“They have the Muslim saints and they worship Allah. And then they also have their … Hindu goddesses. And they sing to both. Like, there would not be any difference if they were to sing a Sufi Islam mystic song or if they were to sing a Hindu mystic song. It would be with the equal amount of devotion.”
—Roysten Abel, on the Manganiyar musicians

The Manganiyar Seduction
Musicians from Rajasthan, India, led by Daevo Khan, perform at the Rose Theater in New York on November 23, 2010. (photo: Lian Chang/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Thirty-eight Sufi musicians from the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Thirty-six, open-faced, photo booths draped in red velvet, stacked four high and nine wide. One lone box lights up. One lone khamacha drones. One lone singer begins his song. Then another box alights. Then another. Pulsating, alternating. Percussive rhythms build with dhol, dholak, and karthal. Map Pinpointing Manganiyars in Rajasthan, IndiaVoices of men, women, and children from India’s Manganiyar community layer one on top of the other, enmeshed with harmoniums, kamancha, sarangi, bansuri, murli, and morchang. The theater’s magic. Electric. A crescendo. Quiet.

Roysten Abel, the creative force behind this production, describes the concept as a “dazzling union between the Manganiyar’s music and the visual seduction of Amsterdam’s red light district.”

And I missed it.

Visa issues delayed the performance of The Manganiyar Seduction at the Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater by two days, so I headed back home to Minnesota. At least we have this video from the White Light Festival to give us some access to this dramatic performance.

If you’re in Washington, DC, be sure to buy tickets for their March performances. And, according to Abel’s website, he is currently working on The Manganiyar War, interpreting the Mahabharata through music. That ought to be really fascinating.

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Fascinating, although one wonders what the impact would be if the boxes were representing the windows of brothels in Cambodia or Thailand and the figures in them were young girls and boys, rather than drummers and singers. It might be a way to draw attention to sex-slavery and to raise people's awareness about this dreadful scourge on young lives in many parts of the world.

Now that idea might be a powerful art installation, but it would be hard to take in without cringing.