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Medley of Folk Instruments at Sur Jahan

The 7th edition of Sur Jahan, earlier known as Sufi Sutra, witnessed the repertoire of an array of folk music instruments from Europe and Africa, with many of them having their roots in the Middle East, West Africa and Scandinavia. The origin of quite a few dates back to medieval times and some were on the verge of extinction before being revived by a band of sincere and gifted musicians of our times.

Søren Hammerlund, the leader of Danish fold bank Virelai played hurdy-gurdy, an instrument that was nearly extinct some 200 years ago. Musicians like him revived it and gave it a fresh lease of life. Hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on hurdy-gurdy sound similar to those of a violin. It has its origin in the fiddles of Europe and the Middle East and dates back to around 11th century AD.




Hammerlund also played mandola. Although it is rarely seen or played now, mandola is the ancestor of mandolin which, literally, means the ‘little mandola’. Mandola has four double courses of metal strings, tuned in unison rather than in octaves. Mandola’s history dates back to medieval times and it is used in folk music in countries ranging from Italy to Ireland, where it turns into octave mandola.


Jacob Lund of Virelai played davul or tupan, a large double-headed drum played with mallets. It has many names depending on the country and region. Incidentally, this instrument’s counterpart in our own Tamil Nadu is called ‘davil’ and its prototype in Iran (Persia) and Turkey is called ‘dohol’. Davul creates both a deep bass sound and a thin treble sound due to its construction and playing style, where different heads and sticks are used to produce different sounds on the same drum.


Virelai and Czech Republic's BraAgas also played darbuka — a goblet drum that is also known as chalice drum, tarabuka, tarabaki, debuka, doumbek, dumbec, dumbeg and dumbelek. It is a close relative of our Indian table. A single head membranophone with a goblet-shaped body, darbuka is played mostly in the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. The African djembe-wassolou is also a goblet membranophone.


Martin Seeberg of Virelai played shawm a conical bore, double-reed woodwind instrument made in Europe from the 12th century to the present day. Shawm is a forerunner of the oboe with a penetrating tone. The body of a shawm is usually turned from a single piece of wood and terminates in a flared bell, somewhat like that of a trumpet.


Seeberg also played viola at Sur Jahan. It is a string instrument, slightly larger than a violin, and has a lower and deeper sound. It is played with varying techniques. Viola has been the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin and the cello.


Solo of Senegal, a part of the Swedish band Elika Solo Rafael, cast a spell at Sur Jahan with kora, a 23-string lute-bridge-harp played with four fingers of each hand. It has its origin, and is still used widely, in West Africa. Kora is essentially a mandinka harp built from a large calabash (pumpkin, bottle gourd or white-flowered gourd) cut in half and covered with antelope skin (it is thin) to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck, with fishing lines used as strings (or nylon strings).


Rydval Eric of the Alle Moller Quartet of Sweden played nyckleharpa (key harp), a traditional Swedish string musical instrument. It is similar in appearance to a fiddle but, structurally, is more closely related to hurdy-gurdy. The nyckelharpa and its tonal range appear on the reverse of the Swedish 50 kronor banknote.



Katerina Gottlichova of Czech Republic’s BraAgas played cister — a plucked string instrument from the family of the box neck lutes. Cister exists in a variety of designs which is why it is not regarded as a specific instrument but as a family of instruments.


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