In March, 2006, I recorded the music of Munganyar and Kalbelia “gypsies” in and around the ancient desert citadel of Jaissalmer in Rajasthan. I was looking for evidence to support my theory, and I believe I found it, that many of the basic melodic sequences in Russian, Celtic, Turkish, North African, Malian blues, American blues, flamenco Cuban son, and Brazilian samba originate in Rajasthan. See my article about this trip in the April, 2008 issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine, and the documentary “La Cho Drom,” which made me realize this. I had already confirmed the strong connection between Malain music and American blues; see Dispatch #25; the question was where did the Malians get this bluesy sound?Here are two numbers where you can hear a bluesy flattening by Amin Khan, one of the hot young Munganyar virtuosos who is singing monophonically the same notes he is whipping off on his harmonium. The first he calls Sufiana. It’s a Sufi tune. Listen here to tracks 109 and 110.
Here is another astounding performance in track 108 by Amin Khan and his various brothers and cousins who kept dropping in and joining the jam session which was taking place at Amin’s house in the community of several hundred Munganyar artists and their families. Listen to these fantastic castanets in track 111, they’re ancestors to the ones played by flamenco dancers. These are simply two thin wooden slats, or sheets of glass that are clapped together between the thumb and fingers. And there are also two incredible numbers on the Jaw Harp by Amin. Listen here to track 118.
Out in the desert, I recorded two Kalbelia women accompanied by a man on a reedy flute who later slapped a plastic gerrycan as percussion. This tune 120 has maybe not uncoincidental similarities to an Irish jig.
On this track 121 one man plays a Jaw’s harp. In this track 122 the women’s singing has an Appalachian quality. And in the second part there’s another great tune by the gals. You can hear that the Kalbelia’s music is a lot rawer than the Munganyar’s.
In track 124 I captured the kamayacha or one-string stand-up fiddle player who played on the roof of my hotel in the citadel at six every evening.
Finally, here are some numbers by Hassan Khan, “the tiger of singing,” who plays for the Maharajah of Jaissalmar. He runs over the scales with me in track 127 ,in different ascending and descending clusters that he’s been practising for decades.
Track 125 is a version of Musti Musti, a Sufi song, that is very different from the one recorded by the late Nasrat Ali Khan. And there are some other amazing ragas in tracks 126, 130,and 131.The basic structure is the theme is stated vocally, then the percussion comes in and picks up the tempo, and the finale returns to the theme with redoubled brio. In 128 a kamayacha players drops in and does a solo. Track 132 sounds like northeast Brazilian good-time accordion. I would have thought I was in Recife if I had not been in Rajasthan.