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music stock

Brass roots


MIX AND MATCH: Hameed Khan Kawa has redefined the form and function of a brass band

If everything goes according to plan, the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band may soon have a very good reason to trumpet their affairs. The ensemble is awaiting the final signal from the London Olympics Committee to recommend them to the privileged bill of entertainers who will perform at the world's biggest sports extravaganza in July. They might even rub shoulders with the Spice Girls!

But our lot won't be putting out stale pop. They've got six freshly minted tunes that mix Rajasthani folk, pop and jazz, says Hameed Khan Kawa, tabla player and director of band and the Kawa Musical Circus. "Both my teams have been rehearsing long hours daily to make our presence felt at the Olympics, should we be given the chance, " he says, hopefully. "We'll have a confirmation by end of this month. " Kawa took six months to compose six new tunes that blend Indian classical music with elements of Western music for wider appeal.

Kawa comes from traditional music stock, but has, through improvisation and ingenuity, redefined the form and function of a brass band and folk circus. The turning point came in 1984, when he was invited to France to play fusion tabla. The experience led him to synthesise further, so he blended Hindustani Classical, traditional Western music and jazz in his own compositions, and in 1995, created the versatile Jaipur Kawa Brass Band. The group quickly established itself internationally, presenting virtuoso solos and quick-witted improvisations to a range of audiences in France, Sweden, Italy, and Slovakia. They've also participated in sports parades in Germany, the UK, Denmark, Romania and Greece.

The band has eight artistes who are usually togged out for the performance in typical Rajashthani attire: colorful turban, Rajasthani jacket and camel leather shoes. As for their musical range, they cover the trumpet, trombone, clarinet, bass drums, snare drums and cymbals. To recruit talent, Kawa travels from village to village scouting among gypsies and old musical families, and claims to have trained 2, 500 local Rajasthani artists over two decades. The director seems to know what works in folk entertainment today, which is why he supplements his musicians' distinctive gypsy sounds, with popular Bollywood music.

"I believe in picking my band members from traditional musical families who have served music for centuries. These communities have not adapted to modernity, and despite their poor economic conditions continue to maintain their musical practices, " says the man credited with finding the talented Rajasthani folk artist Gulabo Sapera and introducing him to French audiences. Kawa claims to have taken 2, 000 folk artists abroad since 1990.

It's been an eventful journey not only for his musicians but also for himself. He married a Frenchwoman, Marie-No�lle, who looks after his affairs in India and abroad, and they have two children, Ilyas Raphael Kawa Khan and daughter Parveen Sabrina Kawa, to whom he is keen to pass on his musical legacy. It was in the late nineties when Kawa left France, where he had briefly settled, to return to India to assemble his own band. He chose as his base the serene village of Kunda on the historic Jaipur-Delhi highway, a mile from Amber Fort.

And it is here that he trains his orchestra for performances they give at national and religious events, popular festivals, political processions, weddings, births and funerals. "Playing at weddings gives me immense satisfaction, which is above all experience, " said Kawa. Well, he hasn't tried the Olympics.

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