Transcendental tradition: Under the spell of Sindhi snake charmers

Folk tunes from the desert dunes mesmerise audience at Kuch Khaas.

Maryam Usman/Photo Myra Iqbal October 13, 2013
The show spotlighted a Murliyun or Been, a folk music instrument from Thar Desert that was traditionally played by snake charmers to capture and kill venomous snakes. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: There were no reptiles to hypnotise but the rhythms of folk snake charmers from Sindh left the small audience spellbound at the ninth concert in the Instrumental Ecstasy series at Kuch Khaas (KK) on Saturday evening.

In homage to Sindh folk music, the show spotlighted a Murliyun or Been, a folk music instrument from Thar Desert that was traditionally played by snake charmers to capture and kill venomous snakes, particularly the desert cobra. The instrument is still practiced in street performances in Rajasthan and Interior Sindh.

Jai Ram Jogi, who belongs to the seventh generation of snake charmers or Murli players, enthralled the audience with his solo performances of the Murliyan and impromptu steps of the traditional snake.  He infused his own flair to the traditional wind instrument, filling up his mouth with air and controlling the range with the ebb and flow of his breath with enviable dexterity and ease.

“Look at his cheeks,” a woman in the audience said to her teenage daughter, pointing at Jogi, whose face emanated an incandescent radiance with each inhale.

Clad in a distinctive embroidered bright orange overall, Jogi flaunted large golden hoop earrings and bead strings to complete the vagrant, mystic getup. Sporting Sindhi topis or Balochi paghris, ajrak or embroidered waistcoats, the other musicians, Umeed Ali on harmonium, Muhammad Khan on dholak and Shayan Khan on dhamboora (percussions) complemented the aura of the evening.


The show spotlighted a Murliyun or Been, a folk music instrument from Thar Desert that was traditionally played by snake charmers to capture and kill venomous snakes. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS

Muhammad performed the 16-beat cycle, which is also known as “teen taal”, connoting even notes of the dholak, something that the tabla was created for.

Shayan introduced some indigenous Balochi folk tunes with his instrument, playing the strings in an understated, subtle melody.

Apart from the solo performances, the eclectic quarter also rendered some widely popular folk tunes including the Sindhi poet Sachal Sarmast’s “Aya mukh wekhan,” Laal Shahbaz Qalandar’s “Laal meri” and the classic sufi dhamal on “Hey jamalo.”

“I’m eager to learn more about this music. It’s very different from anything else I’ve ever heard. It also makes me very curious to learn about the background, history and cultures of Pakistani deserts,” said a foreigner in the audience, while talking to The Express Tribune.

The show was organised by the Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture in collaboration with Kuch Khaas, The Lime Tree Cafe, Danka.pk and FM89.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2013.

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