Another full-on day. Got Bachu Khan and the boys to Melbourne Arts Centre for their sound check at the right time only to discover that the head of the dholak was ripped in half and unplayable! Grumpiness abounded at the dholak player. Frantic calling of instrument stores across Melbourne hoping that on a Sunday they just might be open. Well no luck. They were open but had no Indian drums. In desperation I Google, ‘Indian Musical Instruments Melbourne’. And lo and behold there is one store. I call and lo and behold (a second time) I talk to a very gentle voiced man who says, I’m sure we can help. Only problem is they are in Coolaroo…30 Kms away from the city. I grab the drummer and hail a taxi and off we head to the nether zones of Melbourne. We arrive at ‘Guru Australia’ a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere.
The bottom floor of Guru Australia is full of groceries, CDs, 10kg bags of rice and atta and a mish mash of the latest Bollywood films on flimsy DVDs. A special exit leads to the upper floor where one enters a room as rareified as the brisk Himalayan air. From wall to wall and from floor to ceiling rest tablas, dhols, dholaks, harmoniums of every size and quality, sitars, sarangis and even a few veenas. This must the best shop for this in Melbourne, I say.
Mr Guru, with a proud smirk, says, ‘What? in Melbourne? How bout Australia? How bout the Southern Hemisphere? There’s half a million dollars worth of stuff here.”
My drummer friend is agog with wonder. He tries out a couple harmoniums and grabs a dholak. ‘Wah!’ he says!
But we are here on urgent business. Several goat skin heads are proffered and rejected, masala is brought out as well as a sua and hammer. Before long Nizam Khan has selected a new head, given it a thick gooey black center of masala and has begun stringing it back on to his damaged dholak. We are offered tea and tales of how all the great musicians on tour in this part of the world hang out here in this amazing warehouse of musical instruments. Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Tari Khan and on and on. Mr Guru insists on having his picture taken with Nizam (who is by now very relieved and happy).
We say our farewells, and race back to the Arts Center. All is well! Then I’m informed by one of the boys that ‘back home we always have a good toke or two before going on.’ I get the hint and race off to find some magic tobacco. Amazing how accommodating musicians and their hangers on are. In short order the boys are given something to enjoy and with glazy eyes and lazy smiles we head back for a final sound check, this time with a working dholak.
The show was great. The audience loved the Rajasthani beats, the sarangi, the beautiful fluted sounds of the alghoza and the masterful, passionate singing. Bachu Khan has a mighty voice and is a master showman. He once was the toast of the the international festival circuit, as the lead singer of Musafir and Maharaja and then Dil Mastana. But business got in the way, as it usually does for illiterate traditional musicians. He was left without a manager and years worth of wages!
Clearly, Bachu and the boys loved being back on stage. After the show agents swarmed around telling them they simply ‘must’ show up at Womad and the Sydney Opera House next year. The boys smiled. They had conquered Australia!