An elaborate stage was set in the deserts of Rajasthan, as a group of folk musicians were rendering a Sufi composition. The rhythm was carrying the listeners into a trance, and then there rose an alap, an elevated note that was not just powerful but also endearing to the ear. The voice of Kasam Khan Langa, at the recently concluded Rajasthan Kabir Yatra, rang through the air and seeped into the hearts of the crowd who demanded an encore. Bowing towards the sarangi, the musician from the heartlands of the Thar, continued to cast his spell and the listeners lapped it all up.
Kasam Khan’s family, the Langa, with their roots in Jodhpur, has traditionally been sarangi players and musicians specialising in Rajasthani folk songs, Marwari bhajans and Sufi music. Their performances date back to a period a few hundred years to the courts of kings that ruled the region and princely states in Rajasthan.
Khan, however, began his musical journey under the tutelage of his father Ustad Nizamuddin Langa and his maiden international performance was at the tender age of seven, in Osaka, Japan. “For the members of the Langa family, music is part of the family tradition. I was trained under my father and the sarangi that I use now has been in my family for generations. It has been handed down from father to son in each generation,” says the 35-year-old musician about his musical heritage.Life so far has been a musical voyage for Khan, with his expertise taking him across several continents and to foriegn countries that are inhabited by the Indian diaspora.
“I have performed in over 16 countries. Our people (Non Resident Indians) living there want to connect to their roots. There’s a demand for such performances. Sometimes, we also get invited to perform at international cultural meets that take place in foriegn countries,” he says.
The festival and wedding seasons are the busiest for Khan when an average performance can range between an hour-and-a-half session and all-nighters, depending on the demands of the clients.When asked if he thinks folk artists get more recognition abroad, Khan shakes his head vigourously in disagreement and says that Indians are more aware of their cultural traditions than earlier. He credits the current crop of music festivals that are being held around the country for their contribution to the preservation of independent and traditional music. “Nowadays, music festivals are striving hard to make the younger generations aware of the rich musical heritage of the country. The folk musicians are also getting avenues to perform.”
At the Yatra, Khan performed a Kabir Geet on his harmonium. He also plays other traditional instruments such as the khartal, sarangi, morchang and bhapang. His rendition of the Rajasthani folk song ‘Kesaria balam aavo ni’,in his rugged magical voice, transports listeners to a timeless world.
Talking about how the new generation of folk musicians often opt for conventional careers and migrate to cities, Khan says education is important but the youngsters in the Langa family are still performing artists.
“It is our identity and we want to uphold that uniqueness,”he emphasises.