Asian Music and Dance

At Home

With over 10 per cent of India’s land mass, the western state of Rajasthan is the nation’s largest. City regions such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Udaipur and Bikaner are on the tourist trail and should kind kismet or grand design ever take you to Rajasthan, you will require reliable musical travelling companions.

There are numerous options. Tradition runs deep. Rajasthan is, after all, the ancestral home of two Muslim caste-clans of hereditary professional musicians, the Langas and the Manganiyars. For centuries their music has bridged the Muslim-Hindu religious divide. Both were associated historically with, or claimed to have enjoyed, Rajputi patronage. Both are the subject of commercial releases of varying quality scattered over labels. Said releases typically draw on field recordings, of which Manganiyar musician Sakar Khan’s At Home, recorded in May 2012, is an example, and ensembles recorded on overseas tours. The latter often amount to big-band versions of small ensembles playing for tourists within sites of historical – subtitle: ‘tourist’ – interest.

Sakar Khan was primarily a kamancha master and tradition-carrier. His main instrument, the wooden-bodied kamancha or kamaicha, is a bowed stringed instrument. It has a goat-hide-covered sound box and three main strings of gut with fourteen sympathetic metal strings. According to Andrew Buncombe’s obituary, published in The Independent in September 2013, Sakar Khan was born in Hamira on 9 August 1938. Hamira (Hamīra), about 24 km from Jaisalmer by road or 16 km as the corvus splendens flies, lies in one of the heartlands of Manganiyar music-making. At the time of his death in his Hamira home on 10 August 2013, this remarkable release was largely off most people’s radar.

Back then, Amarrass Records had no overseas distribution deals. Harmonia Mundi picked up the label’s distribution in spring 2014. However, Sakar Khan wasn’t a totally unknown quantity outside of the subcontinent. He had been one of ten Rajasthani musicians and dancers who had appeared as part of the Yehudi Menuhin- and Ravi Shankar-helmed From the Sitar to the Guitar concerts held in Brussels in November 1995, a DVD of which was released under the same name in 2006.

Accompanied by his sons Ghewar (kamancha and vocals), Firoze (dholak double-headed drum and vocals) and Dara (kamancha), Sakar Khan’s repertoire veers between Hindu devotional material (‘Krishan Kanhaiyo’) and Rajasthani folkloric material (notably ‘Hichki’), with original compositions in a folk idiom thrown in. Khan’s party piece was an original piece of train mimicry, a composition called ‘Train Song #1’ here. The composition, true folk art, captures a steam-era locomotive’s huffing and puffing, clickety-clacking on the tracks with added whistle blasts. ‘Hichki’ (‘Hiccoughs’), of which there is both an instrumental and a sung version, hinges on the charming Rajasthani folk belief that when you get the hiccups your lover or spouse has you in their thoughts.

Should push come to shove, two Rajasthani releases would straightaway top the list of recommended travelling companions. First would come Desert Slide (2006): a meeting of ‘highbrow’ art music, courtesy of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (whose 1993 collaboration with Ry Cooder, Meeting By The River won him a Grammy), and a party of Rajasthani folk musicians led by vocalist Anwar Khan. The second of the apex recordings would be the phenomenal At Home. Love this music and this album to pieces.



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