Anwar Khan Manghanyiar, singer
Ghewar Khan Manghanyiar, kamanchiya
Mehardeen Khan Langa, satâra, sarangui, morchang
Gazi Khan Barna, leader of the ensemble and kartâl
Feiruz Khan Manghaniyar, dholak
From Jaisalmer, the village at the desert's gate, to Udaipur, the lush green city whose two lakes still seemed to be bathed in the aura of an exMaharana, the maharaja all-powerful sun, the Rajasthan region continues to fascinate with the vestiges of its medieval structure. An ever numerous constellation of castes (jati) such as the Manghaniyar and the Langa, the Dho!i (musicians who play a large double-skinned drum called a dhol), the Charan (genealogical poets), the Jogi (singers of the bhajan -devotional songs, and serpent charmers), the Bhat (historians and puppeteers), the Kamad, the Kamjar, and the Bhopa (shamans and diviners) etc. all carry with them a memory of a past when the art of music, dance, and poetry evolved around the hierarchical structure of the Rajput. They were the conquering lords of the Rajasthan (those whose nobility is compared to that of a lion, thus the honorific title, "Singh") and the original tribal culture of the first inhabitants of the Rajasthan and India such as the Bhi!. The Rajasthan had seen the course of its history buffeted long before the independence of 1949. Islamic domination in Northern India began right from the start of the 12th century and reached its apex in the 17th century. After the victory of Akbar, the conquering Mogul, against the implacable Rajput of the principality of Mewat, the city of Chittorgah capitulated in 1568. This event marked the beginning of the nomadic exodus of castes condemned to wandering, such as the famous metal-workers, the Gadu!iya Lohar. The ancient Chittorgah became Udaipur. Many musicians became Muslims during the era of the great mythic musician, Tan Sen (15001589), who had a place in the court of Akbar until the end of his life. This was without a doubt the case with Langa musicians, and then with Maghaniyar musicians, who, from this period on, added "khan" to their names in order to insist upon their connection to Islam. At the end of the Mogul empire, after the reign of Mohammad Shah 11(1719-1748), numerous musicians once again looked for protection in the courts of the Rajahs. Others set themselves up around the outskirts of villages to make themselves available to the Jajman, whosesuperior caste permitted them to support the musicians.
In our era, the Langas still have the Sindhi Sipahi for Jajmans. They are a modest caste of Muslim farmers. Their stringed instrument, the sindhi sarangi (in reference to the Pakistani Sind Valley which prolongs this cultural air) and the gujrati sarangi (which refers to a region in the southern part of Rajasthan, the Gujarat) are the domain of Saran giya Langa (the players of sarangi and satara, the double flute of pastoral origin) while the Suraniya Langa reserve for themselves wind instruments such as the shahnai (oboe) and the murli (clarinet). In the past, the tradition linked to certain religious orders of Islam prevented the Langa from using percussion. Those times seem faraway, for today almost all of the Langa play the dho!ak in accompaniment in the same way that the Man ghaniyar do. Even the karthal of the Manghaniyar can be found pounding in the Langa hands today. The fraying of tradition and modification of social structures has a tendency to create a phenomena of uniformity. Nevertheless, the Manghaniyar still do not use the sarangi of the Langa, but continue to prefer the kamaica, a heavy string sculpted from the wood of the mango tree with a round wooden resonating case (tabli).
The Manghaniyar who inhabit the villages at the edge of the Thar Desert play mostly for castes who are Hindu, which explains the difference between their repertory and that of the Langa. Like the Lautauri gypsies of Rumania and the griots of Mauritania or elsewhere, the musicians of Rajasthan disperse themselves geographically in relation to the residences of their Jajmans. In contemporary society, where points of reference change very quickly, the ancestral contract still exists between the Manghaniyar and the Rajput, who assimilated into the ancient and mythic Ksatri, the ancient warrior caste. But they no longer necessarily have the allure and wealth of ancient Rajahs. Given that certain professions such as commerce and artisanal labour are considered impure and forbidden to them, the Rajput of today may be simple farmers or taxi drivers whose limited means only permit them to symbolically support the musicians through small contributions and gifts. This explains why everyone is no longer a musician in the Man ghaniyar community. The particular speciality of the Manghaniyar are the mota git (long songs) as opposed to chota git, "shorter" and more ritualistic songs. Often in Rajasthan, these songs are given raga names, such as sorath, maru, sindhi bhairavi. Nevertheless, Komal Kothari, specialist in this music, points out that these names, which sometimes designate certain sites, do not correspond to classical hindustani rage of the same name. After a slow poetic vocal introduction without rhythm (duha), the Manghaniyar stretch out the mota git, whose richness of depth and complexity as can be remarked in these recordings. Anwar Khan's vocal work precisely brings to light the ornamentation which undeniably sends us back to the very origins of certain classical singing.
The ensemble "Poets and Musicians of Rajasthan" brings together the greatest contemporary virtuosos, an event that has been reproduced several times in Europe since 1991. They have participated in several musical performances dedicated to the gypsies -the first in Florence in 1991 called "Musica Populi", then at the Gamier Opera in Paris in 1992 for the "Paris, Quartier d'Eté" festival, followed by the "The Route of Nomads" at the "Printemps des Comediens" festival in Montpellier in 1993, "The Road of the Gypsies" at the Villette in 1994 and finally, the International Festival of Music in Lucerne in 1995. They have also participated in the evening "From Sitar to Guitar" conceived by Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin in Brussels in 1995 and played a week at the Sydney Opera in January 1997. Anwar Khan Manghaniyar, Bundu Khan Langa and Habib Khan Langa were part of the Zingaro performance, "Chimera". Gazi Khan Barna played in the musical film "Latcho Drom" by Tony Gatlif, which retraces the voyage of gypsies from India to Spain. He and Feiruz Khan Manghaniyar participated in the program "From Father to Son" presented at the "Théâtre du Soleil" in 1992. These recordings were made at the Reze Theatre during their European tour in the spring of 1996. A first CD in this same collection was released in November 1993 under the title "Poets and Musicians of Rajasthan"
Esplanade Co. Ltd (SGP), Ateliers d'Ethnomusicologie - Genève (CHE), Festival de l'Oh (FR), Notes d’Equinoxe - Delemont (CHE), etc...