Love and earth at 'Oudstock

Though roots-oriented, Divana combines Rajasthani music with influences from all over the world - Middle East included.

indian music 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
indian music 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Oud Festival has explored an impressively expansive swathe of musical terrain over its nine-year history, and this year's closing act gets that message across loud and clear. You wouldn't normally associate music from the Rajasthani region of northern India with rhythms and tunes from this part of the world. Then again, over the centuries, Rajasthan has imbibed a wide range of cultural sources, feeding off its Hindi roots and the Islamic traditions it embraced in the 16th century, as will be evident at the Divana ensemble's December 4th "Music and Poetry from Rajasthan" concert at the Jerusalem Theater. The members of the band play instruments that hail both from India and other parts of the world, such as the kamanje spike violin, which traces its roots to Azerbaijan and is a popular instrument in Rajasthan, and the satara - a double flute used by inhabitants of the rural areas of northern India. Divana's music seamlessly marries rustic flavors with hypnotic kawali-like vocals based on rhythms and scales and modes that are unique to Rajasthan. As is often the case in parts of the world that have maintained strong links with their cultural and musical heritages, the members of the band grew up on a powerful homespun artistic diet. "All our families are langa and manganyar musicians, which are castes of poets and musicians. When we are seven or eight years old, we learn singing for the different members of the family," explains the band's kartal (Indian wooden clapper) player and manager Gazi Khan Barna, adding that Rajasthani music also feeds off a strong spiritual anchor. "We take our inspiration from God, love and Mother Earth. That lies behind everything we do. And, traditionally, musicians from here have roamed the countryside - very much like the Lautari gypsies of Rumania and the griots of Mauritania - so we have picked up influences from all over the area. That has been added to our own music, although all those elements come from around here." STILL, AS the paraphrased tenet has it, no musician is an island unto himself and, certainly in the age of the global village, the members of Divana are also exposed to all manner of external influences. According to Barna, this has its advantages - despite the inroads those foreign elements are making into Rajasthani music. "The world music market permits us to perform outside India, and this allows more people to learn about what we do. That is good for us, and we like to learn from other singers and musicians from all over the world." That also includes artists from this neck of the woods. "Israeli folk music is very important," Barna continues. "We know many artists from Israel and the Middle East in general, including oud players and guitarists." While the generally held global view of Indian culture - starting with those halcyon days of the Sixties when the likes of the Beatles made exploratory, and often highly publicized, forays into the Indian musical hinterland - may be one of indigenous art that has preserved its roots through thick and thin of a western cultural onslaught, changes have occurred there over the years. "In some parts of Rajasthan, folk music has changed because of the modern influences from India and the world in general," says Barna. "Our traditions are moving and taking on with other rhythms. This is a time of transmission through the generations, and you can also feel the impact of television and Bollywood-style material." Barna says that while adopting outside influences, and inculcating them, is a natural part of the musical evolutionary process, Rajasthani musicians have managed to cling on to the nucleus of their cultural heritage. "We are aware of Western commercial styles, like rap, hip-hop, electronic music, pop and rock. But, mostly, we prefer traditional forms. We like the purity of the voices, the strings and the skins." Divana will perform at the Sherover Hall of the Jerusalem Theater on December 4 at 9 p.m. For more information: (02) 624-5206 or