Conceived in France 1995 by Hameed Khan, a tabla player, MUSAFIR is composed of groups of musicians who in Rajasthan would not play together, but here they create an exciting fusion. Hameed Khan's background in jazz, Arabic music, North Indian classical music, Breton music, and various crossover styles has produced an eclectic aesthetic. Hameed's inspiration was to showcase Rajasthan in a "folkloric cabaret." Musafir's original compositions combine Rajasthani rural folk music with influences from Qawwali (Muslim devotional music), Indian film music, Arab popular music, and Hindustani (North Indian classical) music.
Musafir ("Traveler" in Farsi), from Rajasthan in northwest India, has dazzled European audiences in recent years with its energetic hybrid versions of Indian folk and popular music, acrobatics, and feats of physical endurance. Musafir has performed to enthusiastic crowds at hundreds of concerts and festivals all over Europe, such as WOMAD, Roskilde, Paleo, Sfinks, and Ritmos.
Musafir is featured on the CD Gypsies of Rajasthan (Blue Flame) and some members appeared in the film Latcho Drom, a staged documentary of gypsy music. In The Gypsy Caravan, a musical component of Musafir portrays the symbolic and historical connection of Roma to northwest India. The term "Gypsy" was applied by the British to numerous nomadic groups in India who have no proven relationship to European Roma.
The band is composed of professional musicians who inhabit the Thar desert in northwest Rajasthan. They are members of the Langa, Manghaniyar, and Sapera groups. Langas are Muslim and are able to lead a sedentary life because they have a stable patron-client relationship, unlike the Sapera who migrate in search of work.
Langa music is learned orally in a master/apprentice relationship. Themes such as love and heroism predominate, and water and cattle, the source of life in the desert, appear frequently in the lyrics. Langas are known for their improvisations and their instrumental and vocal ornamentation. Men and women often perform together.
Manghaniyars, like Langas, are sedentary Muslims whose home extends over the border into Pakistan, but their patrons are mostly Hindu Rajputs (a high caste) and Hindu Charans (a caste of poets, bards, and historians). The Saperas (from the word Sap, snake) are a sub-group of the migrant community of Kalbeliyas, who travel with mules and dogs. Their dances, often performed by women, are featured in Musafir. They specialize in curing snakebites and in snake charming.
Langas play the sarangi, a vertically held bowed stringed instrument. The kamaycha (vertically held string instrument) is the trademark instrument of the Manghaniyars but is now being replaced by harmonium (small keyboard introduced into India by the British). The performers of Musafir play multiple instruments and sing.