If you never leave Laugavegur to do your downtown shopping, you might miss it – Hljóðheimurinn Sangitamaya or, as it’s colloquially known, “that music store with the sitar in the window.” And when you first walk in, instruments such as gongs, kotos, didgeridoos and sitars are the first things you notice. But this store also features smaller and equally overlooked instruments such as jaw harps, kazoos, tin whistles and bamboo flutes. You get the impression that in the very near future, we’ll be seeing some of these instruments gracing the stages of Reykjavík’s clubs.
Brynjar Konráðsson, drummer for Future Future, showed us around the store while explaining something of the store’s history.
“We just opened the store last December,” he told us. “And there are two others, in Austria and Switzerland. The owner, Eymundur, brings these instruments over from them.”
We had to ask how a store selling such obscure musical instruments was getting along.
“We did pretty well in December,” Konráðsson explained. “A lot of the people who come here are kindergarten teachers, members of the symphony or people looking for a different sort of birthday present. We had to order more xylophones.”
And indeed, a few small wooden xylophones were being unpacked as we spoke.
As a drummer, Konráðsson appears to have found the ideal day job, and he was more than happy to demonstrate the use of the Japanese war drum, djembas, the “sea drum” (a double-skinned drum with sand inside it) and an African goat skin drum with a surprisingly booming sound for its size that he speculated he might bring on stage with him some time.
Sangitamaya has already attracted the interest of some of Iceland’s better-known musicians. After demonstrating a Shrute box – a wooden, harmonium-like device – there was one musician in particular who sprang to mind. As if reading my mind, Konráðsson asked me, “Guess who bought one of these?”
“Björk?” I ventured.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. So if you hear an old-fashioned squeezebox effect on a future song of hers, you’ll know where it came from.
The most expensive instrument in the store (198,000 ISK) was a wooden semi-cylinder about a metre and a half tall. On the outer edge are two sets of strings – one playing in a high register and the other in a low register – essentially playing only two chords.
“This isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is a therapeutic device,” Konráðsson explained. “You lie down in it, and someone else strums the strings. It’s been used for children with mental disturbances.”
Giving it a preliminary trial, I could definitely see the calming effect.
Sangitamaya is not an exclusively high-end store. There are the aforementioned kazoos, jaw harps, xylophones and bamboo flutes, and even some instruments for children. Particularly addictive were the “swing straws” – flexible plastic tubes that produce different tones when swung through the air at different speeds – and the “boom wackers”, which are plastic tubes that produce different tones when struck on the ground.
When asked if he thinks Sangitamaya could have an impact on the local music scene, Konráðsson was optimistic.
“I think so,” he said. “I think this store might add a more exotic flavour to the music scene in Reykjavík. I hope so, anyway.”
Hljóðheimurinn Sangitamaya, Grettisgata 7, Tel.: 551-8080
Open 15:00-18:00 weekdays and 12:00-15:00 weekends