my wheelhouse so much.

So what would you get? Is there a specific place in Delhi or Agra I could ask a driver to take me to, where I could maybe talk to some instrument makers or shop at a well-regarded instrument shop?

Bonus question: any musical venues I should check out, local artists? I'm sure I can get a lot of this stuff just by asking around when I land, but I appreciate any insight the hive mind can bestow beforehand.
posted by Doleful Creature to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My dad brought a harmonium home from Pondicherry once, so I know it can be done!
posted by Madamina at 10:55 PM on June 1, 2012

Best answer: That sounds like a cool idea. Delhi has been at the crossroads of so many musical tradition you will be spoilt for choice. This is the shop from where I bought my musical instruments. They are very old and established (which does not mean you cant bargain ;)). The other equally good store nearby is this . Despite the name it is actually in India.

The streets around daryaganj have a lot of small stores as well which may appeal to your 'off the beaten track' desire but quality may not be very good.

If you are there on a Friday then you should try and go to Nizamuddin to listen to some live qawwalis and kababs.

posted by london302 at 11:40 PM on June 1, 2012

Best answer: I'm not sure about good shops, but if your interested in a stringed instrument, I'd highly recommend a Dilruba (or Esraj, very similar). It's a bowed instrument with four playing strings, tuned more or less in fourths like a guitar. You play it sitting cross-legged, a bit like a cello and it has a big bow like a double bass. It has sympathetic strings and movable frets like a sitar, but you actually don't press the string all the way to the frets, but glide your finger over the string (mostly the melody string) to play. It's fun, sounds nice, is portable and most westerners haven't heard of it. Look on YouTube for videos.
posted by iotic at 2:11 AM on June 2, 2012

Oh and if you want something truly portable and are up for a challenge, try a Bansuri flute. Google Hariprasad Chaurasia to see how it's done. The first challenge will be getting one that's in tune. There's a professional flute-maker called Subhash Thakur in Delhi - its worth getting a decent one as cheap ones tend to be out of tune.
posted by iotic at 2:17 AM on June 2, 2012

You could visit Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt in Jaipur and buy a mohan veena. It's like a cross between a sitar and a lap slide guitar, with 20 strings and a whole lotta soul.
posted by embrangled at 3:00 AM on June 2, 2012

An ektara is a one-stringed instrument with a percussion thing at the end. For rhythmic playing in kirtans.
posted by goethean at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2012

I treated myself to a cute little drone box as described here.

But since you're more interested in something you can play, how about an actual acoustic Tambura?
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:25 AM on June 2, 2012

I bought tablas in Delhi and flew back with them without much of a problem. They're bulky, but they've been a great conversation piece for years, sitting there under the coffee table. Kids love to bang on them. I got good enough to make that awesome DooWOOOP sound and then I stopped playing them.

The customs asshole in Chicago didn't like the cloth ring that the tablas rest on (it keeps them off the floor and allows them to resonate). He kept looking at it, bending it, squeezing it, and then he asked "You got drugs in here?"

Dude, yes, I have drugs in there. I was hoping you weren't going to ask, but now that you mention it, I do. He didn't believe me when I told him I didn't, so he pulled out his pocket knife and s-l-o-w-l-y proceded to make preparations for tabla ringy thing surgery.

He would move the knife around, look at me, find a seam, select a different blade from his Swiss Army knife, look at me, say "Well it looks like I'm really going to have to cut into this thing to find your drugs" and I'm like "Ok, well please do it quickly, because I'm going to miss my flight". "Oh, you're not making your flight, so don't even think about that."

He never cut into the ring. Fucker.

Get tablas.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:00 PM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, these are really great ideas! I think I'm leaning toward the harmonium, I didn't realize there was such a history in India with them...or maybe a Dilruba, those both sound really fun to have. The mohan veena looks really could but also super intimidating!
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2012

I think Shruti boxes are pretty cool. Also, they're very portable. It's like carrying a briefcase.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 4:40 PM on June 7, 2012

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