It has been almost 3 weeks since my Suryagarh trip, a trip that will go down as one of those trips of a lifetime. Being able to see the incredible monsoon desertscape, to visiting lesser known and popular sights in Jaisalmer, to the food feast laid out for us, to the pampering … everything was special.
But the reason that makes Suryagarh really special was an experience that stood over and above everything else and one that remains with me even today — the incredible music I heard at Suryagarh. Right from the Padhaaro Mhaaro Desh (please click on the song to hear it being rendered by Meelu Khan and Maqsood Khan) that welcomed me to the hotel or the performance of Manganiar musicians during dinner on the first day or the Langha musicians performing during dinner on the second day or hearing Algoza for the first time or discussing Rajasthani folk music…it was music, music and more music all the way.
Music is a quiet passion for me. While I enjoy hearing new kinds of music and am always open to hearing different kinds of music, I rarely seek music, local or pre-recorded, during my travels and Suryagarh was no different. But music was everywhere at Suryagarh and one that enveloped me in its melodious magic. While all the music I heard was truly incredible, two performances stood out for the sheer quality and for the interaction I was able to have with the musicians concerned.
I’ll introduce them to you a little later but for now let us call them the singer at the sand dunes and the musician at the window. Because that is how I first saw them and heard their magical music. My interactions with both of them left me feeling truly blessed and like the chosen one 🙂
The singer at the dunes was Salim Khan. A musician from the Langha community, I met him on my first evening at Jaisalmer, when our group was taken to the nearby dunes for an evening of wine and cheese. It was dark by the time we arrived at the location to see glorious starlit skies right above where we sat and clouds with impressive lightning display in the distance. Right away it was Salim Khan’s soulful singing and his instrument that captured my attention. I went and sat near him to listen to him play.
He was singing a song on love and longing in Raga Desh. When he finished, we got down to talking about his music and his instrument, the Sindhi Sarangi, which is played only by musicians from his community. I got into a discussion with him on raga-based Rajasthani folk melodies and in my ignorance asked him a rather stupid question: “Why are so many Rajasthani folk songs based on Raga Desh or Raga Mand.”
I got a rather tart reply, “Because those are the only melodies people like you want to hear. We have songs in every raga, some of which you may never even have heard of.”
My question spurred him to sing melodies from these different ragas and I was treated to a musical performance where he sang songs in Sorti, Maru, Marwa, Tilak Kamod, Bhimpalas and Khamaj ragas. The rendition in Raga Maru was particularly poignant, as he sang the legend of Dhola and Maru in that raga.
Salim Khan’s music was still resounding in my ears, when I got up all early and bright-eyed the next morning. When I got out of the room, I heard a flute-like sound, but with a difference. It seemed to have a supporting drone. Never having heard anything like this before, I set off to explore the source of the music. When I reached the central courtyard of Suryagarh, I found out the source of this melodious and intriguing sound — the musician at the window.
I took a picture and posted it on my FB page with this description:
Some lovely Ahir Bhairav being played at Suryagarh. Looked around for the source of music and found this musician sitting at a jharokha and playing his flute
Within minutes, I got a response from my musician friend, Milind Date: “That’s not a flute; that’s an Algoza“. Now, I was even more intrigued as I had never heard of such an instrument before. I set off in search of the musician at the window and found him on the first floor of the hotel after a while. He was playing the last notes of a melody in Raga Desh when I walked in on him, startling him. I apologised for disturbing him and requested him to continue playing.
When he finished playing, we got talking. Sikander was the name of the musician at the window, the Algoza player, and he too was from the Langha community. When I asked him about who he had learnt playing the Algoza from, he blushed and said,
“I have not learnt everything. I am still learning and have a long way to go.”
He then proceeded to show me how the Algoza worked. There are two parts to the instrument: one of the “flutes” is played like a regular flute, while the other “flute” produces the drone for a set of notes pertaining to that particular raga. The drone sound is produced by blowing into the “flute” whose openings are plugged with a special clay. Depending on which melody is being played, different openings are plugged.
“Which raga would you like to hear?” Sikander asked me suddenly.
“Anything. I like all that I have been hearing so far,” I replied.
“I’m sure you have not heard anything in Bhairavi yet,” said Sikander. “Would you like to hear a piece in Bhairavi?”
” I would love to,”
Immediately, Sikander got to work on the Algoza, and plugged a few openings in the “flute” that would produce the drone sound. Some experimental notes later, he nodded his head in readiness and satisfaction. I asked for permission to record his music, to which Sikander agreed.
And then he began playing.
And the magic unfolded.
And the goosebumps rose.
And there was just pure music
And time stopped.
When Sikander finished playing, both of us were misty eyed and aware that a rare connection had been made.
Between music and a listener. Between a musician and music lover.
A connection that is impossible to describe in words.
A connection that left me feeling blessed.
Both my interactions with Salim Khan and Sikander made me look at the concept of “travelling for music”. Is this the beginning of the music traveller in me?
Only time will tell.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Read my other posts from the Suryagarh series: