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The Manganiyar Seduction

June 5, 2010
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Okay, I won’t call this local or theatre, but rather ethnic music done theatrically. But since it’s from the Singapore Arts Festival, the ultimate arts event of Singapore. I’ll just ‘throw’ it in here.

So…visual music…how’s that for a concert?

I had the privilege to get complimentary tickets to this concert, and the gala concert at that on 20 May, with cocktail reception and many VIPs like President Nathan and MM Lee, and other ministers. It was really perfect timing as I happened to have this window of time for the show, as the day before, I was watching Those Who Can’t, Teach and the next day I was watching Axis of Awesome.

Ok, visual music doesn’t really describe it. It was traditional Indian music, performed theatrically. The Manganiyars are a caste of Muslim musicians who traditionally performed for kings. Directed by Royston Abel, a dazzling experience is created as 43 musicians sat in 36 red-curtained cubicles arranged in 4 rows, on top of each other.

Credit: Roysten Abel

I think the conductor probably had a more difficult time since he had to make sure the musicians could see him from where he was, all four layers of them. The instrument that stood out for me was the Jew’s harp (it’s called morchang here) which produces a “twang” sound. (Fortunately my short stint in studying ethnomusicology helped me identify the instrument). I didn’t understand what they were singing (which didn’t help in fighting my jetlag) but I believed I liked their 3rd piece “Neendarli” which was a more melodic piece, a song of love and affection of a wife for her husband. The best part was when all the cubicles were lit up and the full “orchestra” was playing with resounding tones.

It had the glitz of a theatrical performance at that.

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