The city of Jaisalmer and its surrounding villages are famed for their rich history of kings, poets, and Rajasthani folk music. It is in these small villages that the Manganiyars, a community of hereditary musicians, dwell since ages. This community has kept the Rajasthani folk music alive through generations. From playing in the courts of the Kings to now performing their music globally, their journey has been just like their music – engrossing.
From one of these small villages called Sattu, hails Mame Khan. The first sounds that fell to his ears were of the Kamaycha, dholak or the khartaal. Mameji learnt his music from his father Late Ustad Rana Khan Saab.
“We have a tradition called ‘ganda bandhan’ in which the Guru ties a thread around his disciple’s wrist. But a father cannot tie the ganda bandhan to his son, so my uncle tied it to me” recalls Mameji.
He counts Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali and Nazakat Salamat Ali as his major influences apart from his family. He believes,
“Music is infinite so the journey of learning can never end. It is an ocean where only swimming is not enough. You have to explore its depth.”
The Manganiyars and their music
The Manganiyars have been performing Rajasthani folk music for more than 16 generations. Their unique style called ‘Jangra’ features songs about all the situations in life. These folk melodies have been passed from generations. Though Muslim by birth, they celebrate and sing about Hindu festivals and deities. Mameji sings a wide repertoire of Rajasthani folk and sufi music and has incorporated the traditional music in his signature style. The Manganiyars are known for their popular songs like Kesariya Balam, Mast Kalander, Nimbooda etc.
“We have a treasure of music. For this we planned an album called ‘Desert Sessions’ by crowd funding. We included some of the relatively unknown songs. I was very happy when people requested me to play these songs. We achieved what we had hoped to with this album,” said Mameji.
Manganiyar as a music community is widely respected but the artists do not always get their individual fame. All the artists are commonly referred to as the ‘Manganiyar’, when they deserve individual credits and respect.
“It pains me to see us being referred to as just ‘Manganiyars’ and not individually. We toil hard for what we have achieved. Every musician should be credited along with the community,” asserted Mameji.
Persona of an Artist
Folk music is considered to be the mother of all genres. The local folk of the land developed into genres like Hindustani classical, blues, flamenco etc. But in this day and age just being talented artist is not enough.
“Aan Madh.. Dhan Madh.. Raj Madh.. Vidya Madh.. Samudra…Ghair Suniyo Raag Madh Toh Aur Madh Sab Radh. All types of people come to listen to us, but when the music starts everyone becomes similar,” said Mameji, adding,
“One has to well verse with the finer aspects such as presenting themselves on stage, the way they dress up and also audience interaction.”
Mameji feels that audience interaction is not just limited to the stage. Social media is now a very powerful and useful tool for connecting with the fans. An artist should exploit the social media and music streaming platforms not just for fan interaction but also monetise their creations.
“One has to move with the time. We still wear the ‘pagdhi’ as it our pride. But we have changed the rest of our dressing a bit while retaining the traditional essence,” opined Mameji.
From Rajasthani folk music to Fusion
From debuting as a 11 year old at the India Gate, New Delhi, Mameji has now risen up the ranks as a performer. He has adapted various genres of music which were earlier alien to him. He is now giving new treatment to the Rajasthani folk music. Not only is he changing the tempo and style but also fusing foreign elements to the songs. His song, ‘Chaudhary’ with ace composer Amit Trivedi has been a runaway hit.
“It was for the first time I was signing with guitars, drums and other instruments. The atmosphere in the studio was completely different than what I was used to. It was a great learning experience for me,” said Mameji.
Learning from this experience, Mameji has now developed a very unique style of music while retaining the Rajasthani folk music element. Mameji’s song ‘Laal Peeli Ankhiyan’ has a distinct Flamenco element. The rustic folk singer insists that musicians have to embrace the change but should not lose on the traditional flavour.
“Fusion karo, confusion nahi,” is his message.