'Singing is as bad as backchat in my house'
Singer Rajnigandha Shekhawat grew up in a Rajasthani haveli with 70 rooms, relatives who liked shikar and occasionally had dinner with the Maharaja. We talk to the rebel from a traditional Rajput household about her effort to preserve royal folk music
Rajnigandha Shekhawat can’t stop talking about the old days of the Raj. Our conversation steers to her great-grandfather and his love for music. “In those days, quite a few musicians and their families were in the care of our household, which means they performed in the haveli and were supported by our family,” she says, halting her narration every now and then to give directions to her autorickshaw driver.
The self-declared ‘hardcore Rajasthani’ has been working in Mumbai for the last two years as a marketing consultant but this is just a temporary stint for the aspiring folk singer. “I can’t get myself to tell my father that I want to sing professionally. In my house, singing in public is equal to backchat with your parents,” says Shekhawat, who belongs to the aristocratic family of Malsisar, in the Shekhawati region of erstwhile Rajputana.
“People have only seen it in the movies but with my family you hear things like, ‘if you marry from another khandan we will shoot you’ and the thing is — they aren’t an exaggerated. Learning classical music was okay because it was seen as ‘decent people’s music’ but singing in public was totally out of the question,” says Shekhawat.
While the Andheri-based singer studied classical Hindustani, she maintains a special soft spot for royal Rajasthani folk music, which was once the pride and tradition of her hometown but is fast dying out.
“Royal folk music is different from rural folk music, which is still popular in Rajasthan. While rural folk is peppy, royal folk tilts towards Hindustani classical, and was sung for connoisseurs, royalty and aristocracy,” explains Shekhawat. A form of music that was reserved for the ears of the elite, the last tunes of royal folk music ended with the Raj, but Shekhawat is determined to rescue the fading notes.
When the singer decided to train in royal music, she realised that the last of the singers who could teach her had passed away. She was forced to listen to recordings of Allah Jalai Bai, known for her rendition of Kesariya Balam, a popular ghazal.
Shekhawat sings the folk songs the original way but wants to get younger generations interested. She even worked with guitarist Chandresh Kudwa, who conceptualised Axe-tortion (a consortium of top notch guitar players in the country), to handle her album.
Listen to the artist: http://www.artistaloud.com/artists/Rajnigandha-Shekhawat