Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jodhpurian delights and institutional highs

The city of Jodhpur, mid-west Rajasthan, last big city before the great Thar desert starts spreading westwards towards the Pakistani border.

Early in the morning we had taken a coach from Udaipur. At the bus stand we met several tourists from the States and Canada (hi Ben and your 2 female friends!), one of them was Peijman from Seattle and we soon during the ride we came talking about music in general and then our project. It was nice to travel with folks that liked what we were doing, understanding the idea behind it. And then by a stroke of pure coincidence, it turned out that Peijman personally knows the folks from the Sun City Girls very well and by that also Sublime Frequencies, also from Seattle. What are the odds ey! Peijman has been playing with the SCG's and is the drummer of the experimental rock-meets-arab outfit Secret Chiefs 3, the band of Mr Bungle's Trey Spruance. On our going-away party at Rebel Up, I even played a Secret Chiefs track! Again, what are the odds? Small world indeed. Peijman has been here since September, following tabla classes with a master in Kolkata. I hope the inspiration will work out to something good for you back in the States! Get that European tour on the road! :)

Arrival in Jodhpur and straight into the dry air of traffic pollution when stepping off the bus. Yay. For once we let ourselves be led by station hawks who claimed to have a cheap hotel right in the centre. And actually, they were right. We got the biggest room so far, clean and decent for the price. The guys of the hotel, including the 2 hawks, turned out to be very fine folks. It's just that a first station hassle impression can put you on the wrong and cautious foot. We keep on learning more and more.

We especially came here to talk with the people of the Rupayan Sansthan institute, dedicated to the Rajasthani folk music culture. In Pushkur, I had found a book on the history of Rajasthani life and culture, with the title *Rajasthan, an oral history*. It was written by Rustom Bharucha through conversations with Kothal Komari. Komari started the institute back in the 1960's as before that, no documentation on Rajasthani culture was carried out, let alone the archiving of patron and court music, the main outline of Rajasthani folk music. Before he died of cancer in 2004, Komari had already passed on the torch to his son Kuldeep Komari and he has kept the institute running. Kuldeep received us amazingly open, better than we had expected since our European belief was that time is not a virtue at such institutes (at least in the west). Even while we weren't academics he answered our enthusiasm with all the knowledge that he wanted to share and gave us the whole afternoon. Again more than we had expected, such overflow of history and current affairs. We got to see the archives and yeah, bewilderment and drooling excitement overwhelmed us. Cupboards full of reel tapes, tapes, video's and whatnot, all recorded, researched and collected since the 1960's. Not all material just done by themselves but also by many western scholars who shared their recordings with the institute. Like the Norwegian research lady whose research gifted them a staggering 150 tapes of epic folk storytellings and rural music. Imagine all that history, well preserved and archived for future generations to come! Kuldeep liked the idea of our project as we explained him into detail what we have been doing so far and what we are still looking for. In all fairness he confided to us that what we do has no pure relation to the academic documentation of folk music, since most folk songs we recorded or will record are already known. We knew that to some extent, but he did like our idea of our project being presented as a collage of Rajasthani music culture as it is now, from radio pop to acoustic street folk. Academic or not, he felt that anything that people record in Rajasthan to have value for the archive. On the pretext of getting help or support from the institute in our last days of the Rajasthan project, we didn't even have to ask Kuldeep this question. Halfway during the afternoon, 2 musicians stepped into the office. Dark tanned, carrying instruments and dressed in white Rajasthani kurta's. They introduced themselves as from the Khan family and therefore were from the Langa caste. The Langa's are a professional music caste who in olden times were supported by patrons, like a certain well-to-do family in a rural area.
They just came from a radio performance and came to see Kuldeep as they hadn't seen each other a long while (as they had been touring earlier in the year and Kuldeep had been on tour with another folk group). The institute had bought an antique Surando violin from Pakistan and Kuldeep wanted to know the quality of the instrument though the 2 musicians, since they play the Rajasthani adaptation of this instrument.
After they tuned and measured it, they started playing instrumental folk songs without hesitation. With even more bravado, as they wanted to impress these white folks who were recording and filming them with their permission. Kuldeep was very attentive to pick up on our unspoken desire and asked them in Marwari if we could spend time in their village Barnawa to record and film them. The musicians said yes without having to think a second and we agreed that we could come on the 23rd. We were just baffled, such an honor! As the village of Barnawa lies 100 km's away inbetween Jodhpur and Barmer, in a remote rural region where the Thar desert begins, we'll have to take a bus to another village where from there we will be picked up by jeep.

And that's not all. The oldest one of them told me that he had been in Brussels a few months ago, as well as touring the rest of Europe and States. He vaguely referred to Latcho Drom, the movie about Eurasian gypsies by Tony Gatlif. "You can hear and see me playing the sarangi in the movie and also other family members play in it" he blankly said. Say what? Here a scene of the Rajasthani part of it, youtube'd. Or see here:

We started talking about Langa music and I asked them if they knew the group Musafir, which is a mixed group of Langa's, Manganiyars and Kabeliya's. "Well, yes that is my younger brother", he answered. Such a small world, again.

I could go on an on, about the foresight of spending time with the Khan family in their rural village, about the many old and special Rajasthani instruments in the showroom of Rupayan Sansthan, the many deep talks we have had with Kuldeep in the last few days -as we have gone back to him every day since monday-, the idea's that are spinning our head right now about plans with the institute and the archives. A near overload that we can't fathom right now. We'll just take it as it comes along, they way we have been lucky and helped at so many occasions. It's not any different now, even so close to the end of our 2 months in Rajasthan and project.

Another nice meeting that links to this all was with Tom and Wim, fellow Belgians from Ghent who teach at a dancing school and who we met at a roadside parcel packing shack. They are in India for learning specific Rajasthani Sapera dances -Kabeliya style-. After we told them of our meeting with Kuldeep and the Khan Langa's, we were once again amazed when we heard that the Khan musicians (and brother of *our* Khan) of Musafir actually live in Ghent and that Tom and Wim work with them! Such small world, like an old record on repeat you all must think.

And no, the records keeps on repeating. At our hotel next door, a group of Bhopa folk musicians is playing every night, drums and ravanattha. On the second night we talked to them, joking with them that we know how to play the ravanattha a little bit. When we dropped the name of our teacher Rampal, the musician's mouths fell open: the drummer said in amazement "he is married to my sister Sita!", while the 2 elder women exclaimed "Rampal is our brother!" As soon as they spoke this out loud, we could spot the resemblance in their looks and were equally amazed. While Pushkar is 200 km's away, the family tree of the Bhopa's does not care about distance. Oh small w.....nah, I'll leave it unspoken this time ;)

That kinda wraps it up for now and perhaps for a small while. We did many more fun stuff here like eating good food, buying old cassettes and tomorrow going to a music wholesaler to find exclusive folk cassettes. Later in the afternoon we'll make our way to Jaisalmer for 2 nights before we'll head down to Barnawa at the Khan's musical outpost. I reckon we might not have internet in the week or so, which is why this long post before we set off.

Oh, a big hello to Chitose from Japan, who plays the Arabic oud lute pretty darn well! wow, bow down to that.

Udaipur pics. a lot.

the lake palaces

these torn and real posters make arty stencil graffiti look kinda bleak hah :)

visiting a family haveli home, 3 smiling ladies in their 500 year old room with same old mural paintings

young generation of the family

Not rabid, toothpaste.

Ashok Rao

home altar

Ektara Jogi


Tibetan market sign

at Tibetan market, with neon fleece hat.

finally sunny again!

awesome kid

pics from the veggie market

those eyes...

sweet banana family

Santoor player Lalit and cousin on tabla

entertainment at the steel convention, our man M.M. Ali on the far left- and his group


Ian Thal said...

Interesting that the dancing in the Rajasthani segment of Latcho Drom has so much spinning because the classical dance form of kathak (which originates in Rajasthan and other parts of Northern India and Pakistan) is considered to emphasize spins (chakkars) more than other classical forms. Some specualate that kathak's chakkars find their origins in Sufi dance. I wonder how the Gypsies/Roma fit in?

SebCatLitter said...

Good point. I don't know what the exact answer might be, but this style of dancing is done by women from the Kabeliya nomadic caste (which has many sub castes within). Like many Rajasthani nomadic castes they are islamic, or what they sometimes say as *mumadan*, a sort of adapted Rajasthani version of the religion. I guess that could explain the sufi chakkars. What we learned in the past week is that the islamic Rajasthani nomads or village people identify themselves a lot with Pakistan as they share the same desert and culture. -the name of this Pakistani region is somewhere lost in my head..-
The border between them has cut off their links to family and shared culture. To them, the border is something as non-existent as the notion of a nation. Where the gypsies fit in? Well, gypsies are thought to have originated from the Rajasthan and Sindh area up to 1000-1500 years ago. That's kind of what Latcho Drom shows in a story from east to west. To me, what I see/hear here, their social community and so on, it's much like the gypsies in eastern Europe in many ways...but in some ways not. I reckon that's more because each nomadic group transforms into a different direction with new culture habit.I could write more on it...but time is hastening us to get our train to Bikaner, last stop in Rajasthan.

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