If you are tourist in India there is a good chance that you might have heard of Rajasthan. This western dessert state of India gets its name from Raja – sthan meaning the land of the kings. During the middle ages there were a lot of kings here and even today there are dozens of alive and kicking Maharajas living in the province. Rajasthan has been a symbol of royalty, bravery and honor in India for many decades now. But there is also another interesting aspect to the land which often gets overlooked. With so many royals around, patronage of the arts was substantial in this state when compared to others. Also being at the border India and Pakistan it gained a lot of Islamic influence in some of its culture and so music. I have always been fascinated by the Rajasthani Kartaal and Sarangi. These instruments are a joy to listen to but a greater joy to see being performed.
The music of Rajasthan has been showcased in recent times in Bollywood and Indian mainstream pop music. Remember the nimbuda – nimbuda song ? Well in recent times CokeStudio has brought to our attention the folk music of Rajasthan, of course blended with the budding pop talent of the country. So here is the first sample, Kattey by Bhanwari Devi and Hard Kaur ( yep that’s her name).
So I was struck by the vocals by the woman behind the purdah, even on low volume she blows yours mind. Talking about powerful singers there is this guy, Sawan Khan Manganiyar. The Manganiyars are a caste of people who by profession are singers. Caste-ism was so prevalent that singing was not so much of honorable thing but a way of earning handed out livelihoods. That is why this group of people still consider it not much of a blessing to be part of this great art form. Its recognition and appreciation like the one received for this piece which provides perhaps the much needed incentives for singers like these to continue.
Now something a little more subtle and no less soulful. There many people who can sing reasonably well at higher notes but can’t manage the lower ones. Those nto traied classically run the risk of being out of tune ( besura) . There is no such fear with Ustad Mame Khan serenading to us the somewhat taboo story of an elderly man’s love for a young girl. The music by Amit Trivedi complements the voice perfectly.
These videos and the wonderful age old talents which they show case set me wondering on how we have missed and overlooked these forms of home grown music? Rajasthan is said to be the birthplace of Gypsies all around the world. There are many observable traits in the cultures but the separation has been of many generations to draw direct parallels. In my quest to know more about the under-appreciated musical societies in the region I came across this documentary by BBC . It shows how the musicians of this Indian state fare without royal patronage. India is a nation where food security and ego boosting of power wielders needs to come before the patronage of arts. But slowly people from across the globe are relating to the melody that the Meghwals, Bhopas or the Manganiyars have to offer. My only hope is this that the sons and daughters of these heavily castecized communities are able to overcome their social difficulties and continue the legacy of music without succumbing to duller, dumber if higher paying careers.