It is believed that the sands of Rajasthan carry a tune of its own. The treacherous deserts keep one’s soul alive through its music. The state has an ancient and rich tradition of music which is still practised by the musicians. The Langas and Manganiars are largely responsible for the music history of the land and are known exponents of their art.
The Langas and Manganiars are groups of hereditary professional musicians. Their music has been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations. Though their styles and repertoires differ, they sing in the same dialect. Their style of singing is soulful and full-throated. They have songs for every occasion and mood. Their songs are generally about lores of great battles, love, separation and devotion to the Almighty.
The word ‘Langa’ literally means ‘song-giver’. One such Langa is Sikandar Khan Langa. His voice echoed across the Kala Ghoda Festival this year. Performing with the Imran Khan and his friends ensemble, he enthralled the audience with his high pitched singing.
Sikandar was literally born into music. Performing at various occasions and festivities was a source of income for his family. His father was a sarangi player in his hometown of Barmer.
“When I was 5-6 years old I would accompany my father on his musical tours. He would play the sarangi and I would sing along,” said Sikandar.
At this point of time he had not received any formal training. Being naturally blessed with a soulful voice, he just needed to be polished into a performer. His family travelled to Jodhpur where he would perform with his cousins at various hotels and tourist spots.
“It was in Jodhpur that I underwent formal training under the guidance of Ustad Nawab Khan and Ustad Fateh Khan from the famed Shikar Gharana,” recalled Sikandar.
This spell helped him to enhance his skills and also helped him grow in confidence as an artiste. Though music was in his DNA, performing live in front of hundreds was something he was still a novice at. Sikandar did not allow his illiteracy be a hurdle to his growth as a performer. After joining the ‘Imran Khan & friends’ ensemble, he laid all his self-doubts to rest.
“Imran bhai guided me how to perform and also how to behave as an artist. I now tour the world and perform in front of large audiences without any problems,” said Sikandar.
The Langas are traditionally the finest exponents of the ‘Khartaal’. The word can be broken into Khar and Taal. Khar means hand and Taal means Rhythm. The Khartaal is basically four pieces of wood which the artistes hold in both their hands while performing. It is an instrument one plays using the rhythm of his hands. The artistes bring the pieces of wood to life by creating difficult percussions sounds out of them. Watching an artist play the Khartaal, while his partner plays the dholak or sings, is a visual joy.
“It is a very difficult instrument to play. We Langas have this art gifted to us by the almighty. Even a child in our family knows how to play it naturally,” smiled Sikandar.
Acknowledging that he still has a long way to go as an artist, Sikandar likes to call himself an ‘On the go musician’. He practically performs his riyaaz through all his daily chores and activities.
“My riyaaz never stops. I keep humming to myself while walking, cooking and even in the bathroom. I am just trying to make a living while learning the tricks of the trade,” said Sikandar.