EVENT The stage rocked when wandering minstrels from around the world made music together at the Nomadic Orchestra of the World concert.
“Ironically for nomadic communities, you aren't even considered a real citizen unless you have a permanent address,” said Meenakshi Vinay Rai, the director of Chinh India Italia, a collaboration that works to promote their culture and civil rights.
That, in many ways, sums up the many paradoxes of the lives of these people. But their music, just like the people themselves, is resilient. And as a way of preserving and transferring it and the knowledge it carries, Chinh conceived the award-winning Nomadic Orchestra of the World (NOW), which brings the nomadic and gypsy communities from all over the world to perform together. In an expression of this, Indian folk artists met those from Italy for an evening of music at the Chinmaya Heritage Center. In other words, the snake charmer met the electric guitarist.
The evening of music began with Kabir. Lal Chand Yogi, a wandering minstrel from Haryana, with his raw, roughly hewn voice and his ektara, sang what Kabir felt when he saw clothes being washed in a stream — that the way the cloth is beaten against a rock, is the way the way the human soul is schooled into ideologies. Joined by Prakash Nath on the bapang, a handmade string instrument, they rendered a simple song extraordinarily.
The jugalbandhi itself got off to a mildly rocky start — it was Suraj Bhopa, a renowned folk healer and musician from Rajasthan and Prakash Nath, along with vocalist Andrea Camerini and the other Italian musicians. They not only performed together, but to each other's music as well — one wondered if Andrea understood what they were saying while singing “Mann ka panchi udtha jara”; and whether having folk artists leap around the stage like rock musicians was the only way to preserve their music.
But thankfully, they returned to the strength of their own music soon after. As in “Zingara mann banjara”, which asked the nomads why they didn't travel anymore. They were joined by Sruti, a lehriya dancer who would weave in and out between the musicians, capturing the pathos and the colours of the songs.
Then Suraj Bhopa — who plays the ravanatha, an ancestor of the violin — sang in praise of the chirmi, naturally forming beads that are said to choose their owners, bringing tremendous luck and goodwill to them. Prakash Nath was a wonderful showman, engaging the Italians in fake duels and spinning on the spot like a top, and all the while, never missing a beat.
Meeting in song
One of the best performances of the evening was when Roberto Berini on the cajón met Paolo Camerini on the double bass and Prakash Nath on the bopang. The double bass questioned, the cajón was stubborn and the bopang teased — you heard the anger, the refusal, and finally the conciliation, all meeting in song.
Kesar Nath, Radhey and Jagdish joined in with their magnetic been, playing the original tunes they use to lure snakes away. Heady, hypnotic refrains from them, and the certainty of the Italian progressive rock from Ludovica Valori on the trombone and the accordion, and Alessandro Lorenzoni on the guitar. Each musician, clearly accomplished in his own right, also showed why she/he needn't have to be somebody else to validate their work. Because in the parts where they were uncomfortable, their music was uncomfortable too.
Commendably, the evening saw a true sharing of the stage, giving equal space to each other throughout the concert, seamlessly taking up the music where the other had left off, with no one trying to upend the other, as is wont to happen in jugalbandhis. These were instruments and performers that would never have met in the same performance space; and by 2020, NOW hopes to bring together 500 nomadic musicians from all over the world on a single stage.