Sounds of Rajasthan take Indian Embassy by storm

Barmer Boys put on thrilling performance in nation’s capital.

By Bala Chandran

WASHINGTON, DC:  Lovers of Rajasthani folk music in the US capital had a rare opportunity to witness the performance of Barmer Boys, a folk group that practices the musical tradition of the Manganiars. The group, one of the leading practitioners of Rajasthani sufi music, performed at the Embassy of India on April 26.

The songs they performed included “Pir Murshid Ka Kalaam,” “Moomal,” “Raichand,” “Halka Halka Suroor Hai,” “Haso to Bhalo Lage,” “Hum Bhi Jaaney,” “Pir Jilani” and “Kesariya balam.” An Instrumental rendition lead by Rais Khan had the audience participating with rhythmic claps. Mangey Khan, the lead vocalist, also played harmonium, while Magada Khan played dholak.

Barmer Boys performing at the Embassy of India on April 26.
Barmer Boys performing at the Embassy of India on April 26. Photo credit: The Embassy of India

Prior to their performance, which was titled “Tunes of the Dunes: An Evening of Rajasthani Popular Music,” Shalini Ayyagari, an assistant professor of music at American University in Washington, DC, gave a brief a brief introduction to the Manganiar community.

She said that musicians from the community passed down their art from father to son. The performances now done almost strictly by men, even though historically women had performed for women, she said. The community, based in western Rajastan near the India Pakistan border, consists of probably about 20,000 to 30,000 members, Ayyagari added.

“They are involved in a very intricate patronage system so these musicians — the same families of musicians — have been performing for the same families of patrons for centuries, so this is something that gets passed down from generation to generation,” the professor said. Typically, she added, the patrons are Rajput Hindus and the musicians mainly Sufi Muslims and they perform in Hindu temples as well. Their repertoire include both Hindu and Sufi songs.

Introducing the Barmer Boys, Ankur Malhotra, co-founder and Director of Amarrass Records, shared with the audience how he “discovered” the members of the group while doing field-recording of songs by Rukma Bai — known as the nightingale of Manganiar — one of the rare female Manganiar singers.

She spotted Manga Khan walking down the street and asked him to accompany her on harmonium. After the session ended Khan approached them and enquired whether he could sing. It took all of 10 seconds for Malhotra and his partners to bring on Khan board.

Barmer Boys was formed in 2011, with Manga Khan (vocals, harmonium), Rais Khan (morchang, bhapang, beat-boxing) and Magada Khan on dholak. Rais Khan was already playing with Manganiyar Seduction, who performed at the 2011 Maximum India festival at the Kennedy Center.

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