Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Here's an in depth review of my Christmas present, the futujara, pronounced foo-too-yah-rah, produced by Vladiswar Nadishana, and Max Brumberg. The futujara may be purchased from Nadishana's online shop. Just what is a futujara, anyway? Let's have a listen and a look at one. Here's the longer video with all the details. Finally, just to get all of the videos out of the way, here's the original version where Nadishana demonstrates alternate fingering techniques. Tune in for the sweet fujara, udu, and bass jam in the middle of the video. Finally, here's how to assemble and take care of it.

In case you can't tell from the video links, let me get the recommendation right out in front. This is an excellent instrument. Why? Sound, price, portability, durability, and flexibility. Let's tackle all of these in turn.

Price: This is the least expensive fujara I've seen so far, and with five instruments in one package, it's hard to beat. You can also get the older model, I believe, that is three instruments in one.

Durability and Portability: Being made of PVC, it is far more durable than the traditional wooden version, and infinitely more portable. It's collapsable for one thing, and though I'm sure you could damage PVC if you really worked at it, in general it's pretty tough stuff. However, since I'm a musician, these points are the most boring to me. So let's get into the good stuff!

Sound: While price, durability, and portability are certainly important, it's the sound which should be the paramount consideration, in my opinion. The futujara is a modernized version of a fujara, an enormous overtone flute from Slovakia. Traditionally these are made of a single piece of wood and are greater than five feet in length. Nadishana's futujara sounds like a fujara should. As opposed to making an instrument similar to a fujara out of PVC, Nadishana has taken pains to put sound first, the instrument truly is a fujara and not something approximating one. You can be assured that the modern materials and other innovations in no way detract from the true sound and playability of a fujara.

Flexibility: Now that we know that the futujara is a real fujara, i.e. it has the proper sound, does it have anything else going for it other than being the least expensive fujara, while being extremely tough and easy to transport? Indeed it does! I'll tackle these in order, from simplest to most advanced, i.e. starting with the perspective of a brand new instrument player and then into more advanced topics for those of you who might be familiar with other flutes.

As the futujara video says, you get five instruments in one: Four different keys of fujara and an overtone flute. The fujara keys are, in order from shortest and highest to longest and lowest, D, C, A, and G. I should add that you can't play all of these at once, the "four instruments", as it were, are made by detaching a section of PVC with finger holes and replacing it with another section, to change the overall length of the flute. The fifth instrument, an overtone flute, a flute without holes, is the main body without any attached section. This overtone flute, in the key of A, produces a scale via breath control, blowing harder and softer into the flute, and by covering and uncovering the end of the tube, usually with the palm of the hand. Additional notes are gained by partially covering the end, though this is a more advanced and thus more difficult technique.

Since the fujara works like a whistle, beginners to the instrument will be able to produce a sound immediately simply by connecting one of the two mouthpieces and blowing into the instrument. One mouthpiece is a small l-shaped tube, and is the traditional style of fujara mouthpiece. This mouthpiece works on the overtone flute and the D and C fujara. You might prefer this mouthpiece to play fujara in the standing traditional style, or to gain slightly easier control of the overtone flute. The other mouthpiece is a length of plastic hose which works on all five instruments and is necessary to play the longer A and G fujara. This hose also offers a great deal of flexibility, you are able to play seated as well as standing. In addition, it actually adds four more instruments, since by covering all holes of a fujara and placing the end of the flute against your leg and removing it, you gain four more overtone flutes, i.e. instruments like the end with no attached tubes.

As with most flutes, it is generally easier to get the lower notes and harder to get the higher notes on the shorter instruments, while on the longer instruments the higher notes are easier and the lower notes harder. This is because the higher notes take more breath on the shorter flutes. Conversely, the lower notes on the longer flutes take very little breath. All of the flutes have excellent tone. The D and C instruments project more, while the A and G flutes have a soft and mellow tone.

The hole spacing of Nadishana's instruments is closer than that of traditional fujara. What this means for the beginning player is that, coupled with the hose, it allows short people, and/or those with smaller hands, to play all of the flutes, verified via experimentation, i.e. actually giving them to people to play. The longer flutes will probably take some getting used to, and of course there's probably a limit to how small you can be, but in general most people should be able to manage fairly easily. This is certainly a concern as I'm sure many people would wonder at their potential to play a flute, the G fujara, that is almost five feet and ten inches, (1.78 meters), long. If you are not used to playing flutes, especially larger ones, I recommend hand stretching exercises. Here are two learned from a book on bansuri, also excellent warmup exercises. Place the thumb of your opposite hand at the base of your finger, right at the nuckle. Your thumb should be resting on the back of your hand, not the palm. With the fingers of your other hand, the same hand with the thumb at the base of the finger, gently bend the finger back and hold it for a few seconds. It goes without saying that if this hurts you're doing it too much. Repeat for all fingers on both hands. Then, put your thumb and little finger of one hand together. Place them between two fingers of the opposite hand, as far toward the base of your hand as is comfortable. Gently move your thumb and little finger apart and hold for a few seconds. This stretches the webbing between your fingers. Repeat on all fingers, both hands.

In addition this closer hole spacing allows techniques from other flutes, e.g. tinwhistle, bansuri, Native American flute, etc. to be applied to the fujara. Obviously these techniques must fit into the pattern of note production, and the fingerings, particularly in the first octave and the beginning of the second, support them nicely. Rolls, trills, slides, hole strikes, and other such ornaments work well, both in terms of physical execution and sound production. These ornaments are in addition to those traditionally applied to fujara, and together with the ability to simultaneously use the instrument as fujara and the instrument as overtone flute, provide a wide range of notes and playing possibilities.

Having said all of this, the question inevitably arises. Are there any drawbacks? Possibly, though they are so minor they hardly seem worth mentioning, they certainly don't bother me. In fact these are indeed not drawbacks at all, but more along the lines of personal preference. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I'll mention them here.

The instrument is made of PVC, save for the wooden fipple, the block that directs the air to the blowing edge, at the top of the instrument. This means it doesn't look much like a traditional instrument, particularly with the hose attached. However I should add that Nadishana offers opaque models, painted in various colors, and a painted model that incorporates artistic designs and ornamentation, which probably come closer to the traditional appearance. Being blind I can't really judge this, though I do know that wooden instruments are often highly decorated. In addition to appearance, the sound will be slightly different from that of a wooden instrument. For instance, wood tends to absorb some frequencies, thus giving a mellower tone. PVC is entirely reflective, thus giving a much brighter sound. You may prefer one type of sound over the other. If you enjoy tapping on the instrument, then it sounds like PVC. As I've mentioned, this is more a personal preference, the instrument is probably indistinguishable from a traditional fujara in 99.9% of cases.

The only other drawback I can think of is expense. Currently the five-in-one basic instrument, no painting, sells for 140 euros. However, keep in mind this is about half of the price I've seen for any one wooden instrument, the lowest for a single wooden instrument so far is 250 euros and the highest is around $1100. any fujara, therefore, will be an expense. However, as you are getting not one fujara for the lowest price I've encountered so far, but four, plus an overtone flute, as well as all of the other benefits mentioned above, my recommendation, obviously, is save up and get one.

This isn't a drawback as such, but the hose takes a bit of getting used to, it tends to want to come out of your mouth or move around. Also you can only play the shorter instruments in the traditional style. This is because the tube that takes the air to the fipple, to which the mouthpieces connect, has to be short enough to work on the D and C instruments. It might be nice at some point in the future if some sort of extension tube were possible, say something with the mouthpiece connector at one end and more tube like the air channel at the other. That way you could connect the extension just like a mouthpiece for the A and G instruments and then connect the traditional mouthpiece. Obviously you'd need enough demand for this, and honestly I play far more seated than standing. I'm just a fan of possibilities and keeping as much of the traditional around as possible.

One thing to watch out for is the traditional mouthpiece. Nadishana says not to push this all the way into the tube but to leave a small gap, so it's easier to get out. I find that it's fairly easy to intend to leave the gap but push it all the way in anyway. To be fair it comes out pretty easily, it just takes a bit more care and effort. As I said I've been using the hose pretty constantly, and I don't really see this as a drawback, just something to watch for.

Be careful when using the longer instruments as overtone flutes against your leg. The G instrument is about four inches away from my ceiling when I lift it up. Also with the longer instruments in particular, more weight is towards the far end, i.e. away from the end with the holes that you're actually holding. It hasn't come apart on me yet, but the pipe with the holes just slides into the blowing end, it's not screwed in or clamped in or anything. Again, this is just something to watch for. As I've said I've never had anything disconnect while playing and I've played for fairly long chunks of time already. It could also be that the pipe can fit tighter and I'm just not pushing it in hard enough, but in any case, it's working just fine.

Finally, let me get to my own personal thoughts. I've wanted a fujara ever since first hearing of one, I didn't even know what they sounded like. But a five foot plus long flute sounded absolutely fascinating. The reason I asked for Nadishana's instrument is because I'd heard his youtube video after hearing a traditional fujara. So I was able to hear for myself that it has an excellent sound. Of course portability will be nice, and having all of the musical possibilities doesn't hurt either! Nadishana has worked to emphasize newer, non-traditional ways of playing the instrument, but what is really nice is that he hasn't sacrificed any of the traditional ones iether. It plays just like a fujara, you can just do a lot more with it. That's the kind of modernization I love to see. Nadishana is a professional musician himself, and so you know that the instruments you get will actually work and will be of good quality, my futujara certainly is, it's the first instrument I own from him. You can also be sure he actually knows how to play it and can thus give you tips and helpful advice, and having emailed him, let me add that he is indeed very helpful. He also responds pretty promptly for somebody who's likely insanely busy. I absolutely recommend Nadishana's futujara with no reservations whatsoever. If you've ever wanted one of these, or you watch the videos and want one, you're not going to find a better instrument. Unless you absolutely must have a traditional wooden instrument, buy the futujara. It's an unbeatable value. It was easy to assemble, it's extremely light and portable, and it plays amazingly well. Already I've done fujara techniques, as well as techniques from other overtone flutes, e.g. those from Norway and New Guinea. Yes, if you're into obscure things like me and obsessed with sound, you too can recreate the sounds of the paired giant bamboo overtone flutes of New Guinea! Maybe I'll talk about those in another post, when I can turn up more information on them. That's how versatile this instrument is, I can do things with it that most people have never heard of. So seriously, you will not be disappointed with the futujara. It's one of the finest instruments I own, and believe me, I own a lot!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Napali sarangi

The sarangi is a four-stringed bowed instrument from Nepal, think of something like a fiddle and you've got it. These days there are usually three nylon strings and one wire string. It's a fairly small instrument, about two feet long. The neck, such as it is, is fairly short, a few inches. The instrument's body is sort of like a figure eight. The top half of the instrument is open and the bottom half is covered with skin, usually sheep but I'm sure goat and cow get used as well. I recently had the chance to hear an excellent sarangi covered with lizard skin, of all things. Now of course you want to hear it, and see it for those of you who can do that sort of thing. Well, here's a video of some excellent sarangi playing. The drum is called madal. They're generally from one to two feet long. They are barrel-shaped and have a head on either end. These heads, somewhat similar to tabla heads, are connected with leather straps. Metal rings are slid along these straps to tighten and loosen them to tune the madal.

The Nepali sarangi is unfortunately generally eclipsed by and confused with an Indian instrument also known as sarangi. The Wikipedia sarangi article tells you nothing whatsoever about the Nepali instrument, simply equating it with the Indian variety. They are quite different instruments, though it is theorized that the Indian sarangi came from simpler bowed instruments such as the Nepali sarangi. Wikipedia's etymology is also strange, it gives sarangi as coming from Hindi sau, hundred, and rang, color. The etymology I've gotten from several Nepali friends is sa, the first note of the Indian/Nepali scale equivalent to Western do, and rangi, color. Thus the instrument is the instrument that colors the notes of music. I guess the Wikipedia etymology is getting at the same basic idea, but I thought I'd put the one I've gotten out there. Enjoy!

In case this isn't musically geeky enough already, let's have some more! The sarangi is tuned root fourth fourth octave, e.g. d g g d. The bow is different from a Western violin bow, the hair is pushed out by the fingers to maintain tension. The strings are played by touching them with the backs of the fingernails. Often a bell is attached to the end of the bow for rhythmic emphasis. Here is another video showing a good view of the instrument being played, you can hear and briefly see the bell.

The sarangi is traditionally played by the gaine or gandarva, a class of wandering musicians. In the past they would report news, give social commentary, and so on. Nowadays I gather they're generally trying to sell sarangi to tourists, so unfortunately the tradition is dying out. The person nice enough to give me a sarangi lesson the other week said they used to come to his village about ten years ago but they've largely stopped. Here is another video, this time of two gaine. The thing that sounds like a high-pitched madal, it did to me anyway, is actually another gaine playing the sarangi by plucking its open strings!

Finally, here are some unfortunately faint videos of Om Gurung, who gave me the aforementioned sarangi lesson. Here he is playing sarangi, and here he is playing madal and singing! He's a very nice person and a wonderful singer and player of the sarangi and madal, and he very generously shared his time to give me playing tips for both. So crank up your speakers and headphones and enjoy the cool music! This is music the way it's supposed to be made.

Update: I found another good video. This is Shyam Nepali playing sarangi, possibly with his group Sukarma. Since I don't own any albums by Sukarma, yet, I don't know if the track in the video is theirs or not.

Also, I now own a sarangi, thanks to the wonderful people at Shangri-La Collections, right here in my very own city even! But if you happen not to live near me, don't worry, they do mail order. So check them out, they're really nice people. I hope to have pictures up somewhat soon, sound will have to wait until I can play something on it, heh. I just got it today, be patient! The main difference between mine and what I've described above is that my bow is pre-tensioned, it's a flat strip of what I assume is bamboo, probably strung with nylon. It sounds wonderful, so hopefully I'll be able to play at least some sort of simple melody or scale on it soon, for your edification. Then you can compare it to the videos and see how far I have to go, heh. I forget where I read this, but a gaine would start trying to play at about seven or so, watching their father, and be ready to go out in public by about 14. Hopefully the fact that I play other instruments will help cut the time to learn considerably. That's learning to do basic playing, of course. I'm sure getting fairly good at it takes a while, let alone mastering it.

The purpose of this blog

Well this is pretty simple. I have this internet radio show thingy called Global Sound Trek, where I play music from all over the world. In case you've stumbled across this blog before finding the show, it can be found, along with a bunch of other great shows I might add, on 107ThePhoenix.

I thought it might be nice to have a place to discuss world music, expand on thoughts about it, and link to things that don't really work on the show, like videos and such. So here we are, and let's get right down to it, shall we?