REVIEW: The Manganiyar Seduction (Auckland Arts Festival)

The Manganiyar Seduction
Indian Celebrity Squares!

Think inside the square [by Sharu Delilkan]

The Manganiyar Seduction
Indian Celebrity Squares!

In the bar prior to the performance someone said “Are you ready for ‘Indian Celebrity Squares’?”. And that was exactly the structure of the musicians we were greeted with onstage, with nine musicians across by four storeys high, revealing a whole grid of musicians who were eventually collectively lit.

This was the beginning of The Manganiyar Seduction experience.

The visual was a little bit puzzling although we all knew that we were there to witness something that most of us had never seen before.

So with an open mind, I decided to let the evening unfold.

Each musical piece was preceded by the pulling back of the red velvet curtains, which added to the anticipation of what was to come.  This was evident by the little kid sitting on his mum’s lap pointing to each new square as they were revealed.

Some were singers and others musicians playing a raft of Rajasthani instruments.

The instruments on stage included the kamancha (a Persian bowed string instrument played with a variable-tension bow), dholak (a drum played on the player’s lap), murli (the Hindi word for flute), kartal (a kind percussion rhythm instrument having pairs of jingling metal disks against the palm of the hand), sarangi (a bowed, short-necked string instrument), morchang (a wrought iron instrument, much akin to the Jews harp, producing twanging sounds), bhapang (a rare single stringed percussion instrument affectionately known as a ‘talking drum’), algoza (Punjabi woodwind instrument popularly used in contemporary Bhangra music) and dhol (a double-sided barrel drum).

At this juncture I’d like to point out that despite being of Indian descent (from Malaysia) and having studied music and specifically the Drums of Asia, I was feeling a little out of my depth trying to work out what instruments were being played.  I wasn’t able to see the detail of the instruments from where I was sitting nor would I have been able to identify them had been up close, as most of the instruments were new to me.

This was a missed opportunity for the group to set up a mini instrument display in the foyer for people to mill around after the show.   Even just images of the instruments with brief explanations would have been informative and educational.

The first peak of the evening was when the conductor Deu Khan practically skidded onto the stage when the large drums started playing.  Equipped with his set of kartal (which sounded very similar to castanets), he lost no time conducting the musicians and singers on stage with gusto.

It’s important to note that the Manganiyars are a caste of Muslim musicians, who also praise Hindu deities and celebrate Hindu festivals such as Diwali.  This was pointed out at the end of the show by the talented Roysten Abel who conceived, arranged and directed the dramatic production.

His eloquent speech, after a lengthy standing ovation, was both humorous and appropriate, covering topics such as the difficulty of getting visa for the 36 Muslim musicians with the surname Khan.  The light hearted mention of the one and only Hindu member of the group relayed tolerance and acceptance – especially when the said musician led the encore in a much appreciated hymn for the fallen in the Christchurch earthquake, bringing many close to tears.

Although his back was to the audience you could almost see the expression on his face by reading his expressive movements and body language.

We were all seduced!

The 37-strong ensemble treated the audience to a journey through rhythm, melody and percussion that’s toured the globe since 2006 with resounding success worldwide.

For me this was one of the best shows I’ve seen in the Festival so far.  We’re so privileged to have such skillful, talented artists grace us with their presence.

The Manganiyar Seduction plays as part of the Auckland Arts Festival at the Civic until March 12th. 

More information at the Auckland Arts Festival Website.

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