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Hung: From an armour to a musical instrument

Canada-based tabla artiste Gurpreet Chana Photograph: (DNA)

DNA Delhi, India Jun 12, 2017, 08.47 AM (IST) Ornella D'Souza

Who would've guessed that two warrior shields sealed at the rims to suspiciously resemble a miniature UFO, wok or barbeque grill is a musical instrument called 'hang' (pronounced as hung)? "I get stopped at security checks, till I play it and then everyone is entertained for a while," chuckles 40-year-old Canadian fusion artist Gurpreet Chana (aka The Tabla Guy), a tabla exponent since 30 years who's been playing the hang for 13. What made it easy for Chana to adapt to the percussive hang, is that it is tapped, palmed or drummed, very similarly like the tabla.

The hang belongs to the idiophone family, an instrument which creates vibrations minus the use of strings. It's one of the few that marries rhythm with melody. Swiss duo and physicists Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer developed the steel hang after years of R&D, tuning and observing instruments as esoteric as the concave Carribean steel pan. The top side (ding) is given a ceramic-brittle feel with indentations at select points and the bottom (gu) has a hole in the centre, such that the surface bounces off a whole new sonic level for a plethora of sounds it's pretuned to produce. For instance, in Chana's hang, the ding is tuned to Akebono scale of Japanese traditional music that can smoothly fit into an Indian classical music scene, and the gu emits Nigerian udu and Carnatic ghatam. With only 7,000 hangs in existence, Chana considers himself fortunate to possess an original.

That's the beauty of the hang. There is no right and wrong way. Its designed to engage not inhibit the player

Conversation starters with another hang artiste is usually sheer astonishment: "Wow! You have a hang too?" before discussing technique, practice, and scales.

Chana took to the hang like a fish to water 13 years ago when a cellist showed to it him at a music festival in Quebec. "In that first encounter, I knew I wanted one. Five years later I got my own. I didn't see anybody play the hang but I just took techniques from the tabla. That's the beauty of the hang. There is no right and wrong way. Its designed to engage not inhibit the player" explains Chana, who enjoys melodies of hang masters Adrian Portia, Manu Delago and Davide Swarup and has jammed with flutists and drummers, and even an ensemble of bansuri, singing bowl, violin and tabla artistes. Soft-spoken and calm, the lean and turbaned Chana manages to attract diverse audiences to the hang. This was evident at his performance last week at Mumbai's Bhau Daji Lad museum, where he managed to turn a majority of the visitors into the audience.

Chana hasn't ditched the tabla for the hang, but keeps flitting between or amalgamating the two during performance and riyaaz, evident in a YouTube video where he flexes amazing dexterity in playing the tabla and hang simultaneously. "Tabla means engaging with my faith, spirituality and Punjabi culture. It gave me the skill and tool set to approach other percussive instruments like the djembe, and now the hang. I spend time with both, as both are interconnected, practising one helps the other. In fact, the hang has bettered my tabla skills," says Chana who accompanies kirtans on the tabla at the local gurdwara in Canada, as he's been doing since age three.

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