Mesmerising the world with his rustic flavour of the classical folk music, Sabir Khan, a distinguished folk singer of Rajasthan has a unique style rooted in classical folk music form to communicate with the modern world. Music is in their veins — and with an innocent smile, Sabir Khan admits even though he could have learned music from anyone — his neighbours or any of his uncles or elder cousins — no one can truly succeed without a Guru and he found one in Gulab Khan. Even today, he takes his Guru’s name before each performance. Back in his village of Pokhran, he learns with young talents from nearly 20 households under his informal society. With help from friends and fellow musicians, Sabir Khan is trying to help his community by providing folk artists with musical instruments and training. Sabir Khan sings but can play dholak, khartaal, dhol.
Sabir Khan leads a youthful troupe of musicians and singers who have capitalized on their culture’s roots that are set in the musical heritage of the state. They have already developed a keen sense of interest in learning the musical art forms of the region and also gained a fair bit of experience in performing their music in front of audiences.
All of these youngsters belong to the Manganiyar community of the Jaisalmer region in Rajasthan. The Mangaiyars play music which is an amalgamation of Indian classical forms of music and Sufi creations from Muslim descent. A number of instruments like Dholak, Harmonium, Morchang, Khartal, and Kamaicha are employed in the presentation of their artful compositions. Kamaicha is considered as the backbone of Manganiyar music. In Jaisalmer and Barmer districts there are gurus and teachers who specialize in teaching this bow-stringed instrument and children begin to learn it at a very young age at home itself.
His association with music goes back to the last traces of his memory. He sings songs of the past battles in the regions, the local Rajput Maharajas, love and longing. One of his favourites is the song about being a groom and the emotion and glory of being the one. He sings,
Baaga mara champo bano
Champe upar rang
(The groom looks like a bunch of flower in the garden)
Beend raja aisa bana
Tara ke beech Chand
(He looks like the moon amongst stars)
Aiso din aaj ko
Nit nit hoe
(May the day like this occur every day)
The lyrics of this song along with many others have been written by his ancestors and they pick up on the age-old tradition. In fact, he tells that most of these songs are never written and they are considered down upon for their own storylines and characters. Even though some of the characters taken are from the mainstream tradition but there are differences in the plots suiting to the local imaginations of the people. But it can still be considered as a heritage for its centuries of transmission and the belonging to the world of local and indigenous. In fact, the folk artists of Rajasthan are the forgotten storytellers of the rich culture and tradition of the area and the songs tell the stories of bravery, love, romance and everything happened and did not happen.
But Sabir Khan like other folk artists of the place shares the same pain of being caught up in the rut of seasonal work and struggles for a living. He says, “We spend all our lives preserving this age-old tradition and culture. In fact, we have been learning music since birth that goes on till the time we die. But this is so unfortunate that we struggle for our living. It is very difficult. There is not much appreciation for such art and culture. Life is very different here.”
Sabir and all the members of his musical group are children who have yet to be initiated into the world of responsibilities of adult life. This gives them a substantial amount of buffer time to take advantage of their talents and make a presence for themselves in the musical sphere of the state as well as the country. Young instrumentalists like Hazur, Moti and Hanif Khan, who are quite dedicated towards their art make for brilliant talents at such young ages. The vocals of Sarvar, Sohail and the leader himself have shared with each other a spectrum of knowledge in music and shall keep doing it for as long as they can.
These children idolize the elders of their villages who have passed on their musical knowledge to them. They also idolize popular folk and Sufi musicians from the state and understand the importance of their success which brings prosperity to their culture and raises awareness about it in the outside world.
But he says, “We sing songs of happiness and royalty. We do not let our pain surface our voice. It remains within us.” But he is still caught up in the shackles of poverty due to the negligence of folk music.
But then he says, “music is our refuge.”