The Manganiyar Seduction
Reviewed January 13
As promised, Roysten Abel’s popular production transforms a concert of traditional Indian music into a sparkling theatrical delight, presenting its 43 Rajisthani musicians in a sort of “advent calendar” of musical delights.
The performers sit behind red curtains in a multi-tiered structure of single compartments. The performance begins with one curtain opening, and a man begins to play his sarangi (similar in appearance to a chinese zither). The basic premise is that the musicians and singers gradually phase in, with curtains opening, instruments joining, and the sounds becoming more rich and diverse – from various sizes and timbres of drum to different bowed and plucked instruments and wood-winds.
To a greater extent than I had expected, the musicians bow in and out of the weave, and the intensity and energy of the piece ebbs and flows. At a certain point the conductor, Daevo Khan, emerges to coordinate the intricate score, with the aid of finger clackers, which he operates with awe-inspiring dexterity.
The Manganiyars are a hereditary caste of Muslim musicians from North India, and the way Abel talks about their sound, it is closer to soul music than classical music. Although the singers are not surtitled, you get the sense that master storytellers are at work, from the expressiveness of their faces, to the way their hands often seem to weave the music before your very eyes.
If it’s a seduction, it’s the earthy, enthusiastic kind rather than anything sultry or understated – although no less persuasive! Mesmerized throughout the performance, the audience unanimously rose to their feet for an extended standing ovation at the end..