Want to make music? It’s getting easy these days. Buy a keyboard or a workstation and, if you have the right hardware and software, you could just plink-plonk your way to instant two-minute fame. What with CDs and sound cards that come loaded with samples of all kinds of instruments, you could jog a dial or press a button and have on call the sound of a saxophone, soprano, harpsichord, slide guitar, didgeridoo or just about any instrument you can think of. If the sample you are using is a good one, it would be quite difficult to make out that the sound of the instrument is being produced electronically. Now it’s a different issue altogether that the musicians who actually play these instruments will be robbed of opportunities to perform.
Such are the times we live in. But wouldn’t it be a pity if we forgot or permitted ourselves to forget what a sarangi or a veena or a pakhawaj looks like or sounds like? Let’s face it, we already have forgotten and lost a lot of our music. So, it comes as a pleasant surprise when one comes across an album titled Remembered Rhythms. What’s more, it features one instrument that probably hasn’t been sampled yet or made available on a sound card! Called the malunga, this instrument is used by the Sidi community settled in Gujarat, and is, in fact, a bow that is struck with an arrow to produce a soft, muted ping-ing percussive sound to which the Sidis sing and play.
The Sidi community is said to be from Abyssinia and settled in India centuries ago. Bawa Gor, an Abyssinian agate trader is revered by the community as their spiritual leader and at his urs (anniversary) every year, the community remembers him with song and dance called ‘damaal’ or ‘goma’. Centuries after the community came from distant Africa to settle in India, the Sidis continue to retain and keep alive music that could originally have been part of African music. Mugarman, a hand drum made from the hollowed trunk of a tree and played upright by the Sidis, has a counterpart called ngoma in Zimbabwe, while musindo, another hand drum used in Sidi Goma music, has a striking resemblance to a Tanzanian drum called masondo.
The music of the Sidis is Sufiana and zikr, or the repetitive trance-inducing chanting that is characteristic of Sufi music. The songs of the Sidis are in Hindi as well as in African languages such as Swahili. Interestingly, some Swahili songs have been retained by the GujaratiSidi community as part of their repertoire, but have vanished from Africa, the land of their origin. So, Africa has forgotten these songs, but here in India, the Sidi community remembers them well enough to include them in the ritual offerings of music made to their leader Bawa Gor and his sister Mai Misr.
So where should we be looking if we want to hear some more Remembered Rhythms? In Delhi, a good option would be to visit or contact the American Institute of Indian Studies at Gurgaon, which has produced and published a set of three audio CDs and one VCD featuring the music of the Sidi Goma as well as other groups with resonances from India.
Write to Shubha Mudgal at firstname.lastname@example.org