Dhola Maru
Sounds True (

cd cover Musafir has taken up the mantle of "proto-gypsy," a category created by the recent interest in all things Gypsy. Mind you, there is no conclusive proof that any of the music of Rajasthan resembles what the people we call Gypsies or Roma might have played a millennium ago. But somebody has to fill the marketing space and it might as well be Musafir; they certainly stole the show during the World Music Institute's 1999 Gypsy Caravan tour. Musafir are consummate performers and musicians, but rather than calling them a band, it might be more accurate to call them a revue, as they frequently travel with an entourage of dancers and acrobats.

Dhola Maru captures the vitality and eclecticism of their repertoire, as they joyously integrate previously separate musical influences into one highly accessible sound, presenting a kind of "Rajasthan 101." Want some Qawalli? First track. A folk lullaby? Track four. Indian classical singing? The end of track six will knock your socks off. Although one never gets the feeling that this music is inauthentic, it has definitely been manipulated. Take for example "Pundela," in which classical and folk singing styles are used to contrast and compliment each other. This is only one example in which the various strands of tradition coming out of Rajasthan have been woven into a very entertaining arrangement, making for a repertoire which is programmatic, but pleasing.

Most of the musicians of Musafir are Islamic and from the musician caste, but they are from different ethnic backgrounds from within these castes. Bachu Khan, Shayar Khan, Edu Khan and Barkat Khan are Langa, Sakur Khan and Mame Khan are Manghaniyars. Sayari and Rekha are Saperas (the closest thing to proto-Gypsy in the ensemble). In addition, Ganga Kalawqant is a singer trained in the classic North Indian styles, and Harish Kumar, a dancer, is a Hindu from a family of carpenters.

The production is up front and excellent. One feels as if in the midst of the music making. The sequence of songs is clever, starting with crowd-pleasing qawalli, then to a brief but aromatic sound pastiche and on to a Rajasthani folk song. One realizes quickly that the charisma of those tracks is merely the tip of the iceberg, as Musafir presents several more gems of the repertoire. In particular, the title track "Dhola Maru," one of the great epic songs of Rajasthan, is given a loving and spirited rendition here. The set finishes out with a fast dance track (the song presented online) whose harmonium embellishments echo the first track, a fitting sort of "bookend."

The packaging on this CD is quite beautiful, and a great deal of care has been taken to give background information. But there are singers, dancers and instrumentalists who all seem to switch hats from one tune to the next, and it might have been nice, considering the size of the troupe, to credit who is doing what from track to track. - Michal Shapiro

CD available at cdRoots

Online song: "Roomal," a traditional Rajasthani love song that acompanies a dance called chockery.
Audio © 1999 Sounds True. Used by express permission.

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