The vast unending expanse of burning hot sand that makes up the Thar Desert of Rajasthan hosts one of the most vibrant and evocative music cultures of the world. The heady, hypnotic combination of rhythm and melodies sung and played by the Langas and Manganiars are part of the eternal appeal of this mysterious and wondrous land.
The soulful, full throated voices of these two music communities have filled the cool air of the desert night for centuries in a tradition that reflects all aspects of Rajasthani life. Songs for every occasion, mood and moment; stories of legendary battles, heroes and lovers engender a spirit of identity, expressed through music that provides relief from the inhospitable land of heat and dust storms.
Ismail Khan Langa and his group are of the Langa caste and their ancestral village is Badnava in Barmer District of Rajasthan. Traditionally their ancestors, professional musicians, were invited by the royal families to perform at weddings, childbirths or other festive occasions. Over the years there has been an increasing trend of groups performing at programs nationally and internationally and that is how these groups make a living now.
Their entire team consists of members of the family, uncles, cousins, brothers, nephews; all men. The women were not allowed to perform traditionally and still are not. The women who are part of their team are professionals of other communities who team up with them to provide variety to the repertoire at programs.
Their group has travelled abroad to perform at several programmes.
The Langas and Manganiars are groups of hereditary professional musicians, whose music has been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations. Both sing in the same dialect, but their styles and repertoires differ, shaped by the tastes of their patrons. The monarchs of the courts of Rajput and Jaipur maintained large music and dance troupes an in an environment where the arts were allowed to flourish.
Though both communities are made up of Muslim musicians, many of their songs are in praise of Hindu deities and celebrate Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi. The Manganiar performers traditionally invoke the Hindu God Krishna and seek his blessings before beginning their recital. At one time, the Manganiars were musicians of the Rajput courts, accompanying their chiefs to war and providing them with entertainment before and after the battles and in the event of his death, would perform at the ruler's vigil day and night until the mourning was over.
Langa literally means 'song giver'. An accomplished group of poets, singers, and musicians from the Barmer district of Rajasthan, the Langas seem to have converted from Hinduism to Islam in the 17th century. Traditionally, Sufi influences prevented them from using percussion instruments, however, the Langas are versatile players of the Sindhi Sarangi and the Algoza (double flute), which accompany and echo their formidable and magical voices. They perform at events like births, and weddings, exclusively for their patrons (Yajman), who are cattle breeders, farmers, and landowners. The Langa musicians are regarded by their patrons as 'kings'.
The 'Sindhi Sarangi' used by the Langas, is made up of four main wires, with more than twenty vibrating sympathetic strings which help to create its distinctive haunting tones. The bowing of these instruments is a skilful exercise, often supported by the sound of the 'ghungroos' or ankle bells that are tied to the bow to make the beat more prominent.
Another remarkable bowed instrument is the 'kamayacha' of the manganiars with its big, circular resonator, giving out an impressive deep, booming sound. The music of Rajasthan is driven by pulsating rhythms created by an array of percussion instruments, the most popular of them being the 'dholak', a double headed barrel drum, whose repertoire has influenced other Indian drums including the tabla. This recording also features the double flute, 'satara', and the hypnotic Jewish harp or 'morchang'.