Monday, December 17, 2007

Udaipur without octopussy, we're not fussy

Udaipur, week 7 into the pursuit of Rajasthani culture -pop and folk alike-

We spent a total of 5 days in Udaipur and its smooth lakeside. At the start we weren't recording much. Rather using our time on to do some fruitful editing (Maarten especially, since we had quick enough internet again) whereas I did less. Except for scouring and ripping the radio. Since we left Puskhar it was nearly impossible to find clear frequencies in Kota and the smaller cities. With multiple stations at the dial again, recording time once again! Modern Rajasthani pop, old folk, bollywood, slow raga's and bizarre remakes of western hits into bhangra style, yup all there. And check out this radio pop rip, recognize anything? ;)

Radio pop goes Europe

Udaipur has nice areas around the lake which are refered to as 'ghats'. At the same time the ghats are quite touristy for obvious picturesque reasons, but mostly as Udaipur is regarded as India's most romantic city and it attracts a lot of Indian tourists just for that. Perhaps it does resemble something of Venice, with a Rajasthani charm thrown into it.
We didn't really explore the famous sights, temples nor the 2 big palaces in the middle of the lake, so that's where this tourist talk stops. In February we'll go back and see more, without the project on our mind -hmmm, I wonder-.

Oh yeah factoid. The Bond movie Octopussy has been filmed in Udaipur, especially in the 2 lake palaces and one of the mountain palaces. Every hotel rubs this in your face by showing Octopussy at 7pm sharp, night after night after night. We didn't see it. Dinners took more of our attention. And sometimes we got candlelit, oh wow ;)

One evening we stumbled upon the Tibetan market, a bit away from the ghat area. Instead of finding special Tibetan handcrafts and local produced wares that we expected, only normal generic winter clothing was for sale like once could get in every local shop. It was just a winter market for warm, fleece or thick cotton clothing and the only thing Tibetan about it were the Tibetan immigrants behind their stands. Oh and that every item of clothing had a tag atacched to it, saying *Tibetan market, free Tibet -and so on-*. That's all there was to it. Bargaining wasn't the bizz here, so the signs told us (see below hah). Hmm, how's that for a little yet good social scam to have the honour to buy from temporary travellers. Beyond all this context, I still bought a thin scarf, leaving the Tibet-tag on it. We talked to some Tibetans and all of them actually speak good Hindi and live allover India, from up north to down south. We wanted to buy a warped cheap-ass keyboard which gave the most distorted sounds on a China produced toy ever. It was an Indian stand filled with everything plastic and possibly toxic by all that shine.
Naturally, they also held themselves to the no bargaining scheme. Bleh.

We didn't encounter musicians as we had hoped, although there were several ravanattha players walking around the lake. We didn't record them for the repetition -and out of honour for our teacher too-, but their style was quite nice to hear. They played in a lower pitch that consisted of a different tuning alltogether. Alas, we didn't talk to them either so that we have no info backing up the method of their style.

There was a local cultural programme every evening in the city palace museum and though we got in halfway through the show, we got some recording done. It was a tourist filled place, so the variety of the songs was narrowed down to just the familiar ones. I'm sure we even felt ourselves being a bit jaded at that moment, by perhaps knowing too much about the superficial selection of Rajasthani songs as they are always presented to tourist crowds. For me nothing new music-wise, but Maarten got some nice footage of Kabeliya dancers, one dance in particular where a small and stocky mid-aged woman was dancing with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-lost count earthwork pots on her head, while standing on glass shards. Amazing.

The day after I was walking around and met a holy baba wanderer -at first glance-with an Ektara in his hand. The Ektara is a 1-stringed instruments made out of a big palmnut and a long round neck. Its sound is like a plucked *twang*, vibrating with the body and the soft added pressure of another finger. Actually the picture on Wikipedia is wrong, as it shows a Bhapaong/Bhaoing stringed bucket which sounds similar to the unexperienced ear.
The player was from the Jogi caste, the spiritual sub branch of the Kabeliya caste where the musicians travel as spiritual performers, singing holy songs. He was small, greasy long haired and thinned to the bone and was handicapped by a large hunchback that deformed his upper body by the shoulders. Nevertheless, his playing was amazing and he started with instrumental pieces, plucking the string with one hand and clapping the shruti's in the other (by the way, shruti's is the general term for anything that clangs, like bells). He onyly spoke marwar and not much hindi, so he didn't understand what I was trying to say in vague hindi. Luckily one of the boys working at the hotel helped so I could get him to sing one song. Not just some song, because his raspy voice was amazing and complemented the ektara perfectly. What a sound, goosebumps allover! Below an excerpt of it :O
A pity that I was on my own, so that this was only recorded in audio and not filmed. I asked him to come back to the hotel the next moring and promised more money, but he didn't turn up. Perhaps next February when we're back in Udaipur -see there's the window, opened again-.

Jogi wanderer - Ektara Baghwan (God) song

On the night of the touristic cultural programme, we had spoken to the musicians about their traditions and ways of teaching. Ashok, the tabla player of the Rao caste (musicians and painters), was most open to us because of his good english and we saw him more during the next days as Maarten took up Dholak lessons and also bought one.
Ashok interested me in an antique harmonium, as a relative had a harmonium restoration and repair shop in the city. The shop existed since the 1920's so he assured me no bad quality of make came from here. An hour and some tarnishing and chai drinking later I had an old restored harmonium with me on the motorbike ride back home. yay.
His brother -and neighbour- Lalit, also played a variety of instruments. One room was more a place of collecting Rajasthani and classical Indian instrument, as he earned a bit of extra money with trading instruments besides being a tabla teacher -alike his younger brother Ashok-. Lalit played the Santoor from Kashmir, the zitherlike instrument like the eastern European Cimbalum (ah yes yes Pascalou :)!!!). 96 strings stretched over a wooden body and he played it with 2 ivory bone sticks while another relative peddled the tabla. Albeit not Rajasthani music and rather a fusion of classical Indian music meets Kashmir, the sound breathed a perfumed Persian air.

In one of the evenings after visiting Ashok, we walked past a big courtyard place filled with people. Catering tables and gourmet dishes, running kids, chattering adults. It again ment some celebration so ofcourse we checked it out and this time it wasn't a wedding (no stage nor entertainment) but a babyshower for a newborn son. Soon enough we were led into the courtyard by a local, as it always happens, and we got plates of good spicy food. Happy times. We at least wanted to congratulate the family of the newborn, but they weren't even there! All these people; relatives, neighbourhood friends and unknown wanderers..buty the organizers were still amiss and would only arrive hours later. The Indians never cease to amaze us.

Another music stumble-upon the next day, as we started to get active by luck and persistence. Whle driving around the hustled city on a rented bicycle, I came across a building of All India Radio, the one national state radio. 'Weren't they based in Delhi?' I thought. I talked my way sneakily inside at the guard booth by claiming I had an appointment. Skin color or nationality can get a white foreigner go a long way, positively discriminating as it is. I talked to the station manager on duty and learned that this was the Udaipur branch for folk music of the Marwar region, for which they once a month provided a special hour to AIR hq in Delhi. As our time in Udairpur would soon be over, there wasn't much to arrange on such short notice in ways of specific Udaipur music -which are 3 kinds: gorband, devotional and one I forgot right now-. Next to us sat a middle aged man with red painted hair. Many older Rajasthani men like their hair painted red, we don't yet know why. He introduced himself as M.M. Ali (one of the M's standing for Mustli) and clairvoyantly told me that he had a musical group and was under contract with AIR Udaipur. 'Just come tomorrow at 7pm to the university auditorium and we will play for free for you and your filming friend, we'll have dancers too', he said and wrote it down on a scrap of paper. Quick headscratch, s-s-s-say what? We drunk a chai outside and he assured me of our appointment tomorrow evening.

So ofcourse we went. Arriving through the university gates we found many people spilling into a big hall. 'Is that really the auditorium?'. Yes. There was a convention going on for the steel engineering industry and a Rajasthani cultural programme was to be offerend to the 1000 guests as entertainment. On the side of it there was a big catering tent where glorious high class food was again being prepared -as we seem to encounter more than enough- and we wandered in, looking for a quick bite for our growling tummies. Some young engineering students started talking to us, asking where we were from and when the answer Holland fell, Phillips was an easy name to use, so we pretend something that we weren't. ahem. Food, yes.
We got into the auditorium, quite filled with only Indian people so all heads turned to us. oh oh. M.M. Ali and his group of musicians was indeed sitting on the stage and tuning up. What a promise! He nodded to us with a content look for showing up with camera, our end of the promise. He himself played the harmonium while others played the tabla, dholak and clarinet -an unusual instrument in Rajasthani folk, unless a musician is of the islamic caste-. Although the music was again presented in the same pallet of famous Rajasthani folk songs, the clarinet added a different air. The dancing however was above our expectations! Several female Kabeliya gypsy dancers in shining dresses and bells allover took the stage and owned it. Near the end one female dancer, the best of them all, danced with 4 burning pots on her head. And while stepping in glass. Awe. Amazing performance and at the end we thanked Mustli sincerely as he thanked us. He took us under his red-haired wings and guided us into the catering tent where we had an abundance of fine food to pick from. We ate together with the musicians and the Kabeliya dancers as if we belonged to their posse and then M.M. Ali waved us goodbye. We were fullfilled in many ways.

Oh yeah, at these catering places the Indians always eat while standing. It never seems obvious to them to have chairs. So there aren't any.

Ok bye to Udaipur and we would take a morning bus to Jodhpur.
Ps, hello to Cassienne (who we again met, at the same hotel by chance) and to Josh from the Windy city, have great travels both! :)

pics of inside Chittor fort, temples and Indian tourists...

far away view

body afloat!

inside Chittor

the Jain temples inside

Maarten took some nice portrait shots of Indian tourists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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