Carsten Wicke: Every instrument is the voice of the instrumentalist

Posted by Kaahon Desk On March 3, 2018

Carsten Wicke, a Rudra Veena player and manufacturer, who lives in Kolkata, India, was born and brought up in the East Germany. As a child, he learnt the western violin and vocal music. In the ‘90s he came across the recordings of the works of the Indian masters such as the violinist N. Rajam and the Tabla player Zakir Hussain. The music intrigued him and led him to pursue learning the Tabla from Pandit Anindo Chatterjee in Kolkata. Fascinated by the Rudra Veena he met Peter Hennix, a Swedish disciple of Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Ustad Asad Ali Khan. Through him he met his future Gurujee, Ustad Asad Ali Khan in Delhi. He accepted him as one of his few Rudra Veena students and while he was preparing for his schooling with Ustad Asad Ali Khan, he faced the problem of the lack of Rudra Veenas and its makers. Finally he had to settle for an old Rudra Veena in a bad condition. The sorry state of the tradition of this unique instrument was due to the passing away of the major beenkars such as Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar of the Dagar tradition and absence of people who would take genuine interest as students or audience. Also as the tradition was on the verge of dying out, old Veena manufacturing shops were closing down and aged Veena makers were not leaving behind any successor. These were the problems that would haunt him for years and later lead him to take up manufacturing Rudra Veenas with a serious mind.

Around 2001, Wicke began to learn the Dhrupad vocal from Pandit Ashish Sankrityayan who had learnt from the masters of the Dagar tradition such as Ustad Fariduddin Dagar, Ustad Fahimuddin Dagar and Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar. This was a major step towards developing his style of Veena playing as the structure and grammar of building up of the alap in the Dhrupad ang is preserved mainly in the Dagar tradition. He wanted to incorporate the elements of Dagarvani Dhrupad in his Veena playing beside the Khandarvani Dhrupad style as taught to him by Ustad Asad Ali Khan. At this time he realized that the traditional Veenas cannot produce the sound that he was aspiring to create. This was possibly the most important reason for him to eventually begin to manufacture Rudra Veenas that would answer to his unique needs as a musician. He met Murari Mohan Adhikari, the last of a family of Veena makers who owned the now closed Kanailal and Brothers at Chitpur Road. Murari made a few instruments for Wicke incorporating both traditional and newer elements to acquire better sustain. After Murari passed away and Wicke permanently settled in India, he decided to make his own instruments. Even with the restrictions of lack of knowledgeable craftsmen he has succeeded in creating an instrument incorporating new additions and alterations.

These changes, which were initiated 60 years ago by Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar with the cooperation of Murari Mohan Adhikari, have increased the dimensions of the instrument and as a result the style of handling the instrument also transformed. Wicke explains how this size is a hindrance while travelling or even performing. Yet given a choice of playing a smaller and lighter traditional Veena and the rather uncomfortably big ones he would always choose the later because of the wonderfully sonorous sound produces due to its size. He describes the popular reception of Indian Classical music in the West that began in the 50s and the 60s. West’s reception of the tradition, especially the Dhrupad tradition, finally inspired the Indian audience to be interested in something that truly belonged to them. He laments that in India, most of the time, the traditions are not valued unless it’s received and appropriated by the West. Carsten Wicke then tells that he would fuse the traditional aspects of the Rudra Veena with Western technology for amplification or modifications but he would never create any fusion music as, for him, the Indian ragas are like an endless ocean that everyday delivers something new to all its practioners.

Carsten Wicke who considers himself as an Indian in his own heart feels that every instrument is the voice of the artist. The artist speaks and sings through them. Many people find their voices in many other instruments but for him it has always been the Rudra Veena.

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