AMARRASS DESERT MUSIC FESTIVAL 2012 Recap
The third edition of the Amarrass Desert Music Festival took place December 1 and 2 in New Delhi, India and featured an array of renowned international artists, including Bombino (the Hendrix of Niger) and BaBa ZuLa (The creators of Istanbul Psychedelia), alongside masters from India. The redoubtable Sakar Khan, Padma Shri Awardee, and unarguably the greatest living exponent of the signature Rajashthani folk instrument - the kamaicha made a rare public performance.
Video: Amarrass Desert Music Festival 2012 recap
Video: Bombino performs Tar Hani
This year's theme showcased traditional music from deserts around the world. But some of the musicians on show tell that story in a contemporary way. The guitar is seen as ‘foreign’; an instrument of rebellion by hardline Islamists among Bombino’s community, the Tuaregs of northern Africa. His music reflects this. BaBa ZuLa reinterpreted the sounds of the silk route Sufis electronically and created Istanbul Psychedelia, which has a cult following not just in Turkey but all over the world. Alongside such musicians performed Barmer Boys—from the interiors of Rajasthan, with the stellar voice of Mangey Khan and a trio of percussionists with an ear for rhythm—including beat-boxing. The Sidis of Kutch are India’s most direct connection to Africa and a group of 16 musicians will bring their trance inducing drumming and chanting to the stage.
Video: Barmer Boys sing Bole to Mitho Lage
This year, we introduced the Showcase series that featured up-and-coming artists, collaborations and more. Artists included Dischordian, Tritha Electric, Harpreet Singh, The Blue Infinity, Alan Rego, and I Adra, a special Indo-Welsh collaboration with Tauseef Akhtar (Ghazal singer) and his band, and Welsh folk artists Gwyneth Glyn (singer/songwriter), Georgia Ruth Williams (harp).
Video: Dischordian perform Lover
Video: Harpreet perform Guruji
The festival creates an environment that encourages colllaboration between artists, with fabulous jams, late night sessions and shared experiences that will remain etched in our memories forever (video helps!)..
Video: Bombino and Susmit Sen (of Indian Ocean) Terrace Jam
Video: Barmer Boys, Bombino and Sidis perform Mast Kalander
Live at the 2011 Amarrass Desert Music Festival
Lakha Khan, Vieux Farka Touré, Madou Sidiki Diabaté, Nihal Khan, Barmer Boys
Live at Amarrass Desert Music Festival 2011 features 8 tracks with over 70 minutes of music.
There is something about the vast openness of the desert that translates so easily from culture to culture, from the pungent sands of the Thar desert in India’s Rajasthan to the untamed Sahara of Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu. The innovative Amarrass Desert Music Festival of 2011, recorded in the shadow of New Delhi’s ancient Siri Fort, captures both the quiet contemplation of Madou Sidiki Diabaté’s kora music, and the boisterous celebration of the Barmer Boys’ qawwali music. That all these styles come from the same sandy roots is clear in the final track, when Diabate, Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré and Rajasthani masters Lakha Khan, Dane Khan and the Barmer Boys take the stage together for one last jam.
Artists from Rajasthan, India and Mali in Africa jam at the Amarrass Desert Music Festival in New Delhi, November 26, 2012 (photo courtesy Findlay Kember)
Sakar Khan at home in Hamira, Rajasthan May 2012
SAKAR KHAN, KAMANCHA (KAMAICHA, KAMAYCHA) MAESTRO
- Padma Shri awarded in 2012 - India’s highest civilian award for his contribution to Indian music
- Has performed with violin legend Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison (of The Beatles). Numerous international performances, including those at major festivals in the US, France, Japan and USSR.
- Tulsi Samman awarded in 1990 by the Madhya Pradesh government
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991
- "At Home: Sakar Khan" released in September 2012
At 76, Sakar Khan, from the village of Hamira in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district, is a living treasure. Not just for the Thar desert where he comes from, but for the vast swath of land extending west to parts of Europe. Sakar Khan plays a very special instrument, to a specially high level. The roots of the ‘kamancha’ (also spelt kamaicha, kamaycha, kemancheh) go back to the 8th century. A bowed instrument with a goat skin sound box and three main gut strings with 14 sympathetic metal strings, it harks back to the lost bowed Raba'ab of Arabia, and perhaps further, in terms of both geography and time.
Mohan Lal Lohar, blacksmith and woodworker
Mohan Lal Lohar is folk music’s equivalent of a polyglot---but with an added dimension. Not only can he play every wind, string, bow and percussion instrument native to his Rajasthan, he also makes them. His surname, ‘lohar’ (one who works with iron) denotes his caste and occupation: he is a blacksmith, from a family that has traditionally plied the trade.
But Mohan Lal is different. He combines a talent for music with his craftsmanship. At his workshop in Jaisalmer, the rhythmic beating of a piece of metal gives way within hours to the refined percussion of a freshly made morchang — just cool enough to play. The workshop itself belies what is produced in it. In one of the town’s many open-sewered lanes, it is just a portion of a small courtyard, under a shed that leaks; as much a play area for his goats as it is a place of work.
Lakha Khan, Sarangi maker
Lakha Khan is an acclaimed Sarangi craftsman and musician from the village of Raneri in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. It takes him ten days labouring away on a single block of wood to just carve out this complex musical instrument - a testament to the decades of craftsmanship, persistence and passion for music.
Speciality: Sarangi. Lakha Khan has four sarangis, each from a previous generation in his family. This instrument is in his blood. Contact us to find out how you can get a Sarangi handcrafted by the master.
Shankara Ram Suthar, Kamancha maker
There is a reason why the kamanchas on view at Manganiyar performances have a charming antiquity about them. They often come stained, patched up, with bits of inlay work missing—all signs that they are in regular use. But they are, almost without exception, also very old.
This is where Shankara Ram Suthar’s story as master kamancha-maker begins. In the early eighties, academics—and musicians—found that no one was making kamanchas any more. They imported a batch of about 16 from Pakistan, where artisans evidently had a bit if stock, and these made their way to collectors and musicians. But with no local craftsmen, there was a problem.
Like the one Sakar Khan had. Sakarji, the greatest living exponent of the instrument (Amarrass will release an album of sessions with him soon), discovered that the mango wood belly of his kamancha had developed a crack. But with no artisans making the instrument, there was no one competent to carry out repairs either. Shankara Ram Suthar, the carpenter by trade and caste, lived near Sakarji in the little village of Hamira, Jaisalmer. The instrument was taken to Suthar, who, knowing it belonged to a master, carried out the repairs meticulously. Sakarji’s kamancha was good to play again.
The fact that the carpenter’s work had passed muster with the redoubtable Sakar Khan drew other musicians to Suthar. He carried out repairs for them, but there seemed to be few fresh orders. This, despite the efforts of government officials sensitive to the fact that the art of making kamanchas was dying: Suthar produced some excellent prototypes for them, but that was about it. If you were just making kamanchas, you were not making a living.
Suthar fell back on carpentry. He would travel to Pune to make furniture for a contractor, as half-made instruments languished in his little workshop in Hamira. He still does what he has to to earn a living, but we are happy to report that he has received fresh orders through the Amarrass Society for Performing Arts. A discerning British collector of stringed instruments (and pensioner), received his kamancha last month and said he was delighted. A second piece will shortly be on its way to the United States. And a third one makes its way to Germany this summer. We are, we hope, seeing the beginnings of a renewal of interest in this unique instrument. (below: our first kamancha sold!)
The kamanchas that are produced in Hamira are special not just because of the high level of craftsmanship that goes into making them. They are also the product of a secular collaboration. The Suthar crafts the wooden portions of the instrument - the sound box, the bow, the neck and so on, but his Hindu religious beliefs forbid him from working with animal hide or gut. Once the skeleton is finished, the Muslim Manganiyars take over, attaching the hide, adding the gut strings and, of course, tuning the instrument to ensure it is perfect. When Sakar Khan is within earshot, nothing less will do.
Shankara Ram Suthar's speciality: Kamancha. This is the instrument that is at the heart of the Manganiyars's music. And the Suthar is the finest maker of it. All he needs is a block of wood of his choosing. To order this unique instrument, write to us or order online:
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US Office: Amarrass Records
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