Helm’s Musical Adventure
by Ling Shien Bell
posted July 17, 2011
Mark Bell and I, as the music group “Helm”, have been performing traditional music for tribal style dancers for decades, and we spend a lot of our time researching the music and dance styles of various ethnic groups. Therefore, we were delighted when Colleena Shakti invited us to teach classes concerning Musicality for Dancers at the Colleena Shakti School of Dance in Pushkar, Rajastan. Last January, we made the trek over water and mountains to reach this fascinating land. Pushkar holds the only temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator, as well as many other temples.
Located in the Old Rangi Temple, Colleena’s school offers a well structured training in classical Odissi dance, starting with a strenuous 2-hour warm-up class in the morning, accompanied with the live sound of the Pakawach drum, and ending with a theory class on the roof top, with the monkeys watching.
In the afternoon, I taught rhythm theory and how to apply it, playing finger cymbals, singing, and dancing. The students came from India, South America, and Europe, and they each had a strong Belly Dance background, but not much experience with finger cymbals.
Next, Mark came to play darbukka as we all played along.
Meher Malik and Banjara Dance Troupe came from Dehli with a group of students, all very diligent and fast learners. They also took Megha Gavin’s class the following week along with fellow Devyani member DeAnna Padron Freeman. It was titled “ATS from A to Z”. I joined Megha’s class as well and learned a lot! Mark and I played live music at the end of each of her classes, and it was very helpful for me to connect ATS (Amercian Tribal Style Belly Dance) to the music in that way.
Every Saturday night, we shared the stage at the Saï Baba Haveli with the Khalbelia Gypsies of the nearby village. They performed their traditional music and dance, while we presented some of what we learned at the school that week (songs and dance with cymbals, ATS , Khalbelia dance with our instructor Raki.
An experience I’ll never forget happened when the Been player started the snake song and Meher did the most amazing personification of a snake by the fire pit; it went on and on… Then, there was the time when our local “enlightened” Sadu Baba got carried away during our performance with Megha and DeAnna jumped in the fire and scattered burning embers all over us! (I was so glad my flute case was closed, and only got a scar) but we finished the song anyway… The show must go on!
Khalbelia dancer at the Saï Baba Haveli
The Khalbelia Gypsies invited us to their village, and they put on a little show; it was very moving. They are Colleena’s second family! The Khalbelia cast specialized in catching snakes with the haunting sound of the Been, a single reed instrument, and the snake venom was sold for medicinal purposes. Now they are entertainers with music and dance.
At the end of our stay, Colleena arranged for Murat Khan Langa and his family of musicians to come and give an intimate concert in the temple, and to record with us the following day.
Nizam (on dholak)and Idu Khan Langa on algoza (flute like instrument),
Ling Shien at the session in the hotel room
After spending the afternoon all packed together in their hotel room, we made enough of a connection and common ground to be able to do a recording session, thanks to the help of our translator, Megha’s husband Vikas.
Recently, we have released our latest CD, “Tribal Spirit” produced by Carolena Nericcio, which includes some of the intimate concert as well as percussion tracks with Nizam Langa, the Dholak player, and Mark.
We spent our last day in Dehli, where Meher and some of her students showed us around.
One more shot—On our way on a camel cart to the Khalbelia village. Mark, Megha and DeAnna.
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