Concert review: Magical sacred music from Rajasthan

The Divana Ensemble from Rajasthan. -- PHOTO: THE ESPLANADE
The Divana Ensemble from Rajasthan. -- PHOTO: THE ESPLANADE

An extra show was added for the Manganiyars from the northwestern indian state of Rajasthan and it came as no surprise really.

Since 2009, when the Manganiyars made a splash in Sydney with their aural magic in The Manganiyar Seduction, they have received standing ovations and rave reviews wherever they have travelled.

They headlined the Singapore Arts Festival in 2010 and have returned to the island twice to perform at private events.

What Mystique of the Manganiyars and Langas by Divana Ensemble offered on Sunday at the Esplanade Recital Studio though was quite different from their 2010 outing. With no theatrical elements or dramatic sets, the focus was just on the sound of music.

Closing the Esplanade's annual Tapestry of Sacred Music and in keeping with the spirit of the festival, they picked more soulful and spiritual aspects of their wide-ranging repertoire.

They invoked the elephant god Ganesha in one song and the destroyer-procreator Lord Shiva in another before drawing on the rich Sufi tradition to showcase the diversity of their music.

Their songs told tales of the desert, where they are from, sang praise of Hindu deities and transported audiences through the lilting and lasting notes of their music.

Lead vocalist Anwar Khan Manganiyar's rousing vocals showed the power of music to go beyond words and language barriers to appeal to a global audience.

The songs they presented were interspersed with the range and sounds of their diverse musical instruments. On stage, audiences got to see the khamaycha (a string instrument played like a cello), morchang (Jewish harp) and khartal (similar to castanets).

The Manganiyars are Muslim performers who traditionally sang Hindu songs for the kings of Rajasthan. Their repertoire, which ranges from ballads about kings to songs by mystics to tunes commemorating births, marriages, feasts and festivals, have been passed down through generations as a form of oral history and are a nod to the enduring appeal of myths, folk tales and folklore.

As the music ebbed and soared at various points during the 75-minute show on Sunday, the spiritual sounds transported people to another world. It was a celebration of the past, of traditions, which have a future in the present.

The experience was magical, it was mystical and it brought the Esplanade's Tapestry of Sacred Music Festival to a fitting finish.

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