Gypsy Music: Rajasthan​ to Django

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There’s nothing more soulful than gypsy music. Be it a simple duet of voice and fiddle or the hurricane blast of a Balkan brass brand, the music of the world’s ultimate free spirits is intoxicating.

Moving westward out of Northern India more than millennium ago, the gypsies arrived in Eastern Europe in the 14th century. Over the next several hundred years, the Roma – as they refer to themselves – spread across Europe, West Asia and even to the Americas and were consistently exploited and used as labour but tolerated for the contributions to the arts, particularly as craftsmen, fortune tellers and musicians.

Despite a colourful history of nomadism, ingenuity and resilience, the Roma experience is one of suspicion, persecution and marginalisation. Tens of thousands of Roma are believed to have perished in Nazi death camps during the 1940s, and even today, most host countries continue to maintain a culture of discrimination against them.

Over the years, scholars have advanced a number of theories on their origins, linking them to cave-dwelling primitives and wandering Jews. But by the 18th century, similarities between the Romani and several South Asian languages suggested an Indian origin. And as the science of linguistics, genetics and comparative cultural studies developed, this theory has strengthened and today it is universally accepted.

In February, during the International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival in Delhi, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj referred to the gypsies as the “children of India”. Encouraged, the festival concluded with a call for the government of India to recognise the roughly 20-million-strong Roma community as part of the Indian diaspora.

While we wait for the government to consider that recommendation, let’s tune in to some truly spectacular music from this global community. [My latest article from SCROLL.IN here]

Exhilaration: Musafir

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Long time fans of this blog (as well as the old version of Washerman’s Dog) will recall that in November 2012 I had the privilege of facilitating the performance of Bachu Khan at a major international music expo here in Melbourne.  During the course of the several days that we hung out together I discovered that Bachu had spent some time in the iconic Rajasthani music group, Musafir.

 

Musafir, was in the late 90s and early part of the new millennium, a globe-trotting collective of gypsy musicians from western India led by Barkat and Hameed Khan, both of whom were Bachu’s elder relatives.  By travelling the world and performing with other international artists, he developed not only a love of travel but a sophisticated understanding of how the traditional music of Rajasthan could be blended with other styles.

 

Sadly, as happens all too often, ‘management’ issues led to the demise of Musafir and their exciting, exhilarating brand of Indian folk music.  But thankfully, as happens not often enough, Bachu Khan’s international career has been revived and we are hoping to welcome him back to Australia later this year.

 

In the meantime, we share Musafir’s second album from 2002 titled Barsaat. It is a killer, full of the powerful voices of Bachu and his relatives as well as enticing appearances by Natacha Atlas and a clarinet!

 

Zindabad!

Barsaat

Track Listing:

01 Yad

02 Balamji

03 Khet

04 Pyar Ki Boond

05 Banna

06 Ali Mullah (Feat. Transglobal Underground And Natacha Atlas)

07 Karvan

08 Barish

09 Loneliness

10 Balu

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