Embracing world music

exotic melodies Through her travels, Bengaluru-based Anasuya Kulkarni was able to collect & experiment with musical instruments from across the globe.

Embracing world music

There’s a musical mystery for anyone who passes by her house, whose white walls contrast bunches of bloomed red May flowers around. It’s to figure out the source of the melodies that come from her residence in JP Nagar, Bengaluru. Sometimes, some passersby are so pleased by the music, and also clueless and curious about it, that they knock on her door for the answer.

This is one of the impressions born when musician Anasuya Kulkarni rattles the ankrang, a bamboo musical instrument she has mastery over, and the Indian new-born cousin of the Indonesian traditional instrument anghklung.

In her house, this ensemble finds place among close to 300 other musical instruments — string, percussion and wind — that she has collected over the years from locations across the world. They are all under one roof, in a room that’s designed to display most of the instruments on the walls and shelves. Anasuya Kulkarni strikes the gong placed in the living room thrice and says, “Welcome.”

Musical greeting reserved for first-time visitors and to mark new beginnings, she adds. As she sits to share her combined tales of travels and music, her palm goes over her right knee in circles to soothe it.

On a musical journey
The artiste highlights 1964, the year she chose Narayan Kulkarni, an officer with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as her life partner and husband. By then, she says, she was already trained in Carnatic music, and had lent her voice to playback singing and sent her melodies over radio waves. While she accompanied her husband on his assignments in Asian, Pacific and African countries, she too embarked on her new journey that would embrace world music. “I never felt I was married as I had all the freedom to pursue my interests. When I travelled, I was attracted to the music of other countries because of my background. And the variety of musical instruments awed me to no end. While we were in Indonesia, the metallic gamelan fascinated me, then the island’s bamboo instruments. In Papua New Guinea, the myriad flutes and tribal drums... I was taken to the places that made these musical instruments. I began collecting them as well. And I learnt to play them from experts,” she says of her days of first exploring new sounds.

As for what Narayan Kulkarni thinks about her journey: “Well, it has been interesting, innovative. And now it keeps us active and healthy. Every day is a Sunday for us,” he says. The wife takes her turn to say that he has helped and inspired her the most. “He was prepared to spend money on instruments. I’m a bit stingy. So when I liked some musical instrument and didn’t buy it because it cost too much, he would buy it for me without my knowledge. His thought was simple: you like it, you buy it.”

Of all the instruments she heard in different countries, the tunes from the anghklung (Indonesia), made of bamboo tubes of varying length, and played by a group of musicians, but each in charge of certain notes, enchanted her the most. She modelled a solo-instrument version of anghklung, called the ankrang, by changing a few playing techniques and introducing a few innovations in the stand. The expertise came when she mastered to play Carnatic music on it.

This newness of musical fusion of hers has been entertaining audiences the world over. And her effort to have introduced this instrument to Indian music has been recognised in the Limca Book Of Records (2008 edition). One of her innovative performances — two years ago at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru — includes the theme of ‘five’ — five Indian percussions, five foreign percussions, five string instruments, five ankrangs, five songs from five states, five songs from five countries and so on.

Passing on the tradition
By way of sharing her years of musical learnings, she welcomes students and adults through the trust (Institute of Ethnomusic), and hopes that there will be more musical exchange of notes spanning the world. The veteran musician, who pursued her doctorate in music at age of 64, has her hands full as a teacher now, passing on the skills of playing the ankrang to her small but dedicated class of students across age groups.

Neha Niranjan, her 17-year-old student who came by this musical opportunity from her mother’s friend six-and-a-half years ago, says, “Playing ankrang makes me popular in school and the apartment because it’s a new instrument. They believe that I play a very different kind of instrument, and it’s special.” Of the two senior citizen students Sharada and K V Gayathri, the latter believes that only constant learning will take one forward. “I’ve been learning it only for six months now, but Anasuya has always encouraged me to learn it. I find bamboo sounds quite pleasing. So I opted to play it,” she says.

While their guru, too, hopes that the legacy of the sound will continue, she plans to put together a book that enumerates all the musical instruments she has procured, and describes her experiences. As painful as it may sound, she’s also on a search to find suitable, caring institutes for her family of instruments. She says, “People should be interested in them — to learn and maintain. They are valuable and precious. We have aged. I’m ready to part with the instruments because I have enjoyed my time with them fully.”

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