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Pathan of the Morchang

Talk meets Pathan Shahmat Shajan,the only morchang player from Kutch who performed at the Rann Utsav in Gujarat which concludes tomorrow.

Written by AmritaJain |
January 14, 2012 12:00:46 am

Gujarat’s annual cultural festival,Rann Utsav,is underway in the village of Dhordo,83 km from Bhuj,and 800 people are swinging with abandon as the dandiya performance hits the high notes. Far from the noise,inside a silent green room,a 70-year-old is playing a small instrument that resembles a Jew’s harp. This is the morchang,counted among the oldest instruments in the world. A few minutes later,it’s time for the old musician to take to the stage. As he accompanies other folk artists,the audience breaks into a deafening applause. Pathan Shahmat Shajan,the only morchang player of Gujarat,is a star in his own right.

In 2010,when the Gujarat government showcased its “vibrant” side in the tourism commercial,Khushboo Gujarat Ki,Shajan was one of the main features,alongside Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. “I was taught how to play this instrument by my father when I was 10 years old,” he says,recounting how his skills can be traced back to his ancestors in the village of Zarvari in Banni,Kutch.

The artist has spent close to 60 years taking the sound of his little instrument all across the country. His music has found its way into films like Taal for which AR Rahman composed music. He has also performed in concerts in Delhi,Goa,Rajkot and Mumbai among other cities.

Explaining the working of the instrument,he says in broken Hindi,“The morchang is placed between the teeth,held in one hand and struck with the other to produce sound.” The method of controlling the sounds vaguely resembles the technique of beat boxing. A morchang player uses his throat and mouth to create sounds through the instrument.

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In fact,when UK beatboxing artist Shlomo performed in Bengaluru in 2010,he was accompanied by Raies Khan,a morchang player from Rajasthan. “But sadly not many people are interested in learning this instrument,” says Shajan.

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