Sunday, November 1, 2009

A date with Mouth Organ Maestro Madan Kumar

Madan Kumar is humility personified. Maestros are like that. The greater heights they achieve in their profession, more humble they become, just like a fruit-bearing tree which bows down as they are laden with fruits.

When I called him up to say, "Sir, I am coming to Pune", he said, "Hop over to my place on Sunday." Madan Kumar lives in the central business district of Pune in a studio apartment on the MG Road.

Both his children, a son and daughter, are married. Son lives in San Fransisco and daughter in Mumbai. In their Pune apartment, only Madan Kumar and his wife live. Having spent 60 years playing mouth organ, Madan Kumar, now 67, cannot live without music. So, he has converted his living room into a small make-shift recording studio.

He squats on the ground on a matress, offering me the sofa to sit on. Like a child, he shows me his collection of harmonicas - all from M Hohner, Germany, except one from Hering. Some of the harmonicas have become collector's pieces as Hohner has stopped making them. There is a harmonica with solid silver body, weighing 300 grams. There is a double bass harmonica and a complete set of CX-12 in G, C, Bb, E and F scales.

Madan Kumar has mastered the various techniques of playing mouth organ - vamping, chording, tounging, vibrato, bending notes to be able to become a one-man orchestra. "I have become a sound engineer by experience," says Madan Kumar, who had to give up his studies after matriculation to take up a job in the construction industry as a labour supervisor.

To complete a song, Madan Kumar, while playing the lead, also records on different tracks chords, octave playing, special effects in the form of vibrator and vamping, which he then mixes on a digital editing device.

Past few years, Madan Kumar has been teaching youngsters. "Only if the new generation takes up playing harmonica that this little instrument has any chance of surving the onslaught of electronic synthesizers," he says.

On one of his visits to his son in San Fransisco, Madan Kumar had presented his five-year-old grandson Pranav, a harmonica. The little one, after blowing into the instrument for some time, had kept it aside till he saw his grandpa's video on the Harmonica Club of Gujarat blog recently. "Look, that's grandpa playing mouth organ," he exclaimed excitedly to his dad.

Pranav fished out the mouth organ his grandpa had given him and began playing. "Why are you moving your fingers like that?" the dad asked. "That's the way grandpa plays," the boy explained non-challantly.