25 year old Rais Khan is known for his exceptional skill with the morchang (a wind percussion instrument similar to the Jews harp). He also plays the khartal (a percussion instrument where small slats of wood are clapped together) and bhapang (a plucked monochord percussion instrument, also called a ‘talking drum’). One of the first beatboxers from Rajasthan, he has performed at almost every Jodhpur Riff from the inception of the festival. He is a part of Dharohar, a collective of Rajasthani folk artists that have created a new folk sound that is as contemporary as it is traditional. They have collaborated, among others, with the UK band Mumford and Sons.
So far at the festival this year, Khan has been part of a workshop on the Manganiyar of Marwar as well as one on Rajasthan’s percussion instruments. He has also collaborated with Brazilian DJ and producer Maga Bo for a performance that took place the night before. Still dressed in clothes he wore during the performance, Khan is waiting at the Mehrangarh Fort because there may be yet another Jodhpur Riff act that he has to be a part of.
What, if anything, is special about performing at Jodhpur Riff for you?
Wherever I perform I give my all to the performance, whether it is an audience of 10 people or a lakh. But at (Jodhpur) Riff, I like the fact that folk performers, classical musicians and Western musicians come together, and new music is created. So people get to see new things. Otherwise there are festivals only for classical music or only for sufi music… Also, here the folk musicians are given importance. So that is different.
Is there any performance that you really enjoyed this year?
I enjoyed the performance of Dilshad bhai (Dilshad Khan) with Daud Khan (Sadozai) and Joseph Tawadros. I liked that they were listening to each other and playing. Daud khan was playing and Dilshad ji would listen and then follow him. They have many more years in music than I do so I shouldn’t say this, but I wish they had given it more time. I wish there had been more jugalbandi (a kind of jam, where two musicians react to each another and often challenge each another musically). I also liked watching qawwali with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s nephews (Rizwan and Muazzam). Also the ones who played before them (the Scottish ensemble). The lady (Kaela Rowan) who was singing, I liked her style of singing. It was very catchy.
How did you feel about your own collaboration?
I really enjoyed our performance. While playing, I got a message that Bap ji (Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja of Jodhpur) was in the audience and that we should play more. We had fixed on six songs that we would perform. But because of this we did three more songs and I liked those especially because we did those without any rehearsal. Maga Bo was very good. Our show began a little early when the audience was just beginning to come in. We were supposed to perform for around 20 minutes—we had decided on some Rajasthani folk songs—but it went on for much longer.
For instance, there’s this song that women in our village sing, and they dance to it. And the rhythm for it is set to that of the dhol (he demonstrates by making percussion sounds via his mouth): Dha-dhina-dhinak-dhin. Maga Bo had the same rhythm on his system. So we chose that song and rehearsed it. We sang the song and he brought out the rhythm and then mixed it. Then we listened to the track to see if it worked for us. He had some 12 beats and we chose six from among them. We looked for the right rhythm— if the rhythm is out, then the whole song is out. We also worked on the folk song Jab dekhoon tane lal peeli akhiyan. We also sang Dora— it’s a traditional wedding song sung at the time of bidai (when the bride leaves to go to her in-laws house after the wedding). With a group of artists like us, you can’t really pinpoint who did what and where. We do what feels right: Tak-dhik-thatak-dhik-chan-chan.
What else did you have to keep in mind to ensure a successful collaboration?
When I collaborate with an artist, my favourite part is when I make my entry in the song (laughs). So that is something that I want to do according to what feels right for me. Maga Bo was very nice and said I could make my entry whenever I liked. So, for one song, I entered after the rhythm. There was one track where we had a morchang solo, a dholak solo and a khartal solo and Maga Bo was playing on his system and there was jugalbandi between the various instruments and musicians.
Anything about Maga Bo’s music that stood out for you?
There was one filmi track that he was playing in his solo that he had done in his style. I liked that. I like the way he thinks. He starts out slow like a folk artist does or a classical artist does. Other DJs— they start immediately with too much of a fast and strong beat. But he started quietly and took it up slowly. He also used reggae in his solo. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I listened to it and I liked it a lot. So I asked him what it was and he said it was reggae.
(Image: Rais Khan’s first Jodhpur Riff appearance in 2009. By Kavi Bhansali / JodhpurRiff.)