Centuries ago, the English introduced Indians to the brass music. Now the Kawa Brass Band from Jaipur has enthralled Englishmen with traditional Rajasthani folk music fused with Western pop and jazz at the recent Olympic torch run in Belfast. Rekha Pal reports
People in India were introduced to brass band music first in Calcutta (now Kolkata), then capital of British Indian Empire in 1750. Centuries later, the Jaipur Kawa Brass band has been invited by the British Council to perform during the Olympic torch run to London. This brass brand is unique in the sense that it is not just an ensemble of musicians playing brass percussion instruments, but which also puts up a colourful show of dancers, acrobats, theatre and live puppetry.
The band, comprising seven musicians, seven artists and acrobats and two dancers performed in Belfast when the Olympic torch arrived there on June 13.
Speaking from Belfast, Hameed Khan, 50, founder of Kawa Brass Band, said: "I have composed a special tune Melody Hans Dhwani with 15 beats for the Olympic torch run, which is usually played when you are joyous and want to celebrate. I have also linked acrobatics and street performances to the band’s music."
The band has also prepared a melody titled Pancham (emphasising the fifth note of the total seven musical notes) for the Olympic.
The modern form of brass band came about in England in response to industrialisation, which produced a large working class population. The bands and their music became a popular pastime for them. The Stalybridge Old Band was formed in 1809 and is perhaps the first civilian brass band in the world.
With time the brass band has become part and parcel of Indian style celebrations, especially during weddings when a boisterous ‘Le jayenge, Le jayenge, Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge’ or a ‘Raja ki ayegi baraat’ alert the neighbourhood that a wedding procession is on its way, and even accompany religious processions and political rallies.
Hameed Khan Kawa, an expert tabla player, hails from a musical family in Jaipur. Khan’s father and forefathers were worthy exponents of both folk and classical Indian music. As a child, Kawa had heard brass bands playing in the city on various occasions and festivals. Percussion instruments like clarinets, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, bass drums, snare drums and cymbals fascinated him. Although he became adept at tabla, his attraction towards these instruments continued.
His life took a turn in 1984 when he was invited to France to play fusion table. The experience broadened his musical sense and he started experimenting by mixing Hindustani Classical with traditional Western music and jazz in his own compositions.
France is also where he met his French wife Marie-Noelle, who now manages his business affairs in India and abroad. They have two children Ilyas Raphael Kawa Khan and daughter Parveen Sabrina Kawa, to whom he is keen to pass on his musical legacy.
In the ‘90s Kawa left France to return to India and his roots. In 1995, he created the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band. The group quickly established itself internationally performing in France, Sweden, Italy, and Slovakia, etc. The band had earlier participated in sports parades in Germany, UK, Denmark, Romania and Greece, too. It performed in Melbourne Commonwealth Games of 2006. In 1998 it had provided music to the World Cup Football in Paris.
The original Western and Oriental fusions inspired Kawa to explore newer but familiar horizons in developing traditional North Indian music. There is some Sufi influence in his compositions as well. Not to talk of the captivating antics of a group of street performers, which makes Kawa’s band unique and interesting.
Over the years, Kawa has developed a keen sense of playing, arranging music, preserving Indian performing arts by training new artists, generating shows with various performers, that he constantly presents to the audience while touring on the international scene.
The Kawa band also includes a nomadic snake charmer, a sabre-swallowing fakir and antics performing acrobats. The group goes on parade in the streets and performs on stage as well.
Khan feels that the opportunity to perform in the Olympic torch run would definitely throw up more musical possibilities for them as foreign audiences have different sensibilities for this kind of music. For this special occasion, the band has also composed six new tunes that blend Rajasthani folk with pop and jazz.
The specially designed Kawa Circus, which includes many ancient street games, like pole vaulting, tight-rope walking and other folk showpieces are performed with a melody that take back the listeners to the bygone era of rajas and maharajas.
Three years back, Kawa Circus was conjured up by Hameed Khan and his associates Alessandro Maria Torboli and Herve Vital, which celebrates the street performers of India with all their ancient mystical and magical charm.
Says Khan: "With TV garnering all the attention, traditional street games like acrobatics is becoming obsolete. So is the case of brass band, which is used mostly for marriages and that too in North India, I have improvised on the music played during the weddings and added the Kawa Musical Circus to it. Thus the band became unique as it carries along traditional music, acrobatics, puppetry, dancing and infused great energy in every performance."
The band has seven to eight artistes who perform attired in typical Rajashthani outfits colourful turban, Rajasthani jacket and camel leather shoes.
Khan said his musicians are from actual nomadic tribes, whose only profession still is performing, singing and dancing for the thakurs and landlords of their villages.