If you have heard the music of the Manganiyars, you would be familiar with Lakha Khan, the man who represents the folk traditions of Rajasthani music. Sporting a large white moustache and wearing a dhoti-kurta, with turban in place, 70-year-old Khan is one of the few remaining Sindhi sarangi players among the Manganiyars, a caste of hereditary Muslim musicians from villages in the western corner of Rajasthan. Lakha is from Raneri, a small town roughly 50 kms from Barmer town.
This weekend, Delhi will be treated to his melodies at the Janamasthmi celebrations with Krishna Bhajans at the next edition of Amarrass Nights. He has performed earlier at the Edinburgh Folk Music Festival in 2011, at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2013 and Old and New Dreams Festival, Chicago in 2014, among others.
“They are just projected as Manganiyars, but no one knows their name. Nobody knows the identity of these master musicians,” says Ashutosh Sharma, who started Amarrass with Ankur Malhotra in an attempt to preserve the music of Manganiyars. “In 2010, we went to the villages where the community lived in Rajasthan and looked for artists to record their voices. That is where we met Lakha ji.”
The desert state of Rajasthan is known for its two folk music communities — the Manganiyars and the Langas — whose repertoire has, for centuries, included Krishna bhajans . Sharma credits Komal Kothari, an ethnomusicologist who pioneered in the study of Indian folklore, for bringing the talent out of the region. He was a patron of Manganiyar and Langa folk music and was the first to record and bring their music out of the traditional environment.
The communities are illiterate, Kothari had written in his 1960 monograph on caste musicians in Rajasthan, so they memorise the songs and pass them to the next generations. The verses and the composition are learnt as the guru says and purity is maintained. Some instruments like Sindhi sarangi, Kamaicha — both are bowed string instruments — and Khartaal played by these communities are unique to them.
The Manganiyars, as the name suggests, traditionally asked for alms in lieu of performances at marriages, deaths and births in the courts of Rajputs, their traditional jajman or patrons. The Manganiyars and Langas are Muslim communities and the former performed for Hindu patrons, while the latter for Muslim patrons.
“Ram Rahim, dono ka rasta accha lagta hai (Both the ways, of Ram and Rahim, is fine for us,” says Khan. “Our patrons have been Hindus, so we learnt Krishna bhajans of Surdas and Meerabai for them.”
The repertoire is endless and the range of text is wide. “Lakhaji can sing the entire night praises of Krishna by Meerabai or it could be complete with Sufi poetry from Bulleh Shah or folk songs from Sindh or Punjab. There is no songbook, it’s all in their own heads,” says Sharma.
Janamasthmi celebrations with Krishna Bhajans
8 pm onwards, August 27, Lodi – The Garden Restaurant, Lodhi Road.
Entry by invitation. RSVP to [email protected]
Also at Amarrass Nights: Folk strains from West Africa
On Wednesday, Amarrass will bring the folk music traditions of West Africa to the Capital with a performance by Dawda Jobarteh. A Gambian by birth, Jobareth comes from a family of Kora traditions, a 21-string lute-bridge-harp from West Africa. His grandfather is believed to be the first Kora player to perform and tour in the United States as a soloist.
When he started playing music, Dawda was not a Kora player. Even today, his instrument is the one he acquired after settling in Denmark. Largely untouched by western influences, the West African Manding music is about sweet melodies and hypnotic rhythms. With his training as a percussionist, Dawda defies convention to include some personal statements in his music as he brings his contemporary vision to an ancient tradition.
Jazz Kora Variations