Meet some magical musicians who’ll transport you to the heart of India (and the Sindh). Sit back, relax and listen to the unique sound of incredible India.
Want to hear what the the Sarangi sounds like when it’s played really well? Then listen to expert 8th generation player Suhail Yusuf Khan. Sufi music more your thing, then Sindh maestro Sain Zahoor is the man.
Fusionist Sonam Kalra brings together Gospel and Sufi, whilst Bengali boatman Saurav Moni will take you to the Sundarbans and back. Wrapping up this fabulous five is the entire state of Rajasthan, or more accurately the Langras and Manganiars.
Suhail Yusuf Khan, Sarangi
An eighth generation Sarangi player and the grandson of the sarangi’s greatest ever exponent, Ustad Sabri Khan, a man who performed alongside the Beatles and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Khan was recognised by Forbes India as one of India’s 30 most influential individuals under the age of 30.
A member of one of India’s best known fusion bands Advaita, Khan also plays with Scottish Trio Yorkston, Thorne and Khan, a band described by the Guardian Newspaper as a “supergroup defying folk wisdom”.
A busy man, he is also part of The British Council’s Folk Nations, a project fusing the talents of British and India musicians. Khan is in demand internationally, but calls Delhi home. Find out more about him, his projects and where he’s playing on Facebook.
Sain Zahoor, Tumbi
Born in the Punjab sometime in the mid 1940s, Sain (Saieen or Saeen) is a Sufi musician from the Sindh, Pakistan, who plays a three-stringed version of a Ektara, called the Tumbi.
A winner of the BBC World Music Awards in 2006, he recorded for the first time in the same year, at around the age of 60. Zahoor left home aged 10 to travel around the Sufi shrines of the Sindh, Punjab, after seeing a hand beckoning him in a dream.
Sufi poets, including Bulleh Shah, Shah Badakhshi and Muhammad Qadri are amongst Zahoor’s compositions. In 2015, he headlined the evening performances at the Jaipur Literature Festival. His set can been on You Tube right here.
Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel Project
Singer songwriter Sonam Kalra conceived the Sufi Gospel Project to blend the voices of faith through song, music and the spoken word.
“I belong to the Sikh religion and am often asked why I sing Gospel. My answer is always the same; because God has no religion. I work with a keyboard player and guitarist who are Christian, my accompanists on the Sarangi and Tabla are Muslim, my flautist and percussionist are Hindus – a testament that when it comes to faith and music, religion is not relevant,” she writes on the group’s website.
Blending Khusrau with Amazing Grace, Kabir with Abide with Me and sharing Bulleh Shah’s voice alongside English and Gaelic texts, Sonam and the Sufi Gospel Project have travelled the world. Follow the Sufi Gospel Project on Facebook.
Saurav Moni, musician, singer and storyteller
Another member of the British Council’s Folk Nations Project, Saurav Moni, sings traditional folk songs from his home, the Sundarbans, West Bengal.
Travelling through the islands of his watery world, Moni mingles with the boatman, passes time with the peasants and muses with the musicians of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Born in Hingalgunj, a small river village, in southern most West Bengal, he arrived in Kolkata to study but couldn’t leave the sounds of home behind.
His passion is to preserve the songs of his community by bringing them to the attention of the wider world. Bhatiali, the songs of the boatman is his main genre, but Sari, Jari, Bhawaiya and Baul can also be heard in his work.
The Langas and Manganiars of Rajasthan
Langa, which literally translates as ‘song giver’, are poets, singers and musicians hailing from the Barmer district of Rajasthan.
Converts to Islam from Hinduism in the 17th century, they play the Sindhi Sarangi and Algoza (double flute) which, when combined with powerful vocals, create the unique sound that you’ll recognise right away as Rajasthan. Performing at major family events for their patrons, the Yajam, who are cattle breeders, farmers and landlords, Langras are said to be regarded by their patrons as ‘kings’.
Managaniars, which translates as those that ask for alms, are another community of hereditary professional musicians. Like Langa’s they tell their patron’s family story, recall legendary battles, family events and celebrations. For doing this they seek reward.
Manganiyars, who are Sunni Muslims by birth, adopt Hindu lifestyle and dress. The Khamaycha, a fiddle, is played by this community.
Want to hear the Langras and Manganiyars play? Head over to Khamayati to listen to many fine players. Like it? Well make make sure you take some time out to attend the annual RIFF Festival in Jodhpur (read a review here) and the Sufi World Music Festival in Jodphur and Nagaur.
Right it’s time to end my words and lets these musicians take it away.