Early Music of Rajasthan
Field Recordings recorded live
during 2007 2012 on locations:
And Rajasthan Desert Villages
Double Reed Flutes
Bow played Tube String Instruments
Sindhi Sarangi (Ustad Lakha Khan)
Rugma Bai and sung Poetry
The most common Instruments
The 17-string khamaycha is a bowed instrument. Made of mango wood, its rounded resonator is covered with goat skin. Three of its strings are goat intestine while the other 14 strings are steel.
The khartaal is a kind of castanet made of teak. Its name is derived from “Khar”, meaning hand, and “Taal”, meaning rhythm.
The dholak is a classical North Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese hand drum similar in timbre to a bongo. A dholak may have traditional lacing or turnbuckle tuning. The dholak has a simple membrane and a handle on the right hand side. The left hand membrane has a special coating on the inner surface. This coating is a mixture of tar, clay and sand (dholak masala) which lowers the pitch.
Maestro Musicians of The Rajasthan Desert
Folk Musicians From The Rajasthan villages
of Raneri and Hamir
In the small village of Raneri almost 400 miles southwest of New Delhi, where women wash dishes in the sand to conserve water, and electricity is scarce, Lakha Khan sat on the floor of a stone hut, legs crossed and white turban in place. There he coaxed a bright, high-pitched, dizzyingly fast melody from his violinlike sarangi.
Sakar Khan, center, playing the kamancha, with his son Firoze, , on the dholak. Sakar Khan, who tours internationally with his instrument, is one of the best-known Manganiyars in India.
Mr. Khan, 66, who is known as Lakha or Lakhaji (ji at the end of a name is a sign of respect in India), is one of the few remaining Sindhi sarangi players among the Manganiyars, a caste of hereditary Muslim musicians who live in this desert state of Rajasthan. He plays for hours — until black beetles falling from the ceiling indicate nighttime — usually with no more company than a couple of passing goats. But on a recent afternoon he had an audience of two: Ashutosh Sharma and Ankur Malhotra, who were crouching over their gear, including a five-channel mixer and two analog recorders. They placed some of their seven microphones on towels to absorb the noise of the flour mill across the street.
“There’s an exuberance or just kind of a lack of inhibition when they’re performing at home,” Mr. Malhotra said of the Manganiyars, whose music is a mix of traditional melodies and arresting vocals. “Here these performances are genuine and real and filled with emotion.”
Mr. Sharma and Mr. Malhotra, both 37, said they want to preserve the music of the Manganiyars, whose songs — devotionals as well as stories of births, deaths and love, often about the Hindu families that are their patrons — have no written record. The two men said they were inspired by Alan Lomax, the musicologist who more than half a century ago traveled the American South recording previously unknown blues musicians.
And like Lomax they hope to preserve the music and to bring it to a wider audience through a small, independent record label they began with two friends, called Amarrass Records. Yet they realize that trying to popularize Manganiyar music is a daunting task in India, where most young people would rather download Bollywood ringtones than listen to an ancient folk music.
Several authorities on the Manganiyars, like Shubha Chaudhuri, an ethnomusicologist at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Gurgaon, India, are skeptical about the goal of making the musicians more widely known because their indigenous music is not meant to be commercial. “It’s a niche audience for this kind of thing,” Dr. Chaudhuri said.
Mr. Malhotra and Mr. Sharma are undeterred. They grew up in New Delhi, listening to Sufi and Hindi music. As they got older they turned to Western rock, though the music was difficult to get in India, which was just liberalized. Mr. Sharma’s father, a British Airways pilot, brought him Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones records that he picked up during trips to the United States and Britain. As Mr. Sharma began to explore the music that had influenced such rock acts, his interest eventually lead him to Lomax.
Mr. Sharma had begun a travel agency in New Delhi (it handles many foreign journalists in India, including some who work for The New York Times). Mr. Malhotra moved to the United States, earned an M.B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and created an education technology start-up. But the two men became “fed up,” as Mr. Sharma put it, by the lack of music in their lives, and they began talking about starting a label. Not long afterward Mr. Sharma showed up at a rehearsal in New Delhi of the “Manganiyar Seduction,” a theater show with roughly 40 Manganiyars that was about to go on tour outside India. His agency had been handling travel for the show, and when he went to drop off plane tickets, he recalls being blown away by the music. He called Mr. Malhotra in Wisconsin and had him listen to the performance over the phone.
“The 40 of them singing and performing in a room, there’s no way you can’t feel that,” Mr. Malhotra said. After finding limited recordings of Manganiyar music, they decided to make their own and approached the theater director about recording the show on vinyl. He agreed. The show led the two to thinking about making field recordings.
“There was this curiosity about these rock stars,” Mr. Sharma said. “Their two-minute piece is so good, what do they practice in their lives, what do they play?”
Several months later they traveled to Rajasthan, where they auditioned Manganiyars in the town of Pokharan. They then drove down desert roads for hours to get to Raneri, where they met Lakhaji. They arrived at his home around 8 at night, exhausted.
“Then he picks up the sarangi and starts playing, and it just changes the mood,” Mr. Malhotra said. “We were there for an hour, and it was a beautiful session, just the three of us. It was such a moving experience.”
This spring they returned to Raneri hoping to record an album with several Manganiyar families. They stayed at Lakhaji’s house for three days, forgoing showers because Raneri has no running water. At night they slept on cots under the stars.
“It was important for us to be with him,” Mr. Malhotra said. “When he gets up in the morning and feels like singing a certain song a certain way, we’re there. That doesn’t happen in a studio.”
Later they drove about 100 miles to the village of Hamira, the home of Sakar Khan, 76. Sakarji is a master of the kamancha, an ancient stringed instrument played with a bow that is a signature of the Manganiyars. One of the best-known Manganiyars in the country, he has toured the world with his instrument, passed down from his father.
Mr. Sharma agrees that concessions to modernization are necessary. While on location he and his partner shoot video of the musicians that they upload to their Web site. Mr. Malhotra, a D.J., recently had a show in New Delhi in which he mixed electronic music with that of the Manganiyars. Their next festival, in December, will be held at a new outdoor space in New Delhi with three stages that they said is more suited to the music than the auditorium where the Desert Music Festival was held.
Mr. Sharma noted that traditional roles are changing in a rapidly modernizing India, and he said he worries about how that change will affect the music. “Preservation is definitely the most important part,” he said.
He pointed to Lakhaji as a case in point. His sons did not learn the Sindhi sarangi, which is more widely played by the Langas, another group of folk musicians in Rajasthan; one abandoned the dholak, a two-sided drum, to work as a driver. Lakhaji said that they were discouraged by the rigors of the family trade, so they sought other opportunities. “They feel they cannot do justice to the music,” he said. “They give up quite easily.”
Mr. Sharma and Mr. Malhotra said that no matter how long they sit in desert villages listening to aging masters, a valuable part of the centuries-old tradition will inevitably be lost. “They are keepers of the oral tradition, along with their own history,” Mr. Malhotra said. “It’s all in their own heads. And 20 percent gets lost in a generation.”
(Excerpts Courtesy of New York Times)
Tribal Music from Rajasthan
The Langas and Manganiars are groups of hereditary professional musicians,
whose music has been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations.
Both sing in the same dialect, but their styles and repertoires differ, shaped by the tastes of their patrons.
The monarchs of the courts of Rajput and Jaipur maintained large music and dance troupes
an in an environment where the arts were allowed to flourish. Though both communities are made
up of Muslim musicians, many of their songs are in praise of Hindu deities and
celebrate Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi.
The Manganiar performers traditionally invoke the Hindu God Krishna and seek his blessings
before beginning their recital. At one time, the Manganiars were musicians of the Rajput courts,
accompanying their chiefs to war and providing them with entertainment before and after
the battles and in the event of his death, would perform at the ruler’s vigil day and night until the mourning was over.
Langa literally means ‘song giver’. An accomplished group of poets, singers, and musicians
from the Barmer district of Rajasthan, the Langas seem to have converted from Hinduism to Islam
in the 17th century. Traditionally, Sufi influences prevented them from using percussion
instruments, however, the Langas are versatile players of the Sindhi Sarangi
and the Algoza (double flute), which accompany and echo their formidable and magical voices.
They perform at events like births, and weddings, exclusively for their patrons (Yajman),
who are cattle breeders, farmers, and landowners. The Langa musicians are regarded by their patrons as ‘kings’.
“The ‘Sindhi Sarangi’ used by the Langas, is made up of four main wires,
with more than twenty vibrating sympathetic strings which help to create its distinctive haunting tones.
The bowing of these instruments is a skilful exercise, often supported by the sound of
the ‘ghungroos’ or ankle bells that are tied to the bow to make the beat more prominent.
The word ‘Manganiyar’ means those who ask for alms. On different occasions they
would go to patron’s houses and sing appropriate songs and in turn would be rewarded.
The Manganiyar community is divided into two parts, one whose patrons are Hindus
and the other who have Muslim patrons. The Hindu patrons mostly belong
to Bhati and Rathore communities of Rajputs while the Muslim patrons are Sindhi Muslims.
Even though the Manganiyars are Sunni Muslims by birth, their lifestyle and the way of
dressing up reflect the Hindu or the ‘Ganga-Jamana’ culture.
They present a perfect example of communal bonhomie as for generations
they have been closely linked to both Muslim and Hindu families for their livelihood.
Since generations the tradition of singing and composing for occasions is going strong.
Singing at their jajmaans house on various occasions is their traditional profession.
Describing their jajmaans illustrious history which is full of honor and pride, is their specialty.
The description of jajmaan’s Genealogy with the support of artists is known as ‘Shubhraj’.
Such is the ability of these people that they could recite all the names of the last few generations
of the jajmaans within the space of a single breath. This also includes the description of their achievements.
in exchange of the above, the manganiyars were rewarded handsomely in the form of grain,
wheat, goat, camel, sheep, horse or cash.
Khamaycha is the most significant instrument of Manganiyar community.
It is like an ancient niche amongst string instruments which is linked with Manganiyar community
since ages. Khamaycha is made up of mango wood. The big, round, hollow part on one end of it is
covered with goat skin. This instrument has 17 strings out of which three special strings are made
from goat’s intestine and the rest of the 14 strings are made up of steel. When they touch those
three special strings with their special bow made from the horse’s hair, it produces some soul stirring music.
Other than Khamaycha the instruments that they play are Dholak and Khartaal. Dholak is a hollow
drum tapering at both ends. Both the ends are covered with leather (animal skin).
They use loops of rope to tighten the animal skin at the two ends. Sometimes they use traditional Dhol also.
Khartaal produces melodious musical sounds with the special movements of the hands.
The four pieces of Khartaal are made up of Sheesham wood. When the Manganiyar
artist plays Khartaal, it evokes a delightful combination of rhythm and the musical notes.
Khartaal. The word mean Khar and Taal. Khar means hand and Taal means Rhythm. Rhythm of Hands.
Khartaal is a kind of castanets, made of teak wood, and the artistes hold them in both hands
and perform with tremendous ease. A young man’s Karthal play holding it in his hands
was a thrill to watch for the way he created complex percussion sounds,
while his partner was playing the dholak.
The dholak is a classical North Indian, Pakisthani and Nepalese hand drum.
A dholak may have traditional lacing or turnbuckle tuning. T
he dholak has a simple membrane and a handle on the right-hand side.
The left-hand membrane has a special coating on the inner surface.
This coating is a mixture of tar, clay and sand (dholak masala) which lowers the pitch
and provides a well-defined tone. The wood used for the membrane is usually made of
teak wood, also known as “sheesham” wood. The process of hollowing out the drum is the
determination of the sound and quality of the dholak A dholak has 2 heads a small part for
the high pitch, and the large part is for the low pitch and it’s pitched depending on size
and tuning sounding like a bongo in playing mode.
(Excerpts Courtesy of Rythm of Rajasthan 2012)
A selected List
Of Musicians from Rajasthan
Allah Jilai Bai
Asif Hussain Samraat
Gazi Khan Barna
Hameed Khan Kawa
Jamila Bai and Kulsum
Kalu Ram Prajapati
Kawa Br thers
Langa and Manganiar
Mangi Bai Arya
M hammed Ayub
Pandit Chiranji Lal Tanwar
Saraswati Devi Dhandra
Sh bha Gurtu
Ustad Naseeruddin Sami
Manganiyars the singing conquerors of the Rajput
Their songs are passed from generation to generation, which make them effectively
the keepers of the history of the desert. They sing songs about Alexander the Great,
about the local Maharajas and past battles in the region. Manganiyars have survived for
centuries on the patronage of wealthy merchants in caravan towns, particularly
Jaisalmer where there is an important settled community today.
The traditional jajman (patrons) of the Manganiar are the locally dominant Rajput community,
while the Langha have a similar relationship with the Sindhi-Sipahi, a community
of Muslim Rajputs. At times of birth, marriage or any family festivity for their Rajput patrons,
the Manganiyar musicians are in attendance to evoke the right mood with songs
of the desert and many especially composed songs to praise the patron and his family.
There is a fair bit of drama and theatre to the vocalists performance.
The artist fishing for appreciation and gauging how his masterful renditions are
received by his audience. In folk music there are no pretensions.
While strongly rooted in classical foundations, this style of music is of the people,
by the people and for the people. So even if the finer nuances of the singers
calisthenics are lost to a less classically trained audience, the emotions it evokes
is used by the protagonist as a barometer of how succesful he has been in his pursuits.
Eye contact, body language, hand gestures, all come together to engulf the audience
and take them along for a ride amongst the life of the desert folk.
There are the Ravan Hattha, Kamayacha and Sarangi.
These performances are much like a breathtaking relay, where vocalists with different
tonal qualities pick up the delicate thread of the song from each other in a sort of goodspirited
creative duel that propels the performance ever upwards. Among them the Sarangi,
Ravan Hattha and Kamayacha act as the magic glue that binds the vocalists together in
an embrace lest they step out of line. The possibility of that happening though are
non-existant as the vocalists demonstrate a complete command over their faculties.
Also the wail of these instruments gives the much appreciated soul to these performances.
Then there is the khadtal, dholak and other percussion instruments.
Specially the clickety-clack of the khadtal, immediately resets the listeners bio-rhythms
and not in gentle persuasions, but with a sudden snap you are tapping,
nodding and bobbing to the rhythm of the song. Rising above the rounded rhythms
of the dholak, the crisp taps of the khadtal jumps from one beat, tempo and rhythm
to another daring the audience to follow it – like jumping on stones to cross the river.
And last but not the least, the morchang and bhapang.
These add the whimsical distinctiveness to these performances.
While Manganiyar singing is grounded heavily in classical music of some erudition,
the morchang and bhapang add the earthy feel to the performances.
This probably is the bridge on which the Manganiyar’s move from classical to folk.
(Excerptrs Courtesy of Sandeep Tiwari)
Narrowing gaps and widening capacities for empowerment
among hereditary musicians in western Rajasthan
(Courtesy of Shalini Ayyagari )
“Mangniyar means to beg, you know. These musicians have always made their livings from begging. Well, not anymore. Now we beg fromthem. If we need something, we go to them,” N.K. Sharma, a respected historian from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan was telling me. He was speakingabout the focus of my doctoral dissertation, the Mangniyar—a community of professional hereditary musicians hailing from the Thar Desertregion of western Rajasthan, located in northwestern India. In my research I am examining how this community of musicians, in an ever-increasing world of modernization, is actively [re]configuring musical practices, [re]constructing space and social positioning, and [re]articulating relationships in order to assert their livelihoods and individual agency.
Dissertation Project Description
Customarily for at least the past four centuries, the Mangniyar, a peripatetic community by profession, have provided family genealogies and entertainment to their hereditary musical patrons for remuneration. They have been attached not only to individual patron families, but also to entire family lineages over many generations through social and economic dependence. However, in recent times, modernization is jeopardizing this way of life. No longer do younger musicians know the span of musical repertoire that their forefathers knew, nor do they depend so much on their jajmans (patrons) economically. Likewise, their jajman families do not generally possess the musical knowledge and interest that their ancestors once had, nor do they feel the responsibility to provide economic sustainability for their Mangniyars. With modernization has come a myriad of small-scale development projects sponsored mainly by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at state, national, and international levels. Most of these institutions in western Rajasthan focus on cultural preservation, education, cultural tourism, ecological development, and health issues. Instead of resisting this local developmental discourse as a force endangering their way of life, Mangniyar professional musicians are actively transforming this institutional space to maneuver within and beyond the constraints of imposed boundaries and categorizations. Many Mangniyar musicians have begun to transcend the limitations of their low caste designation and position in society by integrating not only development rhetoric, but also NGO-inspired organizational structures into their livelihoods. Many have founded their own institutions aimed at musical preservation, economic sustainability through music-making, ecological rehabilitation, and community uplift. Gazi Khan Barna for instance, a Mangniyar musician residing in Jaisalmer city, Rajasthan has founded his own NGO called Pahachan (“Recognition” in both Hindi and local Marwari language) with the support from both local and foreign donors. Aimed at cultural sustainability, his NGO focuses on a school for underprivileged Mangniyar children on his property in Barna village. There students are educated in both rural lifestyle and local hereditary musical traditions. With this knowledge, he claims students not only gain a valuable folk education, but also then have a viable means to make a living as a musician and sustain traditional musical practices at the same time. Using this form of development also as a source of revenue, the local musicians invite tourists to the village school, which has the dual function as a concert venue. Gazi Khan Barna has gained both wealth and wide success (as perceived within and outside of his musician community) as a result of this endeavor. Thus, it seems that in many cases, this NGO structure has taken the place of the traditional jajmani (patronage) system as an overarching and institutional organization within the Mangniyar community.
Recent discourse on NGO work has emphasized external intervention into community development projects and their capacity to ward off global modernization at a local level. At the same time, this discourse often criticizes NGOs for their close relationships with state and global financial institutions as well as their inherent bureaucracy and non-accountability to actual people. But what happens when an NGO is formed by the very people that the organization aims to help? And what is the outcome when this NGO is used to support modernization through community uplift and alternative forms of sustainability? The above scenario of Gazi Khan Barna is an example of collective action—a community taking control of its destiny and advantage of feasible opportunities to promote their music as a viable means of livelihood in today’s globalizing world.
In my dissertation, I am exploring different conceptions of institutionalization among the Mangniyar musician community in an attempt to understand how the use of discourse and relationships can serve as a means to power. I am specifically interested in how this new form of institutionalization is changing and influencing the music of the Mangniyar. The Mangniyar often make interesting engagements through performance—both in a musical sense (how they sing and play for customary and newer forms of patrons) and in a social sense (how they speak about their musical culture and reorganize their musical practices. Institutionalization in this case can be viewed using a culturally informed perspective as a lens rather than a prescription for success and empowerment. This lens allows one to understand individuals as driven by culturally influenced sets of motives, beliefs, and identities. People living within the Mangniyar community, while spread out and diverse over the desert landscape, comprise a connected whole. Their individualistic aspirations are formed sometimes in accordance, often times in discordance, but always in relation to societal norms. However, all musicians are not treated nor do they act uniformly. Unfortunately in communities such as the Mangniyar, the spectrum of levels of aspiration, capability, and success often lead to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Is it possible to avoid this by empowering the less successful musicians through these novel forms of institutionalization? In my fieldwork, I have experimented with concepts of practice at a grassroots level and in my dissertation I am examining ideas of success according to musicians’ words, actions, and music making.
Relevance of Subaltern Studies
While the Mangniyar would probably not use the term “subaltern” to describe themselves, it is a useful analytic through which to examine such communities; the complex notion of subalternity is significant for any interactions amongst people whose lives are rooted in relationships of domination and subordination (not just for the subordinated). My research project shows that people at a grassroots level who are working to transform dominant institutions to either improve or replace them are still constantly involved in power struggles. Thus Subaltern Studies represents geographies not within the confines of the postcolonial condition, but instead as forces through which everyday struggles are continually being [re]configured in the form of institutionalization, [re]constructed to uplift the Mangniyar community, and [re]articulated as a novel form of patronage (to use the terms from my introduction paragraph).
The initial intentions of the Subaltern Studies Group (SSG) are to be commended—to remove from history a top down approach and replace it with a study of the culture of actual people. And yes, the SSG’s emphasis on textual analysis created an unprecedented search for historical materials in regional languages, generated interdisciplinary approaches and new analytics to historical studies, and most importantly, took on a self-critical awareness of the problem of writing history. However, the direction that the SSG took in the 1990s was more towards understanding how the subaltern was constituted rather than uncovering actual lost voices of the oppressed and underrepresented. As a result of this past disparity, research scholars of the 21st century have been doing just that—examining specific micro-practices at interesting and unexpected key contemporary moments where today’s current fractured regional modernity of the everyday can best be analyzed and differentiated both historically and geographically. I believe my work is not only influenced by the use of this analytic, but falls within this body of scholarship.
My dissertation fieldwork has mostly been using participant observation methodology. For my project, this has meant conducting research with the aim of gaining a close and intimate familiarity with the Mangniyar community and their cultural practices through involvement with the musicians and their families for an extended period of time. Within this methodology I have conducted formal interviews, musical recording sessions, informal discussions, direct observations, analysis of music and oral history, and music lessons with important musicians for my research.
I have also been using participatory action research. Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the “organic intellectual” directly inspires and informs this research method. Using this as a technique in my research I have placed myself side-by-side with the Mangniyar community as co-learners and workers. I have been directly and actively involved in helping a few particularly motivated musicians to form their own organizations, interpreting local and national governmental guidelines, helping them to write their memorandums, and designing school curriculum. The goal of this aspect of my research has been to take local knowledge from life experiences from within the Mangniyar community and use this knowledge to address problems and instigate changes within the community and amongst relationships with other communities. Once again, such relationships and projects bring up very complicated power dynamics even between the fieldworker and the community; in my dissertation I am examining these forces.
Current State of Research and research schedule
Currently I am finishing up my fieldwork in Rajasthan, India. I will return to UC Berkeley by early June 2007 after completing 18 months of fieldwork (November 2005-April 2007), and will immediately begin the formal writing process of my dissertation. I currently have drafts for the first two of seven chapters and I plan to complete Chapters One and Two and have a draft of Chapter Three by early Fall 2007, the time of the Subaltern-Popular Dissertation Workshop II. During Academic year 2007-2008, I have received a Graduate Opportunity Program Dissertation-Writing Grant. Therefore, I will be able to concentrate my academic attention solely on my dissertation and will not be teaching or working on top of this.
I presently have over 500 pages of field notes, approximately 2000 digital photographs, fifty hours of digital audio recordings, and forty hours of digital video recordings from my year-and-a-half conducting research. I am also concurrently working on a documentary film about my dissertation project to accompany and perhaps stand alone from my dissertation.
The Mangniyar community of musicians has always been known for their constant reconstruction of spaces—may it be through their songs and genealogies, their syncretic religious practices (a mix of both Hindu and Muslim ideologies and customs), or their shaping of and adapting to local geography and natural surroundings. Thus, space cannot be taken for granted as an inert backdrop for resistance, but instead is continually produced at intersections of cultural practices and the making of livelihoods and local politics. It seems to me that this is exactly what Mangniyar musicians are doing. By examining the cultural politics of a micro-practice that refuses the dichotomies of global verses local, economic verses cultural, and power verses powerless, I am showing how the co-production of space can open up multiple possibilities for joint action of people and cultural networks.
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Please see also :
Spaces Betwixt and Between: Musical Borderlands and the Manganiyar Musicians of Rajasthan