Do the didgeridoo! Mumbaikar looks to revive art of playing world's oldest instrument

May 22, 2016, 12:02 IST | Anju Maskeri

A 30-year-old from Mumbai is reviving the art of playing the oldest instrument in the world, a wind instrument originally developed by indigenous Australians

The first time Mac played the didgeridoo, his mother got a nasty headache. The constant droning made her detest the sound, and that, ironically, was what inspired him to take it up. “Unlike the guitar, piano and violin, there’s no melody in it. The sound is a compression wave that travels through the air. When the didgeridoo is blown, the waves travel down the inside of the instrument and emerge from the bottom end,” says Mac, who shunned his real name Mayur Chhadwa for this moniker long ago. He offers us no explanation for the swap.

Mac fashions didgeridoos out of practically anything — cardboard, plastic and PVC tubes.  Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu
Mac fashions didgeridoos out of practically anything — cardboard, plastic and PVC tubes.  Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu

Used for more than 1,500 years, the didgeridoo is a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians. Interestingly, the 30-year-old from Mumbai not just peddles and teaches the instrument, he has also been creating his own versions using tubes, plastic, bamboo sticks and washing machine pipes.

In 2013, Mac created his first didgeridoo using a roll used for wrapping cloth around it at manufacturing units. “I also used cardboard that was lying around the house.” The resources, he realised, were simple — several types of plastic water pipes and beeswax to make a mouthpiece. “You blow down the tube creating a vibration that echoes down the tube emerging amplified as a drone. It is important to stay relaxed — trying too hard will tighten your muscles which contradicts the need to create loose lips and face.”

The toughest, according to him was developing a special breathing technique called ‘circular breathing’ — inhaling through the nose, whilst simultaneously exhaling through the mouth. “It is easier said than done. Excessive hard blowing (referred to as ‘overblowing’) and ‘vocalising’ are used to create dramatic effects,” he explains.

The idea of creating his own version of the instrument came more out of necessity that creativity. “After listening to the sound of it on a record, I was blown away. So, I visited almost all the shops selling the wooden didgeridoo in Mumbai to buy one, only to return disappointed because they were selling it for close to R10,000. The worst part was that some already had cracks on it,” he says.

Having quit his cushy job at a call centre, Mac was forced to rely on his own resources to find a substitute. “When I read up on the instrument, I realised all you need is a simple length of plastic pipe and some imagination,” says the Dadar resident. His saviour was a kind Bohri uncle, who owns a plumbing shop outside Santacruz station. “I had a rough idea of what I wanted. So, I asked him for a specific type of pipe measuring of 115-160 cm (about 45-62 inches). I used the hacksaw, file and knife to cut and smooth both ends of the tube, removing any rough edges and fuzzy stuff left over from cutting. And then played it in front of him,” he says.

The owner was so impressed that he gave Mac the pipes for a 50 per cent discount. “Since then, I’ve bought all the pipes from him,” he laughs. The process cost him Rs 400 and took less than half an hour to finish.

Over time, Mac has experimented with the didgeridoo. He can now play techno, house, psychedelic trance and even meditative sounds on it. “Researchers believe that playing the didgeridoo strengthens the muscles of airways and relaxes the mind,” he tells us. Proof of this was at a workshop he held where a 68-year-old man broke down after listening to the sound. “He was suffering from suicidal tendencies, but the sound helped him recover.”

These days, Chaddwa spends his time at swanky corporate offices teaching professionals the art. “I’ve created a module of 12 steps, done over three months, which teaches you to create and play the instrument on your own.” The reactions he gets are extreme. “Some, like my mum, get a headache, while others break into a jig. You can love it or hate it. You can’t ignore it,” he smiles.

How to create your own didgeridoo
>> You can use a PVC pipe, curtain rod, or even a washing machine hose. The pipe should be between 115-160 cm in length.
>> Using the hacksaw, cut the pipe.
>> Get a small piece of natural beeswax from a hardware store. Lay it inside a glass jar in the sun for half an hour. Press that beeswax in a circle onto one end of the pipe, smoothen and seal the inside of the mouthpiece. Repeat process on the outside.
>> To start, make sure the lips aren’t tense, but loose, like a sloppy kiss; slowly increase pressure.
>> Use the circular breathing technique — use only the air in your mouth to blow into the didgeridoo.

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