When Rajasthani folk artist Ustad Rehmat Khan Langa sang an old Rajasthani song written and composed by him at National Bal Bhawan, New Delhi, where he teaches folk music, little did he know that it would become part of a national campaign. So moved was Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the song, Haanji re Banni Tu, that it is now a part of the ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ campaign.
“It’s a song a mother sings at various stages of a daughter’s life, her wish of seeing her daughter grow up, have doodh-malayee at age five, go to government school at age 10, graduate and get a job at 20…” the Ustad breaks into a earthy voice, the words making an instant emotional connect. It’s a song he has also been teaching children and his students. In Chandigarh courtesy the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) as part of its initiative to promote the diverse Indian folk culture, Ustad Rehmat Khan shared the same song at the city schools he performed on Tuesday. He will be performing for the next two days at more schools.
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A recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Award for Excellence in Secularism, the Ustad has performed widely, both in India and various other countries with his troupe from Baadner, Rajasthan, comprising his sons Mohammad Rafi (on Khartall), Anwar Khan (vocals), Habib Khan (Sarangi) and Ishaq (Tabla). “You can see I am a huge fan of Rafi sahab,” he smiles, gulping down an ice-cold glass of water. “I am touching 60 now, and after singing for so many years, gala pakk jaata hai,” he says, adding how they recently wrapped up the video for the ‘Banni’ song with children from K V Pushp Vihar, Delhi, and representatives from NCERT. Now, he plans to compose a song with a message for India, and release it by November 14. “I want to use my music to reach out, to share good things, to teach, to involve everyone,” says the Ustad.
Into folk music for ten generations now, Ustad Rehmat Khan is one of the few acclaimed artists who teach folk under a guru shishya parampara, who is chased by filmmakers for folk music and who gave a different form of Maand music for the film Paan Singh Tomar. “I am not attracted to cinema and its music. I can’t even market myself! They keep chasing me, and I’ve had Rekha Bhardwaj at Bal Bhawan for training, Ila Arun too for more musical knowledge…I am happy with who I am and where I am,” he reflects. And although his sons sing along, he says they are more into instruments than singing. This is an area where girls are seldom allowed to accompany or sing, but Ustad Rehmat is changing the rules. “I get goosebumps when I hear the girls sing! I don’t know why are there these rules that they cannot…it’s been set by the elders and talk about biradari and izzat…if you talk against it, you only invite trouble. But girls come to learn and I teach them,” he says.
Into Punjabi folk music too, the Ustad, who is fond of Himachali folk music, feels that unlike the Rajasthan government and thriving music industry of Punjab, Himachali folk has gone down because of lack of funds and patronage. “It’s sad because even when governments do something, their representatives, the middlemen are dishonest and the arts suffer,” he feels.