A Legend Who Has Echoes of Traditions in His Voice
One can hardly believe that Barkat Khan is 60. When one hears his powerful, resonating voice. Simple, and hardworking, Barkat Khan’s songs are deep-rooted in the Rajasthani folk music. According to Barkat Khan, classical music is derived from folk music but the ‘riyaaz’ is more flexible and there can be many variations to it. Barkat Khan has been singing since the age of 11 and like most of the Manganiyaars, music is imbibed and transferred from one generation to the other in his family. Even though Barkat Khan is not educated, as he says that there were hardly any schools in this region of Jaisalmer when he was a kid, his knowledge about music is unmeasurable and unconquered.
Themes for his songs are mostly devotional bhajans dedicated to Gods like Shiva and Lord Krishna, and he uses a variety of Raagas in his songs, like Bilawal and Shubh. All the group members are well trained in instruments like Dholak, Khadtaal, which are the main percussion instruments and Harmonium for melody.
In one song, adapted from a song by Ustad Tansen, Barkat Khan sings the praise of Lord Shiva and his marriage to his consort, Goddess Parvathi. As someone aptly said “God lies in detail”, and these details, embellishments and poetic use of metaphors in Barkat Khan’s songs are incredible.
Ujri bhabooth ang
Mastang soye gang
His body is smeared with ash, the river Ganga rests on his forehead.
Raate rate naino aankho
One who has red eyes and has a blue throat (as per mythology, Lord Shiva has a blue throat)
Aarso hamare bhaag bhole shambho aaye
We are truly blessed that Lord Shiva has come to our abode.
Barkhat Khan has performed all over India and has also spent a considerable time abroad. He lived in Moscow for 3 months at a circus and has also lived for 4 years in Europe. He has also travelled to the US and says that the payments are good enough to sustain a living. When asked about the current situation of folk music, he says that folk music is endangered these days due to the influx of popular Bollywood songs. Barkhat Khan adds that folk music requires a lot of energy to sing, as the complex raagas like Khamaj, Bhairavi, Sorath require powerful vocals, and which should be produced straight from one’s heart and breath. Barkhat Khan’s father was a poet and a storyteller, who has composed many poems with themes like various stages in the life of a man.
Barkhat Khan is concerned about the future of this folk music and believes that they need good people and patrons for promoting this art, he says that the Government should help them for their upliftment. He wants the future generations to revive this art.
As per him, Manganiyaars are the most humble people on this earth, unlike a king, who can even kill his own brother to usurp his throne, Manganiyaars live by their talent, and they eat, sleep and breathe music.
Mathura ji mein baaje dhol
Gokul mein arak hove
Lord Krishna was born in Mathura where his birth was celebrated, with all the pomp and show,
Later on, he went to Gokul, where he was raised, and Gokul was happy to receive him too.
Dhan Dhan halariyeri maa
Blessings to you, O Mother of Lord Krishna
While the themes in his songs are mostly devotional, but the traditions associated with the songs are very old, and are capable of evoking a huge range of human emotions. In the above couplet, the celebration during the birth of Lord Krishna is described in great detail. Childbirth is a very special occasion in India, and these singers are often invited for such ceremonies. A naming ceremony is one where an official name is provided to the infant, as decided by Joshi, “Joshis” are upper caste Brahmins who are temple priests and are called to bless the newly born, in the Hindu communities of Rajasthan, and their references are often found in Manganiyaar songs.
Barkat Khan believes in conserving and imparting this folk music to the future generations and is really passionate about preserving this folk music in its pure form.