Jaisalmer-based algoza player Tagaram Bhil wants everybody to hear the lilting music created by the magical instrument

Traditions abound and so do artistes in the colourful state of Rajasthan but minus the halo. So, you encounter these self-effacing souls everywhere. A ravanhattha player wouldn't really harp on the fact that besides playing one of the oldest living instruments, he is adept at making it as well. Or you will spot a 10-year-old boy engrossed in carving a kathputli out of wood. Khambadi patchwork here, some kali zari work there. Tagaram Bhil is one among them. A resident of Moolsagar village in Jaisalmer, playing algoza, the Rajasthani double flute, was part and parcel of his life. While taking his cattle for grazing, he would play it as is the practice among the community which is primarily engaged in agriculture and cattle rearing.

Changing times spelt a change in the traditional sources of livelihood as well. Quitting agriculture and cattle rearing, he began breaking stones to eke out a living but algoza remained part of his life. And even though he performed his first concert in 1980, the 52-year-old artist is yet to establish himself outside of Jaisalmer.

Yet he is one of the finest and very few to be playing the complex woodwind instrument. His work with the popular TV series on music, The Dewarists and Rajasthan Roots, a collective of folk musicians of Rajasthan — some of which can be viewed on YouTube — has earned him some recognition alright but not enough money.

But music is still what he feels has made him. “I would have been breaking stones had I not persisted but it was never with the intention of becoming an artiste. I just love the instrument. My father too plays algoza but he never went on stage. I was trained under Ustad Akbar Khan here and then got a scholarship,” says the musician.

He informs us that he has even recorded for A.R. Rahman in the film Mr. Romeo. “I can't remember the song exactly but in the one sung by Ila Arun, I have played algoza and also created sounds from the matka. I sang in the chorus as well.”

But there aren't many left in the region who play the instrument. “There aren't many people around to teach them and seeing its scope, there aren't even that many to learn it. It needs a push from the government which it isn't getting. Now it's difficult to find the instrument itself so I make it myself,” points out the artiste.

Though he has been to Japan and Singapore few times as part of Rajasthan Roots, the group keeps changing which means one can't really bank on it. Income started flowing in steadily two years ago, after he was engaged by a promising entrepreneur, Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, to play every evening at his magnificent Suryagarh Resort in Jaisalmer. Listen to Tagaram Bhil on chilly quiet evenings at the resort and you would know why we need to nurture him and the instrument.

What resembles a pair of wooden flutes, Tagaram says, is quite difficult to master. “It's about breath control. With three fingers on each side of the flute, the artiste breathes rapidly into the instrument thus creating the sound. Algoza has its limitations. You can play only a few ragas on it like but on the satara, in which one flute is smaller than the other, you can play a variety of ragas like Bhairavi, Shyam Kalyan and Des. I also play Sindhi Sasvi on it,” explains the versatile artiste.

Out of his seven children, only one has taken up algoza. “Many people, especially foreigners after hearing about me, come to learn the instrument and I have taught it to some. But now I want to establish a proper institution. I am visiting Delhi next month to meet the concerned government agencies and take it forward.”