Glorious Women of Rajasthan

Album Vinod Joshi

Singers and musicians open their doors and talk about their everyday life, traditions, worries and hopes. With their voices, the "Glorious Women of Rajasthan" shape the sound of their region.

Under the curatorial direction of Vinod Joshi, a unique collection of traditional songs of female voices from Rajasthan has been created. It reflects the current artistic developments and musical trends from the different communities of the region.


Greeting songs, love songs, wedding songs, separation songs, songs for the birth of a child, songs for the rainy season, friendship songs, songs expressing love for a guru or teacher, devotional songs and songs to folk deities - the folk music of Rajasthan is rich in songs. And this album is rich in women!

A travel diary by Nityka Yadav and Nataly Bleuel

The first time she was seen singing, she was a girl of six. She was sitting next to her father, who was playing the harmonium, and probably, it has been a while now, she was also there, squatting on the floor with her legs crossed, wearing a red cloth. Which often lies like a light tent over Raju Bhopa. And under it, it can seem, a face rises, round, dark and shining like a moon over Rajasthan.

It starts to sing. And from this delicate little body comes a voice with a force and a pressure. That one wants to be thunderstruck on the clay floor in the house of her family. Because you have not seen, no, heard such power and beauty before.

Vinod Joshi also felt the same way back then, 21 years ago, when he saw Raju Bhopa for the first time. The daughter of the Bhopa, who also already came from a family of singers and musicians. For the Bhopa sing the praises of the gods in Rajasthan, in northwestern India, their folk gods, in the villages, in the countryside. They do not belong to the caste of the untouchables. But they are close. On the fringes of societies. Some of them parade with their phads through the villages, to the celebrations and festivals, to sing devotional folk songs and invoke -gods. And to mourn suffering. Phads are portable temples, between two poles can be stretched the fabric panels, which are painted and tell of legends. At nightfall, all night long and until tomorrow.

But for the last two years, neither Raju Bhopa nor the other musicians in the country have pitched their tents or scroll paintings. To the 1000 they count in Rajasthan, in 119 villages around Jaipur. Because they had to stay in their houses, the pandemic cost some of them their lives. They did not earn even the bare necessities of life, a few rupees for flour or medicine, and longed to sing, dance and play their dhol, their kamayacha, iktara and manjeera, drums, lutes, harmonium, bells and flutes.

Not all female folk musicians of Rajasthan do this as openly as Raju. Even though Vinod Joshi has identified 16 female music groups here. Many of the women are not allowed to play music in public. And so some of them stand in front of the phads on carpets, next to their flute-playing fathers, husbands, brothers or sons and sing - with scarves in front of their faces.

Vinod Joshi gets 30 or 40 calls a day from musicians. They are family to him. He told them during the second phase of the pandemic, after weeks of not being allowed to leave the house and yard, and especially not as a woman in the countryside, that you can call me anytime. Even in the middle of the night!

For 21 years, Vinod Joshi has been nurturing and mentoring rural musicians for foundations such as the Jajam Foundation, so that this ancient folk tradition is not lost. In 2011, the BBC made a film about it, The Lost music of Rajasthan, Raju Bhopa was seen in it with her brothers an Kamyacha and Dhol, the Devi sisters Jamuna and Mahla Devi, but also Parveen Mirzha, who played music for the Maharajah. So the women slowly drifted out of the shadows of the houses. The men were amazed. That someone was interested in their women playing music. And that they could even earn money with it. For the boys, they became role models. Raju Bhopa was invited to Europe. Her husband wanted to stop s. He himself had no income. But her mother supported her: Vinod Joshi Ji would take care of her on the trip and besides, the women claimed, there were other women with her.

Vinod Joshi himself comes from the village, but made it to the capital Jaipur to study sociology. And loves music and freedom, which is the only way to explain why the female musicians like Raju so gratefully dub him Vinod Joshi Ji as if he had saved them.

And in some ways he did. It was after the third week of isolation in the first phase of the pandemic that he stood on the roof of his house in Jaipur, in the dark of night, thinking, we're not going to make it. Neighbors are dying off. My daughters can't go to college anymore. The world is going to end. And how are the destitute musicians out in the countryside going to sustain themselves if they can't earn a rupee?

This is how the campaign began with the care packages. For 400 families of musicians they packed: Flour, oil, cereal flakes, salt, 10 kilos, worth 1000 rupees. That is 12 euros. Plus 2500 rupees a month for the elderly sick. Sponsored by the foundation, actively supported by his daughters, who helped him on the computer, and the prime minister, when he heard about it, added the equivalent of 60 euros. 1486 musicians brought them through Corona with these gestures and with an open ear. For a year and a half, Vinod says, they were alone, at home, without music, and couldn't get out. But they called him and cried. And Vinod Joshi Ji, who himself felt like crying, on his roof in the dark, tried to comfort them, but above all to motivate them. Remember, he says, the sun will rise again!

And so he gradually began to receive not only phone calls. But video clips. And there the women sang to him, and danced and played music. And so the moon rose again on the edge of the villages and steppes of Rajasthan, from Raju and the Bhopa.

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