Friday, November 30, 2007

Something same, yet different

Today a travel back in time. Obviously all our video's have been a look in the past (as are recordings by default, but that's obviously not what I mean here- but keep it mind when watching The News though), but these are special because today we had our last ravanattha lesson from our teacher Rampal. A bit of a full circle feeling for our stay in Pushkar as we soon will head down to Bundi.

These are special recordings for several reasons:
This was our first recording of live music in Pushkar. As in Ajmer it was we that were approached by the musician(s), not we approaching them. We where lucky then and lucky now. This time in Pushkar, we were walked around the Sunset Cafe Terras and as we sat near a holy tree, Rampal appeared out of nowhere and started playing in front of us. As in good custom that Ravanattha players hold: before you have set up your gear properly.
But he didn't play as we heard the ravanattha being played before. He played it in a very special way: very gently yet the sound was like it came from everywhere, resonating into the air. As if the heavens opened up and the sun, moon, rain, and clouds all came out and started to dance. That sort of thing.
Later we made more recordings of him with his wife Sita, they sounded allright together but never reached this same magical sound. This is the best recording we have of his play. You can't replicate moment like this. We tried and tried, believe it. It just didn't work.

Another funny detail of this video is that it shows India in a way we encountered a few times: you have a very special moment, people start to flock around and undeliberately it breaks the moment.

After the recording, we met Rampal quite a few times. He was always playing in front of the nice Sunset terrace, away from the business hustle that was the Camal Fair Ground. Seb bought two ravanattha's of him and we both got lessons playing them. It's a pretty hard instrument to master - it's a little bit like a violin but with extra caveats: like when you squeeze your finger to hold the instrument or make a sliding for the note to change, it quickly turns false, ruining your efforts. The hardest part is to keep the clear notes and to find the next ones that you want. And then ofcourse there are these quick parts in the songs. We tried to learn two Rajasthani songs, but don't ask us to play them: we only know parts of them and we five days of lessons aren't enough.
Rampal was actually a very good teacher. He loved his instrument and he was very patient and kind with us. Actually in some way he felt proud to be teaching Rajasthani songs to foreigners interested in his skills, which doesn't happen much otherwise it seems, as he told us many things about his everyday life. A true pity, since he's such a master. We are going to miss him.

So if you ever want to learn the ravanattha from a master while you're near Pushkar, call him at: 0091 9829317796.
No kidding, that's his actual number.
The beauty of progress, right there to pick up and learn! :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peaceful streets and some new viddy's

The mela has ended and the peace has returned. Yesterday we spent some time on the desert grounds in Rampal and Sita's tent. They had invited us after the ravanattha lesson to walk along from Pushkar to meet their children and to see their temporary makeshift housen in which they had lived during the mela. Dotted around them on the sand, there were similar tents of fellow musicians, gypsies, merchants and other assorted people. A mixed brew of people so to speak, those that are regarded by many Indians as a lower caste and get the not so plush social treatment that comes with it.
If you're overly used to comfort, you probably would have thought their living conditions were appalling and perhaps have gotten shocked by it. I guess we both are easy at switching off this western mindset, as we were just happy to be invited by them in the first place and spend some time outside of the tourist boundaries. Sitting on blankets covering the dusty ground and sipping chai with some spicy fingerfood aside as prepared by their daughters, it surely felt nice to relax with them. Kids were playing everywhere around with anything they could entertain themselves with, most of them barefooted or half naked either way and stained from nature's dirt sweeps. Neighbours and other passing folks came for a quick glance at the 2 white *gora's*, laughing at us out of curiousity. Ofcourse they must have wondered why we were sitting there with a sheepish smile. We took some nice pictures of the family and onlookers, surely these follow in a few days.

At 6ish here would be an open air premiere screening of the documentary Bhopa: The Art of Survival. The makers Jessica Leung and Paco Beltran, we did not know, were still around and had organised this. So we heard from Rampal and Sita, who also sold us the dvd earlier last week and we walked back with them to Pushkar to be on time.

When we came at the Sunset cafe where the screening would be, it was a bizarre open air circus of sounds as Maarten put it. Many street performers were playing and vying for the attention of the tourists at the same time in the shape of rope walkers, drum players and ofcourse the ravanattha players who were part of the documentary. We met the usual street kids and little Puka came up at us again asking for cookies.

Some weird Indian woman -let's call her the witch- came sitting next to me and Puka. For some reason I had agrieved this witch a bit before, when she tried selling me weed on the holy bridge, or, wanted me to sit down to talk. For whatever reason.
And for whatever reason she started ranting at me for being a tourist and showing pity for the street children and so on, a yawning tirade. Puka was sitting next to me as I was someone she knew, not someone she was trying to sell bracelets too or begging at. I just looked at the witch without saying anything. The witch then turned her attention to Puka and declared the little girl daughter of a whore and whatnot. I motioned Puka not to listen and just said to the witch something sarcastic along the lines that her 'positive' spirit would surely make India a better place. At least it made the witch leave.

The screening started and tourists huddled together with the street musicians. Pidgeons from the wires above occasionaly dropped unexpected fluids, which made some tourists unlucky on the spot, splat. When the film started and the musicians saw each other on the big screen, they started laughing a lot. Either in self-wit or about the others and commenting on each other acting skills. It was funny to see how they experienced it. How many times in their life would they ever see their work and art celebrated on a big screen? Not many times, I'm sure. It's good that it did happen, hoping that they now will earn more respect, within Pushkar and beyond.
Afterwards we had dinner with Jessica and Paco and talked about our current and upcoming projects, sharing views and creative idea's. Our paths might cross more, whether soon or in the more distant future. It's always nice to meet people who are doing same-but-different creative projects while travelling.

some more cuts from the 1st session with the Saregama family Dewara, daughter Sharwa singing in these ones:

Delhi streetside shave

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pushkar, pre Mela and village views

Some photo's......

misplaced advert....?

our ceiling.

our ravanattha's, resting in room

I got snapshotted into a Rajasthani newspaper....

little village nearby Pushkar, we drove their by motorbike and got a puncture. In return we got nice scenery and contact with jeery shepherd kids. Pity I didn't takes photo's of them. Perhaps because I was being busy getting pushed and teased by them ;)

van Nistelrooy #9 in India, while 'England' and it's flag was written on the front of his shirt ;)

The daughters of Polly and Tolly -our Brahmin hotel managers-, cheerfully posing in front of our hotel.

Bhopal, Kelasi and Pucca

Ravanattha player and teacher Rampal and his wife Sita. They are also featured in the documentary; 'Bhopa, the Art of Survival', about the ravanattha (see the links on right hand side)

best friends holding hands

scenery of the desert grounds before the Mela started and camel caravans were arriving.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Temple and morchang acid raves for the religiously impaired

From wednesday onto saturday.....
The mela has since been in full swing, filling the town with floods of foreigners and Rajasthani villagers alike.
The foreigners, mostly old and some young, are being driven in by charter buses day by day from their safe and plush safari tent camps outside of the town. The 1km road to the mela ground surely is too dangerous for them to walk. As if. Security folks circle their fenced compound, making them locked into their own luxury cage. Smirk. At least they get breakfast served on bed, or so a dutch tourist told Maarten. Inmates with a good catering to boot, all according to their own prepaid package of desired exposure. Each to their own liking of experiencing the fair. It must be said, it's funny to see the older tourists in typical safari or leisure dress getting besieged by gypsies adults and kids when they enter the camel grounds. Funny because they do get terrified way too easily, helplessly, so that their guide has to come to the rescue. Mind you though, this doesn't work with the elderly Israelian tourists who are better at being fierce to the gyspy ways, without a blink or chuckle.

Last night, there was live music all night long in many of the Pushkar temples.
The temple next to our hotel was still playing religious hindu chants when I slumbered out of my sleep early this morning and likewise still going steady when I really woke up. During the evening we had passed a few temples and entered barefeet to soak up the atmosphere and recording some sounds and scenes. In nearly every temple we were the only foreigners which prompted a lot of heads to turn to our direction and with the obvious cluster of Indian men herding around us to see what we were doing with our recording devices. The people here don't mind at all if foreign folks enter a temple during such sessions, but they are all too curious to find out who you are, where you come from and so on. Especially we with our devices at hand are an easy target for attention. Perhaps more so because we smile more at them, opening ourselves up on the go. Perhaps we should become sour faced instead like many tourists here.

Besides some occassional temple recordings, we have finally started recording helluva lot of live music at the mela stage, since we had been lacklustre at doing anything useful there the days before. On one night there was a diverse array of Rajasthani music from a cassette label. Cassettes still go strong over here, though they face more and more competition from vcd's. Veena Cassettes showcase so it was! Some of the artists were utter crooners singing slow and epic songs about whatever soft subject to do with love. The dances were more fun along with the folkier performances.
On another night we catched some amazing folk dances from the states Madya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Orissa and Gujarat. Especially a Gujarati dance was amazing as it completely took you into Africa through similar moves, pounding drum rhythms and screeched animal sounds. Ten or so guys dressed up in peacock feathers and suits with faces painted white n black as the bird were dancing around in a strutting manner and throwing coconuts high up in to the air to crack them with their heads. Splashing photographers and filming crews with coco juice in the process. Great fun! The dance was a 750 year old tradition and belonged to a tribal community that moved from inland to the coast of Gujarat. So that kinda ruled out it being an African community that once came by sea. Yesterday evening the musical programme was all Rajasthani folk under the presentation title Desert Symphony. It was a varied performance of artists from allover the state, bringing many different styles in sound and dance. At the end of the evening the Desert Symphony orchestra was created out of different folk artists coming from many instrumental disciplines. On morchang (mouth harp), kamaycha (bass violin), algoza (2 flutes at once) and dhak hourglass drums and many other instruments, 2 improvisations were spread over 25 minutes. Fantastic stuff as it sounded not like anything Indian or worldlike. The morchang players sounded as it they were playing acid techno while the drums gave it a bizarre echo. Full on Rajasthani acoustic rave music so it was!

Tonight is the last night of the mela so we hope to catch and fetch some more good music. Maybe even have a long sit in one of the temples if there are other all-nighter sessions going on. Enough to do.

No luck with recording the snake charmer songs yet. There are enough of them sitting on the streets with flaky and tame cobra's. but it's too busy and noisy for now during the mela. Perhaps in the coming days or otherwise in Jaisalmer in a few weeks.

post scriptum:
I've started reading Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus, -truly excellent if not whimsical gloomy stuff-. Which proves why these dance moves of selfwit and sarcasm here come somewhat inspired. Only time will tell how I'll stay in this momentum.

Below some new viddy's, yay!

Cut from the first session with the Dewara family. The sau ran raga of father D.C.

How to go down off a dusty mountain by motorbike

munching away....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Urban desert, off and on the path

It's been a week since a decent -which might mean a boring long- post has been typed, editted and whatnot scribbling foolery.
We've mostly been busy with the project and slacking/enjoying life with fellow backpackers. Life could be much worse. So far it isn't. Such happy bums we are. Here it goes once more.

Oh before all this, we celebrated Divali. In the morning we did the puja with Polly, our hotelmanager at the holy lake, as he comes from a Brahmin priest family. He could guide us into doing a full puja instead of the short ones that other tourists get lured in by makeshift waterside priests acting as hawks. -holy touts are not uncommon here-. Yeah religion is an economy here but that's not unexpected. Like everywhere in the world people need (or like) to be milked out in order to believe in something worth living for. As agnostic, atheistic or paganistic we like to be, doing the puja felt good and serene as it was not meant for a specific god nor religion, but to make sincere wishes for the upcoming year. Speak and wish with an open heart, as Polly said. So we did. Flowers, rice, paint powder and coconut milk into the water. Drifting away in circles.

Later with the Saregama Dewara family on Divali night, it was a nice experience setting off fireworks with them from their hillside home. The high open view over Ajmer showed thousands of uncovered rooftops also joining in the joyfull explosions on this peace-meets-war-like night. Bang!
Taking the overly full nightbus from Ajmer to Pushkar was great fun. Being the only foreigners on board the people quickly jeered at us for the sake of cheery banter. Getting to see some pixeled Rajasthani music clips on their mobiles was worth it. Good moves, hipwigging and a catchy tune of folk instruments along a heavy bass of sythesizer inspired rhythms. I liked it way better than the usual Bangra and Panjabi music styles that always seem to be aimed at an urban crowd while keeping the instrumental influence as low as possible. Thumbs up for Rajasthani pop. Since video cd's are really big over here at little music shops 'n market stalls, you can find loads of good stuff for barely 1 euro. Indeed, why use the limitation of a redbook cd or a dvd if you can have video and audio together on a vcd? The Indians are more clever in this scheme than back in the west and video clips still lives a good healthy life over here. But as most Euro/US video's suck anyway -bar the few creative ones-, it's for the better to keep things strictly ears only.

So, what else?

We did a second session with the Dewara family a few days after Divali. It taking up a whole day from the morning till pas midnight. Not it was such hard work or long session, but rather the ease of waiting, relaxing and taking it easy while friends & family came to give their best wishes to the family during the whole morning and afternoon. We didn't mind and their courtyard was nicely shadowed to not make us quell in the hot sun. Plus there was freshly made chai and fingerfood aplenty. Why sulk indeed.
Not to mention us helping son Alaap (who was visiting his family while he lives 400km's south in the Gujarat state, working as a music teacher) with writing the English lyrics into his brokenhearted hindi pop song. Not by our own will, but he kindly requested our help. Oh dear. The slick instrumental and vocal skeleton he wrote for it sounded already quite nice from the start. Perhaps with some good luck he'll make a hit out of it. Who knows. Pop works a jangling treat in the eyes of the talented, even when coming from a traditional music family.

Maarten recorded a dv tape for the father, as he wanted to record some of his own written songs of the last 30 years of his musical career so that he would have an archive on tape that he could show to tv station and agents (since he plays on national tv and concerts from time to time). 'Oh, which to pick' he pondered in doubting agony, as the dv tape could only register 1 hour of his lifetime achievement. Out of +20 songs, he did 11 of his best in the end. It all took over 3 hours since he wanted things to be perfect in the setting, sound and many changes had to be made. It bit of a pity in all fairness, because everytime the musical build-up was disturbed so that the atmoshere could not settle. It somewhat looked and sounded staged without much joy and therefore missing the pacey energy that their improvisations had.
Afterwards the whole family played their 2nd session for us and the energy came flowing back as we wanted to have no sudden stops and most of all no changeovers of settings and clothing. Just open spirited Rajasthani folk in the way that they wanted to play it. They did interchange the instruments or vocals from time to time, but it worked well. Father D.C. mostly played the harmonium, son Alaap on guitar, harmonium tabla or vocals, son Sunil on tabla, daughter Mamta on shruti's and daughter Sharwa on shruti's and vocals.
In the end we even got youngest daughter Mamta to sing a few lines, while her voice isn't as beautifully sculptured as her sister's, her lower tone sounded really special in the slow melody she sung. Also the grandmother of the family (whose name we didn't find out, calling her dadi-ji instead) sung an old folk tune accompanied by her son (the father) on harmonium, as I had hear her sing before in the background. 95 years of age and she still was as vivid as she wanted to be, such a happy sweet person. Amazing how her worn and weary voice sounded through the room, while little imperfections of coughs and chuckles crept in the recording. Raw versus perfection; I rather keep a raw recording with minor bumps yet giving goosebumps than a perfect cut lacking the spirit.

We've also recorded sessions with Bhopal and his wife on the dry grassy hill overlooking the camel fair grounds, as you can see in previous post, as he's from the younger and more bold generation of local ravanattha players. Him being a cheeky fella too on the side, with a good sense for selling and negotiation so I had some fun with that on many chai drinking sits. Perhaps you might be inclined to think that Bhopa's are gypsies but it's easy to generalize on that. They might share the same outskirts of small towns or cities, living in tents or shanty houses, lacking the same facilities and living a similar life when having to earn money on the street, but they don't share bloodlines by some sort of unspoken rule. Even among the poor, a certain caste system exists. Bhopal didn't speak romantically about gypsies and cursed the for their haggling and threacherous ways. Ofcourse he himself was not a haggler like them, he said. I just smirked at my little poke at him. But pokeing one another is all too normal here with anyone who makes money on the street. Only serious people get suckered into shabby deals too quickly.

His little 8 year old sister Pukka was funny to have along on the session as she provided added sounds -subconsiously- as she was playing with rocks, making a rhythm while hitting upon one another while ankle bracelets with tinkerbells in her hand -her selling wares- softly jingled along the playing of her brother and sister in law. Every day I saw her, her nose was uncleaned, yellow drop in the left nostril as was her face with blackened stripes on the cheeks, her hair dusty and wild, some locks mildly blond colored from daily exposure to sunshine. Without doubt, she was able to always produce a sweet smile on her face, laugh and play, in the faux-innocent manner like many other street selling kids do. I reckon they are all already way past the very innocence that we once knew from our own secure childhood, yet they are not bitter about their situation. It's rather the many tourists here being bitter, who do not seem to be able to handle a confrontation with these kids, imposing their fingerwagging western etiquette on them if they feel hassled when trying to live it large here. Pity that. But I won't moan too much about annoying tourists -coming in droves on package tours or whatever-, because I could go on more than I care to waste time on. bleh.

The days after we also met Rampal (see pic some posts ago), a ravanattha player of the oldest generation and we did some sessions with him and his wife Sita. His instrumental playing exceeds the level of say Bhopal, but that's hardly surprising. Old play ages good. Till it stops one day, missing a heartbeat. I bought a few ravanattha's from him, as he makes them himself and their are of good quality. Support your woodstringed craftmanship yeah! We also have taken up daily lessons with him and we are able to play the easier parts of old style Rajasthani tunes. Bowing down and strike with a gentle touch on multiple snares, it's pretty hard.

Oh the footie match! It was in the main stadium on the mela ground, a sandy pitch with white walls and stands around it. Hundreds of people were watching and all our names got called on the intercom echoeing in the air. Kinda bizarre moment, like one you perhaps dreamed of a sa child; playing a big match for lots of spectators in a special place...for nuts or glory! I think we all felt some goosebumps of amazement for standing there suddenly.
Ofcourse we lost, 1-0 to the local Pushkar top team. Yet for a bunch of thrown together foreigners (Swiss, Israeli's, English, Spanish, French, US and Ozzies) we weren't bad at all. We were even say slightly better since we had the best chances (they had one half one and scored it). I missed a closeup chance in the first minute of the game in a clutch moment before their goal, narrowly puntering the ball past the post, typical. But try playing football in hiking shoes, running around on an uneven and thickly layered sandy pitch. We all did that for 40 minutes in the blazing sun and managed to pass and run around quite well, that against a team who trains every week. Hmmm. We unfairly had a goal disallowed and just after that their best player lobbed the ball over our keeper (who was playing barefeeted). In the 2nd half we were better balanced and wasted some chances. In the dying moments of the game I gave a pass that splitted their defence and our spanish striker free to run to goal alone, we unfairly got flagged offside -3 metres is beyond doubt surely-. Bah.

Despite the dubious reffing, seeing the total joy of the local team at the end whistle gave a good feeling as I realised this would make them the local hero's for a long while till next year. Like, there wasn't much glory for us in it anyway besides the simple joy of playing. We ended up being photographed and filmed by the press and tv, kinda bizarre. With the winning team celebrating, I joined them with my water bottle in champagne stylee to cheer with them ;)
Oh and we got a loser trophy and each a certificate, how considerate and nice!

That's been keeping us busy, plus meeting a load of spirited and witty people from allover to keep us company -or that we could annoy at will-. Some blabber morning talk with some Swiss villagers (ow hello Hansel and Sigrid hah), climbing the temple rocks with the individually trawling Miguel, Nico, Pascal, Necane and Gabriele. Not to forget the every day jeery company of Julia, Koby and Felice for many meals or breakies. Plus the many folks crossing our path more than often. Everybody rethinking their life, travelling into new pastures and chasing new idea's. It keeps one healthy while on the road.

Allrighty dinnertime, tomorrow more sounds and pics will follow!

Here some sounds a clip:

dadi-ji claps along, enjoying the session

Camels galore, all around the hill. Recorded before the mela started, so imagine the sound of thousands of camels now! hmmm, should record that too.

Camels around the hill overlooking the Mela

Flamenco style Bollywood song, short one as I halfway recorded it from the radio. Brilliant song. I think it's Lata Mangeshkar singing, might be Geeta Dutt or Asha Bhosle perhaps.

Bollywood Flamenco

Just outside our hotel, this kid was playing a tiny toy keyboard. He walked along with us and played for the fun of it. Ofcourse he asked for 'paisa' as you can hear him say ;)

Streetkid with mini keyboard

A sweet Bollywood styled love song. I like the sad slowness of it. She's singing about *paresan* = being angry. Someone angry at her, or she at someone? Oh dear.
It might be Lata or Geeta singing again. Who knows, answers on a comment card ;)
Sound isn't always too clear, blame it on the mountain winds, grrrr.

Paresan Bollywood song

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Moving Images

Preliminary video clips from the lovely Pushkar: Bhopal playing the Ravanattha (or Rawanattha) and singing together with his wife Kelassi while his little sister Pukka sits next to them. They are from the Bhopa caste, a caste where music has been their tradition and occupation for centuries since the ruling days of mughuls and sultans.

This is recorded with a simple digital photo camera. The image with my own camera is way better, but the wide angle on this camera isn't shabby at all! Seb recorded the audio on his sound recording device and I used a good video camera, but this got the job done. And quickly too!

I still can't cut - and therefore not upload- any clips from the high end camera because my laptop adapter died in action. An unhealthy diet of irregular power feed did its wires in back in Ajmer -about two weeks ago. I got a new one sent from New Deli but it is still trying to find it's way to me in postal bags. As is the powersurge protector - thanks to ebay!
update: but under big relief the Mac cable arrived yesterday, so the editing is well underway, wa-hey!)

Bopal 05
Uploaded by ARTISJOK

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mela Mela, not the sweet Ethiopian song that Mahmoud Ahmed once sung, but the hindi word for *fair* that makes your Indian shopkeeper's eyes glinster. The Pushkar camel fair is on and it's mela mela all around with tourists dropping in from everywhere to see the camels.

Just a short post for now, 'cos we've been busy boys the past few days with recording sessions, trying to stay out of the heat, visiting small dusty towns on a motorcycle and meeting shephard families and their various livestock.

Tomorrow morning at 9.30 me and Maarten will play footie (or soccer) against the Rajasthan team on the main mela pitch -which is normally reserved for showing off special horses and camels-. So the gora's versus the rajasthani's! The gora's being us, the foreigners, like some Indian folks like to shout to you in a *hey whiteass cracker* stylee. Humm, given my allergy to horses I'll wonder how long I can last if the air is full of horse smell. But at least we can say: we try. Try to lose with our chin up I guess, if the rajasthani's all prove to be professional players. Just a hunch.

In a few days some more words on the past week's happenings.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Indian sounds on Tracks

Hi folks,

Deirdre is so sweet and supporting that she has started to plug our project and blog on her weekly world music radio show Tracks! Have a fair listen, not only for our sake but also for Deirdre and Rory's good selection of varied world music tunes!

Life FM is transmitting London, but easily to catch in your room through the wonders of internet radio, yay. No need to worry if you miss it, cos the last show is always archived and soon podcasts will be available.

Tracks show on Myspace
and a little piece about us
or straight to the radio

We spent the last few days celebrating Diwali, recording music sessions with the Dewara family and driving a motorbike on sandy desert roads in total darkness. More on that later in the week....

Some new pics

ravanatha player fella

'indian citizens, cows are not supposed to eat garbage'
(although they like and do it)

Diwali day, monkey eating fresh holy flower garlands from altar.
They're holy, so they can.

side road past the Pushkar lake

Maarten and Sunil enjoying view from hilltop above the Dewara Saregara family home

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Some Bharaty sounds.....

to download (right click on the link/name and save as...)! (unlimited now from Maarten's server, yay!)
click on the blue links below and have an eavesdrop or two into the Indian & Rajasthani psyche........

Professor Moneyplant. A comedy telly serie from Punjab about money hustling in a college. bizarre slapstick. You can hear some talk too. Those trumpet synth tunes are great. I've to look up who composes the music and interludes, wrote it in the notepad....

Some composer - Professor Moneyplant (end tune)

Recorded from a movie about hindu gods and some earth families.
Luscious sitar drones, sweet talk between Vishnu and Shiva....but then as the gong sounds, horror strikes. oh no!

Vishna-Shiva raga song & dramatic scene!

Rural folk sounds from the forest people in Chhattisgarh, recorded from Radio Rajasthan. The state of Chhattisgarh is located in the middle-east of India and one of the few places where people still live in the jungle. It's a bit hectic in Chhattisgarh since a few weeks, as rebels and police are fighting each other over control of the small jungle state. One radio report (mis)said: *20 police men have been ambushed and 15 are missing. Since the bodies have not been found, they are feared dead*. Oh dear. Luckily the folk songs I recorded sounded lovely, like this one.

Unknown Artist - Chhattisgarh folk song

Bollywood classics at Ajmer FM! Yes, every night, every station, too much.
I liked this one best, accordeon folk whatever.

Unknown Artist - Classic Bollywood song

Funky interlude at 94.3 FM, Ajmer, I like the singing phone-in.

94.3 FM rip

Short radio interludes and ads, ch-ching. They're more fun that the ones you're used to.

Interludes & Ads

Kiddie advert

warzone Pushkar, this morning. As kids were still throwing firecrackers on this 2nd day of Divali. 3 minutes of live rooftop bombing.

warzone Pushkar - firecrackers galore

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

from Ajmer to Pushkar & the music of the Saregama family

Arrived at Pushkar yesterday in the early evening yesterday, only to see the hill on the other side of the lake burning vividly. The fire stopped itself after a few hours of downcircled patterns. Or stopped by human hands. Who knows.

But first some Ajmer stuff.
The last 2 days of our 7 day Ajmer stay, we were guests at the Singh family with father Purfinder inviting us, all through the web magic of CS. To our surprise we even got a whole house to ourselves, as we could have a vacant house of a friend of the Singh family a few miles down the road, inbetween rocky dusty mountains. We couldn't believe our luck.

It was certainly welcome as our double room at the humble hotel Bhola got a bit too small and messy after spending nearly a week there, being cramped together and belly aching the way we were. We stayed long enough in the hotel that the staff seemed to hold us in awe for being around in Ajmer all this time, since any other tourists merely spent a night there on their way to Puskhar. They probably thought weird of us, so we played our roles well too in a few confusing scenario's. Like when Hindu god pics are hung around in the hotel restaurant with mickey mouse and donald duck right next to it, it was faith that we had to play with it. Ah well, nothing exciting but it kept us as the hotel's favorite tourist pets that everyone had to come and see. So they did and they every day or so, som staffmember brought a friend along, stuttering some random words in English. It was fun for most of the times, if the mood fitted, which it didn't always in our cramped and digestive state.
Ok, back to that sad sad moment of departure. On leaving we had to shake the hands of every staff member present, so that was a pretty genuine experience in itself on hotelling in Ajmer. Yeah, I kinda write this with a certain irony attached to it, not to make fun of the kind hotel staff in any way, but more aimed at ourself for fooling around during our stay. They didn't mind us either, I think.

Oh yes, the Singh family. Purfinder, the father of the house, prepares young Rajasthani men to get into the military. For this their physical condition must be above standard and they receive basic education on maths, general knowledge and hindu. Most of the are from poor families in small villages and they hope to get accepted by the army through these preparations so they can get a good job. In India, working in the military gives a high status within society and offers good chances for a career. We were well looked after by the family, perhaps too well as we even got tea delivered in the morning to the K9 house. Not to mention all the gorgeous homecooked veggie dishes and pancakes made by Purfinder's sweet wife at every time of the day, the good advice we got about travelling in India. Also how we got picked up many times and delivered as human packets to our point of destination. For all this, we thank the Singhs for their hospitality.

The city people in Ajmer (500.000 inhabitants) seem to have a certain complex about neighbouring village Pushkar (33.000 inhabitants), as the tourists only come through Ajmer as a stopover, not to spend time there. Every day people wanted to refer us to Pushkar or help us to get there and we always got confused stares when we said that we stayed in Ajmer for a few days. Many times we hearf *why you here?* or shouts of *hey friend, this Ajmer, not Pushkar*. Yes, the positivity gleamed.
It kinda was like a deja-vu of the Delhi experience in our first week. C'mon people of Ajmer, take some pride in your city...even when it's a smoggy, traffic congested and not so exciting place. We met loads of good people here. So there, our praise for Ajmer!

We didn't only dwell around doing nothing, being fed and pampered. Earlier last week we had met Dewara Saregama at the post office, who invited us to his mountain home to come and listen to his family playing. We had not even started looking for Rajasthani musicians, so meeting Dewara came by perfect coincidence and we were happy to come and visit him and his family on tuesday evening to get things started for the musical project. We didn't know what to expect but it turned out as an amazing evening. Descending from a bloodline of court musicians, dating 300-400 years back, Dewara told us that the Saregama caste always had music and painting as their prime skill since mughul times up to now. We took a taxi to their house, located in the hills on the outskirts of Ajmer. The family lives in a small yet cosy house, tucked away on the side of a mountain and whitened to keep it cool inside from the sun. Father, mother, grandmother, son and 2 daughters all live together in 3 small rooms. For once there was none of the luxury that we experienced at other Indian homes and we felt warmed and humble to be invited by these kind people who didn't have much to share, except the skill of their music and art. When we entered the house, Dewara and his daughters first showed us their colorful paintings and detailed pencil drawings, which were done in different styles and techniques. Not just some, but a whole mountain of stacked prints. Beautiful creations, as a skillful glance toward the upcoming music session. After some talking about the methods, the meanings and so on, the father, son and daughters picked up the instruments. Father Dewara on harmonium and singing, his son on the tabla and daughters on the shruti's and vocals. One after the other traditional Rajasthani raga was played as these amazing sounds echoed in the small room, while Dewara sang in a deep drone-pitched voice to glide from one floating tone to the other in the cunning vocal tradition known to Rajasthan. Daughter Sharwa had won a folk singing contest in Ajmer the year before and she soon proved why, as her soothing voice leaped into a higher pitch with little nuances and added side shrieks. And then she still excused herself for not having prepared nor practiced the weeks before.
The variety of the raga's played, was intense and towards the end the father also picked up a ragged guitar that he had set in a special Indian semi-open tuning. He played in such a way that it sounded inbetween Arabic and classical Indian styles. Only to add more unique quality to their earnest folk sound. After the session the daughters started making food for us whether we were hungry or not. We couldn't refuse this kind gesture dressed in a nicely scented meal and we looked on how they were rolling fresh chappatis and making a nice spicy pepper-onion curry. Ofcourse it tasted great, it felt mighty yummy in the tummy.

They even invited us to celebrate Divali with them in their Ajmer mountain house. Divali is tomorrow and is like the Indian equivalent to christmas, because there are little flickering lights everywhere in the streets, on the houses and kids are setting off firecrackers and rockets in the streets. It will be nice to celebrate divali with them, especially after that great evening on tuesday. We'll have to see if we can get back to Pushkar, as there might be no buses or taxi's if everyone is at home celebrating it.... or we just relax and sleep in their little house, as Dewara initially offered.

Later this week we will return to them to record a longer session, as tuesday evening was more of an introduction to get to know each other. Also my audio set-up for the microphones didn't work good in every song, so it's better that we re-record some songs and more new songs. We hope to turn this into a proper album for them and give them all recordings, as they don't have any clear recordings of their songs nor the recording equipment to do it themselves. It would be even better if we can help them getting it released properly on a European/US label! All is open. More about this soon.

In light of all this, the hospitality in India has been really sincere and superb so far and can not be compared to our own western hemispheres. Here a family will take you in as a guest while all members of family take such good care for that you feel like being part of the family. It's a very inclusive feeling you get from all the sharing. Feels good.

On Pushkar: as I opened our iron balcony door, a red arsed monkey jumped away onto the electrical wire pole. He showed me his teeth. I think he didn't liked me, just a guess. The whole family of monkeys were on the other side of the alley and the local people below threw stones at them as they don't like the monkeys either. Monkeys have also learned to throw stones at people. Lucy from London, who we met this morning (well, 2 Lucy's even), found out the hard way a few days ago, getting a nice shower of rocks by the cheeky ones.
There are 2 types of monkeys here. One type are the red arsed monkeys, who look like smaller baboons. The other are the blackfaced monkeys, who seem more holy and like to spend time down at the holy lake. They seem less aggressive too as people can walk around them. Hmmm, but to trust any of these monkey here? nah.....

Ok, pics galore.
This time Ajmer, the folk session and even Pushkar pics taken this morning.

Errr, one last one of Delhi, a bigger pic of the red fort! Just for Ian.

the veggie tent camp. just around the corner of our hotel.

no travel is easy here, at least they're honest about it. rock on. :)

kid selling nuts that look like peppers. actually taste like a watery chestnuts. yum.

gypsy grandmother with smaller pile

here be wild piggies in the city centre alleys.

open sewers. here we saw a wild pig eating a sewer rat, alive.

skillful man who makes/restores vintage harmoniums in his workshop. guess I'll just have to get one.

view from the red Jain temple in central Ajmer.

golden room in the Jain temple. golden tower which is like the heaven of the Jains
Here more about the Hindu sect of Jains and Jainism. And yeah, the signs ofcourse resemble something completely different than the obvious.

Bagh park next to the Ana Sagar lake

Maarten enjoying Ana Sagar lake view

side view lake of temples, built by Shah Jahan in 1600's.

lone boy at temple corner

sweet gypsy kids, wanting to have their picture taken

view from lake to the hills nearby

new Jain temple outside Ajmer, where Hari Singh and his friend took us by motorbike.

golden door to temple

massive buddha inside

chaiwallah (tea vendor) Maretane Rayka. Raika gypsy and proud of it. He reminded me of friend Valery.

view from our borrowed K9 house

farm field behind the Singh's house

Singh family and us

the Saregama family in session

smiling dadi-ji (grandmother) who was humming along next to us

M at work

Pushkar: blackface monkeys next to the holy lake where pilgrims can bathe


Pushkar view to one of the many temples on hill