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Slow hand from India
By BARRY DAVIS
05/03/2012
Dudu Elkabir displays his skill on the rudra veena at the On the Wings of the Raga Festival.
 
As a country that has seemingly hundreds of spices and tea blends to offer, it seems pretty natural for India to be the flavor of the month here.

The second annual India Festival is currently in full flow up and down the country, and Jerusalem’s Confederation House has also got into the act with a rich program of music from the subcontinent, in the On the Wings of the Raga Festival, that will run between May 8 and May 10 at the host venue and the Jerusalem Theater.

Amongst the thousands of Israeli backpackers who have done the rounds of India on post-army service trips, a few came home with musical baggage as well. Deep down, Dudu Elkabir must have been conscious of the possibility that he would immerse himself in Indian sounds long before he made it over there. Elkabir is on the roster of the On the Wings of the Raga Festival, where he will perform on the rarely played rudra veena string instrument, alongside his teacher, Indian musician Bahauddin Dagar, who will play the same instrument. The concert will take place at Confederation House at on May 9 at 9:30 p.m.

“I first went to India in 1996, but I played on guitar before that,” says Elkabir. “I used open tuning on guitar, and I later discovered that it is similar to the tuning of the sitar. I also played music that was very similar to Indian music. I suppose I must have known something without being fully aware of it.”

Elkabir hadn’t exactly planned on furthering his musical education in India and, in fact, got there by accident – literally. “After the army, I decided to go to the States for a while. I was working in agriculture in the North to get the money together for the trip,” he explains. “But I had an accident with a tractor when I fell into a deep ditch. I came out of it more or less okay, but I decided to make do with the money I’d earned up till then and to go to India to visit my sister who was there at the time.”

It was to be a life-changing decision. “About two weeks after I got there, I heard a cassette of Indian music and straightaway I knew that I wanted to get into that music.”

Despite Elkabir’s instinctive preference for open tuning on his guitar, which eventually paved the way to Indian instrumental music, he did not exactly feed off an Indian musical diet in his childhood. But there was always something unorthodox about his musical leanings. Despite being only 36 and growing up musically in the late 1980s and 1990s, Elkabir got into the music of such 1960s and 1970s pop and rock acts as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Interestingly, both bands had some Eastern flavors to their work. George Harrison began studying Indian philosophy and music, and sitar in the mid-1960s, and the Fab Four’s ground-breaking 1967 album Sergeant Pepper included a track by Harrison called “Within You Without You,” which featured sitar, tabla and other Indian instruments. Led Zeppelin’s 1975 release Physical Graffiti features a number called “Kashmir,” which is based on Eastern energies and chord progressions.

Elkabir’s Indian musical odyssey gathered pace when he heard a tape by sitar player Ustad Vilayat Khan. “Everything I loved in music was in there,” Elkabir recalls. “It sounded like he was playing eight instruments at the same time. There was a sort of trance music part that went on for about an hour and oscillated between very slow and meditative passages and very fast parts. It was mesmerizing. I was truly amazed. I had no idea you could do things like that in music. It took me to higher places - musically and in general.”

Part of the essence of Indian culture and Indian music stems from the temporal element. The three-minute hit pop song ethos is anathema to the Indian way of thinking. “Anyone who listens to Indian music for an hour or more only realizes what he has experienced after it ends,” notes Elkabir.

Elkabir met his teacher when he went to Drahamsala in northwest India. “Bahauddin Dagar gave a concert which comprised a single raga that lasted two to three hours,” recalls Elkabir. “There were about 200 people in the audience, including quite a few Israelis, and no one moved the whole time. Everyone was entranced.”

Once into Indian music, Elkabir stayed put and gradually became ever more immersed in it, spending most of his time in India, with only the odd excursion back to Israel. “I studied music in the traditional way, student to teacher on an individual basis, rather than in a classroom.”

Considering Dagar is the 20th generation of his family to work as a professional musician, Elkabir’s lesson format could not have been much more traditional. “I played sitar to begin with and, for the first two years in India, I had no idea what the rudra veena looked like or whether there was anyone around in India who still played the instrument.”

But he soon got into the groove at a typically Indian pace of progression. “For four years I did two exercises four to five hours a day. There was so much mystery surrounding the rudra veena, like with Kabbala, which you are only supposed to start learning when you reach the age of 40.”

That gentle pace of life will, no doubt, be fully conveyed at Confederation House on Wednesday.

For more information about the On the Wings of the Raga Festival: www.confederationhouse.org and (02) 624-5206
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