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  • Pierre Flasse

Repping Rajasthan

Hello there, it’s been a while since I updated with all my musical happenings in India, funny since the last month has been one of the busiest.

Through the help of an English organisation Sound Travels, I had a contact in north Rajasthan in Bikaner - Gopal Singh - with whom I had organised a set of workshops across a week with local folk and classical musicians. These took on a variation of formats but the aim here is primarily for me to try and understand aspects of the musicality and perhaps test some of my own material with it, when I saw fit. (At least this was my aim at the beginning, we’ll see how this shifts). I had my trombone with me so I have a basis to test this!

The first day of workshops were split between two musicians, one classical (Amit Goswami) with the sarod and one folk musician (Omprakash Nayak) on the tambura. These workshops began one day and I had a second workshop with both the following day. The sessions with Amit were interesting but provided the least stimulation for me. I am familiar with how the ragas and musical systems operate, but the music I feel takes on a very virtuosic element, improvising around certain ragas and responding to one another. The sessions started resorting to a form of call and response with one another, but in a loose form of cultural imitation and I don’t feel I really engaged with the spirituality and sentiment behind this. Indian classical music is something which takes years of training and it would be insincere to say it really went any further.

The sessions with Omprakash on the other hand was far more promising. He accompanied himself singing with his tambura. Folk and Sufi songs within this style are rich with cultural lessons, spirituality and teachings - many of them adapt the poems of renowned Sufi poets. Through understanding the basis of the music, I was able to engage with this a little more genuinely - Omprakash said himself I had an understanding for the melodies and journey of the sound. The music and participation took a similar format however of responding to one another’s playing and engaging with variations. This also happened when I played my own material as he was engaging with my own sound. I find that this method is great for learning about the music, and the importance of its essence/spirituality, but from a musical perspective I was feeling somewhat underwhelmed that I wasn’t able to push any music further. I’ll continue this rationale later as I was at a key midway point.

The week continued with some more meetings, some with musicians in which my playing and interaction was not appropriate and my education came from listening to them play. One very talented singer and harmonium player from a local village, and a nomadic musician whom we found on the side of a highway - but was by far my favourite musician with a true vivacity and life to his playing - also the first time with his wife (women don’t traditionally sing as frequently in this culture) singing, and these encounters provided a much needed insight into some of the emotion and humility that goes into creating the music.

My final day of workshops I travelled and spent the night with Kasam Khan, a harmonium, sarangi and kartal player but also a wonderful singer. This was the most valuable for me, as through broken Hindi, we managed to come to a resolution. Kasim is quite young still and has played with many modern or fusion groups before. With the experience I gathered over the week we managed to engage in a valuable playing session within both our styles. Here, I learnt that actually the most value in fusion comes from when both musicians are within both their sound worlds, they understand the other sound world but there isn’t any compromise - different aspects can work together individually in harmony (excuse the pun). I would like to potentially put a project together for the future with Kasam, we will have to see how this goes.

This was the end of my week of workshops but not of my musical experience in Rajasthan. Gopal, my contact, runs the Kabir Yatra - a travelling folk festival in Rajasthan - every year and so knows many musicians across the state. As I arrived in Jaisalmer, I was given the details for a wonderful man named Ashraf Ali who is almost a sponsor for some of these musicians - he owns a hotel and they are all invited in to play. This happened with Mohan Lal Lohar a local algoza (double flute) and morchang (Jewish harp) player (and manufacturer). We engaged in some of the same to and fro that I had done the previous week but with a much changed element as the algoza had an Irish folk feel to them and the morchang is almost a percussion instrument so added some rhythm and overtones to my music. The next day I visited his home and spent about 3 hours trying to play the morchang, finally succeeding with my own to practice on. I will probably return here to perhaps learn the algoza with him.

From here to Jodhpur, I met Kuldeep Rupayan who runs the local folklore museum and who’s father collected recordings of folk musicians across Rajasthan for over 20 years. Apart from a digitisation project, he has no plans to release the recordings to the public, a fact I find baffling and we had an interesting conversation about. One of the local musicians said a proverb sounding line to me along the lines of: “One man might find a diamond but if it remains hidden what value does it have? It may as well be just another stone.” However they did have in action a revival programme for young Langa (traditionally a musician caste in India) to learn traditional Langa songs in order to keep the music alive. I visited a rehearsal and after only 8 months of learning they were incredibly skilled, professional and emotive performers.

Finally, in Jaipur I was lucky enough to catch the end of an ongoing project. Jason Singh is a beatboxer/collaborator/composer from Manchester who was at the end of a week stint of recording the Indian side of an Sufi/jazz fusion album. I was offered to come along and watch the recording - I mean it’s exactly what I’m interested in so of course I accepted. The recording was fascinating, as were the musicians skill and Jason as their facilitator. The process was to record the Sufi side out here, then add the jazz back in the UK and then tour together. He really understood the music, where it was going, the depth of the Indian side and it’s spirituality and humility. This was my biggest realisation, as upon talking to him, he started doing these collaborations and workshops 15 years ago. This was really important for me to hear and understand my place. For me, this trip is really just the beginning of many, a point of understanding and learning of the rich culture and music that this place has to offer. I admit that at the beginning I was somewhat naive to imagine that fusion would just happen immediately straight away without my understanding the language and music or knowledge in facilitating to aid. I would still like to plan this project with Kasam but I feel like more so then ever I really understand my place.

So to the future: I am currently on a small break hiking in Pakistan which is a welcome treat from the heat of the cities. I plan to go back and perhaps learn with Mohan, experience the Kabir Yatra ans perhaps volunteer with the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) in October. I also got a bit involved with RRAP (Rajasthan Rural Arts Programme) who was helping organise the recordings with Jason (who incidentally lived 10 minutes away from me in Manchester), and I may volunteer with them for a month or two as they organise a lot of programmes and projects and it would be invaluable to help and understand how these things come about.

That’s all for now! If you are interestes in any more the work that Sound Travels does, you can visite their website here:

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