Sakar Khan: Musician who worked with Shankar, Menuhin and Harrison

 

In the late 1960s, a decade or so after the desert city of Jaisalmer received its first paved road, the railway arrived. The authorities extended the track from the town of Pokhran and celebrations were planned for the arrival in Jaisalmer of the first train. They turned to Sakar Khan to create and perform a special piece of music.

Khan, a master of the kamancha, or kamaicha, a bowed stringed instrument, went away and come up with something he would continue to play for the next 45 years. Mimicking the sound of the engine itself, gathering pace, slowing down to take on water and then speeding up again until it finally arrives, his composition could not be called anything other than "The Train". He even followed up, later, with "Train Song No 2".

If that tune was essentially a piece of fun, Khan put in the hours learning, performing and collecting a huge amount of music dating back generations, perhaps centuries, handed down from father to son. He learned to play the 17-string instrument created from wood and goatskin at an early age from his father, Chunar Khan, himself a celebrated musician.

His skills would take him around the world and during the 1970s and 1980s he toured the US and Asia as part of acts promoting Indian folk traditions. In Belgium he performed with Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar. In London he played with George Harrison. He also performed at major festivals in France, Japan and the Soviet Union. Though he did not seek them out, he received various awards from the federal and local authorities and in 2012 it was announced that he had been given the Padma Shri, India's highest civilian honour, for his contribution to Indian music.

Khan was born in the village of Hamira, in western Rajasthan, about 10 miles from Jaisalmer and close to the border with Pakistan. He was born into the community of manganiyars, one of two Muslim castes of hereditary musicians (the other group is the langas) who have traditionally performed for patrons from other, higher castes. Experts say the full complexity of the relationship between musicians and patrons is not fully understood, despite the work of ethnomusicologists such as the late Komal Kothari. But in exchange for this sponsorship – both financial and cultural – the musicians perform at events such as births, weddings and deaths. The repertoire is extensive and not all collected.

Away from the villages, at festivals in Delhi and overseas, the musicians will often jam with flamenco, African or even blues performers and many claim their ancestors migrated west, the original gypsies. Experts say there is no conclusive evidence of this but such performances can by themselves make a compelling argument for their being some shared history.

More recently, Khan's music was introduced to another generation of fans, partly as the result of a Delhi-based label, Amarrass Records, founded by four blues enthusiasts, who have spent the last three or four years visiting villages and town in Rajasthan and recording the musicians in their homes. By their own admission Khan did not need their help but he still recorded an album with them, At Home: Sakar Khan. At the age of 73, it was his first such solo recording.

Khan was always keen that the music he loved should be preserved and passed on to other generations. Three of his sons, Ghewar, Firoze and Dara, are also musicians and regularly performed with their father.

"Our songs are not dead yet, but I see that at some point they may be," Khan said in an interview last year. "The kamancha should stay alive and we should be able to teach it to our children. We hope that we can do this."

When The Independent visited Hamira, Khan and his three sons musician sons, set up their instruments on rugs that had been laid out close to a pond on the outskirts of the village in readiness for a field recording for the men from the record label. Among the tunes they performed was "The Train".

Andrew Buncombe

Sakar Khan, folk musician: born Hamira, Rajasthan, India 9 August 1938; married Bubba Devi (four sons, two daughters); died Hamira 10 August 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003