Presented by World Music/CRASHArts
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Somerville) The very American Johnny D’s Uptown can feel like an unlikely venue for World Music/CRASHArts. Taking the stage in turbans and garb from Northern India, Rhythm of Rajasthan prepares to play. The people at the bar look on with surprise. The patron next to me expresses hesitance, saying that he only came here this evening to catch the ball game on TV.
The songs Rhythm of Rajasthan plays are like a slow burn. They build up carefully until the room swells with a warm blaze of music. Their percussion is easy, though, bubbling up like an oasis or a thirst-quenching geyser.
The founder of the band, folk lore expert and researcher Nitin Harsh, comes on stage to say the first two songs of the night are about love and longing. The third is about a wife demanding a scarf from her husband as she sings about family. With songs that cover legendary battles to contemporary sounds, the effect is instant and immersive. The audience is engulfed in the cultures of the Great Indian Desert.
Nitin Harsh formed the band in 2007. A documentary filmmaker, Harsh looks to promote and preserve the performing arts of Rajasthan, the largest state in the Republic of India. He’s produced a series of documentaries covering a range of performing arts of Rajasthan, specifically concerned with the musical heritage of the Langa and Manganiar cultures.
Rhythm of Rajasthan is a taste of that unique heritage. The Langa and Manganiar both have Muslim musicians, but that doesn’t keep them from singing in praise of Hindu deities and celebrating festivals such as Diwali and Holi. The Manganiar performers traditionally invoke the Hindu god Krishna and, at one time, were musicians of the Rajput courts. They went with their chiefs to war and provided them with entertainment before and after battles.
The Langa, however, are better known for their groups of poets and singers from the Barmer district of Rajasthan. Sufi influences prevented them from using percussion instruments, however, leaving the Langas talented singers and versatile players of the Sindhi Sarangi and the Algoza (double flute). They perform at events like births, and weddings exclusively for their patrons (Yajman), cattle breeders, landowners, and farmers.
The performance at Johnny D’s transports the audience of Americans to the other side of the world. In moments like this, I’m thankful Boston is a section of the East Coast regularly exposed to other cultures. Getting to see a band like Rhythm of Rajasthan perform live is a precious opportunity, one that seemed to leave the patrons of Johnny D’s grateful and content at the end of the evening.