He speaks of a bygone era when his father Tharu Khan urged him to continue his legacy long after he’s gone. Like an obedient son and a faithful pupil, Lakha Khan strictly adhered to his teachings on how to hold tones and internalised the stories behind ragas. Through unflinching dedication and discipline, Khan eventually mastered the art of keeping the flow of the bow in harmony with the notes. On his eighth birthday, Lakha Khan’s musical journey began and he’d accompany his father at concerts in patrons’ homes. Five years later, the onus of carrying forward the traditional music of the marginalised Manganiyar community was handed down to him. Now at 67, Lakha Khan may be the last living exponent of the Sindhi Sarangi that dates back at least seven generations. Today, the preservation of the community’s musical heritage is plagued with deep-set fears that it may not last even few years down the line. “The sarangi and kamaicha are complex instruments to play because of which most Manganiyars are picking up an easy alternative like the harmonium,” laments Khan. Excerpts from an interview:
What is your opinion on new-age electronic music that the urban population is hooked onto? Do you feel that people are very distracted nowadays and that the younger generations can’t relate to traditional folk music anymore?
Nowadays, people prefer DJ’s and electronic music. Mine is not electronic music. Every genre has different tunes and people have their own preference for styles of music. For instance, sargam, bhajan and Sufi music have different emotions and feelings attached to it. Although I like contemporary music, the raag doesn’t touch my heart. I think the youngsters prefer more of the up-tempo music, and that is their preference.
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Are there any contemporary artists you like listening to? Why?
I like what Sivamani plays. He is technically sound, and in his performance with Zakir Hussain, there was this (musical) conversation going on – a back and forth with questions asked and responses given, using their instruments – this was very nice!
Do you think the aesthetics of music are changing as the younger generation in your community opt for easier instruments like harmoniums etc? Is this the reason why the Manganiyar folk tradition is on the decline?
Yes, because it is difficult (the kamaicha and sarangi), there are not as many players these days, as it used to be earlier, even 20-30 years ago. The easy alternate picked up by most Manganiyars today is the harmonium.
How are you passing down your heritage and musical tradition to the younger generation?
It is up to the next generation and their kismat. Kismat hai to sekheyga, varna koi naukri karega (if it is in his fate, he will learn, otherwise he will do some/any job). If you want to preserve music and heritage, people need to meet musicians personally and create an awareness about the idiosyncrasies of individual artists. You have to know how to differentiate between people. The current generation is very distracted. They focus on what people around them are talking about and that influences their music preference.
What do you think is the status of folk music in Rajasthan? Is it changing for the better or is it struggling to be heard?
The quality is going down…. it is not the same quality as before – both in terms of the quality of the performers and their repertoire. The great masters have passed away (e.g. Siddique Khan and the khartaal, Sakar Khan and the kamaicha), and the next generation do not know as many songs.
Sakar Khan has been able to pass on the knowledge of playing Kamaicha to his grandchildren, but it has been tough on your part to do the same. Any particular reason why?
Well, I have taught several of the Langas, though none of the Manganiyars grandchildren have come to me.. perhaps it is because of the kamaicha being called the instrument of the Manganiyars and the sarangi the instrument of the Langas, I have turned out to be the last of the sarangi players in my community. Personally, we have different patronage structure. Sakar Khan had Rajput patronage, they had a deeper understanding of the music and the lyrics and were more connected to the tradition of having Manganiyar musicians perform at their ceremonies. Our patrons are the Bishnoi’s, who are not that attuned and so I had fewer opportunities. Then as fate would have it, my younger son Pappu, who was turning out to be a good sarangi player, suffered an accident as a labourer and he cannot play the instrument anymore.
It takes you a month to craft a fine piece of Sarangi that requires dedication, perseverance and ceaseless passion. But this tradition is fast disappearing. What are you doing to preserve this?
It is a labour of love that require patience and skill. It is heartening to see efforts by Amarrass, who have been working with the master instrument makers to keep the sarangi, kamaicha, morchang and the craft alive by getting the instruments in to the hands of musicians around the world.
Where or from whom do you derive your musical inspiration from?
My father has been a huge inspiration for me.. it is his teachings and then the lyrics of the songs – the bhajans, the Sufi kalaams – that give me the inspiration and energy to go on.