On arrival in India, the first contact with the arts begins with music. Classical in good restaurants whereas modern in popular places, omnipresent in any case.
North and south India has seen the evolution of two very different musical genres:
Hindustani music in the north, and also in Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Carnatic music in the south. Originally, the two genres, close until XIII century, were under the religious influence. They were separated on arrival of Mughals and their Persian music. Hindustani music evolved into court music, played for the Maharajahs. More emotional, it tells human stories (one would say nowadays, more commercial!). Modern music, popularized by Bollywood, stems directly from it. On the contrary, the Carnatic music of South India retains its spiritual aspect, placing more emphasis on musical structure and improvisation. It is based on the Ragas system.
Three instruments symbolize musical India: the sitar, the tabla and the harmonium.
A plucked string instrument from the lute family, his particular sonority seduced Western rock musicians (George Harrison for the Beatles, Brian Jones for the Rolling Stones) in 60s and 70s. The participation of Ravi Shankar, in the famous festival of Woodstock, marks the beginning of the western craze for this instrument with strange forms. Ravi Shankar's recordings were a great success. Today, the sitar still occupies a predominant place in the Hindustani music groups.
A percussion musical instrument, it consists of a pair of drums, one producing high-pitched sounds, the other a deep sound. Its particularity resides in the superposition of two skins of goats of different diameter, in the center of which one applies a pastille composed of flour and iron. The whole gives a particular resonance, unique to this instrument.
Used both as a solo instrument and as an accompanying instrument in orchestras, it has made its name in the music of north and south India. King of Raga, it gives musicians the opportunity to express their remarkable talents of improvisers. Zakir Hussain, the most famous performer in Europe, has played with many Western artists.
Imported by settlers in the 19th century, deeply modified to adapt to the Indian way of life, this is the essential wind instrument of any Hindustani music orchestra. His European ancestor, a distant cousin of organ dedicated above all to religious music, needed to sit behind the keyboard. But in India, we sit on the floor or on cushions. The initial pedal, replaced by lateral bellows (like an accordion), allows the musician to sit on the floor. The left hand activates the bellows, the right plays the melody. Used solo or accompanying a band, it sets a tone for singers. Playing this instrument does not involve the inherent virtuosity required for playing sitar and tabla, but the strong and captivating sound is a part of classical Indian music.