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HomeArt & CultureFrom Rajasthan to the World: Rahis Bharti's Worldly Serenade

From Rajasthan to the World: Rahis Bharti’s Worldly Serenade

Rahis Bharti has shattered every boundary, propelling the exquisitely rich folk music of Rajasthan to the pinnacle of the global stage

Hailing from the quaint village of Dhod nestled in the Sikar district of Rajasthan, Rahis Bharti has transcended boundaries, elevating the rich folk artistry of Rajasthan onto the global stage. With an unwavering commitment, he has not only preserved the essence of folk singing, the soul-stirring heritage of folk music, and the graceful legacy of folk dance but has also played a pivotal role in disseminating India’s cultural tapestry through the melodious strains of Rajasthan’s folk music, courtesy of his esteemed Dhoad Band, spanning continents for more than two decades. Currently, Rahis is residing in the cultural hub of Paris, France.

Throughout his illustrious journey, Bharti has devoted himself to propelling Rajasthani folk music onto the world stage, offering a global platform to nearly 700 local artists from Rajasthan over the past 24 years, empowering them to showcase their talent. His vibrant odyssey has seen him grace over 2500 concerts and performances across 116 countries.

A trailblazer in his own right, Bharti is the first Indian folk artist to be immortalized in the pages of a book penned by the revered French author, Martine le Coz. Enthralled and inspired by Bharti’s life and artistic contributions, Le Coz authored a captivating 200-page tome titled ‘LE COEUR BATTANT DU RAJASTHAN – Rahis Bharti et Dhoad’ (Rahis Bharti-Dhoad: Heartbeat of Rajasthan) in French. This literary gem was unveiled by Prof Govind Prasad Sharma, Chairman of the National Book Trust, during the esteemed Paris Book Festival at the India Pavilion on April 23, 2022, in the distinguished presence of the Ambassador of India to the Republic of France.

Engaging in an exclusive tête-à-tête with senior journalist P. Srinivasan, representing The Interview World, Rahis Bharti delves into his profound love for Rajasthani folk music, reminisces about cherished moments, underscores the fervent reception of foreign audiences towards Rajasthani music, and elucidates his visionary plans for expanding the global reach of this cultural treasure. Herein lie the profound insights gleaned from his enlightening interview.

Q: What transformations have characterized the evolution of your music over the last twenty years?

A: Across the globe, there is a deep appreciation for the vibrant melodies of Rajasthani folk music—a passion that my Dhoad Band and I have passionately cultivated for over two decades.

In our journey, we’ve unveiled four meticulously crafted albums steeped in the rich traditions of Rajasthani musical heritage. Notably, ‘Dhoad Roots Travellers’ was graciously brought forth into the world by Harmonia Mundi, while the enchanting tunes of ‘Dhoad Times of Maharajas’ and two other masterpieces titled ‘Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan’ found their wings under the patronage of Arc Music Production from the UK.

These auditory treasures now grace international platforms, serving as beacons illuminating the depth and splendor of Rajasthani musical culture on the global stage. Their presence is not fleeting; they are enduring pillars of reverence in the world music charts, resonating with audiences far and wide.

Additionally, our albums have been honored by inclusion in the esteemed collections of national libraries and prestigious world music repositories. They stand alongside the timeless works of Indian music legends such as Pt. Ravi Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussain, and the illustrious Desert Slide by Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.

Q: Who played significant roles as your inspirations or guides along your musical path?

A: Under the tutelage of my father, Ustad Rafeek Mohammed, a virtuoso of the tabla, and my esteemed grandfather, Ustad Rasul Bux Khan, a legendary figure in Indian music, I imbibed the essence of melody. Their wisdom and heritage became the guiding stars of my journey, shaping my musical identity with profound inspiration. Daily, beneath their watchful eyes, I diligently engaged in riyaaz, honing my craft and navigating the labyrinth of life through the harmonies of music.

Q: What key achievements have marked your journey as a folk artist?

A: I take immense pride in the global recognition my Dhoad Band has garnered within the realm of Rajasthani folk music. Venturing solo, I’ve carried the soulful melodies of Rajasthan to every corner of the world. Moreover, I’ve opened doors for countless local talents hailing from the quaint villages of Rajasthan, offering them the chance to showcase their artistry on prestigious international stages.

Q: What motivated you to bring Rajasthani folk music to global audiences?

A: Hailing from a lineage steeped in the harmonies of Rajasthan’s folk music, my affinity for its melodies ran deep within me, coursing through my veins like an ancestral legacy. In the tapestry of my family’s history, music had woven its threads for seven generations, binding us to its enchanting rhythms.

Yet, our circumstances were humble, our means scarce. As the eldest son, the weight of responsibility fell heavily upon my shoulders, with four younger brothers reliant on my support. Life as a musician in Rajasthan proved arduous, a ceaseless struggle to make ends meet.

My father, Ustad Rafeek Mohammed, grappled with the harsh reality of providing for our needs and securing our education amidst financial scarcity. Despite the challenges, my aspirations soared beyond the confines of our modest existence.

From the earliest whispers of childhood, I harbored grand dreams of sharing the soul-stirring tunes of Rajasthani folk music with the world. Today, those dreams stand realized, a testament to perseverance and passion.

Through tireless dedication, I’ve etched an indelible mark on the global stage, adorning the name of India with pride through the vibrant tapestry of our folk traditions. Each note sung resonates with the rich heritage of Rajasthani culture, a vibrant tribute to the land that birthed me.

In every performance, I stand not just as a musician but as a custodian of Ma Bharti’s legacy, unfurling her colors on the canvas of international acclaim. My journey is a symphony of triumph, echoing the resilience and splendor of Rajasthani melodies across continents.

Q: Could you recount some noteworthy performances from your international tours?

A: For four mesmerizing months in 2019, Dhoad Band enraptured audiences in the enchanting realm of Disneyland Paris, where over 5 million souls beheld the vibrant tapestry of Indian music and dance, marking an unprecedented moment as the inaugural ambassadors of Indian culture to grace the venue’s illustrious stage.

Prior to this landmark achievement, our melodies danced through the air in prestigious settings: from the Welcoming Ceremony for the esteemed Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, in Paris, 2015; to the jubilant commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in London, 2010; and the illuminating encounter with former President of India, Honourable A.P.J Abdul Kalam, amidst the scientific marvels of Jaipur’s Science Park in 2012.

Our journey of musical odysseys continues, adorned with illustrious moments that resonate across continents and epochs. From the distinguished presence of President of France François Hollande and Prime Minister of France Édouard Philippe, to the esteemed company of President of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, in Croatia in 2013.

Yet, perhaps amongst our most cherished memories lies the intimate soirée honoring the legendary Mick Jagger, where our melodies interwove with the essence of rock ‘n’ roll history.

Beyond these luminous milestones, Dhoad Band’s harmonies have graced a myriad of international stages, from the vibrant tapestry of Sziget Festival in Hungary to the cultural mosaic of WOMAD Festival in the UK. Our rhythms have resonated amidst the ancient ruins of Greece during the Olympic Games of 2004, and illuminated the cosmopolitan landscape of Hong Kong Art Festival.

From the grandeur of Formula 1 in Singapore to the cultural oasis of Bahrain’s Capital of Culture, from the jubilant festivities of Dubai’s National Day to the eclectic crossroads of Poland’s National Radio & Cross Culture Festival, our melodies have traversed the globe.

We’ve serenaded audiences in the hallowed halls of Koln’s Philharmonic Concert Hall in Germany and moved the masses under the starlit skies of Italy’s Festival Notte Della Taranta, captivating over 200,000 souls with our musical alchemy in 2018.

Our journey knows no bounds, as we’ve shared our artistry with audiences in over 30 cities of France, 26 cities of Japan, 50 cities of the USA, and in cultural enclaves spanning Canada, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Each city a chapter, each melody a tale, as we continue to paint the world with the vibrant hues of Indian music and dance.

Q: How does the reception of Rajasthani folk music differ between international and domestic audiences?

A: The Dhoad Band has pioneered a fresh rendition of Rajasthani folk melodies tailored for global ears. Previously, folk tunes and dances were presented to gatherings of up to 1000 international spectators. However, Dhoad Band’s emergence heralds a transformative era, captivating crowds of up to 200,000. As the harmonies intertwine with the graceful movements and melodic notes, a mesmerizing spell is cast upon the international audience. They are not mere spectators but participants, swaying to the rhythms with an unmistakable ardor, revealing a profound reverence for Rajasthani folk traditions.  

Q: Have you had the opportunity to collaborate with artists or musicians from around the world? If yes, we’d love to hear about your experiences with those collaborations.

A: Indeed, we were honored to engage in creative alliances with esteemed international artists and musicians. Among these, our partnership with the luminary of French pop rock, Matthieu Chedid, stands out prominently. Together, we orchestrated a mesmerizing concert, captivating an audience exceeding 600,000 in France.

Throughout our illustrious 24-year odyssey, Dhoad has been a custodian of our rich cultural heritage, fostering numerous collaborations. These include harmonious ventures with luminaries such as the “Queen of the Gypsies,” Esma Redžepova from Macedonia, the soul-stirring melodies of Romano Drom from Hungary, the symphonic tapestries of Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio from Italy, the resonant rhythms of Cheikh Sidi Bémol from Algeria, and the aforementioned Matthieu Chedid from France.

Additionally, our musical journey has embraced the folkloric enchantment of Warsaw Village Band from Poland, the electrifying beats of LP, the Pop Rock sensation from the USA, and the melodic grace of Carmin Belgodere from Corsica. Each collaboration, a brushstroke on the canvas of our collective musical narrative, has imbued our journey with depth, diversity, and enduring resonance.

Q: How do you perceive the impact of your music on fostering cultural exchange between India and other nations?

A: Music serves as a vital conduit for fostering connections among nations. With each performance, we seamlessly transport audiences to the heart of India, unveiling the essence of Bharat. This immersive journey not only nurtures a profound comprehension and admiration for Indian heritage but also extends an invitation to explore India firsthand—where the kaleidoscope of vibrant hues, rich traditions, and diverse cultures awaits. Through the harmonious resonance of our melodies, we facilitate profound cultural exchanges, instilling unity and mutual respect between India and the global community.

Q: What obstacles have you encountered while endeavoring to promote Rajasthani folk music on a global scale?

A: Amidst the unfurling tapestry of challenges, my journey led me to Corsica Island, nestled within the embrace of Paris, with a mere Rs 50 resting in my pocket. As the solitary emissary of India within those shores, I grappled with the unfamiliar terrain. Visa restrictions loomed as an insurmountable hurdle for any aspiring artist. Amid a populace unacquainted with my heritage and tongue, the absence of allies left me adrift. Nights found solace amidst the silent guardians of the past, in the embrace of the island’s graveyards.

Q: What strategies have you employed to successfully navigate through these challenges?

A: With my tabla and sanskar in hand, I encountered fellow musicians at the venue, eager to showcase my talent. Demonstrating my proficiency, I engaged in fusion with the local musicians. Gradually, I immersed myself in their language and culture, facilitating an exchange of musical traditions. Acceptance from the community followed suit.

Upon the expiration of my visa, a groundswell of support materialized, with thousands protesting in my favor. Their unified voice compelled the administration to extend my stay. Thus, I embarked on a journey with my band, steadily garnering recognition.

Today, I stand proud, having etched a place for Rajasthani folk music and dance on the global stage.

Q: What aspect of your work abroad has brought you the most fulfillment?

A: Today, the rewarding aspect of my craft lies in the vast expanse of the audience, spanning across colossal stadiums, rather than the confines of a limited group. In the past, such grand stages were reserved solely for rock stars, yet the tide is shifting, and Indian music is ascending into the spotlight.

Q: What traditions or techniques do you feel strongly about preserving?

A: I endeavor to preserve Rajasthan’s vibrant folk music and dances by providing opportunities to numerous talented artists from the desert state, ensuring the vitality of these endangered art forms. Through this mission, I aim to illuminate the rich tapestry of Rajasthan’s cultural heritage, unveiling its diverse folk music and dance traditions to a global audience through the indigenous talents of Rajasthan’s folkloric communities. My dedication lies in safeguarding India’s traditional artistic expressions and fostering the global appreciation of folk music. This commitment resonates widely, garnering admiration both nationally and internationally.

Q: What strategies do you have in mind to promote Rajasthani folk music in the future?

A: Envisioned within my mission and vision is the global celebration of Rajasthani folk music and dance, a vibrant tapestry that unveils the essence of India and the kaleidoscope of Rajasthan’s hues. My aim transcends borders, beckoning people worldwide to embrace the richness of our cultural heritage.

In this pursuit, I seek to empower the artisans, granting them the recognition they deserve, and offering a panoramic view of how their traditional arts resonate across continents. It is my steadfast belief that these revered talents should not languish in obscurity, a conviction often overlooked in today’s fast-paced world.

Furthermore, I am committed to nurturing the next generation, instilling in them the discipline of riyaaz and practice, ensuring the perpetuation of our musical legacy. Thus, the torchbearer of our folk tradition continues to illuminate the path ahead.

Q: What strategies can be employed to uphold the traditional essence of Rajasthani folk music while simultaneously adapting it to resonate with contemporary audiences?

A: I preserve the authentic essence of traditional Rajasthani folk music, dance, and instruments while also adapting it to resonate with the modern audience’s preferences. Balancing tradition and innovation, I ensure the soulful melodies and vibrant rhythms endure through the ages, captivating hearts both old and new.

Q: Are there specific traditions or techniques that you’re especially keen on safeguarding?

A: I am driven by a fervent desire to safeguard every facet of folk artistry—be it in music, dance, or the crafting of instruments. Without preservation, these precious traditions risk fading into oblivion. By providing a global stage for folk artists—be they dancers, vocalists, or instrumentalists—we encourage them and ignite an unwavering commitment to perpetuate their artistry with utmost dedication and passion.

Q: How would you advise emerging artists in the traditional music scene who aspire to expand their reach on a global scale?

A: Before aspiring to promote traditional music, artists must immerse themselves fully and deeply in its rich heritage. Only then can they authentically share its beauty and significance with others.

Q: What individuals or sources keep fuelling your musical journey?

A: As previously mentioned, it is imperative for individuals worldwide to cultivate an appreciation for Indian music. I am fervently endeavoring to elevate Rajasthani folk music and dance to global prominence. My mission extends beyond mere popularity; it’s about empowering the artists and gaining insight into how their cherished cultural heritage resonates internationally. It’s disheartening to witness many talented folk artists remain unrecognized on the global stage—a reality often overlooked in world today.

Q: How do you aspire to communicate through your music with audiences worldwide?

A: Music serves as a powerful conduit, fostering bilateral relations between India and nations worldwide. Through its harmonious strains, music bridges cultural chasms, facilitating the exchange of traditions, languages, and customs. This melodic dialogue enriches our understanding of each other, nurturing a deeper appreciation for diverse cultures across the globe.

Rahis Bharti (3rd from Left) as Guest Speaker to Represent India World Music Festival at Conference Port Sur Saône
Rahis Bharti (3rd from Left) as Guest Speaker to Represent India World Music Festival at Conference Port Sur Saône
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