Meeting Rajasthans Manganiyar folk artists


Meeting Rajasthan’s Manganiyar folk artists some 10 years ago was a life-changing experience for director Roysten Abel, known for his devised (collaboratory) theatre. There was no looking back for him as he went on to form “The Manganiyar Seduction”, a mass ensemble of over 40 singers and musicians.

“It has been a life-changing experience and this is the reason I am still working with them and hope to continue to stay with them a few years more if not for a lifetime,” Abel told IANS in an interview.

“The Manganiyar Seduction artists hail from Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and Barmer regions and have travelled all over the world, taking in countries like the US, New Zealand, Britain, Australia and the UAE, as also Europe. The ensemble is all set to perform at Phoenix Marketcity in Kurla (Mumbai) on Saturday.

Abel recalled how when he first met the Manganiyar artists, he knew nothing about them nor had much idea about folk tunes, but slowly started getting to know the artists and their inherited talent.

“Their music haunted me when I heard them and me, being a theatre director, wanted to do something. No other music had done to me what their music did. The Manganiyar music is heart-wrenching, joyous and grand with their varied voices and styles of singing,” he maintained.

Abel didn’t have to put much effort nor invest much of his ‘brain’ into evolving the concept of “The Manganiyar Seduction”.

“Wo to uparwala bhejta hai (Ideas are given by the God) (laughs). The whole thing happened in a flow. I had two to three weeks of experiencing them and their music and that actually changed me. I should say it is their music that inspired me,” the theatre director, a former student of the National School of Drama, reminisced.

“The whole concept of ‘The Manganiyar Seduction’ was very spontaneous. I was listening to their music and something struck me; there was an immediate spark and I decided that I have to do something with the music. And hence, it was formed,” Abel recalled.

Abel has created a spectacular stage which is the The Manganiyar Seduction’s USP — individual cubicles in red and lined with hundred of bulbs that light up whenever a particular artist is performing.

“The presentation is also a part of the whole thing. Past incidents have influenced me a lot while creating it, especially some architecture that I saw while travelling abroad. When it came to the Manganiyar artists, I had to think about the right set design which would enhance their performance,” he explained.

Talking about the folk music and its future, Abel said that it is still significant but lamented that it is gradually inclining more towards stage performances.

“The music world is a very small industry and there are so many musicians. Everybody is trying to make a mark and there is not so much space. To achieve success in the quickest possible way, these folk musicians often take ‘the popular road’ and this does not help them in the long run because other artists already exist (in that space),” Abel noted.

“I have travelled great lengths just to listen to one musician and that is because the music and musician have something special. But they are certainly not playing on their own strength, it used to evolve once upon a time but now the evolution has stopped,” he added.

Asked whether he would like to create magic with other folk artists, Abel said though there are no plans yet.

“I have worked with about 4,000 folk artists but I cannot hop from one to the other. I went ahead with the Mangariyans because their music had moved me, touched my soul. They went on to become a part of my life and right now it is just them. But I may get interested in working with other folk artists, but it has to happen organically,” Abel said.