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  Life   More Features  24 Nov 2016  Melodies from the desert

Melodies from the desert

Published : Nov 24, 2016, 12:24 am IST
Updated : Nov 24, 2016, 12:24 am IST

A form of folk music indigenous to the Thar Desert gets new life in Roysten Abel’s play, The Manganiyar Classroom.

Roysten Abel
 Roysten Abel

The history of the Manganiyar tradition has survived centuries in different areas of the Thar Desert, including Sindh and Pakistan. The folk genre of music makes use of the bowed 17-string kamaicha, the khartal or a special type of Rajasthani castanets and the dholak along with high-pitch vocals. The tradition has mostly stayed indigenous to the desert aside from a few exponents who have taken it to the masses.

The most recent of them, is music connoisseur and theatre director, Roysten Abel, who has been associated with the Manganiyar community for the past decade. Having already brought the community and music into the limelight with his theatre production, Manganiyar Seduction, he has now brought the next generation of the folk singers into the spotlight with his production, The Manganiyar Classroom.

Looking back on his association with the Manganiyar folk singers, Roysten says that he first came across two musicians during his tours. “In 2004 or 2005, I was travelling with another play to Spain and I had two Manganiyar musicians who followed me everywhere and sang for me whenever they got a chance, in a bar, pub, anywhere. When I came back, I decided to work more closely with them and the result was Manganiyar Seduction. It took a year and a half to get the whole thing ready,” he recalls.

The Manganiyar Classroom, though an extension of his earlier work in many ways, has been a completely new experience for the director. The storyline follows 35 children who try to convince their teacher of the faults of the current education system.

“These kids are tigers when they’re singing, but quite timid otherwise. So, when we started rehearsing, I would simply ask them to sing, which they are comfortable doing anyway. Once they got the hang of the songs, we started to add in other elements. It took a lot of time but it was also very rewarding,” Roysten explains.

While the director is quite happy with the fact that this form of folk music is catching on, if only with a niche audience, he is a bit concerned that the art form itself has less and less exponents. “Most people who sing Manganiyar music nowadays, are elderly people or people in their late 30s. This is also the first generation of school-goers and the common perception among the community is that going to school will ensure that you have a better future. So, they are choosing to go to school and become something else, rather than becoming musicians,” says Roysten.

Having premiered at the Bangalore NH7 Weekender, this is the first time that the play is going to be performed in Mumbai. However, Roysten is in no way worried, since the feedback, thus far has been positive. “People who already know the form are happy to see it being performed in this format and those who have never heard it before also get to learn a new form of music. The play is also a great way to create awareness about the form itself,” he says.

Today, 7 pm onwards at Tata Theatre, NCPA,

Tags: roysten abel, manganiyar, ncpa