Musafir Gypsies of Rajasthan - Artist Page
Musafir Gypsies of Rajasthan
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Photo by Francis Richard

Conceived in France 1995 by Hameed Khan, a tabla player, Musafir is composed of groups of musicians who in Rajasthan would not play together, but here create an exciting fusion. Hameed Khan's background in jazz, Arabic music, North Indian Classical music, Breton music, and various crossover styles has produced an eclectic aesthetic. Hameed's inspiration was to showcase Rajasthan in a "folkloric cabaret." Musafir's original compositions combine Rajasthani rural folk music with influences from Qawwali (Muslim devotional music), Indian film music, Arab popular music, and Hindustani (North Indian Classical) music.

Musafir ("Traveler" in Farsi), from Rajasthan in northwest India, has dazzled European audiences in recent years with its energetic hybrid versions of Indian folk and popular music, acrobatics, and feats of physical endurance. Musafir has performed to enthusiastic crowds at hundreds of concerts and festivals all over Europe, such as WOMAD, Roskilde, Paleo, Sfinks, and Ritmos.

Musafir is featured on the CD "Gypsies of Rajasthan" (Blue Flame) and some members appeared in the film Latcho Drom, a staged documentary of Rom music. In "The Gypsy Caravan" a musical component of Musafir portrays the symbolic and historical connection of Roma to northwest India. The artists in Musafir are not the actual ancestors of contemporary European Roma but rather suggest some of the occupational and artistic niches that Roma might have occupied in Rajasthan. The term Gypsy was applied by the British to numerous nomadic groups in India who have no proven relationship to European Roma.

The band is composed of professional musicians who inhabit the Thar desert in northwest Rajasthan. They are members of the Langa, Manghaniyar, and Sapera groups. Langas are Muslim and perform for Muslim cattle breeders at births, weddings, funerals, and religious holidays, receiving payment in animals and food. They are able to lead a sedentary life because they have a stable patron-client relationship, unlike the Sapera who migrate in search of work.

Langa music is learned orally in a master/apprentice relationship. The apprentice begins by accompanying the master and eventually learns a large corpus of songs. The vocal repertoire includes women's songs of the life cycle and the seasons (which men sing too), songs in praise of their patrons, devotional songs composed by nineteenth century Sufi poets, and film songs. Themes such as love and heroism predominate, and water and cattle, the source of life in the desert, appear frequently in the lyrics. Langas are known for their improvisations and their instrumental and vocal ornamentation. Men and women often perform together.

Manghaniyars, like Langas, are sedentary Muslims whose home extends over the border into Pakistan, but their patrons are mostly Hindu Rajputs (a high caste) and Hindu Charans (a caste of poets, bards, and historians). In Rajasthan, Hindus and Muslims often worship in the same temples and share spiritual themes. The Manghaniyar repertoire is vast, including songs celebrating secular and sacred love and devotional songs to the Hindu deity Krishna. The Saperas (from the word Sap, snake) are a sub-group of the migrant community of Kalbeliyas, who travel with mules and dogs. They have their own music but do perform professionally with Langas. Their dances, often performed by women, are featured in Musafir. They specialize in curing snake bites and in snake charming.

Langas play the sarangi, a vertically held bowed stringed instrument. Carved out of a solid block of teak wood, it consists of a resonator covered with a goat skin, a hollow finger board, and a peg holder. There are usually three melody strings and a drone string, plus sympathetic strings, but the number of strings and size of the instrument varies. The satara and alogoza are double flutes with two pipes, one for drone and one for melody. The performer uses circular breathing, producing an unbroken airflow.

Langas and Manganhars also play surnai (double-reed pipe), murali (double clarinet with a wind chamber), manjira (small cymbals), and gunguru ( bells, usually tied to the dancer's feet).

Typical Manghaniyar instruments include dholak (double ended drum) and khartal (a pair of lightweight rectangular wooden blocks played by the hands). The kamaycha (vertically held string instrument) is the trademark instrument of the Manghaniyars but is now being replaced by harmonium (small keyboard introduced into India by the British). The kamaycha's construction is rarely standardized, but typically consists of nineteen strings, three of gut for melody, two of brass for drone, and fourteen of steel for sympathetic resonance. The performers of Musafir play multiple instruments and sing.

The membership of the group is variable. In 2000 the band was formed by Bachu Khan Langa, Shayar Khan Langa, Barkat Khan Langa, Sayeri Sapera, and Sakur Manghaniyar. 

In 2000 most of the key members of the group split to form another band called Maharaja.

Official Web Site:


Gypsies of Rajasthan (Blue Flame Records BF 398 50065, 1997)

Dhola Maru (Sounds True)

Barsaat (Blue Flame Records 39850542, 2002)

Management: Kawa Music, Siyaram Ki Doongri Amber, 303101 Jaipur, India. Phone: +91(0)141 530348, Fax: +91(0)141 530708. Mobile: +91 98290 11027. E-mail:

Booking agent:
Artways Productions
Booking agency
PO Box 35
CH - 1000 Lausanne 3
T�l: 0041 (0)21.616.7984