Roysten Abel ‎– The Manganiyar Seduction

Label:
Amarrass Records ‎– AMAR001
Format:
CD, Album
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From obscure villages around Jaisalmer and Jodhpur and Barmer in western Rajasthan, comes a musical tradition that has digested and belted out melodies from everywhere between Persia and the Punjab for several centuries. This is the music of The Manganiyars: a community of Muslim court musicians whose royal patrons may have disappeared because of circumstances of history, but whose music lives because its practitioners cannot live without it.

The Manganiyars, as the roots of the name suggests, asked for alms in lieu of entertainment, performing at marriages, deaths and births: something they continue doing today. They converted to Islam some 400 years ago, an event that only enriched the already entrenched folk tradition of Rajasthan and Sindh with the import of words and tunes and instruments (like the the kamancha, a three-stringed ancestor of the violin, which has a bowl shaped resonating chamber covered by goat skin) from as far away as Azerbaijan.

Their music is complex and secular, its roots spread wide, though chiefly in Hindustani classical music. But its delivery isn’t bound by the set rules of this tradition. The Manganiyar splits notes into improbable fractions, keeps beat with his eyes, shifts tempo as suddenly and effortlessly as a gust of desert wind moves a dune.

A number of instruments are employed in a performance such as the one on this record. The rounded kamancha; the sarangi, arguably the most difficult Indian instrument to master, it has up to 40 strings, most of which hum as they are caressed by the bow while the three main strings are guided towards notes by the fingernails of the player; there is the algoza or double flute; the tiny, but potent, morchang, held delicately in the performer’s mouth, its taut reed is plucked to produce twangs that talk; then there is the khartal, just two smooth pieces of wood, held in each hand, that are made to converse in the intricate language of claps by gravity and the magic in the palms that hold them.

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