Category Archives: Rajasthan

South Rajasthan Music and Art Tour – January 2013

In January, I jumped on a bus with an extraordinarily colourful group of Sound Travellers. We were nine altogether… three musicians, three designers, two architects and an artist.

We were trying out my new Jaipur – Bundi – Bijaipur loop, full of music, storytelling and painting. Here’s the story, in pictures.

The trip starts and ends in Jaipur, home to the beautiful Anokhi Museum of Hand Block Printing.

Here is the block.

Hand block printingHere’s how it’s made

Making a printing blockAnd here’s Lee, one of the guests on the trip, printing his own hankerchief

Lee handblock printing in Jaipur

And sisters Philippa and Rebecca having a lesson in printing

Phillipa and Rebecca with printer in Jaipur

On the road to Bundi, we stopped off in an extraordinary arts centre, where we made papier mache on the roof

Papier mache on the roof

Next we visited the felt-makers

Felt making in Tonk

We stayed in Bundi for two days and saw a lot of beautiful miniature painting and music.

First we visited the exquisite Bundi Palace, home to the famous ‘Bundi Lady’

Bundi Palace

Bundi wall painting of lady

Wall painting Bundi2

Bundi Palace2Next we met some ‘Mashak’ players – bagpipers from nearby Thikarda village

Mashak (bagpipe) players of Thikarda village, Bundi

Lee and Issi danced the Mashak dance!

Issi and Lee dance to MashakLee took over the drum, and the drummer took over the dance floor

Lee and the Mashak players

We watched in awe

Listening to Mashak

We visited a hugs step well

Step well in Bundi2

That night we had a private dinner and concert on the roof of the lovely Hotel Haveli. The next day we went to Bassi, a small village where artists make miniature painted temples known as Kawad. Made of many panels on hinges, they tell stories about the deities. We then visited Bhilwara – home to the Joshi family who paint the Pabuji phad – a 30-foot scroll in vivid colours, depicting the life of god Pabu. For some reason I can’t find my photos of these, but I’ll be looking out for them.

We stayed at the beautiful Castle Bijaipur, and celebrated Fra’s 70th birthday with drumming from Nathoo Lal Solanki, and a whole show of theatre, bhapang and dance!

The next day we visited the beautiful Bijaipur lake

Nat and Di on the lake

We drove north to Pushkar

Issi in a rickshaw

Lee and Issi on a camelThen we headed back to Jaipur! What a beautiful trip that one was.

(Photos courtesy Issolde Freeth-Hale and Philippa Thomas)


Rajasthani Musical Adventure – October 2012

Over the next few days I’ll be going through the archives to show you what Sound Travels has been up to over the last year. We’ll start with the fabulous Rajasthan International Folk Festival trip of October 2012, where ten happy Sound Travellers, who booked through Songlines magazine, explored the music of my favourite desert state.

We began the trip with a party and an interactive session with Iranian daf and tonbak maestro Fakhroddin Ghaffari… and out came the cameras!

Sina's demoNext we headed to Shekhawati, where we received traditional Rajput hospitality from Jai Sinhh and his family – here are the group outside his ancestral home in a village near Churu


The darun-playing worshippers of Gogaji, the Rajasthani snake god played to us in their village of Bajrangsar. Their twin-faced drum resembles the African ‘talking drum’, and similarly, its pitch can be changed by squeezing the leather strap wrapped around the narrow centre. The musicians sing, jump up high and make rhythms by stamping their feet and jangling the gunguru bells wrapped around their ankles.


Nick enjoys a shisha(or at least he claimed to) with Mamphula Ram, the famous chang player.


Playing the chang drums – Mamphula Ram and party demonstrate the music and dance usually performed during the February festival of Holi at celebrations and in competitions


Next we headed to Jaipur where we spent a magical evening meeting dancers and musicians from the snake-charming Kalbeliya community. Bad lighting, but you get the feeling!

Meeting the Kalbeliyas

After a day of site-seeing and shopping in Jaipur, we then had a surprise dinner in Amber, and concert from UK beatboxer and sound artist Jason Singh, in collaboration with morchang-player and multi-percussionist Rais Khan.


Our next stop after Jaipur was the holiest of holy pilgrimage sites, the Ajmer Sharif.

Nizamuddin Durgah

It’s an intense experience visiting the shrine to Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chisty, and the group came away feeling inspired


Forty-minute drive from Ajmer is the the beautiful lake-town of Pushkar, home to Nathoo Lal Solanki, the best nagara player in the world! After a tour round Pushkar with my favourite babu/guide Mukesh, Nathoo led us in a drumming workshop.



Last stop – the glorious Rajasthan International Folk Festival – with beautiful music from dawn…


…throughout the day…

IMG_0362… til the small hours.

Colombian band CimarronWhat a fantastic fortnight with a wonderful bunch of people. Was sad to wave goodbye, but have met up with most of the group since, in London, Delhi and Assam (for those who came back for more on my Assamese Musical Adventure)


“This trip opened up a box of magical music for me and in surroundings that were absolutely stunning. Georgie put it all in context and added her own great knowledge which made the journey unforgettable…. She really ‘made’ the trip for us all. Her research, knowledge and good humour were excellent. Full marks! Give her a bonus!” – Nick Hudson

Click here to read more about how the group felt about the trip

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