How often do you come across a situation that in a matter of a few hours you are a changed person! How often do you meet people who make you feel blessed about this life, broaden your mindset and make you realise that your heart is indeed bigger than you give credit for it! How often do you get to make music that uplifts your spirit higher than you could ever think of and for a blissful few hours make you feel one with yourself! Not very often, indeed! If I can describe the whole experience in one word – it would be ‘liberating’. I felt I have broken down all the chains I had wound myself with all these years.
It was about a month back that I had got an email from owen from British Council asking if I would be interested to take part in The Rajasthan Internation Folk Festival in Jodhpur. I didnt even bat an eyelid. The whole idea of the festival was to bring together about 40 musicians from around the world and let them live, collaborate and finally perform with local folk musicians of Rajasthan. Though the festival was for a week, I could make it only the last two days because we had MTV Style Awards to perform for. Add to that a missed flight and we were left with one and a half days to meet the musicians, figure out what to do, compose, write, practice and then perform a 45 minute set!
As I embarked the flight to Jodhpur from Mumbai, I was filled with strong doubts of being able to make something out of 1 and 1/2 days. I tagged along Gaurav with me. We landed much later than we should have and were rpomptly escorted to our hotel where we just about managed to have dinner and sleep. In the morning we were ‘given’ the only two native rajasthani folk musicians left to ‘work’ with – who were not ‘taken’ by anyone else!
The first couple of hours went into trying to figure out what each one is saying….the language is far away from Hindi…but yet with a lot of effort and extreme miming by me and gaurav we kind of figured out a new language that could help communicate…but that was only till we pulled out our instruments and started playing music…we didnt need any other language.
The first musician is Kohinoor Langa, a man in his early 40s. He was given that name by the Queen of England after his performanace in London when he was just 10! Later we discover that the man has travelled more than 40 countries!!! Kohinoor Langa performs on Khartal – a pair of wooden pieces held in each palm of the hands and played like castenets. He is probably the best in the business and plays like God! He is proud of his achivements so far, his legacy, his homeland, his village, his camels, his wife and his son!
The second musician is Manphoolji…a man in late 40s performing on a very crudely hand constructed string instrument called ‘ravan hatta’ which is similar to the sarangi/violin. Manphool had never ventured out of his village before this trip to Jodhpur! It was his first trip without his wife and his first encounter with aliens like Gaurav and I! He is a soft speaking, gentle, ever smiling – dented with a constant hint of confusion in his face! manphool has always played the ravn hatta accompanying only his wife, who is a brilliant singer. Playing the Ravn hatta when someone else is singing – in this case me – was a little offending for him! And he didnt lose a single opportunity to let us know how much he was missing his wife’s singing.
We barely got to know each other when were called for lunch. Half a day gone!
Post lunch we started to sing to each other what we know best and we realised that our music was so similar and it seemed that all the ongs had the same origin – the heart – and therefore they had similar feel. From then on we did not look back. In two hours we had nailed 5 songs. We did a brilliant version of Mysore Se Ayi with the ravn hatta backing my vocals and playing the solos ending in a utra-high-speed Khartal solo.
The second song was what made me completely change my perspective about singing songs in a language unknown. Manphoolji sang a song called ‘banjaariye’ (Gypsy Woman), in which the singer urges the gypsy woman to stop worrying about the material things and instead speak words of love and spread the message of love because in the end all that matters are good relationships with people who will remember you as a good person! It struck to me that the words were similar to those written by a 19th centure saint poet of Karnataka ‘Saint Shishunala Shariff’ in one of his songs ‘Nishchintanaagabekanti’. But what was more amazing that the melody that I had composed for Nishchintanaagabekanti was in a similar scale to that of Banjaariye! I was blown with amazement at the coincidence!
We also did another song called ‘Pani Haari’ which was about a young woman walking miles everyday to fetch water for her home. She laments and wonders how different life would have been if only her dad or brother were rich enough to dig a well in their courtyard. In one of her dalily trips to the water source, she meets a man from a distant land who promises her a good life if she came along with him. But her proud soul refuses to go with him. The song ends in a beautiful verse saying ‘No matter how difficult my life is – my land, my country and my loved ones are my wealth and nothing else can be richer than I! I inserted english verses in between the song compimenting the song. This seemed like the real ‘Desert Rose’!!!
The other songs that we did were Lumma Jhumma and No man will ever love you, like I do.
The second day morning, Khinoor brings a friend-musician along who played on Dholak, Bhutte Khan. Suddenly we had a complete sound! Bhutte Khan didnt need a second listening….he was grooving with us as if he has known these songs all his life!
The same night we performed at the midnight hour in the courtyard of the Mehrangarh Fort. The full moon lit night sky blessing every performer on stage and every listener. We were not perfect on stage…but its probably the best moment of my life so far. Kohinoorji, Manphoolji and Bhutte Khan Sab performed like Gods and we earthlings didnt have a chance to complain. Among the audience were the King of Jodhpur, Arundhati Roy and yes, not to forget, Mick Jagger.
Its an experience I know will never repeat but will always remain fresh in my memory and I know that some cosmic connection will bring us together again with Manphool, Kohinoor and Bhutte Khan. Someother place, someother time…under a moonlit sky, the space and souls filled with music of the gods.