Posts Tagged ‘rajasthan’

Album Review | Top of the World | Sakar Khan – At Home

Posted on July 4th, 2014 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

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Words by Simon Broughton

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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’

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Album Review | Top of the World | Susheela Raman – Queen Between

Posted on June 19th, 2014 in News, Recent posts, Reviews by .

Susheela

Words by Nigel Williamson

BL dax112xt_digi_4pp_1_tray_pocket 03A Raman for all seasons: Susheela branches out

When confronted with an impressive new album, there’s always a temptation to hail it as the artist’s ‘best work to date.’ Raman’s sixth album may not necessarily top what has gone before, if only because the quality since her 2001 debut Salt Rain has been so consistently high. But Queen Between is as big, self-assured and ambitious as anything we’ve heard from her. Produced as always by partner and guitarist Sam Mills, the Tamil influences of earlier albums have given way to qawwali and Rajasthani flavours, although there’s a dazzling diversity in the eight songs (all Raman/Mills compositions with the exception of the traditional ‘Karunei’).

‘Corn Maiden’ is English-sounding pagan psych-folk; ‘Riverside’ is a hypnotic piece of Asian-tinged left-field rock; and the lovely, acoustic troubadour presentation of ‘North Star’ recalls Natalie Merchant. But it’s the addition of the ecstatic voices of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group and a band of Rajasthani folk musicians led by Kutle Khan that provides the most thrilling and ambitious moments. On the throbbing Gypsy party opener ‘Sharabi’ and the epic 12-minute closer ‘Taboo,’ the sound is given further rich texture by the resonant cello playing of Vincent Segal. More than a dozen years on from her debut, Raman continues not only to sound unique but like an artist whose creative vision is still growing.

Track to Try: ‘Sharabi’

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Music of Assam, India: Down the Brahmaputra

Posted on February 27th, 2014 in Music Travel, Recent posts by .

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Georgie Pope leads Songlines Music Travel trips to Assam and Rajasthan. They are a superb way to see the real India and inside the local culture. Her Assam trip goes to a little-known corner of the country. Full details and prices are available hereHere she writes about one of her research trips – off the beaten track. Words by Georgie Pope; Photography by Marisol Limon Martinez.

“Shall we go home?” my husband suggested hopefully. It was insufferably humid, there were mosquitoes everywhere, and the air conditioning wasn’t working. How had he let me convince him, once again, that the best sort of holiday wasn’t spent lounging in lovely hotels and visiting interesting monuments, it was searching for musicians, based on an overheard snatch of music and a rumour. We were in Dhubri, the insalubrious port at the edge of lower Assam to which my father-in-law had travelled on business when Som, my husband, was a child, and vowed never to return.

I looked up from my tourist book, slightly disconcerted that there was not one single red blob to signify ‘site of touristic interest’ within 100km of where we were staying, and reassured Som that we were about to strike gold – that here lay the hidden gems of Assamese folk music.

In the murky world of media, one thing I’ve become certain of is that wherever there is a mainstream story, marginalised realities are being ignored, or even deliberately censored. I felt that so far on my travels, I had only heard a partial story of the music of Assam, so here I was; in a part of the world not even Lonely Planet had reached, looking for suppressed voices and ignoring my husband’s.

IMG_0255In the January/February issue of Songlines (#97), I described the gorgeous music of the Bihu festival, and of the satras (monasteries) of Upper Assam. Everyone had told me if I wanted to hear music in Assam, to go during the festival of Bihu, when I’d hear and see everything. As soon as I am told that a particular music form is ‘synonymous with the state of Assam’ or a festival is ‘celebrated by everyone’, I begin to get suspicious. Since when have musical practices corresponded to administrative boundaries? Who says that Bihu music isn’t played beyond the recently drawn borders of Assam? Who says there aren’t people here who dance to a different tune?

If I knew anything about Assam, it was that it was full of different communities not necessarily at odds with one another, but certainly not singing and dancing to the same beat.

I found a clue on Majuli Island in one of the satras. During an afternoon of recitals of Assamese music, the school’s music master sung me a song he described as Goalpuria geet, a song from the historic district of Goalpara in Lower Assam. When I later played Som the recording, he said it recalled the Baul and Batiali boat music of West Bengal, his home state. I wondered why it had taken this long for me to hear about this beautiful music, and why no one had pointed me in the direction of Lower Assam, clearly home to a rich musical tradition of its own.

I only had to look at a historic map of north-east India and read a little around the history, to start making connections. Up until the 1980s Goalpara covered a large area of land (today divided into four districts) that straddled the Brahmaputra River and connected Assam to West Bengal and Bangladesh. Of the millions of Bangladeshi migrants living in Assam, the majority live in the districts of erstwhile Goalpara, so there’s little wonder that the music sounds a little Bengali. Little wonder also perhaps, that those wanting to project a notion of Assamese identity would want to focus on the music of Upper Assam rather than the minority culture of a Muslim majority district. So we packed our bags and headed downstream of the Brahmaputra to see if we could find out any more.

Our guide, a balding, bespectacled gentleman in his mid-50s, was a self-made impresario whose brother worked as a mechanic in nearby Bilasipura. “He makes the money, and I spend it,” Karim Khan told us joyfully. His work was to train and manage a troupe of musicians and dancers, and to know things about the local culture that other people didn’t. We drove to Gauripur, the heartland of Goalpuria geet and home to its late royal proponent Pratima Pandey.

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We approached a beautiful timber-framed building, which was bathed in pale morning sunlight. Pratima’s brother was standing at the top of the gracious wooden steps of his mansion – now divided between the several offspring of the erstwhile royal family. He hastened down to meet us and led us through to a small sitting room. As we drank tea and ate gulab jamons, Pratima’s brother spoke a little about his sister and showed us some fading photographs. Then, to our delight, musicians began to arrive. Our host introduced us to them one by one as they pulled out their instruments: the four-stringed banjo-like dotara, the exquisitely carved violin-like sarinda, a flute and a khol (twin-faced, ceramic drum). All instruments found in the Bengali tradition.

They performed the sweet, mournful songs of the elephant trainers – the Mahouts – and the catchy rhythmic songs of the boatmen, sang in time to the pulling of oars. A female singer began to sing a slow melodious song of loss and longing. This was what I’d been searching for. “Our music has been over-looked”, Pratima’s brother told us, as the musicians took a break, “the tourism industry favours upper Assam; and television never comes here.”

It was Bhupen Hazarika, a great doyen of Assamese music, who discovered Pratima and gave her the moral and publicity boost she needed to make her art sustainable and reach beyond her region. But the forces of mainstream cultural governance proved stronger, and had already eroded her short-lived fame.

As I listened to the heart-wrenching melodies in this glorious house in Gauripur, I wondered what other unsung cultural phenomena have been lost by the wilful homogenisations of culture. In a part of the world as wracked with political division as Assam, I can fully understand a desire for cultural unity. But the cracks can never be smoothed over with smiling displays of cultural homogeneity, and nor should they be, if it means the silencing of voices like these.

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The Songlines Music Travel trip, led by Georgie Pope, goes to North Assam in April. Full details and prices are available here.

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Musical Adventure In Assam And Rajasthan

Posted on May 15th, 2013 in Music Travel, Recent posts by .

Georgie Pope gives a taste of a new musical adventure in Assam

Photography by Georgie Pope

Hello, This is Georgie Pope who runs the Songlines trips to the Jodhpur RIFF festival each October. I’ve just returned from a test run of our new Musical Adventure in Assam, which will run next April. I was joined by nine other adventurers (aged from two to seventy-two) to explore this lusciously beautiful but remarkably lesser-trodden north-east Indian state – a region of Vaishnavite monastries, tea plantations and extraordinary hospitality. We met musicians in their homes, tried out their instruments, explored the fabulous natural landscapes and ate far too much local food. 

Half way through the trip, we hired a private ferry boat to cross the Brahmaputra and reach the magical island of Majuli. This vast and ever-morphing river island is a treasure-trove of art, music and wildlife. After checking in to our eco-huts-on-stilts – built in traditional Mishing tribe style from woven cane and bamboo – we set off across the island to meet my music-loving, dancing friend Govinda the monk.  

Govinda, like the other celibate monks of the Kamalbari Satra, is slim and muscular, with long hair and a beautiful face which exudes spiritual warmth and wisdom. He’s one of the many musical hosts who enrich our tours with true passion for their subject. Like his fellow ‘inmates’, he’s a vegetarian who eats only what is grown within the monastery, and spends his days worshipping lord Vishnu (whose avatar as the flute-playing Krishna you may be more familiar with) by singing borgeet and dancing the extraordinarily refined Satriya dance.

After affording us a rare glimpse into one of the monk’s rehearsals, Govinda took us to meet his brother – married and living in a conventional extended-family home on the island – who is the music master at a local school. The teachers and children presented us with the spring time dance of the Bihu – the festival this tour is timed to coincide with – as well as renditions of Borgeet, endless chai and biscuits. We returned to our eco-camp aglow with the extraordinary musical ebullience and hospitalitiy of the island, which I can’t wait to return to next year.

Experience the magic of Jodhpur RIFF with Songlines Music Travel

India – Rajasthan Musical Expedition                  

In association with 

15 days – Oct 8-22 2013
12 days – Oct 11-22 2013

I’m off to Rajasthan in October for another Musical Adventure, culminating in the Jodhpur RIFF – that sumptuous showcase of Rajasthani music and talent from around the world. To read more about my work on Indian music, visit www.soundtravelsltd.com

You can join Georgie on her trip to Jodhpur RIFF with Songlines Music Travel. With us you will get a chance to explore of a vibrant living culture featuring hand-picked musicians, whilst being guided by a artist or musicologist, so there’s time to absorb the atmosphere and get to know personalities as well as places. 

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