Manganiyar Seduction..compelled to share
"I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."-Arvo Part
Living in NYC is very different from visiting NYC. When you ask people living in the city what they did over the weekend, they mostly mention ordinary things like watched a movie, had brunch or saw a show (not ‘Broadway’ mind you!) But lucky for us non-tourists who call NY as home, there are happenings every season that make you feel ‘it’s worth living in the city despite the exorbitant rents J) The White light festival is one such event. In their own words, it is described as “Lincoln Center’s fourth annual celebration of music and art’s capacity to illuminate the many dimensions of our interior lives.
This year, I got to attend the ‘Manganiyar Seduction’, an Indian classical and folk musical performance. It was fitting to be watching an Indian performance at the White Light festival on Diwali; which to us Indian’s is the festival of light. I couldn’t think of a better place to be on Diwali.
Here’s a link to a video of their remarkable performance.
Needless to say it was amazing, very well received and made me feel proud to belong to this country of such talented and historical musicians. I left the performance feeling both happy to have been a part of this event as well as sad to realize (yet again) how little I knew about my country and it’s unlimited cultural offerings. This was despite my being above average ‘culturally inclined’. I thought writing a piece on it would make me learn a little more about this group and also an opportunity to share the same.
The name of the show comes from the director ‘s (Roysten Abel) experience while traveling with two of these performers in the summer of 2006. One of the performers he met in 2006 (Deu Khan), is in fact still in the show as the very animated and immersed conductor as well as ‘kartal’ player. As taken from the program guidebook, “When I returned to India filled with inspiration I needed to translate this seduction of the spirit to a more physical realm. I recalled how their music sucked me in slowly in spite of the natural resistance to a new culture by titillating my spirit. At one point it forced me to let go and there by experience something beyond me or their singing, a third realm. As a theater director this is what I always wanted myself and the audience to experience. It happened to me over two weeks and now I had to re-create this grand experience in an evening.” Well lucky for us, and thank you for making us part of the experience.
A little bit of historical background (source: Lincolncenter.org):
The Manganiyars are a caste of Muslim musicians who are predominantly settled in the districts of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur, which is the heart of the Thar desert. They traditionally performed for the kings but over the years their patrons have shifted from the kings to a person who could give them a meal. Their repertoire includes ballads about the kings and also Sufi poems written by various mystics. They also have songs for various occasions like birth, marriage, feasts, etc. Even though they are classified as folk musicians their traditional music is classical and it clearly indicates the roots of classical music in India. However, the rawness of the folk and the complexness of classical music is what makes their music so special.
It’s easy to notice what’s so visually attractive about the show..square boxes each seating one performer and each one either singing or playing an old world instrument. Below are the various instruments they brought with them.
Dhol (large percussion)
Dholak (small percussion)
Kamaicha (a string instrument)
Kartal (held and played by shaking it)
mochang (mouth instrument)
Sarangi (another string instrument)
and lastly bapang (one more percussion)
I am sure you join me in my curiosity to know how did they get up to the top levels with their heavy drums. But maybe some mysteries are better left unsolved and enjoyed as such.