Words by Simon Broughton
This album certainly has an arresting start. Sakar Khan saws his bow across the strings of his kamancha and repeats the effect faster and faster, generating a shimmering ring of sound from the sympathetic strings. It’s the sound of a steam train speeding up across the desert: clearly a bit of a showpiece for Sakar Khan, it’s the aural equivalent of the trains depicted in the naive paintings in the grand havelis (private mansions) of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. With this composition, he welcomed the first train to arrive in Jaisalmer in 1967. Sakar Khan, who sadly died last year aged 75, was a master folk musician of the Manganiyar community in Rajasthan, North India. An impressive looking man with a sharp, pointed face and long flowing moustache, he was the most celebrated maestro of the kamancha, a bowed instrument, carved out of mango wood and covered with goat skin.
Its rich, cello-like sound has a glorious lyrical quality with a touch of desert grit and the tingling aura provided by the sympathetic strings around it. In Europe he played with Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. On this album, recorded at home in Jaisalmer with his sons on vocals, kamancha and dholak drum, he performs instrumental pieces and songs dedicated to kings and gods. Aside from the glorious playing, there’s a comfortable intimacy about the music that makes this one of the best field recordings I’ve heard for a long time – a master musician heard in his home environment. It ends with another version of the train piece but, this time, recorded out in the desert.
Track to Try: ‘Train Song #2’