Magic box of music

The Manganiyar Seduction brings togerher the musicians of Rajasthan and the visual dazzle of Amsterdam's red light district. Joshinder Chaggar speaks to the show's creator Roysten Abel
Roysten Abel

The Manganiyar Seduction brings togerher the musicians of Rajasthan and the visual dazzle of Amsterdam’s red light district. Joshinder Chaggar speaks to the show’s creator Roysten Abel

First created for the opening of the film festival in New Delhi in 2006, the Manganiyar Seduction became such a hit that that it has been touring the world. A collaboration between artistic director Roysten Abel and the Manganiyar musicians, the concept creates a dazzling union between Rajasthani music and the visual seduction of Amsterdam ‘s red light district. The sets are a combination of the Hawa Mahal and the Red light district of Amsterdam. It can also be compared to a magic box, where 43 musicians are seated in 36 red-curtained cubicles arranged in four horizontal rows one on top of the other; and the concert begins when a single cubicle lights up and the first singer begins his song. The young men, women, children and the elderly of the Manganiyar community take you into a world which is even beyond yours or their own.

The Manganiyar Seduction comes to Melbourne on 6-7 March, at the Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre. The Indian Sun speaks with its creator Roysten Abel.

★ Coming from a background of traditional story-telling theatre, what inspired you to create The Manganiyar Seduction?

It has been transitional. I have always felt that when I used to see plays which had music in them, the music would take you to an emotional height. And when the actors would come back and do their dialogues, it would just fall a few notches down.

Over the years I have worked a lot with street performers, musicians, jugglers, magicians, and puppeteers. They were attached to the beggary act and didn’t have the opportunity to go out and perform. But I always felt that what these artists did was very performance based, very theatrical.

When I met the musicians from Manganiyar, I found their singing extremely soul drenching, coming from very deep places, Again, it was also very theatrical and I thought it was a theatrical possibility of doing a production with these musicians.

The Manganiyar Seduction, though it doesn’t have a spoken narrative, has a narrative through the music. You experience the music but you also experience the graph of music.

★ How did you meet these musicians?

I was traveling with the street performers to Spain and two of the musicians lost their voices due to excessive drinking. I asked if the agent if he could find two musicians to replace them and that’s how two Manganiyar musicians came into the show.

We were in Segovia, a lovely medieval town in Spain, and these two musicians just sang for me all the time. They would come up to my room, and play music and I would think it’s my dream. But it wasn’t a dream, it was them playing outside my room. Then we would all go to a bar, and there would be an impromptu jam session. And then at night, I would go back to my night, and they would sit outside the room and serenade me all night.

I had to leave Spain to go to Germany, because my theatre production Othello was playing. And I would miss these musicians. So, I would call them and ask them to sing to me over the phone.

And one day it just hit me. This was a calling. The Manganiyar Seduction had to be born. The first show was in 2006, and it is still going on and on.

★ Are those two initial musicians still part of the show?

One of them still is a part of the show. You will see him on stage; he is the conductor. The other musician was with us till a year ago. He left to become a solo artist.

★ Tell us about the process of selecting and casting for the musicians. How long did it take? Were these musicians easily accessible?

The Manganiyar community lives in Rajasthan. I would call out to them when I was in Jaisalmer, but many musicians wouldn’t dare to come. So then I would go to their villages and stay there, and hear them. I must have heard about 2,000 musicians. It was a community activity. They collectively decided who should be in the group. It was all very democratic.

★ Can you tell us a little about the sets?

The set is inspired by the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. It feels appropriate, the Manganiyar community is from Rajasthan after all. Each musician sits in his own cube. The effect that we created was that each musician looks like he is sitting in his own window, like the many windows of the Hawa Mahal Palace. Another inspiration for the set is also the red light district of Amsterdam.

★ Is there a common underlying theme in all your works?

There is not a conscious theme in all my work. But subconsciously, it has got to do with an inner longing. And we explore inner longings in different ways. And this particular show is one hundred percent about an inner longing!


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