A Suitcase & a Song – An interview with Cedric Leonardi

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Cedric Leonardi, 44, is the drummer and front-man of the Gypsy Allstars, a musical project that “invites the multi-talented pedigree of gypsies to share their passion for music and life”. Leonardi grew up with the legendary Gipsy Kings families (the Reyes and the Baliardo families) in the gypsy barrio (neighbourhood) La Cite Gely in Montpellier (in the South of France), performing with them as their drummer. Singers and guitarists Mario and Georges Reyes, also a part of the project, are from the Gipsy Kings’ family (Georges, 38 is the son of Gipsy Kings founder Nicolas Reyes; Mario, 39, is his cousin) and wish to carry on its legacy.

Recently it was discovered that all gypsies around the world may actually be descendants of the Doms—an Indo- Aryan ethnic group from northwest India who had migrated to Europe approximately 1400 years ago—and trace their roots to Rajasthan. So the Gypsy Allstars embarked on a documentary project called Return to Rajasthan, which wants to chart the journey of gypsies from all over the globe back to their ancestral home in Rajasthan. This project kicked off this October at Jodhpur Riff with a collaboration between the Gypsy Allstars and some of the finest Rajasthani folk musicians.

As the sun sets over the horizon, Leonardi settles down at the poolside of Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan palace where the Gypsy Allstars are staying. He speaks to us about music and philosophy and tries to pin down that elusive idea of what a gypsy is and what he and his group, in turn, stand for.



The Gypsy Allstars has members from different countries and cultures. What does being a gypsy mean to you in the contemporary world? It’s an age-old tradition but how would you define it today?

You’re talking about the gypsy values. First of all it’s a way of life. Of course it’s something genetic, in the blood, but you don’t have to be a gypsy in blood to be a gypsy in the larger sense of the word. It’s an attitude, a way of approaching the world around you. What does that mean? That means being, first of all, a ‘traveller’. I believe this word is very important, going through life as a traveller and approaching life as a journey. And, in that sense of the word, being always on the move and not staying attached to anything…I was going to say ‘material’ but it’s above material, it’s above anything. Not being afraid of letting things go, jumping into the unknown, without knowing what’s going to come. Being a free spirit. And sharing. That’s a gypsy saying also— everything we don’t share is lost. Sharing the moment, the emotions, the material, the non material.


What is gypsy music, according to you? The Gipsy Kings’ music was a lot about Latin fusion and pop-oriented flamenco. Have you taken from that lineage? Would you say the essence of your music lies in a style or styles? Or simply in the spirit of it, so to speak?

Well, gypsy music from where I come from, the South of France—everybody thinks the Gipsy Kings are from Spain but they’re not, they’re from France—is all about joy. It’s music full of rhythm and full of joy which maybe the music of other gypsy lands, such as that in Russia or Romania, does not emphasize. Their music is often more melancholy. I’ve travelled the whole world and listened to lots of different gypsy music—such as music from Ireland, the Celtic music and music from India. But then you start seeing some similarities in the various sounds. Like in the Celtic strings and the kamaycha here.


Tell us a little bit about your line up? How did the Gypsy Allstars come about?  How often does it change? How do you choose who’s supposed to be a part of the group?

We have people from all over, from different musical traditions. We have been working with an Indian singer in Los Angeles and a fabulous tabla player who has been Zakir Hussain’s student for most of his life. But we didn’t bring them with us (to Jodhpur Riff) this time as we wanted to honour our Rajasthani brothers and sisters and allow them to bring their own magic to the music. This was the point of us coming here to collaborate. We didn’t want the folk musicians to be dominated by a sound which was part of our U.S. experimentation. We will be coming to India again, sometime in January next year, to continue our work.


The Gypsy Allstars is about paying homage to the Gipsy Kings as well as, simultaneously, experimenting and creating new sounds. How do you balance these two aspects of the band’s work when making music? One would imagine paying homage to another group, especially an older one, may go against the grain of experimentation…

We try to keep a balance between what the audience  is familiar with and what we are doing, which is new, and which they also happen to really love. We have found that people love the combination of sounds and are going crazy for the fusion. We are not going to disappoint them if they want to hear ‘Bamboleo’ or ‘Volare’— which are in fact covers that the Gipsy Kings popularized, a sound which comes out of the South of France. The gypsy rumba is the sound of the Camargue (a region in the South of France) so it’s homage not just to the group but to the region the three of us Gipsy Kings alums come from.


Your band features musicians from different musical traditions and styles. Is there a process or any pointers you follow, currently, in trying to meld these styles together? What challenges have you faced? How have you overcome them? Could you give us an example of one composition, especially one of your better known ones, and take us through how it evolved? 

It’s interesting. When we started this we felt that the musical traditions and styles were far apart— only because we were unfamiliar with ‘working’ them together. However now that we are in the midst of this grand experiment we see so many similarities. Hand movements, voices, rhythms. The sounds just work together. The biggest challenge is actually that both gypsy tribes, if you will, from France and India, are so embedded in their traditions. What they do is in their blood, in their DNA. They are so used to doing what they do that to explore something new is challenging. It requires curiosity and contemplation and in a way re-wiring the brain.

Actually overcoming these fixed ways of doing things requires time and intimacy. Trust takes a while to build. Listening to each others musical styles, enjoying what each of us brings to the music is a big part of finding the way through to a fusion. With ‘Katte’, which Bhanwari Devi has been singing all her life, we just kept listening to it over and over and over again until we found chords and patterns that worked. There is no formula. No prescription. At some point it just feels as if God is leading the way.


Indian music has 5, 7, 9 or 11 beats per measure as against the western 4 or 6. Has this been a challenge for you— when it came to fusing it with Western styles? How did you overcome it?

So far it’s been about the Rajasthani musicians accommodating the rumba beat which is all of 4 (beats per measure). It’s actually been quite a smooth experience for us gypsies— I imagine because we are not trying to work the other way round yet. That should be a question for the Rajasthani musicians.


You had once said in an interview with the Examiner that you’ve been trying to incorporate traditional elements, and not just be experimental. Could you elaborate on that idea a bit? How do you incorporate these elements? Do you choose specific instruments or rhythms? If so, on what basis?

You can experiment so much as a musician and yet totally alienate an audience. By ‘tradtional’ I mean familiar. We are not trying to create complicated jazz. We are looking to create sounds that people can enjoy, relate to and be elevated by. The tabla is very specific to Indian culture so it’s a natural choice for us. So is the voice which is the ultimate ‘instrument’. The guitar is the instrument of the gypsy culture of the Camargue, so again these are natural choices. We do not try to force anything or anyone. It’s a privilege to be a musician and coming from this space of gratitude and joy leads the way.


You spoke about wanting to incorporate Irish sounds into your music? Have you been able to achieve that? How? What other sounds are you interested in?

I am interested in everything. The more you delve into fusion the more you find the similarities between all cultures, as if there was one original sound which everything emanates from. I love Irish music and it will find its way into our project in its own time. At the moment we are just at the tip of the iceberg of exploration and creation with our Rajasthani family of musicians. And we have our hands, very happily, full.


(Image: Cedric Leonardi. By Kavi Bhansali/Jodhpur RIFF)

“The pressure that makes diamonds.” —Impressions, Joseph Tawadros

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Joseph Tawadros, 30, is an oud player of Egyptian origin who has lived in Australia since he was three. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of New South Wales. In 2012, he won an ARIA for the Best World Music Album for the album ‘Concerto of The Greater Sea’. On his latest album, ‘The Hour of Separation’, he collaborated with legendary jazz musicians John Abercrombie, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette.

This is his third year at Jodhpur Riff. This year, he played with Daud Khan Sadozai (robab) and Dilshad Khan (sarangi). As we speak, Tawadros is also being roped in to perform at the ‘Riff Rustle’—an impromptu collaboration between a variety of foreign and Rajasthani musicians towards the end of the festival—by Cedric Leonardi of the Gypsy All Stars.


want to ask you about your collaboration with Daud Khan Sadozai and Dilshad Khan. Had you met the other performers before?

The collaboration was centered around the Afghani Robab master Daud Khan (Sadozai). I actually met him at the airport in Delhi. So that was the first time I ever met him, by chance. But, musically it was just at the festival, for two days. And we sat together and we had to get something done. Divya (Bhatia, the Festival Director) has ideas of bringing people together, and what will work and I think it worked. It was great. We had a good time. The crowd was enthusiastic and I think that’s a good sign that it did work.


I spoke to Dilshad Khan (one of the collaborators) on the morning of your performance and he wasn’t sure he was playing in the evening.

Yeah, you know, everyone is so busy so it’s very hard to align our rehearsals. So Dilshad really just came on in the last minute. But with music most of it is improvisation and I think it wouldn’t work if people involved weren’t improvisers. The Rajasthani musicians, for instance, are such great improvisers that you can put them in any sort of context. It’s about people adapting to each other. I think that’s a great thing about the festival. You bring people together that can work together and that’s what happens consistently every year, which is great news.


What do you do when this happens? When you are joined by a performer in the last minute, you’re doing it on the spot and it’s a collaboration. What are the things you keep in mind, some things that you should or should not do?

For me, personally, I think it’s just listening, and I’m happy to follow. I think if everyone tries and wants to lead then it’s a problem. I’m happy to follow and try and keep some stability. Because I think it’s very hard. I think the catch is that there’s no real person leading it and saying, “Oh it’s your turn, it’s your turn.” So I just like to keep it as stable as I can. That’s basically my job, to follow, and I’m happy to follow. I get moments of soloing of course but you have to look at the greater good rather than your ego. It’s more important as a project, and what we’re trying to say, rather than someone shining. It’s the only way a collaboration works— if everyone works together.


Was it easier because of the specific theme of your collaboration? The music being from a similar space?

No, I think everybody on stage is a motile improviser. That said, we didn’t have a Jazz player who was playing a blues scale. Pretty much we come from cultures that share very similar music traditions. So it’s not like we had a Chinese musician on stage, you know what I mean? One playing a pentatonic scale and the other playing kirwani. No. We’re all playing the same scale and just listening to what everyone else is doing. But the musicians themselves were having fun. When musicians on stage yell praise to each other, it’s an enjoyable thing, rather than competition, which can happen too. But in this context, I think Divya picked the right people. I’m happy to be part of the stabilizing system of my collaboration. I’m part of the rhythm section. The rhythm section is very important in such things because if you’re not holding the rhythm then things fall apart.


In your collaborations outside of Jodhpur Riff, are you used to leading more?

I lead my own groups. That’s what I do. In fact I lead… in a way I lead some of it by looking at people and giving them solos and things like that. I talked about the structure… that is mine. Though I can’t take credit for it. Everyone has a role to play in a group otherwise too many cooks spoil the broth.


What did you talk about with Dilshad and Daud Khan Sadozai?

Just about what would be suitable. First of all, the tuning. I had to tune my oud down to be suitable to their instruments. It worked, because it gave my oud a different tonal quality, which is another thing. I’m happy with that. Very inspiring. We all inspired each other I think. The audience was getting right into it.


What’s been your takeaway from performing here over the last three years?

Well I think in (Jodhpur) Riff you are forced to play with other people, often forced to play with other people you’ve never met until an hour or two before going on stage. Sometimes— half an hour. It’s that sort of pressure that you have to put up with. You have to shine. It’s kind of like the pressure that makes diamonds. There is some magic and moments in the organized chaos. But it’s not really chaos. As I said, you’re getting musicians together that are used to that sort of thing. So it’s not a big deal. If you got a classical musician who has never improvised in his life with Rajasthani musicians an hour before then maybe you have a problem. But you know, you have an Egyptian, an Afghani and some Indians, you can’t go wrong… You can’t go wrong on that combo (laughs).

Also, every year, for the last three years, I have collaborated here with some Rajasthani musicians. So I’m getting used to it. I’m starting to get more accustomed to the sound. I’ve always been a fan of Indian music and Indian ragas. Also, being in an area, an environment, where the air is constantly filled with the music— it’s easier to adapt and pick up the nuances.


Is there any particular performance this year that struck you?

I’m not singling out anyone. There are always some magic moments. That’s a great thing. And it’s always nice to perform for his Highness (Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja of Jodhpur) as well. I would make a joke every time with him, off the stage. Yesterday he came up to me and I made a joke. I said, “Look I’ve played here three times. I should get a room.” He came up to me afterward and said, “You have a room to the stage,” which is quite a great respect. And every time I have played he has come up and shook my hand. It’s nice sharing that bond with such a nice guy.


Was there any other musical insight or realization from performing at the festival, from watching other performances, in terms of collaborating or just in terms of your own music?

For me personally every day is like that. I could be in the street and… I think Rajasthan in general, not just the festival but the environment itself, people on the street, the way people interact with each other— is inspiring. The way people live life here. Anything can spark a thought or idea and some inspiration. That’s the beautiful thing about being in this environment. Not just the festival, though the festival is a promotion of the city. So the great news is we get to spend time in the city. The festival is enhanced by the people and the people, hopefully, get something out of the festival. It works both ways.


(Image: Joseph Tawadros. By Kavi Bhansali / JodhpurRiff. )

Strings That Bind – An Interview with Dilshad Khan and Imran Khan

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Imran and Dilshad Khan are nephews of the late sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan. Accomplished, acclaimed, the cousins belong to the Sikar Gharana, from which many stalwart Indian classical musicians hail from. Imran who plays the sitar, has been trained by his grandfather Ustad Gulab Khan and his father Ustad Niyaz Ahmed Khan. Dilshad plays the sarangi, following in the footsteps his famous uncle.

Their performance was one of the ‘dawn concerts’—which usher in the morning against the sun rising over the city of Jodhpur—at Jodhpur Riff this year, on October 19. They were accompanied by Praveen Arya on the pakhawaj. After the concert, as the audience dispersed, Imran and Dilshad Khan gave us this interview while still sitting on stage. At some point, Dilshad has to leave and Imran answers the rest of the questions alone.


Have you been to Jodhpur Riff before?

Dilshad: This is my first time.

Imran: I performed here with my uncle, Ustad Sultan Khan ji, in 2009. The collaboration of Ustad Lakha Khan ji on the sarangi and Anwar Khan ji on vocals— I was a part of that. I also performed at the Jaipur Virasat Foundation’s literature festival (the Jaipur Literature Festival) in Amer.


What are some key things you keep in mind while collaborating with artists and with each other?

Imran: Our collaboration is unique— we have been together from childhood.

Dilshad: Because what we play is a part of classical music, we put a lot of thought into it. We also try and gauge how the audience is responding.

Imran: Dilshad bhai and I, we are of the same age nearly— we have an age difference of two months. We grew up together. We had talim (lessons in music) together, taught by our grandfather (Ustad Gulab Khan), and my uncle (Ustad Sultan Khan). So, between us, there was blood relation, family relation, music relation… Yet this is not a normal Indian classical collaboration because we included the instrument pakhawaj in this. And the way we played was little hatke from the classical style. We used Dhrupad also in our vocals. Because when Divya ji (Divya Bhatia, Festival Director of Jodhpur Riff) and I were talking about this, he said, “We do have classical music. The same people come to perform, they do the alap, play the vilambit and the drut and then finish it off. You do something new.” So that’s what we did.


What did you do differently?

Imran: Like I said, normally, in Indian classical performances nowadays, everything is accompanied by the tabla— but here we used the pakhawaj. There was no tabla. So that was unique.

Dilshad: Traditionally, the pakhawaj was played with Dhrupad and Dhamar. They didn’t have the tabla then, it was the pakhawaj, gayaki and saaz that were used as accompaniment.

Imran: Chhand banake jodan dikhaya (we created chhand, a rhythmic motif) with 4 counts, 8 counts, 10 counts… This idea already exists but it is not prevalent in present times. It is used by those singing in Dhrupad and Dhamar.

Dilshad: It’s an old shaili (style).

Imran: We were inspired by it. We had an idea of it in our minds and we rehearsed for a night. Baaki toh sab upar wala hi bajwa raha tha (as for the rest, it is the one above, God, who’s making us play like this).


How much do you rehearse when about to present a new collaboration?

Imran: We do riyaaz (practice our music) every day. For this performance, we rehearsed only for, maybe, one hour yesterday. We went through it, went through the ideas we had in mind. Dilshad bhai and I had been talking about it for a few days, how to go about it…


Is there any musical realization that has come about from watching the other artists and performances at Jodhpur Riff, anybody you have learnt something new from? Any performance which struck you in particular?

Imran: The good thing here (at Jodhpur Riff) is that Divya ji is someone who understands music. He has a good understanding of the artist, how they should perform, what kind of music it should be. He tries to deliver something new each time. It’s a good thing that the festival’s popularity is growing. We get to learn from all kinds of music. Whoever it is— an artist bigger than us or smaller than us. If you keep yourself open to learning, you learn. The night Manu Chao was performing, everyone was dancing. He was singing very well in Spanish. I didn’t understand what he was singing, but his style was so different.

Dilshad: The pattern of his song, his style of singing, we liked that a lot.

Imran: I liked his guitar player a lot. Like this bol we have in the sitar dhad-dhid-dhid-dhad-dhid-dhid-dhada-dhid-dhid… He was using the same thing, with the plectrum. He was using his right hand so well. That is there in Indian classical music as well but the way he did it was remarkable. That was very unique and I liked that a lot.

Dilshad: There are so many more. Rizwan Muazzam are singing tonight. And there is Daud Khan (Sadozai) ji  whom I’ve heard a lot about. I’m playing with him tonight.


Do you know what you will be playing?

Dilshad: No I don’t know yet. Divya ji will be telling us what to do.


So you’ll discuss it and rehearse at the sound check?

Dilshad: Yes. At the sound check we will have to decide a little about what to play, when to play, how to go about it.


What are some key pointers that help you when a collaboration is at short notice and you have to play with artists you haven’t met before?

Dilshad: I think there are just a few things to keep in mind. For instance, where to play (in the middle of the performance)— if someone is singing then how much you should play or sing along with their singing. It also depends on what rang (mood) they are singing in. Like Imran bhai said, you never stop learning. If I’m playing with Daud Khan ji, with the robab or with the oud, it’ll be new for me. So when we play we think about what space we can make for ourselves there. Also, to do it in way that you have fun and so does the audience…


Have you listened to the music of Daud Khan Sadozai and Joseph Tawadros, with whom you will be performing tonight?

Dilshad: No, I haven’t. We’ll see if a rehearsal happens. If not then, we’ll just meet at the sound check.


You have performed at several festivals. Is there anything about this performance at Jodhpur Riff that has stood out for you?

Imran: We are performing at a heritage property, where we get to spend time and perform at the Mehrangarh Fort. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. Most festivals happen on some ground or in an auditorium.

Dilshad: Also, it’s a dawn concert (that they’ve just performed in). This was Divya ji and Imran bhai’s idea, performing when the moon is setting and the sun is beginning to rise. There was a time when, our guru, our father, used to wake us up in the morning for riyaaz, from four in the morning till 10 o’clock. That time also used to be called a time of ibaadat (worship). There are raags of the morning—ibadat bhare raag (raags full of the idea of worship). So it felt good to get an opportunity perform at this time of the day. It doesn’t happen at other festivals, where you perform mostly either in the evening or in the night. I have performed at Jazz festivals, and with Nitin Sawhney at the Royal Albert Hall.

Imran: Even if there are morning concerts, they are usually at eight or nine in the morning. So performing here was different for us.


At this point in the interview Dilshad has to leave.


In your opinion, what has been the legacy of your uncle, Ustad Sultan Khan?

Imran: The legacy is his music. Our family has been in music for generations. Our great great grandfather Azim Khan sahab was a musician at the court of the Maharaja of Sikar. Our grandfather Ustad Gulab Khan sahab was a vocalist and sarangi player. What we have we have learnt from them is also their legacy that has continued through all of us.


But in music, what would you describe as your uncle’s most important contributions?

Imran: All that he did with music was important. Apart from us, the whole world was inspired by him. The style in which he played the sarangi, the gayaki, few others have played the way he has played. And then he did that east-west fusion with George Harrison, toured with Pandit Ravi Shankar. He played on an album for Madonna, with Duran Duran. He was in the progressive electronic band with Bill Laswell and Ustad Zakir Hussain—Tabla Beat Science. He was so open hearted. He played the sarangi In Umrao Jaan and kept playing… even playing in Jab We Met. He would also sing— his voice had a different texture. He even composed a raag. He was very creative. His confidence and the kind of output he had was incredible.


Can you tell us about the raag  that he composed?

Imran: He believed that the existing raags had been there for a long time and they sounded fresh event today. But he did create a raag called Ras Mohini.


What was it about his style of playing the sarangi that was so unique?

Imran: It is difficult to explain. It’s apparent when you listen to his music and compare it with other sarangi players. His sarangi was influenced a lot by the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan. Our grandfather Ustad Gulab Khan sahab took Sultan Khan Sahab to him to make him his shagird (pupil). But he (Ustad Amir Khan) said: “He is like my own kid.” Because his nanihaal (maternal home) and my grandmother’s nanihaal were from the same village. “Why should I gandabandh (a traditional ceremony where the guru ties a string on the wrist of the student agreeing to teach him or her) him? You teach him. I will also do so once in a while.” So officially there wasn’t a gandabandh, but he was very inspired by Ustad Amir Khan, the way he played and his gayaki.

He went on to experiment later. He never thought about what people would say if he experimented or didn’t stay on one path. He wasn’t scared by this. That is how he left behind such a variety of music. Not many Indian classical artists have been able to do that. Classical, film music, electronic, fusion… He didn’t discriminate between any form of music. He saw all music as equal and taught us the same talim.


You had played with him as well?

Imran: Yes, several times. There was a time when we did 22 concerts in 13 days for SPIC-MACAY in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. I was very fortunate to be able to play with him then. There were also several other times where I played with him.


What did you learn from playing with him?

Imran: Whatever I am today has been because of him. He taught me how to present music, what note should come after which to bring about a rachaav (create a piece of music ) and what is the importance of that. If I was finding something difficult he knew what kind of practice I needed to ease that. So in a short time he would teach a person a lot. From Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur and Ustad Amir Khan Sahab to the music director Pritam to musicians like me— he had played with all kind of musicians. He had a long and fulfilling journey in music. He learnt from observing himself as well. We would have discussions on music all night. He didn’t sleep much. In the house, we both shared the same room. So we would talk all night, sometimes even doing riyaaz in the night. I was lucky to be born in this family, to be able to learn and play with such great musicians.


What did you learn from your father and grandfather?

Imran: I learnt the intricacies of the sitar from my father. I was very young, six or seven years old then. I couldn’t even hold up the sitar. My grandfather trained me in vocals. So early morning he would start with the sargam and teach me (Raag ) Bhairav.


Do you think that the place that the sarangi and sitar hold in Indian classical music will remain intact in the years to come?

Imran: Yes, definitely. It has been so for thousands of years and will continue to remain the same for years to come. The sitar and sarangi continue to be played and there are many great sitar and sarangi players amongst us today. Sultan Khan sahab played a great role in the sarangi being played solo. And that was a big contribution. If you see today, there are various bands that use the sarangi. It is being used with electronic music. It is being played alongside western artists. And this is all because of Sultan Khan sahab, because I don’t think there was any other sarangi player before him who played so much in the west. He opened doors for other people. They realized that the sarangi would go along with a variety of music and musical instruments. What Pandit Ravishankar did for the sitar, making it popular, that is what Khan sahab did for the sarangi. So I feel that the future of the sarangi is secure. There is no need to worry about it.


Dilshad ji and you started training in music together.

Imran: Yes, we are of the same age. We started learning music together. His father, Ustad Nasir Khan sahab played the sitar. He would come to the house and learn from our grandfather and my father. And when (Sultan Khan) sahab came to Jodhpur, we would learn from him as well. He lived in Mumbai then. We also later shifted to Mumbai.


How did he choose to play the sarangi and you the sitar?

Imran: Well in the gharana (a school of music), it is usually your elders, your father or grandfather who tells you what to play. “Why don’t you try this?” they say. My father wanted me to learn the sitar, so I started training in it. We were very young and you respect your elders and listen to them, especially in classical music. It was a privilege that we had them guiding us.


What are your dreams for yourself as a musician? Is there anything in particular that you seek to achieve in your music?

Imran: Apart from playing the sitar, I compose music as well. I have also released an album called Khwaja Sahib which has Rekha Bhardwaj, Parthiv (Gohil) ji, Krishna Beura and others. I arrange for my own programmes as well. My dream is that I follow in the footsteps of Khan sahab and other elders in my family. I hope that I make name for myself. Or at least hear people say: “Oh he is from this family, and he is doing as well as his father or grandfather.” Any artist wants to do well and earn respect and have their music appreciated by people. That is my dream as well.


Is the next generation in your family also continuing to learn music?

Imran: Yes, they are. My younger brother Irfan plays the sitar. Dilshad’s elder brother, Salamat Ali bhai and his children—Salman plays the sitar and Shahrukh plays the sarangi. Shahrukh was featured recently on Coke Studio. So the next generation is also coming up.


Is it difficult to keep the tradition of music going forward in the family?

Imran: There is, of course, a lot of hardwork involved. It’s not like it was a diamond that was passed on from my grandfather to my father to (Sultan) Khan sahab to us. It’s music, karthav vidya : a knowledge that comes to you from doing. So a lot of hardwork goes into it. And there is also an expectation because we are from this family. People do pay attention to what we sing and how we play. So it is definitely not easy to meet the expectations. It will take time for us to play at the level that our elders did. So we try and work towards that. All the male members of our family are working in music.


Will you teach your children as well?

Imran: Yes. Though they will go to school as well. Education is important in today’s times. But I would want them to continue in the tradition that has been kept going for nine generations in our family. The rest is in the hands of God.


What is unique to the Sikar gharana?

Imran: The Sikar gharana came from Indore. We are from Sikar and there were a lot of musicians from Sikar who became well known such as Munir Khan sahab who played the sarangi, Sultan Khan sahab, my grandfather Gulab Khan sahab. There were a lot of a well known sarangi players from this gharana because of Rajasthan’s connection with the instrument. Classical music is the same anywhere. The raag, taal, sapaat, dhamak is there in every gharana. But the differences are in the intricacies. You will hear it in how we play music, the little difference in style.


Is there anything you play differently when you play the sitar?

Imran: Because I learnt from sarangi players, my grandfather and Khan sahab, I don’t play just in the style of the sitar. There are things from the sarangi also that I play on the sitar. I try to do different things and keep my style a little different. The raag and raagini  in classical music is the same. You can’t change that but in the style of playing you can bring in your own andaaz.


You have collaborated and played with a variety of musicians, especially Western musicians. What were important things that you learnt from them?

Imran: I learnt that our approach to music and their (the Western musicians’) approach to music is different. The swar is the same, but the language is different. Their thought and process is different and you learn from that. You try bring in your flavour into it and give something to them and also take something from them. It’s very helpful. It opens up your mind. You look at notes in a certain standard way, until you get there and learn to look at it differently.


When the approaches are different, how do you collaborate?

Imran: You have to listen to each other. They don’t have raag, so if I try to talk to them in terms of raag they won’t understand. But if I play one, they will recognise the notes. Because sa-re-ga-ma-pa-da-ni-sa is the same everywhere. They look at the chord progression, say going from A minor to D and then to E. So there you have to forget about your raags a little. Sometimes you see that in a chord it is going from one raag  to another, so you go with the raag  while they remain on the chords. And then you see that it is fitting well, the raag and the chords. So that happens. In raags, the notes are fixed, the particular notes you use, and they come and go in a particular way. The order is fixed. And they (western musicians) don’t have that. So, if you have say, “Oh, why has it started from B plus and come to shuddh nishaad ?”— how do I do that? So you have to forget the raags a little and concentrate on the notes more.


Apart from the musicians in your family, who else has influenced your music?

Imran: I like the sitar playing of Ustad Vilayat Khan sahab, the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan sahab, the singing of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I have listened to them a lot. In today’s times, there is Ustad Shahid Parvez sahab who plays the sitar very well. I listen to him a lot. My idols have been Ustad Sultan Khan sahab and Ustad Vilayat Khan sahab. I listen to anyone who plays good music whether it is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sahab or Hariprasad Chaurasia.


Is there any musician who you would like to play with?

Imran: There isn’t anybody specific right now. I have been playing with everyone I can. I recently played with Pandit Birju Maharaj who danced the kathak and that was a good experience for me.


(Image: Imran (centre) and Dilshad Khan (left) perform at dawn. By Shantenu Tilwankar for JodhpurRiff / Oijo.)

Keeping It Alive – An Interview with Barkat Khan.

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Barkat and Jalal Khan come from a family of musicians. The brothers hail from the Manganiyar community of Rajasthani musicians whose patrons are Paliwal Brahmins. While Barkat, 40, can play the tandura, the harmonium, the dholak and the dhol, he usually sings and plays the harmonium. Jalal, 35, can play the tandura and the harmonium. 

Dawn breaks on the third day at Jodhpur Riff with bhajans sung by both Barkat and Jalal. Barkat plays the harmonium through the performance, Jalal the tandura. They are accompanied by their youngest brother Shway, 30, and their cousin Maangu, 19, both on the manjeera. Their cousin Abdu, 26, plays the dholak. After the performance, Barkat and Jalal settle down to an interview through which Jalal, despite being questioned repeatedly, remains quiet because he feels he must let his elder brother speak for him. So Barkat does so. But before this he listens to an interview he just gave Radio Madhuban play out on the radio jockey’s phone. He smiles as he hears himself sing.


Have you and your brother Jalal always sung together? What do you sing usually?

Yes, we are continuing our family’s musical tradition. And we liked singing bhajans, so we learnt those as well. We’re from Lava village in Pokhran, Jaisalmer. There are other Manganiyar whose patrons are Rajputs. But our patrons are Paliwal Brahmin. We converted to Islam at the time of Muhammad Ghori. We also sing songs of Sufi saints and we sing songs of Islam. We sing songs of all religions.


Do the Paliwal Brahmins continue their patronage to this day?

Yes even today we depend on them. We sing for them when there is a wedding in their family. We sing at their homes during festivals, especially on Holi and Diwali. On any special occasion we sing for them. At weddings we sing auspicious songs. We play the dhol as well as the gajanan ka dhol (the dhol played with bol, or incantations, praising the Hindu god Ganesh, at the beginning of a wedding). We sing banna banni ke geet (songs about the bride and groom). When a child is born in their house we sing the haleria (songs of birth).


Since what age have you been singing?

We have been singing since childhood. As soon as our eyes opened in the morning, we would sing. Our guru is our father…


Would he take you with him when he went to perform?

He would perform in our village. It wouldn’t be a festival like this. There would be a jagran (an all-night Hindu prayer congregation) in the village and people would gather for it.


Who else would accompany your father?

We would go with our father and with four or five other men who would play saz (string instruments). I started going with him when I was 11 or 12. Jalal was eight or nine years old then. When he was 12 he began accompanying us too. Even today, we don’t go anywhere to perform alone. We go along with our uncle’s sons. We have formed a group with members of our family.


Apart from music, do you do anything else for a living?

No, we are solely dependent on performing and singing.


What do you do when you don’t have performances?

We usually have some performance or the other. When we don’t, we do some house-work. We have a few goats, so we rear them.


(to Barkat) You usually play the harmonium?

We all play the harmonium. Jalal plays the tandura. Jalal and I play the dhol and the khartal… we play everything. Without this art form, we are nothing. For some performances they want us to play the tandura and the harmonium. So sometimes I play the tandura and he plays the harmonium, and sometimes it’s the other way round.


There are some Manganiyar who don’t approve of the harmonium and say that it is taking people away from instruments like the kamaycha.

The kamaycha is our traditional art. It is ‘by’ us. But the thing is that not everyone can play an instrument like the kamaycha or the sarangi. Where do we go to learn playing these instruments? That’s the reason they are becoming extinct. The harmonium, on the other hand, is easy to learn. So the kids now learn the harmonium and sing with it. If the government or the society can help create opportunities for people to learn the kamaycha, that would be good. Even if someone decides to learn, a kamaycha will cost thirty to forty thousand rupees, the sarangi fifty thousand rupees. Where does one get so much money from? So we depend on the harmonium. If people decide they don’t want to learn on the sarangi or the kamaycha, there is the harmonium as an alternative. One can play that well and do well with it as a musician. There is, of course, the question that, when the ones who play the kamaycha or sarangi today are no more, who will take it forward? Sure, four people will learn, maybe five. How will 10, 20 or a thousand people learn to play a sarangi? A harmonium, on the other hand, is there in every household and everyone can learn it. That is why it will survive.


Is it also because it is more difficult— learning to play the kamaycha or the sarangi?

Yes, that is there too. It takes two to three years to learn the sarangi. And it is a continuous learning process that never stops. When you are maybe 35 to 40 years old is when you can say that you have learnt to play it. The harmonium, however, can be learnt in 5 to 6 months.


Are there people in your village who still play the kamaycha or the sarangi?

No, there are none.


So, there wouldn’t be anyone who can teach them either.

Yes. Even the bhajan and the bhav that we sing is slowly disappearing. Because we don’t have facilities to teach our children this music. How do we teach them? The other Manganiyar have made trusts through which they teach the next generation. But they stay far away, so there is no one to teach our children. I try to teach what I can but children go to school as well these days, so they don’t have as much time as they used to.


Are you teaching your own children?

Yes I am. I am teaching them the songs and bhajans I know. My son is learning the harmonium. He will later learn the dholak as well. I have to teach him everything we do. The dholak, the dhol, everything…


Of all the songs you sing is there any one in particular you really enjoy singing?

I enjoy most of the songs and bhajans I sing. It also depends on what the audience likes. One song I like is Jith dekhun tum jho, Piya jun jhalke, Jith dekhun tum jho… It tells you that wherever we look there is Ishwar (God). In animals, in humans, anywhere we look. People say that they haven’t seen god, but everywhere we look is God, everywhere there is Khuda.


Is there any key difference between the kinds of songs you sing and the ones the other Manganiyar sing?

The gayaki is the same. But we also sing bhajans and those songs that are not sung by other Manganiyar. The bhajans should be sung with bhakti ras, in the dhwani (tunes) similar to those in which our saints, like Kabirji, composed them. We shouldn’t tamper with that.  Yes we could be artistic or experimental with it but in a way that is respectful on the whole.


Is there anything about playing the tandura that is difficult?

You can learn the tandura in a month or two but it needs to be played with precision. Songs are easier to play on the sarangi because it has all the notes, from the highest to the lowest, just like the harmonium. On the tandura, if I play on the fourth string, then it will play only one note. So we need to pay more attention to the sur (tone) to ensure we get it right.


From the other performances here, did you see anything you liked in particular?

Only yesterday I saw Rais (Khan) play the morchang. He is very talented. I used to like the late Ustad Sakar Khan who played the sarangi. He got our community a lot of attention. Lakha Khan on the sarangi is also a great artist. You forget to eat or drink when listening to him play— he’s that enthralling.


Do you worry that your musical tradition will perish?

We want to keep it alive. We hope our children will be able to take it forward, so we teach them. After we are gone it is on them. If they don’t take it forward, what can we do?


(Image: Barkat and Jalal Khan perform at dawn. By Shantenu Tilwankar for JodhpurRiff  / Oijo.)

Star of the Folk – An Interview with Kalpana Patowary

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Kalpana Patowary, 35, is one of Bhojpuri music’s most popular singers today. She is often referred to as ‘the Bhojpuri queen’. Originally from Assam, she was inducted into music by her father, Bipin Chandra Nath, an Assamese folk singer. She is also a disciple of the legendary Hindustani classical singer, Ustad Gulam Mustafa Khan. Although her first language is Assamese, she sings in Bhojpuri, Hindi, English, Bengali and 23 other languages.

Patowary made her debut in mainstream Indi pop with her remixed album ‘My Heart is Beating’ in 2001. Her first Bhojpuri album, ‘Gawanwa Leja Rajaji’, released in 2003, was a bestseller and established her as a prominent figure in the Bhojpuri music scene. Despite her mainstream success, Patowary has continued her interest in various lesser known folk forms. Her most recent album, for instance, titled ‘The Legacy of Bhikhari Thakur’ is the first recording of the work of Bhikari Thakur. Known as the ‘Shakespeare of Bhojpuri’, Bhikari Thakur was an Indian playwright, lyricist, folk singer and social activist, who developed the folk theatre form of ‘Bidesia’. Fresh off a special performance of Thakur’s songs at Jodhpur Riff,  Patowary is surrounded by a small group of admirers as she settles down on an empty stage for this interview with ‘Riff Diaries’.


You are originally from Assam. How did you come across the work of Bhikari Thakur? What about his songs appealed to you?

My father is actually a folk singer and through him I was introduced to Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, who’s considered a god in Assam. I’ve been inspired by him since childhood. He wasn’t only a singer or only a lyricist, or only a music director. He had his own ideas and thoughts. His belief in the Marxist philosophy, for instance, had led to him writing songs which were revolutionary, like Dhola he Dhola and Ganga Behti ho Kyon, which he translated too later on. These songs really influenced me.

When I came to Bombay I came with big dreams. But I was struggling and there wasn’t much of a choice about which songs I would be paid to sing. In Assam I had sung a lot of Western songs in a band. And in Bombay I first did a remix song with Times Music— My Heart is Beating. Through them I got in touch with T-Series Super Cassettes and they called me to sing and that’s how I was introduced to the world of Bhojpuri music. Overnight, suddenly, Kalpana became a Bhojpuri singer. Whatever people wanted me to sing I would sing— whatever the lyricists wanted. And I did a lot of work in the Bhojpuri film industry.

But, maybe with age and maturity, I felt, ‘Who is like Dr. Bhupen Hazarika here (in Bhojpuri music)?’ I thought about this for some time, and two or three names came to me. Bhikari Thakur was one of them. Another is Mahendra Misir, and then there’s Vidyapati, who’s a famous Mithila poet. I found Bhikari Thakur’s name very strange. Bhikari (beggar) and Thakur (lord)— they’re like opposites. So I wondered: ‘What is this?’ Then I found out that he was a hajam, a nai (both these words mean ‘barber’) and an uneducated villager. Despite this he was knowledgeable. The things he writes about… I am stunned at how anyone can write like this, on such complex issues, without even being educated. Like his work Kalyug Prem. Even the phrase ‘Kalyug Prem’— how can a layman even understand this concept, let alone express it so well? In it he was talking about wine addiction and using that idea as a metaphor. Many homes in the villages had been destroyed because of alcohol addiction and that was what he was referring to, directly.They’re poor people, they don’t have money, yet they’ll spend on alcohol and hit their wives. This is still going on. We sit in metros thinking that everything’s fine but it isn’t.

There was something else I had begun thinking about as well. Many youngsters come on musical reality shows, nowadays, especially a lot of girls. When I started 10 years back, girls singing was looked down upon in the world of Bhojpuri music, but today, especially on the Mahua Channel (a popular Bhojpuri TV channel) there are a lot of female singers competing with one another and I got the feeling, and heard too, that some of them want to be like me. So I felt a sense of responsibility.

So far I had done mostly ‘item songs’ which were from a completely different world from this. I said: ‘No, I need to do The Legacy of Bhikari Thakur.’ It took me three years to do the research as it was difficult. It took many years just to get the original songs. Bollywood or Bhojpuri films don’t play these types of songs— the rhythm is completely different. Suddenly I met Ram Mangia Ramji. There was a show in Dhara village (Chattisgarh) where he performed before me. He was singing Gangaji. I met him and I asked for his help and we made the album. I didn’t think: ‘Let’s keep a 35 to 45 rupees tag, a reasonable price.’ That’s why I didn’t go to T-Series or Wave to produce and distribute it. I went to Times Music and EMI Records. I explained to them and Virgin Records what the album was about. They understood that I wanted Bhojpuri music to go to a completely different level, like Punjabi music has gone to, for instance. And I asked if they could please help me. EMI and Virgin Records saw what I was saying and slowly The Legacy of Bhikari Thakur was accepted internationally, and is still being accepted. From that platform, another platform is (Jodhpur) Riff and that is taking Bhikari Takur one step forward.


How is folk music relevant to us today? And how can we include it in our modern lives?

MTV’s Coke Studio is a good example of how relevant it is. This time I was there with Papon and with Rajasthani folk artists to perform the song Baisara Beera. When I went for rehearsals what struck a chord with me immediately was Nathulalji (Nathulal Solanki), who was playing  the nagada… Suddenly it made me remember my father and how he used to make me sit on the cycle and take me for shows. He was a folk singer. And yet, on the other hand, were Kalyan Barua and all the others with the lead guitar, the bass and the beatboxing. There were two worlds coming together. These days everyone is doing fusion, because that’s what the new generation is interested in. Because in fusion, the heart, the soul, that bhav (feel), is the same. It’s just some of the outer structures that they use that are modern. And that’s the way in which Papon and a lot of other people are working as well…


Have you seen any of the concerts at Jodhpur Riff?

I missed two or three. I had heard of yesterday’s evening show with Babunath Jogi… I was interested in that. I want to do something with him actually. I liked yesterday’s Scottish and Rajasthani fusion which they were trying to do. But there’s just one thing. Yesterday I felt the Scottish… Yeh nahin dikhna chahiye ki un logone Rajasthani ko ‘chance diya’. Aur aap oopar hain, aur Rajasthani music ko sirf aap ne ‘use’ kiya. Ya toh baraabar ho. Yeh feel nahin honi chahiye ki ‘un logone humein guide kiya’. (It shouldn’t seem as if they are giving the Rajasthanis ‘an opportunity’. And that they’re above them, but are simply ‘using’ Rajasthani music. They should be equal. It shouldn’t seem as if one group in a collaboration is ‘guiding’ the other). But then again, from Rajasthani or Indian music itself we need music directors and composers to come up and guide the Rajasthani folk musicians and use elements of their music in their compositions. Baat ek hi hai, lekin dekhne mein thoda alag hai (It seems like the same thing—whether the folk musicians are guided, or whether their music is imbibed, by an Indian or foreign musician—but when put together one combination seems a little different from the other). I have a bit of a problem with the former (foreign musicians guiding the Rajasthani folk musicians), perhaps because those musicians come from a completely different ethos. Then I have heard about this girl from Reunion…


Maya Kamaty…

Yes she was really good. I missed her performance and Manu Chao, I missed it, though everyone was talking about it. I also really like the ambience of the festival in the morning. You don’t see it anywhere else, in any other music festival to this extent: the idea of music with nature (during Jodhpur Riff’s dawn concerts). It gets you to try to know yourself. You find yourself. This is (Jodhpur) Riff’s specialty.


Have any of the artists or their music interested you? Are there any others you would like to collaborate with, besides Babunath Jogi, at the festival?

Lots. There are many that I haven’t explored. I’ve done a lot of work with Trilok Gurtu, he’s a well known percussionist. And he’s like a mathematical musician.


You’ve done Massical (Gurtu and Patowary’s music project which involves classical music but aims to integrate all kinds of music in order to reach a ‘mass’ audience) with him.

And I’ve done a lot of shows with him. And after working with him I realized I don’t understand anything. I mean, on one hand I’m singing and on the other I’ve got to keep counting beats. I’d like to, at some point, come here with Trilokji, do something with him. But right now I’m having fun doing everything. I’d like to sing some Assamese songs here as well…


What kind of music do you feel would blend well with Bhojpuri or/and Assamese music?

African and Bihu. Actually all Assamese music, African music would go very well with. There’s been a lot of greenery in both Assam and Africa, so the traditional music that stems from life in the forests in these regions may go well together. The African drum beats— you find a lot of such elements in Assamese music.


You have already worked with Rajasthani artists on Coke Studio. What did you learn from that collaboration? Were there any challenges you faced as a singer, in integrating the Assamese, Rajasthani and Western forms?

When I was singing Baisara Beera it felt like Bhojpuri singing, nothing different. It was live-singing in the studio, so, four times, I had to sing this song live. That was a challenge, to see if you were getting the sur (tone) right. But I enjoyed everything else. I want to do Bhojpuri next time I do Coke Studio.


For Trilok Gurtu’s album you worked separately from the other artists (she recorded in Mumbai). What was the difference between that experience and recording in the same space? How is that, for you, different from live collaborations at a concert, like in Jodhpur Riff?

It will definitely be different. There’s a technical problem when you record live, because you’re recording everything together. Everyone’s miked together. There can be leakage from one to another. If I want to increase the volume of the chorus, then with that the volume of two other musicians, for instance, will also be increased. Those are the technicalities, but everything else is fine. In fact, after a rehearsal, when everyone is playing together, then the ‘soul’ is stronger, that bhav (feel) is stronger. In a duet which I’m recording currently, I’ll sing and then (singer) Udit Narayanji will sing, but there seems to be no real connection between the two voices because we’ve recorded our parts separately. When you’re singing and listening at the same time, when you’re recording together,there is a connect. That’s one drawback (of recording separately), but then again it’s so convenient, to record that way…


Apart from Bhikari Thakur, what other Assamese or Bhojpuri folk singers do you wish to explore? Also, what role might a festival like Jodhpur Riff play in Bihar or Assam— in promoting the folk music there?

In Bihar there are situations that I still don’t understand. If something like this was done there I don’t know what kinds of problems we’d face. There’s still a lot of casteism there, for instance, especially politically. So the government there needs to understand that it is important for a festival like this to take place. In Assam, of course, it will help a lot. There is a lot of talent in the entire North East.

Actually, now, I’m working on a project called Sacred Scriptures of Monikut. Just like the Bhakti Movement happened all over India, like there was Guru Nanak and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, in Assam Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva spearheaded a similar movement. But people don’t know about them. For this movement they made a lot of music. We call it Kirtan Ghoxa and Borgeet. There are many spiritual songs there and I want to take them in a different direction. These things could happen so easily if there was something like (Jodhpur) Riff there. Jodhpur Riff is quite different, even from other festivals in the country. There should be one in Assam, there should be that vision.


(Image: Kalpana Patowary performs on stage at Jodhpur Riff. Kavi Bhansali/JodhpurRiff)

Desert Strings – An Interview with Asin Khan Langa

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Twenty five year old Asin Khan Langa is a master of the Sindhi sarangi. He has trained under the tutelage of Lakha Khan, one of the great masters of the instrument and a Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner. Before this, Asin had been inducted into the world of music by his father Muse Khan Langa. He began playing the sarangi when he was eight and has since then performed all over India and the world.

He is also part of an ensemble called Maru Tarang (‘Ripples of the Desert’ in English), his collaboration with Jeff Lang (on the slide guitar), Bobby Singh (on tabla), and Bhungar Manganiyar (on khartal). Asin was introduced to Lang and Singh at Jodhpur Riff in 2011. The collaboration was created as a co-commission between the Parramasala festival in Sydney, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the Jaipur Virasat Foundation (the two bodies which organize Jodhpur Riff) and the Australian Government. On the afternoon of his show, Langa is seated in the dining room of the scholar’s retreat at the Mehrangarh Fort (where most of Jodhpur Riff is held), ready to field questions.


You play the Sindhi sarangi…

Yes the Sindhi sarangi. The one which the Langa community plays. The Sindhi sarangi is the one with the gaj— that’s the horse hair (that is used to make the bow strings used to play the instrument). Also, the Sindhi sarangi is made out of sheesham wood and, inside that, out of the four strings which are played, two are made of steel and the other two are made of goat’s intestines. We play the Sindhi sarangi because we play for the Sindhi Siphai community (A community of Rajputs who are said to have converted to Islam when the Arabs invaded Sindh in the 18th century, who live in the Western districts of Rajasthan, such as Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur).


When did you start playing the sarangi?

Since I was eight.


Did your father teach you?

Yes, my father Muse Khan taught me. Besides him, I also studied with Lakhaji (Lakha Khan, a famous Sindhi sarangi player). The most I’ve learnt has been from Lakhaji. I used to sit with him, get up when he did, play music with him…


Do you have any brothers or sisters who play music as well?

Yes, we are six brothers. My brothers are also musicians. Right now three of us are at (Jodhpur) Riff. The two others here are older than me— Kasim and Samsoor. Kasim played here last night. And today Samsoor and I are playing. He’s playing with the gypsy group (the Gypsy Allstars). Our women don’t perform publicly, except for at certain special occasions in the homes of our patrons. Weddings, for instance. My sisters sing at weddings.


Are there any particular songs that the Langa sing?

Yes, we mostly sing at weddings, so many of our songs are woven around the bride and the bridegroom. Most of them are about the bridegroom. We have some other older more traditional songs too, that we sing with these at weddings. We sing songs as the bridegroom travels to the wedding. Whenever one of our patrons’ children get married, we go there and sing and perform, and when the wedding is over they give us seeds or pulses or grain or a camel or some money. We call this our ‘dhan’.


You’ve played abroad. Which countries have you played in?

I’ve had a chance to go to a lot of countries. The first time I went to Paris. After that London, Germany, Italy. After that America— New York.


You’ve been to a lot of festivals like Jodhpur Riff.

Yes, I came to (Jodhpur) Riff  for the first time in 2011. Jeff (Lang) and Bobby (Singh) were there too. He was playing the guitar and Bobby was playing the tabla. Both are excellent musicians and when we played with them we paid more attention to our own performance. And Bhatiaji (Divya Bhatia, the Festival Director of Jodhpur Riff) was the one who brought us here to Mehrangarh fort for the first time, when we met them and heard them play. Then we did a jam at the Parramasala Festival, in Australia. We mixed our music together to make something— our Rajasthani songs, with some khartal, some tabla, and with the guitar and the sarangi. The people were really happy there. And now we’re back at (Jodhpur) Riff .


When you played with Jeff the first time, what were the challenges involved in playing with him?

None really. The first time we saw him and met him, he showed us his guitar and played. Then I too showed him my sarangi for the first time and he heard me playing it. Then I and Jeff did a bit of jugalbandi (a sort of duet or jam that involves one musician reacting to the other). Then we began working together.


You’ve done a lot of festivals abroad, how are they different from Jodhpur Riff? 

With the other festivals, we go for months and work with others. We miss our own people. (Jodhpur) Riff  is a festival where we can meet other people, like people who come from the mountains, in Rajasthan itself. Also, for us, this is the first time we’ve got a chance to play ‘together’ with someone, in the truest sense— as equals, not accompanying musicians.


Your collaboration is called Maru Tarang. What is the meaning of the name?

Maru was a woman, from the Dhola-Maru story (a famous love story in Rajasthan). She was a woman from the olden times. She, her resilient character, is what defines our collaboration as well. So our group’s name is Maru Tarang— just like the ocean (‘tarang’, literally means ‘ripples’ or ‘waves’), we have come from all around the world and that is the nature of our music. That’s why it’s called Maru Tarang. Take the kind of songs we perform. They have universal appeal. There are four songs which I sing. One of these is a Paniyari song, which is sung during the rainy season, when the paniyari (women who carry water) go to the lakes. The words are simple, but for us they arouse feeling. They go: “Today there’s lightning and the rain clouds are gathering around the village… ”Another song is about a wedding. It’s about the wife asking her husband what he is bringing for her when he arrives to marry her. And he tells her about all the things he is carrying for her.


You’ve worked with other musicians, abroad as well as in India. What did you find distinctive about Jeff’s music?

That when Jeff sang or played his songs, we could easily mix it with our Rajasthani raga. We could join it in…


How did you join them together? Indian and Western music are perceived to be very different…

This is the great thing about folk, we can just mix it with anything, everything. They (Lang and Singh) can also mix their music with ours. First they listened to us, then we listened to them, and that’s how it happened. Also it becomes easier because in our Indian folk music there is no set taal (metre, equivalent to the time signature in western music) or maatra (beat). (Folk music doesn’t make use of rigid timing and rhythm patterns unlike Western classical or Indian classical music, therefore making it more flexible.) Also, whenever we folk musicians sing we play the dholak to accompany our singing, so the tabla being there (played by Singh) helps. (The tabla is generally used to keep taal in Indian classical music, whereas the dholak is used in folk music.)


Is there anything that is special about the performance at this festival?

The way we do it is we sit together and we fix a key and perform. And we have had a lot of fun while doing that. The most fun has been between me and Jeff. We do a jugalbandi with one another often. Anyway, you don’t get a chance like this anywhere else. I’ve performed with others too, at other festivals or events. But everywhere else I feel as if I am playing alone. People don’t really mix. (Jodhpur) Riff  provides a space where we can meet other people and get a chance to work with them and they also like to work with us.


Have you heard any of the other international groups here?

All of them are good, like the one which performed last night… Joseph (Daud Khan Sadozai with Dilshad Khan and Joseph Tawadros), and the one in which they were playing with the Langa and the Manganiyar (Rajasthani folk music communities), there were two ladies, with the violin… (A Scottish folk ensemble— featuring Kaela Rowan, Ewan Macpherson, Patsy Reid and James Mackintosh with Rajasthani folk musicians). That was really good.


The Scottish collaboration? What did you like about it?

Our artists, the ones who were with them, they did their songs. There were some things which they played which went very well together, though each group was from a different section of the world.


(Image: Asin Khan Langa. Kavi Bhansali/Oijo)

“We still had plenty vibes.” —Impressions, Jus Now

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Jus Now’s music is a fusion of traditional Trinidadian Soca rhythms with the sub heavy sound of the Bristol Underground. The band is made up of LAZAbeam (Keshav Singh), 30, a percussionist and producer from Trinidad and Sam Interface (Sam Chadburn), 29, a producer and DJ from Bristol, UK. The duo, who describe themselves as “two riddim obsessives… separated by 4,500 miles and brought together by a shared love of bass, rum and parties” have played what is their first concert ever at an Indian music festival at Jodhpur Riff last night. The performance was interrupted by the police on a complaint about the music being too loud from residents who live near the Mehrangarh Fort (in and around where the festival is held). So Jus Now continued the performance— without speakers.


What did you think of the acts that you saw at Jodhpur Riff this year? Was there anything that you found particularly interesting?

Sam Interface: I found a lot of them intriguing. Although, a lot of them, I didn’t really know their names…

LAZAbeam: To hear the different types of world music that the festival has brought here in this setting is pretty cool. There was a Scottish group that was doing that Celtic vibe (a Scottish folk ensemble— featuring Kaela Rowan, Ewan Macpherson, Patsy Reid and James Mackintosh with Rajasthani folk musicians). Also, I guess Rizwan (of the Qawwali group Rizwan-Muazzam) representing the Fateh Ali Khan family— that was really cool for me. But we also liked the folk stuff…

Sam Interface: The folk stuff that was kind of just dotted around the fort— that intrigued me the most (live folk performances that occur throughout the day, during the festival at Mehrangarh Fort— called the ‘fort festivities’). The kind of small groups of people from different… are they all Rajasthani?

LAZAbeam: Yeah, they’re all Rajasthani like the Langa and Manganiyar. I got to jam with some of them too, which was very cool.


How did that happen?

LAZAbeam: That was just an organic musician thing. As musicians that’s what we do…

Sam Interface: We saw the drummers (the Dhol Thali Nritya drummers) as we were walking past and decided to try it out.


Will you be using any of that in your work?

LAZAbeam: Well, probably not this trip. This trip was basically for us to come and get a vibe of the thing, to kind of immerse ourselves in the Jodhpuri traditional vibes, the (Jodhpur) Riff culture, and see what will happen.

Sam Interface: Hopefully in the future that will be the long-term plan and the reason why we came here. I’m very much interested in Rajasthani music. Keshav (LAZAbeam) has roots here.

LAZAbeam: A little bit of Rajasthani blood (his father traces his ancestry to Rajasthan).

Sam Interface: And it’s the beginnings from where a lot of music comes from. It’s something we’re very interested in doing and exploring more of in the future.


About your performance here, were there any challenges?

LAZAbeam: It was interesting. You know any setting would have been a challenge in a place as grand as this. And there was a little problem with the PA system. The PA system had to be shut down, because apparently the public that is right outside the fort called the police. I think it was very loud and certain neighbours… you know, sometimes you get that, they didn’t want it to go on too late. So we basically played the gig through a monitor behind us and we just drummed our hearts out. And even the festival director Divya (Bhatia), came and drummed with us. It was kind of more like a jam but people wanted to enjoy themselves, they wanted to dance and rave out, and we brought the vibes to them. Until we could have brought them no more…


I remember seeing a couple of Rajasthani artists at Club Mehran before your rehearsal. What was happening there? 

LAZAbeam: Maga Bo. He did a really cool performance with some Langa and Manganiyar. And he did his own set afterwards and there was a kind of jam with them. And we got one of the khartal players from among them to come and jam with us too. And that was really cool because incidentally… well we were kind of just walking past him and saw him playing. And I recognized his face from when I came here as a child, staying at Umaid Bhawan and coming for Holi celebrations. And we kind of instantly hit it off and I remembered certain things. And we wanted to jam. So we asked Divya and he came and jammed with us, which was really cool. Even though there was no sound system, we still had plenty vibes.


Where do you see your music going from this point, with regard to collaborations? 

LAZAbeam: We don’t know yet. It’s not a boxed-in kind of thing. We’re not going to limit our options now.

Sam Interface: We’re in Rajasthan today and there’s a lot of things that inspire us here. He’s (LAZAbeam) going back to Trinidad in a couple of weeks. And Trinidad is a massive source of inspiration for us as well. So… we’ve got a lot of projects going on there. Working with interesting, talented people in interesting locations, enjoying and exploring new cultures…


Where do you see Jodhpur Riff with regard to other festivals that you’ve played at? How’s it different?

Sam Interface: Well location— first and foremost. I’ve played in some pretty incredible settings but to be set up in a courtyard in an ancient fort with such history… it was a beautiful thing. I just had to stop and take it in. Even though there were a few technical glitches. I think in another location I would have come out of it being quite annoyed but because it was such a beautiful setting and the people were… the energy was so amazing. I still came out smiling.


(Image: Jus Now performs at Jodhpur Riff. Shantenu Tilwankar for Oijo/Jodhpur Riff)

“A little bit more.” —Impressions, Maga Bo

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This is producer, DJ and musician, Maga Bo’s third time at Jodhpur Riff. This year he is collaborating with Rajasthani folk musicians Rais Khan (morchang), Manzoor Khan (dholak), Hakim Khan (vocals) and Jassu Khan (bhapang and khartal). It’s the last day of the festival. Having performed with the group the night before, he is finally free from rehearsals and soundchecks and is walking towards a part of the Mehrangarh Fort that affords him a good view of the sunset. We walk with him.


What performances did you watch?

I saw Maya Kamaty from the Reunion Island. Really, really liked her and her band. I saw Spiro. I saw Manu Chao, of course. Manu Chao was great. I saw a bit of the qawwali yesterday (by Rizwan and Muazzam). That was great. And that was it. I didn’t have any time to watch more because I was rehearsing and working on getting our own performance ready.


From among the ones you saw, is there any particular performance that stands out for you?

I think Manu Chao. He was incredible. I am a huge fan. I was really hoping to meet him but…


With your own collaboration you had said you had an idea of what you wanted to do, but you were also open to exploring other possibilities. How did it go? Where did you start?

In some ways it exceeded my expectations. In other ways it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I guess that’s normal because to create a performance, meet new people—I had met them before but I didn’t really know them—to put together a performance for half an hour… and we ended up playing for 45 minutes. Anyway, to do this within three days is not easy. Especially with electronic music, because it requires a lot more preparation than just taking up an instrument and playing it. I was really happy with the result and I hope we get to do it again because I think the more time we spend on it the better it gets.


What exceeded your expectations?

What really exceeded my expectations was that the musicians were really enthusiastic and energetic and had a lot of ideas and were open to trying new things. And the part where… maybe I shouldn’t say it didn’t meet my expectation…


But you wished you could do more?

We made some mistakes. I don’t know if other people noticed but we noticed it of course. But that’s something that takes time and practice to prevent. Some of the things were cultural differences— because the music that I’m bringing, the beats that I’m bringing, have a certain method of counting, and how the musical system is approached and understood here is a little bit different. So there were times where they didn’t understand what I was doing. And there were times where they were doing things that were obvious and clear to them but I just didn’t understand…


How can one get past that?

Oh, with time. Time, learning and exposure.


How did you pick the songs to work on?

I think I had 12 beats ready to go and we went through all of them. And they would say, “Maybe it could be this one for this one. Let’s try this.” Someone would throw up an idea and I’d say, “Yeah, that’s the rhythm that works with that.” And then we remember the lyrics: “Oh! What are the lyrics here?” And then we would put it all together in a way that works. So it was pretty natural on that level.


Did you ask the Rajasthani musicians you were collaborating with what the lyrics meant?

Yes, I asked them what all of the lyrics meant but it’s really time-consuming to get a complete translation. They don’t speak English so well. And my Marwari and my Hindi are, well, non-existent. So someone standing there and translating all of this is not practical. But I asked about all the songs and what each one was about. One was about the woman sending her husband to buy jewellery—“Oh! I want an earring.”—and then the whole verse is about the earring. And the next verse is about: “These are the bangles that I want.”


So how did you choose which songs you wanted from the songs they suggested?

I think it was most important that the rhythm and the melody… that musically it went together without even thinking about the lyrics. There were some that we tried on the first day and it seemed like those worked. Then we did it the next day and: “No, no. It’s totally wrong. Doesn’t work at all. Let’s drop that one and do something different.” It’s funny because I think there were beats of mine that they really liked and they wanted to do something with them. So they didn’t understand why it wasn’t working for me and I didn’t understand why it was working for them. That’s normal. It could happen with someone from my own culture.


Any insights you drew from working with them, collaborating with them and listening to them play?

I don’t think there is anything particular, anything specific. For me it was about gaining more experience in working. This was a very special situation. It’s not every day that someone flies you to the other side of the world and pays you to do something like this. You have the entire infrastructure— a place to stay, a place to rehearse, a venue to play, a sound system, a sound engineer. I’ve had the fortune of doing that quite a few times in a few places and so my methodology of working has kind of slowly evolved with that, in a way. So I don’t think I have any specific insight but I think I have a little more confidence. Something special about Riff is that people are really nice here. A lot of people who have come and played here, they’ve come once with an attitude that’s like, “Okay, let’s see if this works. Let’s see if we like each other, if we like the music, if we have the same ideology, philosophy of life or whatever… ” And the next time you do a little bit more and then a little bit more. I think there is a relationship that is sort of developed. I know when I get here everything is going to be taken care of. I know that someone will pick me up from the airport. That’s a small, banal example but there are many, many small details like that that happen and make it all work.


Do you play according to the taste of the audience here? Do you gauge how they respond to what you play and decide accordingly, while playing sometimes?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve played here before and I play music from all over the world— music that I have made and produced myself. But a lot of it they don’t understand, or they’ve never heard it before. It’s something really new. So to bring them and guide them to that place you have to make connections between something that they know and something that they don’t know.


So you do play a bit differently here then.

Yeah, I got to play tracks that I produced for the film Patang, set in Gujarat. At the first song people go crazy. Every time I play this song, people always come out and say, “Oh my god! What is that?” It’s called Pujari. So that’s something that I made in collaboration with other people. It has bhangra in it, it has elements in it that people understand and can relate to, but it also has things that come from me and from my background. So that’s a nice starting point, or one place that can make new connections with other things as we go along.


(Image: Maga Bo performing at Jodhpur Riff. By Rajesh Prabhakar for Jodhpur Riff / Oijo.)

“We never stopped speaking the language of music.” —Impressions, Jeff Lang

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Jeff Lang, 44, is a singer, songwriter and slide guitarist from Australia. Lang is well known in the Australian roots music scene. Among the instruments he plays are the standard and slide guitars, the mandolin and the electric baglama. His latest album ‘Carried in Mind’ won the ARIA (the Australian Recording Industry Association Music Award) for Best Blues and Roots Album for 2012.

He is at Jodhpur Riff as part of Maru Tarang, a collaboration that was sparked off at a residency at the Mehrangarh Fort in 2011. The collaboration includes Bobby Singh (on tabla), Asin Khan Langa (sindhi sarangi and vocals) and Bhungar Khan Manganiyar (on khartal). Lang is perhaps the most talkative of the group, frequently cracking jokes as they wait for their sound check.


Can you pick one song and take me through how you went about it in the collaboration?

There is a song called Two Worlds and that is one that Bobby suggested has a rhythm that is similar to an Indian folk song. Not sure where that song is from but we felt it could be a good place to start. So I played the song as I usually play it but with Bobby’s input on it. When I played it at home, I would play it with a drummer and bass player. But having tabla, immediately gives it different flavour. The Rajasthani musicians were listening to it. As we go along, it’s got more and more of a plan for them, because they hear the song more. Asin would pick up on the melodies that were different or things in that song that derive influence from African music. Other things, like the way I place my guitar is coming from listening to Irish and Scottish music pipes. There are certain ways of playing the Irish and Scottish music and the fiddle that I’ve tried to incorporate. It’s impossible to get it exactly the same on a slide guitar. So when they hear those things it’s not what they would normally do on a sarangi but the sarangi is playing melodies that I’ve copied from an Irish pipe player and played on my guitar and now those are headed somewhere else. And then Asin would just improvise and sing. It’s pretty stirring, a human voice that powerful and beautiful…


You play several types of guitars. How did you choose your guitars for this collaboration?

For all their songs, I’m using the acoustic slide guitar. And there are two songs of mine where I’m using the electric baglama that I thought might be good to use and see how they feel about it. That’s pretty much the distinction. I’m a little more fluent on the acoustic steel, so it’s easier for me to adapt on that.


One of the songs that you collaborated on had a similar theme in the Australian song and the Rajasthani one that you combined with it…

Yes. Running by the Rock. I sang that song. And Asin sang a Rajasthani song that went well with it. It was later that we realized both the songs had similar themes of love and loss. For that I used the electric baglama. I play it back home on the regular guitar but I thought if I could get the same feeling and the same drive out of this instrument that might be a nice interface with what the Rajasthani musicians do. It worked. It’s pretty cool that one.


What common spaces do the two songs share in terms of sound?

The song Running by the Rock has a polyrhythmic theme. But there is also a four that works across it. At a certain point in the song, they start singing their song. Bhungar and Asin play a four across. Me and Bobby stay on the six count and then we join them and it goes into four and then Bobby does a tabla solo and it goes back to six. So the two rhythmic things run alongside each other and you can pick which one comes forward. That element is interesting for me in that song.


Doing any collaboration, are there any specific ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ you keep in mind?

You try to be sensitive musically… you don’t rely on your own taste. I can’t be an Indian musician. So what I can do is look at what other people are doing and see where my language would fit. If something is not working then you play less or ask, “Hey, what are you doing there?” There’s no point in being somebody who holds things up. So if something doesn’t make sense or I’m finding it difficult, it’s always better to go “Can you play that section again? I would like to work out what the hell is going on.” So I look like an idiot (laughs). Having a healthy sense of your limitations is a good thing.


Is there anything you feel you’ve learnt from this collaboration? Any sort of musical realization?

I don’t think there’s any tangible thing that I have learnt. It’s just how much further I have got to go with my instruments. So you hear stuff from a player that is so great and you’re hearing what they are doing and you think, “Wow! I’m really struggling to keep up.” It should always be like that I think. You can always hear someone who will inspire you to improve and feel good about that. There’s room for me playing with these people but I could really work at what I’m doing and improve it based on their ideas. The melodies, for instance— to try and play them properly and listen to the way the sarangi is doing and the way that Asin sings. And I think, “I could just try and phrase that a little closer to what he is doing.” Then new nuances come into your playing. So that’s wonderful. And then the rhythmic thing is going on between Bhungar and Bobby. Again, I’m fighting to keep up. So it’s really exciting. And I try to tell them, “Please don’t baby me along too much. I don’t want to be the one holding this whole operation up. I’d like to somehow try and keep up with you guys.” I’m sure they are being nice to me (laughs).

And the other thing is just on a personal level. The idea of collaborating with people— you get a sense of joy and fun from their company and from what comes out musically. And things do go to new places. You do write a new song in Melbourne, Australia and it’s written from the point of view someone who is there and it combines with people from Rajasthan and a whole lot of other things grow out of there. That’s a testament to the idea of collaboration with different people.


Is there anything you have learnt from watching Asin and Bhungar play?

Having the ability to have someone play melodies and trying to work out how to play them on the slide guitar is great. Because I’ve done it before, listening to records and then sitting on my own trying to work out how it goes. But with someone actually sitting with you it’s great because you understand: “Oh you’re going down to that note like this.” And the rhythmic thing that goes on between Bhungar and Bobby. There are so many things. They can go any which way. It tests you to either go with them and know where you are or go through it and listen to what’s around you, but not lose where you are.


Over the two years, has the repertoire changed?

Well, some things have been added to it. We don’t get to do it very often. Maybe once a year. Would be nice if it was more.


Has it changed each time you have come together to play?

Well, we’ve done different things in between. Each person has done different things so I think you naturally bring new elements into it. Without even having to think about it, you’ll have different skills, different ideas. So even if it’s the same song that you have done before the experiences you’ve had will colour it. Doing them again and reconnecting with them, getting more familiarity with what’s happening, it gives you the confidence to start adding. With Bhungar and Asin they are feeling more comfortable with some of the songs they hadn’t played before, so they are able to feel freer to take it somewhere. And I feel the same way in doing the same thing with some of their material. Bobby, he seems to fit in easily with all of it. Bastard! (laughs)


What have you seen so far at Jodhpur Riff?

I saw the opening concert. Also the collaboration between the Rajasthani players and the Scottish musicians last night was tremendous. I thought that was really great. My favourite thing that I have seen, amongst a lot of really great stuff. Again, that wonderful thing where you can see the music grow right before your eyes. It’s now no longer a Scottish team or a Rajasthani team. It’s becoming something midway. You can see that pleasure and excitement among the performers up there as well. Very powerful.


Were there any ideas about musical collaborations that arose from watching them?

I’m sure I have in some way. But really, what I’m doing when I’m listening is I’m enjoying the music. I’m not really picking it apart thinking what I could use. I tend to just listen to music when I’m not playing.


Any other performance that stands out for you?

The qawwali singers were tremendous as well. The opening concert was cool too. The drummers in white, dancing (chang drummers). It was kind of peaceful and graceful, but haunting as well. The women dancing at the same concert (kalbeliya dancers) were amazing too.


What’s your takeaway from the festival? What’s different from other festivals?

The setting, for starters. How often are you playing at a fort overlooking the whole town and a full moon overhead, no less. It’s a pretty amazing setting for a concert. There also seems to be an emphasis on collaborations which is really nice to see. You know, a lot of the times—though there’s nothing really wrong with it—at festivals musicians come in and do what they do normally somewhere else. Here it’s different because it’s a different audience and every show is different. This one (Jodhpur Riff) is set up where people come in… Joseph Tawadros last night, for instance. He’s a brilliant oud player and he was collaborating with a really great Rajasthani musician as well. So you don’t see that happen and he doesn’t get to do that every festival he goes to. It only exists here. You can only see that particular combination here. I think that’s a great thing, a unique experience.


Because you are meeting everyone from the collaboration after a long gap, is it easy to pick up where you left off?

It’s not like we stopped speaking the language of music in between. You are still playing. It’s not like the last time we played together was the last time we played period. Again, as long as you are willing to have your ears open, things come back.


(Image: Jeff Lang at Mehrangarh Fort. By Kavi Bhansali / Oijo.)

Without the Veil – An Interview with Maangi Bai

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Maangi Bai, 45, a renowned Rajasthani folk singer and dholak player, is from the village Kolayat, in Bikaner. As a child she travelled with her parents who sang at the weddings of Rajput families. Unlike Bhanwari Devi, another singer who is her contemporary, Maangi Bai sings with her face unveiled.

At Jodhpur Riff, Maangi Bai is performing as one of the festival’s ‘living legends’, which is the name given to a series of performances by senior Rajasthani folk artists that take place at the Mehrangarh Fort between 5:45 pm and 7:15 pm, on each day of the festival. Over an hour after her session is over Maangi Bai is still on stage, answering questions asked by a posse of journalists. She talks to them animatedly while her son plans their travel back to the village. Her daughter gave birth to a child two days ago and she has to be home in time for the celebrations.


How old were you when you started singing?

I was around nine or 10 years old. I had always liked singing. I would go with my parents to sing. I would say, “I want to sing!” They would ask, “Why do you want to sing? What is there in singing?” and I would respond saying: “There is everything in singing.” When I sing people say, “Arrey Maangi Bai! You are such an artist.” So I wanted to sing well and get better at it. If I didn’t sing well, I wouldn’t be able to go on.


What nakh (social group) and got (clan) are you from?

I’m a Muslim. My family is Bamania and my in-laws are Hansals.


Who taught you to sing?

My mother, my father and my brother. They would all sing. My father has passed away but my mother is still there. My mother would sing while playing the dholak. I like playing the dholak as well.


You would go with them to perform?

Yes, I would go with them. I would go with them so I could learn.


And would you perform with them as well?

No, it’s only been nine to 10 years since I began performing in public. I have travelled a lot to perform. Before that I would just sing at weddings in Bikaner. Now people take me in cars to places so I can perform. They drop me back home in a car. I make a lot of money now. I sing well, that is why they call me. If I didn’t, then who would ask me to perform? My throat has a lot of sur shakti (power of the voice).


In Bikaner, would you go to sing alone?

No, I would take my sons.


Would you go with your husband and perform with him?

Yes. He would say, “But I’m going with other men.” And I would say “I’m not going with the other men. I’m going with you.” And I started to sing with my veil lifted. It opened up my awaaz (voice). My awaaz wasn’t open before that. The veil was in the way.


Where did you first perform in public?

It was at Jodhpur. After that people would say, “Ask Maangi Bai to perform.” People at the Jain market at Bikaner started to appreciate me. My sons were young then. My husband had passed away.


When did he pass away?

It’s been about 12 to 13 years. My children were young so my brother would go with me.


You sing maand (a style of singing that is Rajasthani folk music’s contribution to Indian classical music) and lok geet (people’s music).

Yes. I sing maand, lok geet. I also sing bhajans and wedding songs.


From these, which do you like singing the most?

I just like singing. I especially like banna banni ka geet (wedding songs). There is a Marwari song that is sung when the son-in-law comes to the bride’s house and is given dowry. I like singing that. My father and mother used to sing at weddings too. But they wouldn’t make a lot of money. It was a difficult to run the household on that income. If the money from singing wasn’t sufficient, they would do a little bit of farming. They would get invited to sing at weddings and at the jagran (all-night Hindu prayer vigil) in the village.


You sang for your patrons who were Rajputs. Do you still do so?

Yes, for the Rathores. I still sing for them. I don’t sing at the houses of the lower castes. If at a performance there are Meghwals as well, I will sing but I will not eat there. I would sing in the courtyard of the Rajput household, for the women of the house.


You compose your own songs as well. How do you compose them?

I compose from the heart. I don’t write them down. If you tell me to sing a particular kind of song, I will rehearse within a day and a half and just sing it. And I would never forget that song. I can create a song within just one night. I make a tune first and then put some bol in it and see which ones fit. Ultimately, if the audience likes it, then I know it is the right song.


When did your start making your own songs?

From when I was 30 years old.


You sing for NGOs as well, to help them promote their causes. Do you believe in the causes you are singing for? Why do you sing for them?

They ask me, “Maangi Bai can you make a song on cleanliness?” I say yes. “Can you make a song on pregnancy?” I say yes. After the child is born, they have to be wrapped in a clean cloth. I tell the women that during their pregnancy they should eat dal, eat papad, eat spinach, eat vegetables. Be neat and tidy. Maintain cleanliness. If they do that, then they don’t fall sick. So I make songs for these things in Marwari. In villages, a lot of women die during pregnancy because of not taking care of these basic things. So I sing for them. I have made songs about vaccination and garbage as well.

(She begins to sing.)

Roti jeemane su pehle behna haath sabansu dhovo/
Haath sabansu dhovo behna/
Haath sabansu dhovo/
Roti jeemane su pehle behna haath sabansu dhovo… 

(Before you eat the roti, wash your hands well with soap, sister.)


Do you play any other instrument other than the dholak?

No, just the dholak. My parents taught me to play it. Many women sing in my village but no one else performs. I was young when my husband passed away. I started performing to feed my household. My children were six to seven years old. I had no choice. I needed to do it. And it has helped a lot. Because of it my daughters could get married.


Your husband would also sing. What would he sing? Did he sing the same kind of songs as you?

He would sing wedding songs and ghazals. He had a feminine voice and could sing like anybody. He would sing at jagrans too. His elder brother taught him to sing.


Did he teach you any songs?

He taught me a few bhajans.


Did you teach music to your children?

I taught my son to sing. My brother, Muhammad Ali, taught him the harmonium. I would sing for Rajput households on festivals like Diwali and Holi. But he was not happy. He didn’t want to play at their houses. He thought we were doing it just for the money. But then he realized that it is treated as an art and respected. He understood that I’m trying to keep this art alive. I have travelled across India and performed in various cities. Most of the times, among all the male performers at a show, I would be the only woman.


(Image: Maangi Bai. By Shantenu Tilwanker for Jodhpur Riff / Oijo.)

Reaching for the Moon – An Interview with Linda Gytri

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Accordionist and composer, Linda Gytri is from Oldedalen in Norway. Her first album Umbra (2012) which had her own compositions, was named the third best folk album in the newspapers Dag og Tid and Adresseavisen. Gytri, 33, has a Masters degree in Folk music. She has studied with Maria Kalaniemi at Sibelius Academy, Finland and Jon Faukstad in Norway.  She works as a music teacher at Stryn Kulturskule where she teaches the accordion and the piano.  

She has a cheery disposition, much like her composition ‘Rasmus Rare’, a polka that she often performs on stage. For Jodhpur Riff, Gytri got together with Kristoffer Kleiveland (accordion) and Vidar Berge (guitar) to form the group APAL.


Your influences have been Balkan music and Finnish folk songs and your collaboration with other musicians have also been in the same genres. Are there other musical genres or traditions that you are inspired by?

Yes, I think I’m inspired by all the music I listen to. Sometimes I’m very aware of where I get my inspirations from and sometimes I don’t know about it. But I hear (my song) later and I think “Oh! That sounds like…” something. And I think I’m influenced by the people I meet, landscapes, buildings, the moon and the sun.


Can you give me an example of another genre that you were inspired by and used in your music? Directly or indirectly.

I like Nina Simone a lot. I’m not sure if you can hear Nina Simone in my music. I like the spirit of her music. And in Norway, a fiddler called Hans W. Brimi. He was very into his playing. He would play small melodies but it’s very intense and very present. And that’s a goal I have, to be very present.


You talked about being inspired by people and landscapes. How do you bring that into your music?

It’s hard to put words to it. Before we came here, when I was thinking of going to India, I was getting some inspiration. So I already made a melody called Tuk Tuk about the cabs and it is just mood. Some years ago, I was travelling a lot in Shetland and I discovered after coming back and making new tunes that my scales were inspired by the music there. Also, I listen to a lot of Balkan music and I think you can hear some of it (in my music). A little of the fiddle players and I think my ornamentation is inspired by that a lot. It’s not normal for accordionists to do so much ornamentation.


Which fiddle player?

Again, Hans W. Brimi. My main inspiration is Maria Kalaniemi and Markku Leppistø from Finland, two accordionists. They are also very into their spirit of the music. I also listen a lot to Arvo Pärt, Tchsikovskij. I am very inspired by the Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge. I also find inspiration in art and photo – Oddleiv Apneseth is one of my favourites, together with Susanna Majuri and Frans Widerberg.


You came together with Kristoffer and Vidar for Jodhpur Riff. Have you played with them before?

Vidar, yes. We played together two or three years ago. Kristoffer and I have never played together but I had good intuition about him which turned out to be right. We have very good communication, the three of us together. When we practice we don’t plan very much, we just play and it flows.


Because you are all from the same genre, does that make it easier to collaborate? Does it allow you to take risks?

Yes, we are in the same genre. But we are open and all of us listen to other sorts of music. But maybe it would be different if I played with a jazz pianist, other things would happen. With the three of us, we bring colour from each of our traditions.


You play the free bass accordion. Do you prefer it over the stradella bass accordion?

My accordion is a convert. So I can change between the normal bass and the free bass.


Do you prefer one over the other?

It depends on the tune. Very often for the slow tunes, the free bass accordion and for the more upbeat tune it is better with the normal bass. Kristoffer plays the diatonic accordion. So the difference is that when he bellows out on one key and bellows in on the same key, it’s a different tone. But I have the same one all the time.


Is there a particular a song or composition you like to play often?

Yesterday we made a new song called Ranbanka Palace, named it after our hotel. That’s kind of a favourite now and we’re going to play a new song that I wrote. It’s called Ser Du Pa Manen. It’s Norwegian for “Are you looking at the moon?” This will be the first time I will sing.  So I came all the way from Norway to India to sing (laughs). I think because of Sharad Poornima it will be nice to play this song.


Why did you decide to sing this time?

We decided today because we just tried it. It felt natural so we wanted to do it.


Why haven’t you sung on stage before?

I’m a little bit shy. But now, together with them, it feels good. I was talking to Vidar yesterday, “Now we need something extra. Something new. Maybe another instrument.”  The other instrument was me singing.


Do you like playing traditional compositions more or the contemporary ones? Because you compose as well.

Little bit of everything. I have a Masters degree in Folk Music. So I have studied all the traditions and specialised in one tradition from Norway and also some Finnish tradition. I think, after studying all this music, it’s natural to want to make your own music. And all the traditional music I have studied kind of come true in my new compositions. Composing is an intuitional thing to do. If I’m in the mood or if we sit together, “Oh now we should do something in D minor, and this should go to G and end up in which key and which scale.” But I see that there is some pattern in the composition, it is similar to the traditional. So there are some similarities and something new.


You teach the piano. Why don’t you perform with it?

It’s been the accordion that has been my voice. But I use the piano and the harmonium for making new compositions. The instrument I make the composition on influences how it sounds.


Why do you prefer composing on the piano or the harmonium?

It’s just for variety. It’s strange but there is such a great difference when you play with your hands up (by the side of the accordion) or down (on the piano). Maybe it’s the personality of the instrument.


What would you say is the personality of the accordion?

It’s a personality with a lot of colour, from the very quiet, romantic, lyrical, melancholy to great big tunes. A lot of temperament.


When you perform with other musicians do you learn something from there that you bring into your teaching of music?

Yes. And I also learn a lot from my students. I have students from seven years old to 65. Children are very wise people to learn a lot about everyday life and also music. One of my students, she is seven years old. When we play she likes to dance a lot. So after we finish the main session, we always end with improvisation. We take away the chair, so she can dance while she is playing the piano. So they are very open.


And is there anything you learn from performing with other musicians that you bring into teaching?

Yes, always. And I think the most important thing is to be humble and kind and to be open. Sometimes things don’t end up the way you planned them but maybe it’s better, the new thing that came around.


Did you listen to any Indian music before coming here?

I listened to Ravi Shankar and tried to play along with this CD.


Did you listen to any Rajasthani folk?

No, but I have been since coming here. I listened to them at the opening concert.


Do you see possible collaborations?

Yes, of course. When I was studying at Sibelius Academy with Maria Kalaniemi I had some improvisation lessons with her and my lesson was to do a solo improvisation for one hour. So that is very, very long but it was very useful also.  My tunes are kind of structured. So it would be nice to work with someone who is open to find something new in between. Some years ago I was in Mozambique, playing with musicians there and it was very different from our Norwegian music and that was a good thing because when it was two very different things, they met in the middle.


Did you like any particular instrument?

I loved the harmonium and I also like the way they are singing here. When they are sitting and singing with their hand, singing directly to you.


(Image: Linda Gytri. By Shantenu Tilwanker for Jodhpur Riff/ Oijo.)

Maya’s Maloya – An Interview with Maya Kamaty

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Maya Kamaty, 28, is the daughter of Gilbert Pounia, the lead singer of Ziskakan, one of the most famous maloya bands to emerge from Reunion, a French island located in the Indian Ocean. Folk music in the island—once banned by the French government because of its political leanings and its strong association with the local Creole culture—has seen a resurgence with artists like Christine Salem touring extensively in the US and Africa. Kamaty is working on her first album which will be released in 2014. She has released an EP, Ansanm, this year. Her music blends traditional maloya instruments with modern influences, and is a mix of African rhythms, modern harmonies and a touch of the blues. She sings primarily in Creole. On the evening of her arrival at Jodhpur, we are seated in a room at the Mehrangarh Fort, next to a laptop on which she is playing music.


Maloya has traditionally been a music of protest, since you see your music as fitting into this tradition, would you call your music political?

Not really. I’m born in maloya music and the history of my family has been made around it. My father and a lot of musicians, poets, writers of the island came together to describe the island in another way. To create their own identity— which was separate from France and separate from sega also, which was a different music. Sega at that time was talking about mountains, blue sky and the good side of the island. But these associations of musicians and poets were talking about Apartheid in the Creole language. Maloya was forbidden in Reunion Island till 1981. I was born in 1985, right after that, but I’ve started music very late. I studied in Montpellier— that’s where I rediscovered my own culture, because I was far from Reunion. So I missed this culture. I was in a band at that time as a percussionist and chorist but I wanted to have my own creation, my own composition. And I can’t say that it is political music. I kept maloya in my music as music— as rhythm and instruments. I used kayamb and rouler, traditional instruments, in my music. But I’ve got some human values, I mean: solidarity, justice, equality. So I talk about those in my songs as much as I sing about nature or love. This is exactly who I am. I don’t want to lie. I just want to talk about things that touch me.


Would you call the maloya that other musicians create today political?

The older ones like Danyèl Waro, Firmin Viry, they still keep political lyrics in their songs. But now we’re more out of that. In my opinion, maybe too much out of it. I think this is a question of risks and a question of… the young people in Reunion Island are not really concerned with politics. On the other hand there is a lot of unemployment and we have some social issues we could talk about in our songs. But it’s not enough in my opinion, we have to talk more about that. For example in one of my songs called ‘Dernier Viraz’ (Last Turn), I’m talking about alcoholism. This is a big problem in Reunion Island. But because there’s no real debate in Reunion Island among the young, we can’t talk with each other anymore. It’s very difficult. And I don’t understand why, but it’s like this. It’s not an issue they talk about.

So if they’re not happy with their situation they just go to the city and break stuff or set fire to stuff. This is not a solution. You have to discuss things first. I don’t have a clear solution to that. Also, all of this is very difficult to put it in a song today. In Reunion Island, we get a lot of subvention and funds from the politicians. So if you say something wrong you just ‘go out of the system’. So you have to be smart and put it in a way that it can be understood nicely and quietly.


What other themes or influences have affected maloya recently, especially among the younger crop of musicians?

My father’s band, at first it was political, but now with time and being old, my dad talks about travel. For example the last album they released talks about travel and love. There’s one song that talks about incest. It was written by a Mauritian poet. My father just wrote one song, called ‘Daddy’ because his dad passed away a few years ago. So, with time and the musicians getting older, it’s just calmed down. But the thing my father has always told me is that in 30 years, the system has not changed— so it is not worth it to scream and yell. But when I hear a band like Lindigo, for example—it’s a young band of traditional maloya, I didn’t hear all their songs but I saw them on stage—they’re very energetic, dynamic. And I spoke to the lead singer and he told me that he’s not quite into the lyrics, he’s into the music. I was shocked when I heard that the first time. But I understand this when I see them on stage. In fact they’ve been touring the US a lot, which is good for the music (because it gets more exposure).

And also, in the end, people don’t understand the lyrics. But that’s not a good reason for not working on it. Lyrics are very important for me. If I don’t work on my lyrics, my dad will kill me. In Reunion Island there is a lot of dancehall music at this time, and that only talks about dancing, smoking etc. And the young people in Reunion Island only listen to this kind of music. Sometimes I just say to myself, ‘There is no alternative. What is my thought worth here? What can I do here?’ Because they will say this is not ‘boom-boom music’, it’s not working…


Some artists, such as Christine Salem, have been trying to modernize maloya and her music is based on religious chanting. But some, like Firmin Viry, feel it should be more traditional and secular and not involve religious aspects. What is your opinion?

Firmin is an old man. He’s nice, but his way of thinking is old fashioned. Now we’ve got the internet, we’ve got all this stuff. We have to mix music if we want to move forward and be a part of society. We have to keep the roots. The funniest thing is, when you listen to Christine Salem’s music, it’s not so far from Firmin. Because, firstly, it’s traditional music, and secondly she talks about the roots and she calls out to the ancestors. So for me, while it’s not quite the same thing, there are similarities. But Firmin is more conservative. And, once again, now we have to move forward and at least if someone like Christine Salem is touring a lot in U.S.A, it’s good for us. It’s good for the music, it’s good for maloya…


Where do you place your own music in the context of these two opposing perspectives?

I’m taking influences from both sides— from Danyèl Waro, Firmin Viry, Christine Salem, from Ziskakan. But my music is not traditional maloya. I’ve got so many influences that I didn’t want to be traditional maloya. I just want to use it as an exceptional tool, so we can move the music in another way. Each one of us has got his own point of view and way of doing it. In my set list, I’ve put one song of Firmin Viry which I sung with him at Sakifo (a music festival in Reunion). The lyrics are: “Mum and Dad what is my destiny? What can I do next? You thought that I was dead, but I’m not. I’m still there, I’m still up and I will go forward.” I love this song.

I take influences from the traditional maloya— as percussion, voice and melody. There’s no melodic instrument in maloya, it’s only percussion and voices, sometimes question and answer. The chorists are very important. But while my chorists are very important, they also have other skills like being able to play the guitar, percussion instruments and the keyboard. And we bring all our influences. For example, the percussionist listens to dub-step music, the other one listens to soul. So we put it all together and work together. This is more ‘let’s do it together’ music. For me this is my version of maloya.


Maloya was traditionally sung my men. But you and Christine Salem are both very popular female artists. Do you feel that being a woman singer in maloya changes it? Either in terms of the style or the themes you choose to sing about?

Yes the topics obviously, because who better than a woman to talk about women? More and more women are doing maloya, since maybe 10 years ago. I think it’s a really nice thing that women have taken their place in this music. Because this music was such a male thing.


Was that because it was so political, so aggressive and so risky— that you had more men doing it?

I really don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know why women didn’t take a place in maloya. But now we are in 2013 and we have to be part of it. And we are a part of it.


In what ways are you looking to expand maloyan music? Through themes, instruments?

The first thing is the instruments, yeah. The musicians I’m playing with, my friends, they all have different influences and they listen to different kinds of music. Tomorrow, on stage, we’re trying to put some electronic music into this. We will still use the kayambs, rouler or carole. But we’re trying to mix it up. And sometimes a song works with very quiet, simple instruments. The ukulele, voice, triangle and kayamb and rouler. It doesn’t need anything else. So if it works like that, it suits me because I love acoustic music also. I love drums and bass but I still haven’t found the place for these kind of instruments in my music. But I’m telling you that today. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have a drummer. I’ve been to South Africa last October, without my musicians. And I did a collaboration with a band, ‘Mix n Blend’. There was drums and bass, electro-music… They just sent me the tracks and I just put melody and lyrics on that and it turned out quite different.


You have roots in India. Your father has roots from Rajasthan— I think?

I think my father’s ancestors are from Rajasthan. We’re not sure, we’re still searching for the original town. I’m the 5th generation of Indian people in Reunion Island. He just got his PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card, that’s a good thing. We’re still searching for where the great-great-grandparents were from. When Indian people came to Reunion Island it was many years after the slavery abolition. They were there for working. And my name, Pounia, my real last name, was cut. So I think my real name is longer than that. So we need to still search for it.


Have your roots in India influenced your music in anyway? Or do you think that it’s very much tied to Reunion Island? Could they influence you later?

They influence me a lot but I feel like I want to do more. I want to explore more classical music from India. But it seems to be so complex and so difficult. In fact, I want to try but, I don’t want to scratch it… it’s kind of a complex feeling. But I love Indian music.


Is there any instrument or any particular genre of Indian music that you find interesting?

Every morning I wake up with a Ravi Shankar CD or something. I really love all of it, like the sitar, the tabla, the tambura, the veena, the dholak. All the percussion, all the chords… this is wonderful and this is not logical. I mean logical in a European way. Our musical writing is different, a completely different system. It was decided that European music was the universal norm but when you come here, you see that it’s not. It doesn’t work and I love that.


(Image: Maya Kamaty performing at Riff. By Kavi Bhansali)

Trinidad-Bristol-Jodhpur – An Interview with Jus Now

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Jus Now’s music is made up of an unlikely fusion— traditional Trinidadian Soca rhythms, and culture, with the sub heavy sound of the Bristol Underground. This mix stems from the duo that is Jus Now themselves: LAZAbeam (Keshav Singh), percussionist and producer from Trinidad and Sam Interface (Sam Chadburn), a producer and DJ from Bristol, UK. Sam Interface is a Drum and Bass producer who has collaborated with DJ Die, TC and DJ Eddie K, on releases and remixes for labels like Shogun Audio, Clear Skyz, Hospital and Metalheadz. LAZAbeam is a well-known percussionist and producer in Trinidad who established himself as a producer by remixing the likes of L-Vis 1990 and Major Lazer.

A chance meeting through a mutual friend brought them together in Bristol in 2010. They describe themselves as: “Two Riddim obsessives… separated by 4,500 miles and brought together by a shared love of bass, rum and parties.” Jus Now have worked between both Trinidad and Bristol to create their debut ‘One Time EP’. As we settle down in the dining room of the scholar’s retreat at the Mehrangarh fort, LAZAbeam, who is recovering from an upset stomach, eyes a glass of water he’s been handed very suspiciously. The interview begins.


What does ‘roots music’ mean to each of you respectively? LAZAbeam, you are from Trinidad which has a strong musical history of different genres, or different ‘roots’, so to speak: soca, reggae, riddim. And you also have roots in India.

LAZAbeam: To me it means the source, but the source is ever changing. It all depends on when you look, at what eras you are looking at. But I think folk music is basically the music of the people. No matter what country you are from, the folk music is what drives the passion and soul of the people. Jus Now is very much an appreciator and utilizer of folk and traditional music. It’s very much the basis of what we do. We put it in a context that is palatable to a wider range of people, simply because it makes people dance. And folk music can make people dance. That’s basically our modus operandi.


Sam, you were part of the UK underground electronic music scene, which also comes from an urban sub culture, but which still is very neighbourhood, area specific. How do you see it fitting in with roots culture that is seen as evolving from a more traditional, less urban setting?

Sam Interface: Yeah there’s a different sound in Bristol and Manchester, London, Berlin. It’s very city specific. And that comes from the different kinds of ethnic groups. Bristol for example is very much a big Jamaican…  Bristol has a sound which is very well known for (trip hop and electronic) bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky. And then they have the drum and bass scene with Roni Size and Reprazent. The dubstep scene came out of Croyden in London and the first place it went to is Bristol and they evolved their own separate style of the dubstep sound. When you look at all these different sounds that have come out of Bristol in these past 20 years, they’ll always be very bass heavy and that comes from the Jamaican sound system heritage. The Bristol carnival is a big thing there. Bristol’s thing is this weighty sub sound. I think most of the music that comes out of Bristol has got a slight dub, reggae, Caribbean feel to it.

Your last EP One Time had a distinctly dark mood, through it. How did you achieve that feel? Especially since Sam has spoken about the happy, party atmosphere that’s part of carnival music of Trinidad as what drew you to it and what drew you to collaborate with LAZAbeam and work on this EP… 

LAZAbeam: The question of whether or not music is dark is quite a relative thing. And I think Western music and perception views certain chords and melodies as dark music whereas Eastern music and culture views certain chords and melodies in a different light. Like shlokas, Sanskrit singing, can be construed as very dark to a Western person. To us, we sort of gravitate to that kind of thing, because it seems very real, rooted. Also that was the first instance of our material and we kind of went— Wham! Straight into that stuff, whatever felt good, whatever came naturally.

Sam Interface: I think the weather had something to do with it as well. One way I would describe our music would be Caribbean music, but for the cold winters in England. We have a bit of rain and thunder and darkness, because that’s what I grew up with. The summers in England aren’t very bright. It’s still quite a happy song though but…

LAZAbeam: Chordally it sounds dark…


Both of you live on separate continents. How did you manage to work together? Could you take us through the process? Do you send across samples? Does a lot of your collaboration take place online? How does this affect your work? And what are the pros and cons of this vis-a-vis working from the same physical space?

LAZAbeam: We kind of came up with it as we went along. Sam invited me to the studio when I was in Bristol. We met through some mutual friends. I put on some drum tracks for him. And later I invited him to Trinidad. He came directly to Trinidad because you need to see the culture to understand the culture. He immersed himself in the culture, hung out, drank the rum, partied with the people, did the wining, dancing, understood the Trini vibe and we started working there.

Sam Interface: When I was visiting him, we had our own projects which were our main focus, we were doing this as fun. We played the tracks we were making in his bedroom in Trinidad to a few people in England and they were really interested. They said, ‘You should keep doing this’. And then he visited me in summer 2011, and we worked for 2 months in England. After that we didn’t think about it for a little while. Then we did a little bit more work over Skype.

LAZAbeam: That was a key element of our collaboration during the winter but we try to do most of our work in the same room to hash it out. We spend 10 to 15 hours in the studio everyday.

Sam Interface: Skype does come into play when we can’t be in the same continent. Skype and Dropbox. But we prefer to be in the same room.


Will you be collaborating with any Rajasthani artists?

LAZAbeam: We’ve started already. In preparation for this gig we sampled a couple of Rajasthani songs and sang certain things in the Rajasthani style.

Sam Interface: One of the main things we are excited about, about coming to (Jodhpur) Riff, is the opportunity to collaborate with some Rajasthani musicians. It’s one thing to sample it, it’s another thing when you can actually work with a musician and maybe try to take them slightly out of their comfort zone and try something that is still traditional but done in a different way which might open them up to a wider audience.


What Rajasthani songs or instruments did you try?

LAZAbeam: We did a few things like Ghoomar and Kesariya Balam and a couple of the wedding songs of the Langas and Manganiyars. Basically we focused on instruments. So khartal, very percussive and also it’s the root of the castanet which is something we use in our music a lot as well. The khartal, the morchang, the ghara. It doesn’t really matter what the song is, as long as it’s not anything that we’re blaspheming.


Do you see this kind of music as being adaptable to a bass heavy style (that is characteristic of your kind of music)? What do you see as the biggest challenges in melding these 2 forms?

LAZAbeam: There are wide chasms between Western and Indian music. But because of the simple fact that Jus Now is related to Rajasthan, by blood. My father’s ancestry is from Rajasthan. I don’t believe that there’s a chasm. I think it’s a joyful meeting. A little while earlier we met one of the khartal players and we just clicked. I remembered him from when I was a child and had visited Jodhpur.

Sam Interface: I suppose there’s a time signature thing where modern dance music is very much 4/4 (four beats in a bar, common time) and obviously a lot of folk signatures will explore a lot of time signatures and tempos throughout one song. But that’s something we’re interested in experimenting with. That doesn’t mean you can’t add interesting production and bass just because it’s got a time signature a DJ might have to struggle to mix. A lot of our tracks will be DJ friendly but we’re also interested in doing stuff that a folk listener could appreciate, while still sounding totally alien and futuristic at the same time.


(Image: Jus Now. By Shantenu Tilwanker/ Jodhpur Riff/ Oijo)

Hip Hop Skip Jump – An Interview with Maga Bo

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Producer, DJ and musician, Maga Bo is from Seattle but has been living in Brazil for the last fourteen years. He has worked in over 40 countries, in several languages. His latest record Quilombo do Futuro mixes urban music genres from around the world with Afro-Brazilian rhythms and explores the theme of cultural resistance.

At Jodhpur Riff, he collaborates with Rajasthani folk musicians. Back this year for the 3rd time, Maga Bo is a favourite with them.


This is your third year at Jodhpur Riff. You first came to India when you left Seattle and travelled widely, spending nine months between Sri Lanka and India. Did you record and experiment with the music here then?

Yeah I travelled all my life, trying to find music everywhere, wherever I found myself. I was first here in 1998 or 1999. And I just kept coming back.


But this is the first time that you are collaborating with the Rajasthani folk musicians? You have worked on the film Patang and collaborated with Shilpa Rao for one track…

This is my third time at (Jodhpur) Riff and for the first time we have managed to get musicians here (to play with me). A kind of collaboration. So today will be the first rehearsal.


Have you met them before? In the previous years you were here?

Some of them I have, I think, but I’m not sure. I’ve met the morchang player, Rais Khan. I think he can play virtually anything. He can play the ground. He can play the wall. He is a very versatile person. So I will be working with them as well and then there will be several other musicians coming. There maybe be surprises as well. I don’t really know because not everyone is here yet.


When you decided to do this collaboration, did you have particular sounds in mind that you wanted? Any particular instrument?

I wanted the harmonium, the dholak, the khartal and the morchang. Kind of the basic (Rajasthani folk) sounds.


Did you listen to a lot of Rajasthani music? Do you know what you are looking for in the collaboration?

Yes and no. That is part of the excitement of it. Some musicians I work with— I know their sound, I know what they are interested in, I know their vibe. But with anyone, even people I have worked with for a long, long time, they may surprise me. That’s beautiful. So, yes, in a general sense, I know what I’m looking for but I’m sure there are surprises that are going to happen.


You did a show in Brazil called Sambacana and you said that you learnt more about old and new Brazilian music ‘on the go’, as you did the show…

I began working with Brazilian music before I went to Brazil. Almost 20 years ago. For me, learning about music is a process. I think that is the best way to learn. You can study music. I mean,I studied music in University. But that doesn’t prepare you for playing music live or working with musicians. So, yes, you learn on the go.


You said you can’t answer the question “Where are you from?” But really, where do you say you are from if someone asks?

Depends on how interested the person who is asking me is. In India, I’m always a foreigner. On the streets people ask me where I am from, and so I say Russia, from Japan. Sometimes I say I’m from Ethiopia, in a jokey sort of way. I say, actually, that I’m from the US but I’ve lived in Brazil for a long, long time. So I’m turning into a mixed person in a way.


You mix a lot of different styles of music. And you travel extensively. How intrinsic are these to your creative process?

It’s very important because for me to work with a Rajasthani musician, for example, to do that in Brazil is almost impossible. If you want to listen to Hindi music in Brazil there is almost nowhere to go really. Maybe one artist will come once a year. You just can’t find musicians who know about this sort of thing. Maybe it’s a similar thing if you wanted to work with Brazilian music in India; there are very few Brazilians who play here. So to get access to that kind of information and the people that work with that music you need to go there. And the other thing is that, especially with electronic music and electronic production around the world, people tend to use pre-recorded samples or things that they download from the internet to create music. So you’ll find that with Brazilian music— a lot of people who haven’t been to Brazil, haven’t worked with Brazilian musicians and who don’t know Brazilian music really are making something that they call Brazilian music. I don’t mean to criticize what they are doing because it’s part of the evolution of music in general, but it’s a very shallow way of making music. I think the way to do it is to go after it and go to the source of the music.


I wanted to ask you about that because you work with a lot of styles and the music you use is from a lot of different countries. Are you worried about cultural appropriation? How do you negotiate that line?

It depends on the situation. For example, I’ve come here a couple of times; a relationship has been developed with the festival over time. And I’m not here to record and sell something commercially. We’re here to create a performance for one day and one time. Cultural appropriation happens with very specific, very subtle things. It’s hard to generalize it but I think working with the person on an equal level is necessary. It’s very different from, say, recording someone and selling it. It’s like taking a photo of someone. When you take a photo of someone you don’t know, you need to take permission. I remember a flute player I wanted to record in Kerala, the first time I came to India, complaining that I was going to record him and sell it for a lot of money. So what we’re really talking about is respect. It’s about the communication and the exchange. If the person you are collaborating with is not coming from the same point of view, then it’s obvious very quickly.


How important is it for you to understand the lyrics when you work with artists singing in different languages?

The lyrics are very important. I think, mostly, because I work with a lot of hip hop and a lot of hip hop is superficial, bling bling, which is not interesting for me. I’m interested in more profound subjects that are spiritually positive and uplifting, critical, that are deeper than talking about what car you drive or who that sexy girl is or whatever.
When working with other artists, I always ask them. Normally I ask for all the lyrics written out and get them translated. Sometimes the characters are not Roman. Usually there is someone around who can translate it. So I get an idea of what’s being sung about. Because if the song is a love song about how happy the guy is that he met the woman, or whatever, then probably we don’t want to create some sort of depressing, noisy, loud, industrial kind of sound to go with it.


In another interview, you talked about ‘conscious lyrics’. You said you liked them because they are challenging. What did you mean by that?

‘Conscious lyrics’ is kind of a catch all phrase in hip hop. ‘Conscious hip hop’ would talk about things that would matter, that benefit humanity. It would talk about racism, sexism, social justice or have lyrics that are political. Lyrics that involve critical thinking. Not ‘My Ferrari… ’ or ‘My sexy… ’ whatever. I don’t mean to say that those should not exist, because there is a definitely a time when everyone should stand up and put your hands in the air and dance and have fun. There is a time and place for that. I’m not necessarily the artist that needs to make that kind of music. What’s interesting for me is conscious critical thinking.


You record and use a lot of live vocals and instruments. You don’t use pre-recorded sounds.

In the sense of using pre-recorded, pre-produced samples, from some sort of sample library or something like that— no I don’t use that. Because that’s the kind of “Brazilian” or “Indian” or “African” or whatever kind of music, which… Basically if you have a $ 100, you can buy a CD with all these recordings and make ‘Indian music’. There is no human interaction in that. It’s pre- fabricated. It’s like buying a hamburger. There’s no soul in it. There is no artistry. No, I shouldn’t say that. Because someone did play that, someone did make that. But it’s something that everyone has access to. There is nothing special about it. So I want to make something special. I want to make something new that doesn’t exist. Like, I can play percussion but I can’t play the dholak or the harmonium. Sure, I can make music from them but I’m not a master of these instruments. So if I say I want a dholak at this rhythm, then it makes sense that I find a dholak player who spends his whole life playing that instrument and has mastered the instrument. Someone who can say: “Oh that’s the idea? So what about this? Something like this?” Then all of a sudden you’re collaborating. You’re doing something that is greater than the sum of its parts. With a sample CD, it’s only the sum of the parts.


(Image: Maga Bo. By Shantenu Tilwanker for Jodhpur Riff / Oijo.)

All Together Now – An Interview with Spiro

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The people who make up the instrumental music group Spiro got together in 1993, in Bristol, UK. They released an album called Lost in Fishponds under the name The Famous Five in 1994. As Spiro, they’ve released 3 albums, the latest being Kaleidophonica. They don’t want their music to be put in a box, but here’s how the group’s guitarist Jon Hunt defines it: “Weʼve got as much to do with minimalist classical and dance music as we have with folk. Even though we use folk tunes, theyʼre raw materials that the rest of the sound is built around.” We’re seated with the group at the Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, where they’ve come to play at Jodhpur Riff. The interview takes place over endless cups of hot sweet milky Rajasthani tea, infused with lots of cardamom, which Jon, at least, seems to relish. Two remarkable facts about the group are that their line-up has remained unchanged over the years (Jane Harbour on the violin or viola, Alex Vann on the mandolin, Jason Sparkes on the accordion and Jon Hunt on the acoustic guitar or cello) and that their albums are recorded as if they are playing live, with no over-dubs or multi-tracking.


You have described yourselves as “watch-makers who have made an intricate machine”. Tell us a little about how that machine is built.  For instance, you build some of your music around folk tunes. But how do you decide which folk tunes to use? What is your ‘process’ when it comes to composing music for Spiro?

Jon: I’m the one who puts the tunes in. But really the tunes aren’t integral and the tunes are one element that gets thrown into a pot. In fact there aren’t always traditional tunes there. Quite a lot of the pieces don’t have any traditional tunes.

Jane: The tunes give a kind of backbone to it, a kind of linear structure if you’ve got a long melody. But sometimes we write our own tunes. But really we love riffs and kind of putting riffs with riffs and building it that way.


But when you do go with folk tunes, how do you pick them?

Jon: I just love traditional English tunes. I’m the one who really like the tunes. I research them and find the tunes and put them in the pot. And things go around. Or sometimes they reject them. Sometimes things just go in, and then they go out again.


Your compositions don’t have solos. You have said you prefer to ‘share out’ the riff among yourselves. Was there a conscious decision to avoid solos? Why?

Alex: I think there was. We all felt the urge to make the band fully composed, so all the notes are written. And there’s a conscious decision to not be show-boating talent, to not be what we can individually do on our instruments. It’s about what we can do together. So a single part might be very, very simple or make no sense on its own and it’s only with the other parts… The whole is much greater than the part.

Jane: The thing is the whole doesn’t work if it has one part that sticks out.

Jon: That’s why it’s like a watch. If there’s one part missing from the watch it doesn’t work.

Jane: If there’s one part louder than the rest then it breaks up the unity of it, the unity of the art. Like if there’s a front person then other pieces become a backing to a front person. Whereas if you get jostling parts and weird, freaky effects, like… you get one note there, and one here and you don’t quite know what you’re hearing, it works. What makes it work is that each person is the same volume and playing equally strong parts.

Alex: There’s an equality of instruments. Even with the melody lines, even if they’re traditional, they’re not right on top, they’re in with the other parts.

Jane: And the parts are like characters or people. It becomes not about us as musicians but about the musical parts and the story, with each of them being like characters. So at some point we may double up on a riff or triple up on a riff or bring a riff in and out and you’ll feel two riffs meeting at the end that were never together at the beginning, or ones that were breaking up, or dying.


A lot of your pieces have a recurring pattern and then they take these sudden surprising turns. How do you build a unity which enables you to take these sharp turns in synchrony?

Jane: It takes a lot of honing and practices, trying out different orders till an arrangement, or order that tells the most human story to us happens. Where we juxtapose the various parts that has an emotional effect on us. Oh yes. You heard that rhythm in the beginning and now it’s back in that particular point with that other riff and it makes total sense. So, just by experimenting with it.


Your group members all seem to have different influences in music, ranging from folk and classical to some punk as well. Has balancing these out ever proved to be a challenge? Has there ever been an instance where you’ve had to work around competing influences?

Alex: I think the influences are a part of us and a part of our past. I played in a punk band and so did Jon. And it’s not like we’re thinking: ‘Oh we want to make sure we have this punky bit.’ It’s just a part of your musical history. And I think some of that punk energy is there in this band. The influences are there but we don’t consciously try and bring them in.

Jane: And we don’t want to make fusion— where you get this kind of music plus that kind of music, and they’re kind of identifiable parts. We want to make a music that’s… whatever comes out. And whatever comes out is a melting pot of who we are musically and what our musical experiences have been. Hopefully it’s not identifiable, like a punk-folk mix. It’s all mushed up in our brains and it comes out as something that is a new take on it.


Has there been an instance where these influences have clashed or not meshed together and you’ve had to compromise?

Jon: We have what we call the pot of ideas and if someone comes up with a jerky punky riff and someone else has come up with something more classical and the two don’t work then they don’t end up together.

Alex: Those things will quickly die if they’re not feeling good or wholesome. So it never gets to a crisis.

Jane: I like how we look to put together things that a little edgy. So we look for things that go together in a difficult way, but a beautifully difficult way. So if things go together too well it’s out. It’s got to be uncomfortable and strange but beautiful.

Jon: Because life is uncomfortable. Art should mirror life. That speaks to people. Because life is never easy, then music shouldn’t be either.


You had mentioned in an interview that you’re also influenced by modern dance music as well as folk. Do you feel there could be a common ground between these two?

Jane: It’s kind of like the popular music of now whereas folk was the popular music of then. They’re both dance musics. Folk music is dance music but just on acoustic instruments— that’s repetitive and cyclical, just going round and round the tune.

Alex: And also some of the rhythms that occur in traditional tunes, the rhythmic patterns, are quite dancey in a way. Specially some of the Northern English tunes that we use.


You’ve been compared to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Steve Reich and other minimalist musicians. Do you agree?  Do you feel that your work falls within the ambit of this larger genre?

Alex: Penguin Cafe was an influence on a lot of our work. And we absolutely think we relate to what Steve Reich does. I don’t think it falls under any larger genre…

Jane: We want to start our own genre. We thought about calling it Kaleidophonica.


You recorded Kaleidophonica live in the studio without overdubs. Why did you decide to do it this way? Have you used the same process for recording your other albums?

Jon: We’ve only recorded like that.

Jane: Because it reflects what we do live and because we ‘write’ music for live. That’s what the whole band is about. To create that live… to create all these amazing effects as four instruments, get the most out of these four instruments. It makes us write in interesting ways, the fact that it has to be live.

Alex: If you put restrictions on art you can reach greater heights of creativity. We’re going to do it on these four instruments and we’re going to do it live. If we’ve got a bit that needs something else, then we’ll probably just scrap it and try something else.

Jon: There is a technical reason as well. A lot of the interplay that makes that magical effect actually happens in the air at the time the instruments are physically sounding. The resonance actually happens between them in the air. And if you recorded them separately you wouldn’t get that magic. Another thing is that it’s a performance of ‘the band’. It’s not just about individual performance.

Alex: You’re speeding up and sliding down together, putting crescendos together, you’re working live as it’s being recorded.


You’ve also said some of you play “more than one part at the same time” at times. You’ve said: “We try to play two lines on one instrument.” How do you tailor your compositions to your line-up?

Jane: Not always. If you want things to happen musically and there aren’t enough instruments then that’s what we’ll do. We think: ‘Oh! It’ll be great to have that riff as well, but everyone’s busy, so who can play it?’ So we’ll weave it into an existing part. It’s usually Jase (Jason Sparkes), the accordion player.

Jon: He’s got two sides to the accordion so he plays two parts. But Alex also plays 2 parts.

Jane: We all do. But Jase gets the brunt of it.

Jon: I get the easiest parts because I’m the bass.


You’ve done some work in other media— theatre, TV etc. How is it different from your work with the band? 

Alex: I’ve done some theatre and music is compromised there as it has to support action. So that’s why I love just being in the band. It means you can do complex, demanding music.


(Image: Spiro on the ramparts of the Mehrangarh Fort. By Shantenu Tilwankar/ Jodhpur Riff/ Oijo)