Glorious Women of Rajasthan

Album Vinod Joshi

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

Under the curatorial direction of Vinod Joshi, there has been created a unique collection of traditional songs by female voices from Rajasthan, which reflects current artistic developments and musical trends from the region’s diverse communities. For Folk Women of Rajasthan, female musicians opened their doors, sang, made music and thereby told us about their everyday life, their traditions, their worries and their hopes.

 

Travel diary from Nityka Yadav and Nataly Bleuel

The first time she was seen singing was when she was six years old. She sat next to her father, who played the harmonium, and probably, it has been a while now, she also wore a red cloth, squatting on the floor with her legs crossed. 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 lifts up to sing. And out of this delicate little body comes a voice with a force and a pressure. That one wants to be thunderstruck and grow tight on the clay floor in her family’s house. Because you have never seen, no, heard such power and beauty before.

Vinod Joshi felt the same way 21 years ago when he saw Raju Bhopa for the first time. The daughter of the Bhopa, who also came from a family of singers and musicians. For the Bhopa sing the praises of the gods in Rajasthan, in the northwest of 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 society. Some of them parade with their phads through the villages, to the celebrations and festivals, to sing devotional folk songs and invoke the gods. And to mourn suffering. Phads are portable temples, between two poles can be stretched the painted cloth 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 put up their tents or scroll paintings. They number about 1000 in Rajasthan, in 119 villages around Jaipur. For 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 medicines, and longed to sing, dance and play their dhol, their kamayacha, iktara and manjeera, drums, lutes, harmoniums and flutes.

Nicht alle Volksmusikerinnen Rajasthans tun das so offen wie Raju. Auch wenn Vinod Joshi hier 16 weibliche Musikgruppen ausgemacht hat.

Not all 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 on carpets in front of the phads, next to their flute-playing fathers, husbands, brothers or sons and sing – with scarves in front of their faces.

Vinod Joshi receives 30 or 40 calls from musicians every day. They are family to him. You can, he told them in the second phase of the pandemic, after weeks of not being allowed to leave home and farm, and certainly not as a woman in the country: call me anytime. Even in the middle of the night!

For 21 years, Vinod Joshi has been nurturing and caring for rural musicians for foundations like the Jajam Foundation now, so that this age-old folk tradition is not lost. In 2011, the BBC made a film about it, The Lost music of Rajasthan, featuring Raju Bhopa with her brothers 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 music-making women. And that they could even earn money with it. For the youngsteres, they became role models. Raju Bhopa was invited to Europe. Her husband wanted to stop that. He himself had no income. But her mother supported her: Vinod Joshi Ji would look after her on the journey 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 anthropology. And loves music and freedom, which is the only way to explain why the female musicians like Raju so gratefully refer to him as Vinod Joshi Ji as if he had saved them.

And in some ways he has. 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 the night, thinking, we won’t overcome this. The neighbours are dying off. My daughters can’t go to university anymore. The world is going to end. And how are the destitute musicians out in the countryside supposed to survive if they can’t earn a rupee?

That’s how the campaign with the care packages began. They packed for 400 musicians’ families: flour, oil, cereal flakes, salt, 10 kilos, worth 1000 rupees. That is 12 euros. Plus 2500 rupees a month for the old 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. They brought 1486 musicians 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 felt like crying himself, on his roof in the dark, tried to comfort them, but above all to motivate them. Remember, he said, 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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