The Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan are Taking Folk Music Global
Founder and frontman Rahis Bharti talks about their new album ‘Times of Maharajas’ and making major in-roads in Europe
Rajasthani folk artist Rahis Bharti is in Disneyland, Paris for the first time and even though it’s probably sensory overload for most people, he’s focused on his group – Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan – and their debut performance as part of the Disney Wild Festival which runs for 100 shows. He says, “I’m feeling very good and very proud. This is the first time Disney is presenting India. It means that every day, there’ll be 50,000 people for the concert. We’re waiting on these people today.”
At the start of the new millennium, Rahis Bharti – born Rahis Khan in Jaipur to a family whic had orally passed down folk music tradition – set out to the French island of Corsica to take up a music teaching job. “I struggled a lot, because people didn’t know Indian music. I took the initiative and made them aware and we even created a fusion project, working with Spanish flamenco musicians and African musicians and Corsican musicians,” he says.
After the collaborations and a few commercial projects, Bharti decided he wanted to authentically represent Rajasthani folk music. Since putting together Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan, Bharti claims he’s brought down over a thousand Rajasthani folk artists to perform as part of the ensemble, which usually includes khartal players, vocalists, tabla artists such as his brothers Teepu Khan and Amrat Hussain, harmonium player Sanjay Khan (also his brother) and a contortionist dancer. He says about finding musicians, “I prepared them, I make them practice and sit with them so that they’re musically strong.”
After all, the group are on the road for about seven or eight months of the year, performing at cultural events around the globe, especially in France. Bharti knows his way around French after all these years spent in and out of the country. Their third album –Times of Maharajas – was released last month, following Roots Travellers (2010) and their self-titled debut album in 2004. While Dhoad – named after Bharti’s native village in Rajasthan – are high-energy Rajasthani folk performers at their live shows, there’s a tempered folk approach on Times of Maharajas, which released via U.K. label ARC Music productions. He says about picking the sometimes mellow but otherwise traditionally uptempo songs, “In ancient times, our forefathers used to play for the kings and queens. We’re the guardians of that tradition. The songs were brought down by oral tradition. All the songs we learned fit the description of marriages and birth ceremonies of the Maharajas. Those songs are disappearing. This album gives these songs a new taste but keeps the tradition alive.”
While Bharti beams about performing for the likes of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several French government officials over the years – including former President Francois Hollande – he’s also been given the honor of cultural ambassador by UNESCO. The audience at most of their shows, however, aren’t just Indians looking for a reminder of their cultural roots and heritage. “Sometimes it’s a mix of Indians and locals. In Italy, for example, it’s mostly Italian people. When we’re in the U.K., there’s lots of Indian people but also U.K. residents. In the U.S., we’ve a lot of people coming out.”
Up next, Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan head out to shows in Italy, Norway and Sweden in the coming months. Bharti says his native village and his family is no longer nondescript. “The village is very small but on the world map, now people know.”
Stream ‘Times of Maharajas’ below.