CULTURE

Rajasthani music to tabla beat

Their forefathers used to play for maharajahs in Rajasthan, in India’s northwest, believed to be the original home of all Gypsies. Now they travel the world playing to packed houses. The Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan, a group formed four years ago by Rahis Bharti, all come from a ancient caste of musicians that goes back generations. «This is a traditional form of music that has lasted hundreds of years. It is still played today in Rajasthan at weddings, festivals, on the radio and television. I learned it as a child from my father and grandfather,» Bharti told Kathimerini English Edition during the group’s current season at the Coronet Theater in Pangrati. Bharti set out from his home town of Jaipur at a young age and worked with French, African, Italian and Spanish musicians, getting experience before setting up the Dhoad group, comprising singers, musicians, a dancer and a fakir who dances on a bed of nails, on swords and cut glass, as well as playing with fire in an impressive demonstration. «After playing with different musicians around the world I decided to import my own family tradition, the different colors of music from Rajasthan where you will find fakirs, dancers, musicians, singers all performing together. So four years ago I created the group and we tour the world from Asia and Europe to North America.» The show begins with Bharti giving a demonstration of the tabla, a double drum, and then introducing the other musicians: his younger brother Amrat Hussain, also a tabla virtuoso, Kutle Khan, who plays the bhapang (Indian castanets) and morchiang (Jew’s harp), singers Gulam Ali (also on portable harmonium) and Dashrath Singh, on the barkat dholak (horizontal two-sided drum), Anwar Hussain and Sahid Khan, who plays sarangi (a small stringed instrument). The singers engage the audience with facial expressions and gestures, and along with Bharti’s quick, infectious smile, they establish a rapport from the outset. The show is a balance between singing, dancing by Leela Kumari, who also comes from an ancient Gypsy tribe of dancers, along with fakir and fire-eater Munshi during the second act. This is the group’s second visit to Greece; they appeared at Ross Daly’s center in Crete during the 2004 Olympics. «We played with Greek musicians. People were amazed and liked it very much and invited us to come back last year for two more concerts,» said Bharti. The group have played at music festivals in Locarno, Belgium, France, Hungary, Spain and Italy, but a highlight of their appearances abroad was in November last year at a Gypsy music festival in Switzerland, where the group had their first real experience of working with Gypsy musicians from other countries such as Morocco, Spain and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. «Everyone really felt part of an ancient Gypsy tradition there. Despite the differences, we still have many common elements, even some words,» he said. When we asked what Munshi used to protect his body from the flames, Bharti replied with a laugh, «Nothing; he is a fakir.» The Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan are appearing at the Coronet Theater (11 Frynis & Ymittou, Pangrati, tel 210.701.2123 and 210.701.2511, www.coronet.gr), until Saturday.