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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Hamira, Jaisalmer - A Musician Village

Impressions of India: 15
I’m currently travelling for 3 months in India, through Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, with a pretty hot and hectic schedule of boutique hotel reviews. The galleries below are my online photojournalist diary of scenes caught, people met and things found along the way. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did and am still.

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I was taken to Hamira by The Serai boutique hotel, a Raj-safari-style 6-star tented camp in the desert, about an hour east of Jaisalmer, who regularly employ musicians from this particular village to come and entertain their guests of an evening. The Australian manager and English chef, both women, came with me for the experience, and we got there for 9am at the village headman's request as he said it would be too hot to play later.
This old man had a positively purple sheen to his dark skin, and he wasn't the only one.

They settled us down in a large sitting room, on cushions, with the 3 of us lined up against one wall. This meant I couldn't change position during the performance which was about to start, which presented a few photographic challenges. They actually showed us this music festival brochure which features them after the performance, but it makes a good introduction to who they are so I've typed it out for you, verbatim, below.
'Tradition of music has been part of the Thar Desert since time immemorial. From generation to generation the oral and instrumental renditions have been improvised and passed on by traditional folk tribes. Mangniar is a community of singers and musicians having a rich treasure of music which reverberate in the sand dunes. This heritage is preserved by the Mangniar family headed by Sakar Khan of village Hamira, Jaisalmer. In order to pass on this heritage Spring Dale Educational Society runs Manganiar Lok Sangeet Sansthan in Jaisalmer where talented Manganiar children are taught music in Guru Shishya style. Mangniar musicians will sing Bhakti Sangeet in SAF Peace Festival headed by Kheta Khan of Hamira Mangniar family.'

We were served little cups of chai, the musician below (again with that purple sheen) tuned his instrument (a style of lute with strings made of camel gut which is ancient and deeply traditional to Rajasthan) while everyone sat waiting patiently...
and then they began. 

The guy on the right is the head honcho, current lead musician Mr Kheta Khan himself. His special instrument (though they all apparently play several) is these mango wood clappers, and his fervour and the intricate rhythms he conjured from them were amazing. 
Those not playing seemed almost as focussed and absorbed as the ones who were.
Then it was the children's turn. They start teaching them very young in the village, around 3 or 4 if they show talent, and the children seemed to love it, 
with several singing passionately complete with expressive hand gestures.

Again I saw purple tones in the skin and, in this particular background light, also a blue sheen to the hair.

This is the old man I'd photographed sitting outside, who maintained a very grave expression for the duration of our visit,
and then the camel-string-lute player did some singing too.
We were told this young drummer was very talented and so was being allowed to play with the men early, 
and this, below, is Kheta Khan's younger brother. Playing the next night at The Serai, he looked so like him, particularly in a turban and low lamplight, that I seriously confused him by talking to him as if he was indeed Kheta who I'd a fairly lengthy exchange with the day before. As chance would have it, the Mangniars are playing at a world music festival in Acton this summer, so I've invited them round for dinner at ours so that we can reciprocate the hospitality. 
And this man below was one of the drummers sitting to the back and right, resting.
After the performance, Kheta showed us their publicity scrap book, from their appearances all over the world - the Barbican and Royal Albert Hall, Paris, Copenhagen, New York - and talked about how strange it was, but also how it had inspired him to change things in the village so that all the children now receive an education. He didn't get one, apart from 'camel college' (isn't that a wonderful phrase), and so was never taught to read or write and had to teach himself. The patriarch in the pictures is Sakar Khan, the leader of the clan.
After which we went outside, back into the bright sunshine, and were invited into another of the village homes to meet some of the women and other young people. 

Posts still to come before we're up-to-date: 
1 contemporary, 1 suddenly-abandonned, and 2 Stone Age-style villages in the Thar Desert
Magical Jaisalmer Fort
Jodhpur to Jaipur


  1. What a wonderfull insight into another world. I particularly like the images people waiting patiently for the musicians to start and the faces of the children signing. Thank you! Sx

  2. Emma Gabbertas said...

    Absolutely love the pictures - what an adventure!

  3. Andrew Pavord said...

    I am enjoying your blog, the photos are as usual, exceptional. I am determined, one day to travel through the “real” India.

  4. Anita Teesdale said...

    Beautiful clarity in the images and story telling – really enjoyed.

  5. Wow,
    Really Very Nice Photography Hamira Jaisalmer Village and camps in jaisalmer

    1. Thanks Vipin, so glad you enjoyed them!

  6. Beautiful Hamira lost it's grandmaster of the kamancha today.. Sakar Khan passed away today August 10, 2013.. these are wonderful pictures of his family (Darra Khan playing the kamancha).. hear the music on Amarrass Records (At Home: Sakar Khan) single take recordings at home...

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that - please send my condolences to his family? Please also ask Kheta Khan if he received his CD of these images safely as I haven't heard from him since?