Article in Songlines Magazine

Sent a note to Songlines Magazine about this year’s Assam tour… here it is on their blog.

http://www.songlines.co.uk/world-music-news/2013/05/musical-adventure-in-assam-and-rajasthan/

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Rajasthan Musical Map by artist Hannah Bailey

Inspired by the Sound Travels musical tours, Hannah Bailey, the official map-drawer par excellence for the Glastonbury Firelighter, has drawn this beautiful map of the state… with images of Nizamuddin, musicians playing maante, derun, chang, kalbeliya dancers and other lovely details…

1—Musical Delhi (1st- 2nd Oct)

  • Hear an introductory talk by world-renowned author and Sufism expert, William Dalrymple
  • Visit to Nizammudin Dargah, mausoleum of the revered Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya, with knowledgeable Delhi-ite and writer Sam Miller
  • Experience a live performance of devotional songs

2 – Drums of the desert (3rd-4th Oct)

  • Meet and have a jam with the musicians of Shekhawati
  • Hear, play and see the construction of regional drums the chang, derun and maante
  • Stay at our fabulous heritage hotel in Mandawa

3 – Jaipur (5th-7th Oct)

  • Meet Rajasthani music experts Vinod Joshi and John Singh, and share their vast knowledge of the region through interactive musical sessions
  • See the city’s unique sites and markets
  • Relax in the gorgeous Hotel Diggi Palace

4 – Sacred Ajmer (8th Oct)

Visit the Ajmer Sharif, one of India’s most sacred Muslim shrines where, inshallah, we’ll find musicians playing devotional songs

5 – The Pushkar Camp (9th-11th Oct)

  • Meet Nagara master Nathoo Lal Solanki who will introduce you to his home town of Pushkar through its music
  • Ride a camel to the desert
  • Groove with Kalbeliya dancers in your desert camp
  • Head to Jodhpur with some interesting surprises on the way

6 –  And finally…

Jodhpur Riff— (12th-17th Oct)

  • Experience the Rajasthan International Folk Festival,  featuring a plethora of folk talent from throughout Rajasthan
  • Collaborations and performances by some of the We reserve the right to alter the itinerary at any time in order to improve the continuity of the tour.
  • Unbelievable views from the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort
  • Great food and late night clubbing in the ramparts

Why it’s great to travel with music

Last winter, I travelled with a friend and my harp through various West Bengali villages. In one particularly remote tribal village, where the evenings were quiet and dark, we asked the man at a chai stall if he could introduce us to any musicians. I thought it might be interesting to hear the local sounds, and maybe have a jam. He promised to make some enquiries. Half an hour later, a young man arrived on a bicycle, introducing himself as a musical agent. “How many do you want?” he asked us.

I hadn’t realised we had to order by the half dozen.  “Five? six?”, I hazarded.

“I’ll get you ten for 700 rupees” he responded (this was all being translated through my friend who is fluent in Bengali)

“Done”, I said (700 rupees is about £10)

Two hours later, eating our dinner on the small verandah of our ‘eco hut’, we heard the approach of a crowd of people. There was chattering, laughter, and music emerging from the gloom. As we watched, some twenty or thirty people filed through the gate into our compound. A sinewy middle aged man shinned up a tree and connected a light bulb to an overhanging cable. The space was illuminated, and the party began. There was dancing, drum beating, singing and enthusiastic invitations for us to join in.

Hidden from the glare of the light bulb,  in a corner of the compound, a group of nine girls began to change from their different coloured saris into a red and white uniform. I caught this glimpse of their dressing room.

When they were ready they put on a performance for us all.

The party went on until past midnight, with little fires being lit all over the compound, and my friend (understanding the way these things work) handing out rupees liberally to keep the musicians playing and the dancers dancing. There must have been around fifty people at the party. I played my harp to the crowd until someone more entertaining took over.

After a while, someone decided it was time to go home. Everyone pressed their hands together and thanked us for commissioning the party, and filed off back to the neighbouring village.

Music, I decided, is the very best way of meeting people.

Gypsies, Historians, Jesters

Three things you should know about Rajasthani Musicians

1. Gypsies (or ‘Roma’ people) claim their origins in Rajasthan 
El Farruco and Rajki Sapera in a Flamenco/ Kalbeliya dance-off at Jodhpur RIFF, 2009

Tony Gatlif made a beautiful musical history of the Roma people, ”Latcho Drom’ (‘Safe Journey’). Watch this first section, shot in Rajasthan.
2. Folk musicians in Rajasthan are geneologists and oral historians too.
Vinod Joshi, from the Jaipur Virast Foundation, with Koja Ram, explaining the storybox-mobile temple tradition of the Kawad, Jodhpur RIFF 2009
For generations rajput royals, as well as their carpenters, tailors, cooks and iron mongers, have relied on these turbaned minstrels-cum-geneologists to keep track of birth, deaths and marriages in their families, so they don’t accidentally marry a cousin, or worse.
This party of Manganiyars, from near Barmer, are particularly wonderful
3. The ‘bahrupiyas’ (Rajasthani comedians) may have been considered lower caste, but they alone have the right to abuse the king
Check out this film trailer about Hajari Bhand, an especially cheeky ‘bahrupiya’  and listen to his style of cursing!

The Art of Negotiation

When London underground drivers go on strike, BA workers walk out or teachers throw down their red pens, the consequences might seem drastic. London comes to a standstill; tens of thousands are stranded at airports across the globe and children run riot across the country. Employers are under a huge pressure to negotiate a settlement, and quickly.

Collectively, workers who provide a technical service  in crucial areas have huge bargaining power.

But when a musician finds himself  faced with a mean employer – one who defers on payment or cancels performances with no notice –  what can he do? Throw down his flute in a rage and refuse to play? Big deal.

But the musicians of Rajasthan -where artistic unions are barely operable – have developed a few methods of their own. Some of which have far further-reaching consequences than a mere 24-hour strike on the London underground.

In the following excerpt from ‘Musicians for the People’, Komal Kothari describes the increasingly serious steps that can be taken by a Rajasthani musician to show his disgruntlement.

Step 1:  “In a dispute, a musician’s first step… is to cease reciting subraj [poetic stanzas of respect] for his patron. When this occurs, other people may mediate between the parties.”

Step 2:  “If the conflict is not resolved, the musician buries his turban in front of his patron’s house or hut.”

Step 3: “If the dispute still persists, he takes the strings off his instrument and buries them.”

Step 4: “If even this does not help, he prepares an effigy (lolar) of the patron, ties it to a donkey’s tail, and parades the donkey among the patron’s relatives, insulting the effigy, beating it with shoes, and loudly abusing it […] There are many reported cases where patrons have had to marry their children into lower caste and endure other social penalties as a result of this”

Alternative Steps: Performers can compose “poems of censure or abuse, which remain known for many generations.”

Extreme Steps: “The Charans (Rajasthan’s bardic caste) used to go to extreme lengths. In the case of a serious dispute, a Charan would take a big knife and gradually cut off first his fingers, and then other parts of his body, until he eventually died. The patron would then bear the heavy curse of having been responsible for a Charan’s death. This gruesome tradition is known as taga, and there have been occasions when many Charans committed this kind of suicide together as a form of protest.”

Unite the Union, eat your heart out.

Excerpts taken from Komal Kothari, ‘Musicians for the People: The Manganiyars of Western Rajasthan’, pp. 205 – 237, in Schomer, Erdman, Lodrick, Rudolph (ed.’s) The Idea of Rajasthan: Explorations in Regional Identity

Musical Expeditions in Rajasthan, Assam and Bengal