Rais Khan and his group are a troupe of folk musicians who belong to the Manganiyar community of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. This community is quite particular in terms of their religious beliefs as they are all primarily Muslim but sing ballads and praises of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Most of their music is an amalgamation of Indian classical and Sufi. They come together as individuals but collaborate in perfect compliment to each other.
Together they have performed in various regions of the country, especially all districts of Rajasthan. Their passion for the art form leads their path towards performing and showcasing their skills in front of audiences from various walks of life. From royal Rajput families to everyday street vendors, their music has the capacity to draw everyone and their songs are relatable for a large percentage of people wherever they go.
The entire ambience becomes serene with Rais Khan in the midst of his singing, narrating the story, pauses to sing a few bars in his full-throated voice and then smiles as he takes you through the twists and turns of the story. The mesmerising, uplifting voice of Rais Khan takes you on a troll to the journey with his songs which are defined usually as expressions of the longing to be close to the divine. Rais Khan recalls the time when he was 8 years old and used to accompany his father, who taught him harmonium. The same he did with his son and grandson, but what he worries the most is that what one misses is a concrete effort to educate listeners about this wonderful genre as, without that, things may well remain at a standstill.
The roots of Sufi can largely be found in Persia, parts of the Arabic world, Pakistan and India. The qawwali and kaafi are the most popular styles of Sufi and are associated with poets such as Hafez, Rumi, Amir Khusro, Baba Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Hussein and Khwaja Ghulam Farid. But still, in today’s scenario, the number of Sufi singers is much lesser as that compared to artists in other genres. Sufism, as the mystical dimension music preaches peace, tolerance and pluralism while encouraging a way of deepening one’s relationship with the Creator. Sufi music seeks to unite listeners with the Divine. In the songs of Rais Khan, you can feel the pain of separation from the Creator at the core of Sufi lyrics and music, and hence the intense longing to dissolve the physical realm and transcend into the spiritual universe with the ambience.
But as a ray of hope, the group has the younger generation learning and taking a keen interest in music. If one goes around the group they can witness both the maestro Rais Khan and the young but extremely talented Dholak players — Askar Khan and Tareef Khan, Khartal by Shaukat Khan and Anwar Khan, brother of Rais Khan on backing Vocals perfectly blending with an essence of music. The young Askar Khan wants to work really hard in his field and make his family proud. He wants to learn so much that he could teach his children and other children in his society the traditional Dholak. Similarly, for Tareef Khan and Shaukat Khan the learning just never goes stop, they feel it helps you grow as a person you are from within and makes it easy to get to know ones’ soul.
Although Rais Khan has gained a lot of name and fame in comparison to others but even till today if you ask him why he sings at the age of 55, he would simply look at you and smile and say “bass Khuda se ghuftagu ho jaati hai to sukoon milta hai or jab tak wo chah raha hai guftgu yunhi barkarar rahegi. Hum to bass isi mein khush hain jo wo chahta hai (it feels relaxed and contended after talking to the Almighty and till the time he wishes the conversation shall continue. We are happy in what He wants.”
The leader, Rais Khan had to learn to pick himself up without the support of his father who passed away when Rais was just a month and a half old. Rais describes that event as a tragic and yet transformational one as he then went on to live with his paternal uncle, Jazman Khan who taught him all the basics of traditional Rajasthani music and dance. Rais himself sings as well as plays the Harmonium even though he understands the classical music form very well and knows how to play a lot of other instruments. The whole group has great theoretical knowledge on the subject of music as well. They know how to play and sing ragas like Maad and Bhairavi. Maad raga seems to be their favorite one as they sing it in their welcome song which can be sung at any time of the day.
They come from humble backgrounds but have a powerful desire to create and perform their art not just to make a living but contribute towards their community’s musical culture. They have come together form similar walks of life and different age groups to form a clique in order to showcase their skills and abilities to promote the culture of Rajasthan and set it on a path of prosperity and welfare for the Manganiyar community.