Most of the non-Indian world’s only knowledge of Kutch is that this western extremity of India was the site of the powerful Bhuj earthquake (so named for the district’s capital city) of 2001. In that vein, we are likely to witness more of the same devastation and destruction in the same areas, as Kutch straddles the fault lines between the Sub-continent and Eurasia. But to think of Kutch only as a past and future disaster zone would be a major mistake.
The salty and marshy lands of Kutch have supported human civilisation for nearly 5000 years, if not longer. Crumbling ruins like Dholarvira were once major urban centers that formed part of India’s original civilised culture along the Indus River. Cities rose to prominence and faded away, falling as victims to shifting rivers as well as invasions from the sea and north and east. Those who lived in this harsh landscape, nevertheless, controlled the traditional trade routes between western India (the areas now in Gujarat State) and Sindh, the deserty province of Pakistan. Indeed, the Kutchi language, though nowadays written in the Gujarati script, is a dialect of Sindhi.
Kutch comes from the Sanskrit word for turtle (Hindi: katchwa) and it makes sense. The area, also known as the Rann of Kutch is a vast salty marshland where water lies shallow on top of the land for some months before evaporating to display a sparkling white salt encrusted geography. Slow moving, self-protected animals like the turtle thrive in this place.
Like Sindh to the north-west the culture of the Kutchi people is rich, ancient and deeply humanistic. Most people count themselves as ‘Hindu’ for official census purposes but communities of Muslims, Jains, tribals and even some Sikhs live side by side across the district. Their culture, its language, many of its religious forms and musical styles are a melange of many Indian communities. And beyond the shores of India, scholars have traced African rhythms and Central Asian elements in the music and instruments of the rural Kutchis.
I have spoken of the New Folk Music Movement that is sweeping India in other posts and on the website. A small but passionate group of music entrepreneurs and ethnomusicologists have made it their life’s mission to not just preserve the sounds of the scattered villages and regions of India but to connect the thousands of hereditary musicians in these areas to new audiences both in India and overseas.
Like Deben Bhattacharya and Alan Lomax in previous generations, these new promoter are taking their recording equipment into the mud houses, village squares and fields of the musicians and making really high quality recordings of this living tradition.
Today we share a double disc set of raw, pure and thrilling folk music from Kutch. This is not music that has been electrified or modernised in any way. It has nothing to do with the classical sublimnity of Ravi Shankar or Rashid Khan. Neither does it relate or connect in any way with the glitzy sounds of Bollywood or Indo-pop. It is the sound of people singing (often with no accompaniment) chanting funny tongue twisters and playing their simple but magnificent folk instruments. They sing to themselves and those who understand and appreciate the harsh environment of Kutch. This is about the most non-commercial music you’ll find.
Which is not to say it is unlistenable. Not at all, it is full of life and energy and power. And it is not completely ‘isolated’ from the 21st century. Just listen to a wonderful track by Dana Barmal, Ek Pardesi, in which he sings of his infatuation with a visiting European lady!
For real music continue on!
Track Listing (Disc.1)
01 Chalade Aye Rulalyi [Mura Lala Fafal]
02 Untha Mu Tola Aandho Aaya [Raja Kana Kharet & friends]
03 Ek Pardesi Much Aankh Bagi [Dana Bharmal]
04 Anth Bahar Di Kalan Kayi [Ismail Jhuma Mohamad Para & friends]
05 Sartiyu Aaita Vanore Vano [Musa Para]
06 Samiyan Sariyu Soan Jyu [Salambhai Kasam Haleputra & friends]
07 Kismat [Samat Sajan Pathan]
08 Noori – Jam Tamaachi … Pakhaa [Abdulla Abdul Husen & Kafi Artists]
01 Aadu Panth Othaape, Nar Ochha Ho Ji Re [Unknown]
02 Dharti Mathe Aambo [Mangal Singh Rathod]
03 Bawaliya Periya Prem Ji [Karsanbhai Ahir]
04 Kanudo Indho Vala, Ae Suhagan [Sukaria Nar Fafal & friends]
05 Ulatya Baan Laga Gagan [Mura Lala Fafal & friends]
06 Aavo Madi Aavo Rajbai Naran Paradhi & friends]
07 Sonala Vataki Ne Rupela Kangasadi [Amrut Barot]
08 Ae Bethi Ne Morari Momai Mataji [Sona Kancha Rabari & friends]
09 Ek Nish, See See Eat ujas,…Natwar [Bhan Muru Gadhvi & party]
10 Aan Dhan The Aage Aaya [Jasa Dana Sanjot]
11 Marvi (Kutchi Kafi) [Noormohamad Soda]
12 Sur [Osman Sonu Sawan Jat]
13 Kutchi Tarz [Suratnath Motinath Lalvadi]
14 Raag Rano [Jusab Sumar Langa & saathis]