Among the few folk artistes who’ve gained a foothold in commercial music, Mame Khan on retaining his tonality
From being the first Indian folk singer to walk the Cannes red carpet, to being sought after by music mavericks like Amit Trivedi and Salim-Sulaiman, Mame Khan is arguably experiencing the kind of fame that few folk musicians have, in commercial music. Khan, who returned to the familiar Anti-Social stage, after a two-year hiatus, admits that the lockdown was a tough one to navigate.
“For Manganiyars like me, live performances are the main source of income. While I also have work [in other arenas], they only depend on this source. While we learnt a lot in the past two years, including the use of the digital medium, a lot of difficulty has been encountered,” says Khan, who belted out his all-time hits, Kaisariya balam, Nimbuda, and Chaudhary, and Bollywood songs like Bawaare, and the sufi offering, Duma dum, at yesterday’s performance.
Despite his work being rooted in Rajasthani music, Khan says he has rarely found the need to tweak his set-list, despite catering to a young crowd that is unfamiliar with folk music. “Most of the songs that I sing are now well-known, and I often find the audience responding to me. I understand their taste, and deliver what they desire.” After having been commanded by Punjabi music artistes for a long time, commercial music consumers have gradually begun to enjoy tunes coming out of south Indian cinema, and those in other languages.
This fact gains credence when one considers the success of tracks like Oo antava, Pasoori, and Manike mage hithe. Following his popular Coke Studio rendition, Chaudhary, Khan established a place for Rajasthani music among this crowd. He asserts that the reason behind his success in this industry has been his “tonality”. “I’ve maintained it over the years, and people will agree that it is distinct from any other. I don’t want to become Arijit Singh. Today, all singers want to be like him, and in the process, are losing their identities. Arijit is already there; he can’t be replaced. By singing like him, a person cannot become him. So, I choose to maintain my voice, which is why it is valued. I also celebrate my folk roots; it is the strongest aspect [of my personality].”
It is the unrestricted nature of folk music that enables him to truly put his skills on display. Pointing out that unlike the four-minute cap on commercial songs, folk renditions enable him to sing for 30 to 60 minutes. “I introduce a twist to my music. I arrange the music in such a way that one will notice elements of western music as well. In songs like Laal peeli akhiya, you will notice that even the audio has a strong visual element attached to it. Even if you hear it with your eyes shut, you’ll notice that the song, which employs the saxophones and drums, is arresting.”