There are few words that can describe the sheer audio visual explosion that is the Manganiyar Seduction. Envisioned and brought to life by Delhi based theatre professional Roysten Abel, the part theatre part concert ensemble, comprises of a group of Manganiyar musicians, young to old, who are seated in a series of beautifully lit up boxes placed in a four storey set up. Conducting and leading these musicians is Daewoo Khan, a Manganiyar himself, who claps his khartal (percussion instrument’/ wooden clapper) in a rising crescendo for close to 80 minutes and resurrects an ancient musical tradition, night after starry night.
Daewoo Khan who was in the city for Ignite, an Indo-Spanish concert organised by Hometown Productions, at Chowdiah Hall on Friday, spoke to City Express about his music, working with Roysten Abel, his stint in Bollywood and more.
“Manganiyars are a caste of musicians that live in the Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan,” informs Daewoo. “Our musicians were famous in the royal courts of the Rajput kings and have since then passed on their songs and stories from generation to generation. We were also known as Gandharvs. Even now, when we sing at temples, the god and goddesses come down to meet us. It is even said that when a Manganiyar child cries, he cries in scale,” he says.
It was Daewoo Khan’s uncle, a musician himself in his days, who taught him everything he knows today. “He passed away eight months ago, but I still remember how when I was a child, I used to go outside the house and I used to make music using the stones I found outside. I used to watch people play the khartal and I would play along with my stones. When my uncle saw that I was interested, he bought me my first khartal,” recollects Khan.
Daewoo Khan met theatre director Roysten Abel in 2003. “He had directed a play called Jiyo, which had mainly a cast of street performers. I was one of the musicians recruited for the play and I played the khartal and the dholak and I also sang. I didn’t know English as I’ve never gone to school but he taught me this song that was a mix of English and Spanish and I used to sing it. We went to Barcelona with the same group and performed there for three months,” he says.
Daewoo is loquacious in his praise for Abel. “What’s striking about Roysten Abel is that the man has a great ear for music and an exceptional eye as well, which makes him the great theatre artiste and director that he is today. He is what we would call a “jogi”, he loses himself in music. He is both my brother and my teacher,” he says.
When they got back to India, Daewoo took him back to Rajasthan and made him listen to Manganiyar music. “And he was instantly ready to do something with it. Months of deliberation and conceptualising led to the Manganiyar Seduction. Almost 500 musicians were auditioned for it as well,” he tells us.
Khan confesses it wasn’t easy getting used to that set up. “Like when he first asked me to conduct the show, I thought only bus folks were conductors. But he patiently taught me. Then when he asked me to play the khartal standing up, I told him that it’s only played sitting down. But he persuaded me to change my ways and soon enough I was playing the khartal standing up, conducting this huge ensemble of musicians. I still remember how my late father told Roysten Abel, that if he ever finds that I’m not listening to him, my father would be glad to hand Abel a cane to hit me,”
Manganiyar music is usually made up of devotional songs, love songs as well as historical accounts - an oral tradition that keeps a small portion of Indian history alive to this day.
“Almost everywhere we go, we find people breaking down in tears. Our music touches people’s souls,” he says.
Daewoo Khan also recently made his first Bollywood appearance in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, where he is seen performing with a group of Manganiyar musicians in a street side dhabha, while Alia Bhatt watches on from inside a truck. “Imtiaz Ali is an interesting, yet simple and kind man.
He is like the rest of us, uncomplicated and genuine. But when it comes to his work, he is very involved and detail oriented, nothing misses his eye,” he says. Daewoo Khan is currently working with Roysten Abel for a new show titled Manganiyar Children’s Classrom, which will make its debut in Bangalore, towards the end of May. A show that will follow the Manganiyar Seduction model, the musicians will comprise of solely Manganiyar children.