Passion for preservation: Madison man works to save Indian folk music

Posted Monday, May 20, 2013--10:00 p.m.

In the far West of India, amid the bleakness of the sands,
the sounds of an ancient art form bring life to the desert. The Manganiyars are Muslim folk musicians, who sing and play hauntingly beautiful secular songs on traditional stringed instruments and drums.

It's an oral tradition that has been passed down from fathers to sons for centuries. Nothing's written down.

Times are changing, and their traditional music's now at risk.
Madison's Ankur Malhotra grew up in India, and is now helping to preserve the Manganiyars' music.

"Most of the Manganiyar kids today are not taking on music. They are becoming tour guides, or driving a bus or a truck. or doing other stuff. This is a centuries-old tradition that is fading into obscurity. "

Malhotra adds, "It (the music) just takes you to a different place. It's soul searching, the music is peaceful, and it kind of reflects the message that is there in the music as well. It's about peace; it's about harmony; it's about oneness. It's very spiritual music. "

Since 2009, Malhotra and his partners at Amarrass Records, have been dedicated to preserving and promoting the Manganiyars' music.
They have traveled thousands of miles to record the Manganiyars in their remote village homes.

Malhotra says, "The music itself is so, kind of pure and exquisite, and you don't see that in Bollywood and you don't see that in studio recordings. That's why we go out into the field to capture the music live."

To expose their music to new ears, Amarrass has also sent the Indian folk musicians on tour in India and the U.S. "People were moved to tears--people literally crying...and that's the kind of reaction I've had as well. That kind of validates that this music really has no boundaries, and it elicits the same feelings in a person half a world away. That serves my purpose in getting their music out there."

Thanks to the recordings, the Manganiyars have earned money....and respect. "They're looking at their pictures being published or in print the first time, and some of these musicians have been playing for 30-plus years. They can point to an album and say, 'Hey, that's me!' How do you describe that in words?"

The music of the Manganiyars is now not only reaching people beyond their desert home, it has a better chance of reaching the next generation. "Now there's hope, and to see that hope getting re-ignited.. I think that makes it all worth it."

Ankur and his partners say they were inspired to do this by the work of Alan Lomax. He recorded unknown blues musicians in the American South in the mid 20Th century. He says Amarrass is dedicated to making sure their Indian musicians are fairly compensated for their work.

If you'd like to find out more about Amarrass Records and the music of the Manganiyars, or to download it, just go to this link.

Amarrass Records and the Manganiyars


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