I EXIST – to Rajasthan

Album Marc Sinan Company

“I EXIST – to Rajasthan” processes together with musicians and artists from Europe and India a journey to mythical origins and ancient tales that describe the origins of the Rom:nja in Rajasthan.

The album is about survival, about the strength that allowed Sinti:zze and Rom:nja to survive despite centuries of hostility and attempts at extermination in the Third Reich. The album is told in the form of contemporary and traditional Indian music, combined with interview excerpts from the joint research trip to India and the unique performances and improvisations of the musicians involved.

 

… it feels… like a disassembled jigsaw puzzle… all my life I’m trying to put it back together…
Damian Le Bas

Ancient tales describe the origin of the Roma from Rajasthan. For the avant-garde musician Iva Bittová and the artist duo Damian and Delaine Le Bas, the encounter with this supposed origin also means a movement back to a part of their origin. And this journey into the foreign becomes a journey into their own existence.

I EXIST – a travel diary from Nataly Bleuel

Damian Le Bas already fell by the wayside before the others got to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate lay on the other side of the vast square, with the September sun blazing down on it. It lay across the entrance gate and below the stairs that were leading up to the inside of Amber Fort. Where the monkeys squatted and munched on the orange chrysanthemums given to tourists as necklaces. Damian was still standing outside the front gate. As though paralyzed by one of the souvenir vendors, he was staring at the elephant pattern on the small bags the vendor held under his nose. Was his gaze one of longing? Or slightly melancholy, as it was most of the time? Sad perhaps? It was, in any case, the kind of gaze a street vendor could immediately interpret as: There’s something to get from this man! It was from the Sun Gate that the Mughals looked out over their empire in Rajasthan as early as 400 years ago, and their empire did not end at the walls that wound over the mountain ridges on the horizon. Now, Damian’s travel group stood in the Sun Gate, sweat on their foreheads, hot as hell, fanning themselves.

“Where are Damian and Delaine?” asks Marc Sinan, the composer.

“He can’t tear himself away from the tourist vendors,” says Hans-Peter Eckardt, the documentary filmmaker, holding the camera in front of his face.

The Czech musician Iva Bittová, whose father, a Roma, was also a musician, grinned. She’s traveled a lot, on tour, so she knew this kind of thing. And wasn’t this Damian’s first big trip? She went ahead, her spotted silk scarf fluttering in the wind. Then Markus Rindt, the artistic director, came running, a broad grin on his face, and shouted to the cameraman: “You have to stay close to Damian!”

After all, it so happened that the artist Damian Le Bas, who was sometimes mistaken for Damian Hirst, had been selling flowers himself until not so long ago. On streets and in pubs. He knew those glances very well: looks of eagerness and of disdain. He had known all his life what poverty meant, what hunger meant, what being outside meant, and he had known the glow that emanated from the pockets of others.

And the glow that his wife, the artist Delaine Le Bas, carried in her little embroidered bag. The bag dangled across her dress, long and brightly colored; she had sewn it herself from bits of cloth. Delaine was a walking work of art, “and a feminist one at that,” as her husband coquettishly put it.

She looked at him––they had been a couple since their youth, for 30 years already. Her silver eyes under her flaming red hair spoke of connivance, severity and humor, “Damian, come on!”

It was the first day of the trip to Rajasthan. They were 6750 kilometers away from where Damian lived, in Worthing, southern England. And 1,200 years after his people were said to have set out from here, from northwest India to Europe.

 

His people were the “Gipsies”. Damian Le Bas used this particular term—which had been used so disparagingly over the years—to re-appropriate it, and to determine his own identity. Damian Le Bas, like his wife, was a Gipsy after all. A Roma, that is. Or an English Romany. With traveller ancestry from Ireland. “I never really knew what or who I was,” Damian will say on this trip. And that he felt he had arrived, for the very first time in his life as a young man, in a room that carried the title

“Outsider”

The fact that three art schools wanted him had struck him as a miracle. He couldn’t even read and had always been, with his mother and siblings, closer to the street and prison than to schools.

 

“I’m tired,” Delaine will say in the same place as her companion, in a garden in the middle of the prairie, “so tired of always being defined by others—as a Roma, as a woman, as an artist!”

And: “To never be asked: What can you actually do, what do you have to offer us?”

After all, “there is no word for freedom in our language. Maybe because freedom is where we always are.”

The trip had been initiated by Marc Sinan and Markus Rindt in 2016. And so European artists set out for the mythical origin of their Roma ancestors and met Indian village musicians in the countryside. Not Brahmins, but those who lived on the fringes of communities: those who were from low castes, poor, untouchable, and outsiders.

What does it feel like? Do we have things in common? Do we speak a similar language, in music, physically, aesthetically, emotionally, socially? Do we recognize anything? Any details or sense of community? Is it a move “back to the roots” or something even more?—namely the question: What makes us different, what sets us apart?

The luggage: recording devices, acoustic and optical, because the Indian musicians and the European female artists would, after all, communicate—Damian with hands and feet alike; Delaine via looks; and Iva Bittová with violin and voice.

Three white cars with four-wheel drive whirred over bumpy roads, air-conditioned, clean, cool, kicking up sand and dust in the heat outside. It was as if three capsules from another time had landed in Rajaldesar, on a desert planet.

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