Folk music instruments soon to become extinct

New Delhi: A Rajasthani folk music instrument made of goat skin, horse tail hair and mango tree wood, might soon become extinct as there are hardly any craftsmen who know how to make it.

The `kamaycha` is a bow-and-string instrument played by the Manganiyar community of Rajasthan and one of its veteran players, Channan Khan rues the fact that he has to depend on carpenters, who have very little knowledge of music or musical instruments, to make the instrument.

In a bid to bring folk musicians like Channan Khan into the limelight, and to create awareness about instruments that might soon become extinct like the kamaycha, sarangi, one- string `bhapang` and 36-string `surmandal`, a folk festival was organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF) in Jaipur recently.

Divya Bhatia, festival director of the recently concluded Rajasthan International Folk Festival and artistic director of JVF, says "We shouldn`t forget our heritage". By creating awareness about different rare instruments and the musicians who play them, we hope to create more
opportunities for them."

While folk music instruments are in the danger of becoming extinct, classical music instruments also face threat as classical music is appreciated by a niche audience. Annual `veena` festivals have sprung up in cities like Bangalore, Chennai and New Delhi, but instruments like the `tarshehnai`, `esraj` and `tardholak` remain largely unheard and unknown.

Bollywood has occasionally played a part in promoting rare instruments, with the most prominent example being actor Priyanshu Chatterji essaying the role of a musician playing the esraj, a stringed instrument that resembles the sitar, in Rituparno Ghosh`s 2008 movie Nauka Dubi, which made news. However, annual festivals and occasional mentions in Bollywood usually provides short term limelight to these rare instruments and the musicians who play them.

A few well-known artists, who are promoting the cause of musicians playing rare instruments, give such musicians a platform to showcase their talent. Soma Ghosh, founder of an NGO that aims to bring lesser known musicians into the limelight, says, "When I gave sarangi player Rafiq Ahmad a chance to play with me, he got offers from different artists, and he also played at Asha Bhosale`s live concert." Ghosh, who is the foster daughter of Ustad Bismillah Khan, wants to set up a musical ashram called "Surgram" where musicians playing rare instruments will be invited to pass on their knowledge to young learners.

While individual efforts are laudable, classical singer Shubha Mudgal believes that those in power should take more efforts to give recognition to musicians and skilled craftsmen who make musical instruments. "Recordings of artists playing rare instruments should be put up on youtube and other video sharing websites. Cash awards and recognition should also be given to master craftsmen who make the instruments, besides the artists who play rare instruments" Mudgal says.

Mudgal says all efforts to preserve diverse musical art forms will come to naught if music lovers don`t take steps to promote the music they love. "Ultimately it is up to music lovers to save and promote the art form. If nobody listens to the music, even if it is available free on youtube, how can it be saved?", Mudgal says.

"Expecting some Bollywood star or a one-off festival to save diverse art forms that are hundreds of years old is a bit idealistic. Every effort counts, but if we really want to preserve the diversity of India`s art forms, we need to think long term," Mudgal says.