30 August, 2011

Review: The Legendary Music of Rajasthan

Photo: Hema Narayanan
By Jane Compton

At The Legendary Music of Rajasthan, accomplished folk artists Lakha Khan, Kadar Khan and Bhanwari Devi gave the audience a rare chance to experience a live performance of the centuries-old indigenous musical heritage treasured by the desert communities of north-west India. Dressed in vibrantly coloured traditional clothes, they sat cross-legged on the stage, joined by a further four musicians who provided vocal and instrumental accompaniment.

The concert was held in the magnificent main hall of the National Museum of Scotland which re-opened in July following a £47.4 million, three year redevelopment. Lakha Khan began proceedings with lilting, soothing songs for voice and sarangi, a stringed instrument held against the chest and played with a bow. One of only three musicians from the Manganiyar community to have been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from India’s National Academy of Music, Drama and the Arts, he is also a skilled luthier who handcrafts and fine tunes his own instruments.

Kadar Khan presented ancient pieces from the massive repertoire of the Sarangiya Langa community which he calls home. Taught the sarangi as a child, since 1982 he has performed throughout India and across the world. He was accompanied by Noore Khan on voice and sarangi and by Papamir on the dholak, a classical north Indian hand drum similar in timbre to the bongos. The inimitable sounds produced by the sarangi were expertly shaped into bold and evocative melodies that blended very effectively with the brisk and energetic percussive beats.

During short intermissions between performances, interesting contextual commentary was provided by Divya Bhatia, the Artistic Director of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival. HRH Prince Charles is the international patron of the Foundation which works with musicians, dancers and other artists in Rajasthan, helping them to use their skills, traditions and knowledge to enhance their lives and promote understanding of their heritage.

Singer Bhanwari Devi and her sons Krishna Kumar and Indra Chand travelled outside India for the very first time to participate in the Festival and share the music of their Bhopa community with an international audience. Traditionally, the Bhopas are itinerant priest singers of the folk deities of 14th-century Rajasthan and they are invited to perform in villages, particularly during times of illness and adversity, as their presence is considered to be a blessing.

At these performances, historical poems are sung by the bhopa (husband) and bhopi (wife) in front of an intricate scroll called a phad, which features scenes from the deity’s life. After Bhanwari was widowed in 2004, her son Krishna, a singer and harmonium player, took over the role of the bhopa. Gifted with an exceptionally powerful and sonorous voice, Bhanwari’s duet with Krishna was one of the highlights of the evening.

For the last song, all seven musicians performed together in an excellent finale to a great night. Their appearance at Festival 2011 has been made possible with the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi which seeks to promote cultural exchange and understanding between India and the rest of the world.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call  0131 473 2000.

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