THE sounds and songs of the mountains fill the studio space of theatreperson and film-maker GS Chani as he gives the final touches in the editing room to eight short films. These films document the music of ethnic communities of the Himalayas, from Dharchula (Nepal border) in Uttarakhand to Chamba and the border districts of Himachal Pradesh. For the past 20 years, Chani and his son Gyan, a stage and light designer, have been involved in filming the ecological degradation of the Himalayas and how the ethnic cultures and sub-cultures of the Himalayas have been responsible for its sustainability. The project could not be completed because of insufficient funds, but along the journey, they gathered the music of ethnic people of the Himalayas, replete with the texture of their rituals and ceremonies, among others.
Spending days in the small villages of the Himalayas, interacting with people, observing their daily life and ceremonies gave the duo a chance to look closely at their culture, through music and how they live life with the many sounds that surround them. The Himalayas, reflects Chani, promise a world of experience to the traveller as the body responds to the magic, the mind seeks and finds peace and a feeling of well-being suffuses the senses. “These films on the ethnic music of Himalayas are also about the mountains and the people whose cultures and lifestyles have helped sustain their fragile eco-system, even as they have lived and found sustenance in them,” he says.
In many cases across India, documentation of folk music has amounted to little more that songs being rendered by urban artistes coming from schools and colleges, with artificial tones and textures. Chani’s project has involved filming, over many years, the music of the Himalayan people in their homes, meadows, hill ranges and peaks, fairs and festivals and family functions. During their travels in the Himachal, the filmmakers encountered Gujjars in Chamba, Chamera and Bharmor and recorded the songs of Bhotias, Shaukas, Kinners, Lepchas, Gaddis and many other communities.
The upper Himalayan regions of India have enjoyed comparative isolation, and as a result, the regions have not been subjected to cataclysmic changes or cultural inundations. People have been able to nurture and sustain their distinctive culture, traditional art and music.
“The music in Himalayas blends with life and is associated with nature, seasons, ceremonies, legends, tales, wayside deities, human relations, creation and cosmology,” says the theatre person, who travelled with a sound expert for the recording, though then without wireless mikes.
The films are of 30 minutes each and show how the diverse ethnic groups carry the music and its artistic expression with their lifestyles. From the simple outpourings of women to the immaculate writing of the bards, from the ingenuous and often impromptu tribal ditties to the great ballads, there is music for every occasion. The songs capture every nuance of expression, echo every sentiment, they are sonorous and picturesque and establish and uphold the dignity of the common man as well as celebrate and reaffirm the basic values of life.
“They are the lyricists, composers, with the oral tradition reflecting the many aspects of their life, the hardships, loneliness, cosmology, nature, love. There is a sense of wonder, as they keep innovating with the tunes and compositions and adding to the tradition. It is of paramount importance that we archive this wealth before it is lost to time,” adds Gyan.
One of the films is about Gujjars and is shot in Chamba, Chamera and Bharmor, with the singers bringing out their pain and pathos through their unique way of singing. “It seems the music has been composed over centuries and has been passed on from generation to generation. The common ethos is that of pain of separation, from the beloved and pining of the soul for the eternal,” says Chani, adding that the film project has been supported by the Ministry of Culture and would be available on various public platforms.
In the other films, the music of Himachal Pradesh is captured, which expresses the emotions of love, separation, urge and is synonymous with various events in the day-to-day life of the people.
The subject of the folklore shifts according to the seasons and there is a song for almost all occasions. Sung in unison, these songs do follow a pattern, as the singer decides how and which way the notes and syllables are to be pronounced. Out of all the musical traditions of the area, adds Chani, Kinnauri Nati, the traditional folk dance which is often performed on the New Year and represents the joy of a good harvest is the most popular amongst the people.
Talking about the film on the music of Uttarakhand, the documentary filmmakers say that the Uttarakhand Himalayas have inspired generations of singers, balladeers, and musicians throughout the ages.
The natural beauty of the mountains that inspires a deep spirituality and the harshness of life that darkens the heart with anguish, have invigorated Uttarakhandi music, heightening its poignancy and enriching its lyrical texture.
“We travelled to the high altitude valley of Munsiyari in Pithoragarh district and encountered some of the most
talented communities, who could sing and dance at a drop of a hat. Out of these, the Shaukas were the people who contributed a lot for the recordings of their music. The Shaukas living here are trans-Himalayan traders and travel through Nepal, China and India. Being part of all three cultures,
the Shaukas carried with them the traditions of local music of places that they visited,” says Gyan, adding how the films capture, folk instruments, cultures, beliefs and how these could be a sheer joy to view and lend an ear to.