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A new frame drum is here

By K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI, DEC. 21. Next week, during the music season in Chennai, Ganesh Kumar will introduce an innovation. The percussionist, who belongs to Chennai but is in the U.S. much of the time, will play a newly designed kanjira made of Vermont hardwood and Mylar film. This seeks to replace the traditional kanjira, the South Indian frame drum, the frame of which is made of the wood of the jackfruit tree and which is covered by the skin of the monitor lizard. A drum company in the U.S. has made this product, as designed by Ganesh Kumar. He has the product registered with the U.S. Patents Office. One instrument will cost $120 (about Rs. 5,350).

The kanjira, Ganesh Kumar notes, is unique in one respect. It may look similar to hand drums such as the Riq found in West Asia, or the Hadjira, the Ghaval, or the Brazilian Pandeiro, but it has a deeper bass sound.

Ganesh Kumar has had compelling reasons to come out with it.

"The animal (monitor lizard) skin is not easy to get anymore. What is more, unlike the fixed tone traditional instrument, the new kanjira can be tuned according to the pitch of the concert and it is lighter... Of course, it is slightly different to the ear. That can be made out by a really discerning ear." And, of course, the synthetic Mylar is unaffected by the weather. Normal-skin instruments lose their tone in cold weather. Not this, he says.

Ganesh Kumar introduced the instrument in the U.S. at the Global Harmony concert at Austin Texas last month. "We had frame drums from Africa, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.," he explains.

One can hardly miss the passion for rhythm and music as he narrates the story of the new kanjira. "Here in Carnatic music it is only an accompanying instrument. But when I play in fusion concerts, it gets unique importance."

The kanjira is mostly used in South Indian classical concerts as a supporting instrument for the mridangam. It is a relatively recent innovation (less than 100 years). It was added to the classical concerts during 1930s. This is the only frame drum that really uses the `split finger technique' that is associated with a fast-paced but complex repetitive rhythmic style of Carnatic music.

Beyond the traditional

Ganesh Kumar has achieved an ability to adapt and modify techniques and rhythmic patterns beyond the traditional style. And this helps him to adapt fusion music. On the one side he performs with musicians such as M. Balamurlikrishna and `Mandolin' Srinivas; on the other with frame-drummers such as Glen Velez.

He also works with students at the Julliar School of Music and the Wagner College in the U.S.

"I remember how the deep sound has an effect. When people in the U.S. hear the fast rhythm of the kanjira... they simply go nuts. It has a tremendous impact," he says.

Encouraged by the response and the eagerness with which people want to know more about Indian percussion instruments, he has come out with an instructional DVD that explains how to hold the 8 inches by 2 inches instrument in the left hand and in playing position using the split hand technique, the fingering and the different beats.

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