I have never been to India. Other than watching a handful of Bollywood movies, I know virtually nothing about Indian culture. This is not due to a lack of interest; I like learning about different customs and traditions outside of my own. I just get caught up in my own way of life and forget to appreciate how captivating and diverse the world at large can be.
Luckily, living in a cultural hub like DC means there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and experience different cultures – especially through the arts.
The Kennedy Center’s World Stages series brings extraordinary talent from around the world to the nation’s capital. The latest musical group to take the Eisenhower Theatre stage was The Manganiyar Seduction, more than 40 singers and instrumentalists from the Rajasthani deserts of India performing traditional Manganiyar music.
Back for the second time at the venue, the Manganiyar musicians sat behind a four-story wall divided into 32 pods. The sold-out crowd sat in darkness and anticipation as one of the 32 red curtains opened. Bright bulbs of light outlined the pod as a man began to strum low notes on a string instrument that I didn’t recognize.
As the lights flared around another pod, the curtain opened to reveal a different man who began to sing in perfect harmony with the strings. As more lights came to life, more curtains opened and the music swelled with the additional vocalists, drummers and string instruments. In addition to being visually stimulating to the audience, the component of illumination illustrated who was playing and when they were playing. It made the large group seem much smaller and the concert more intimate.
However, the light was not the only guide for the musicians as the performance featured a very enthusiastic conductor.
Conductor Deu Khan was a stark contrast from any I had ever seen before. In bare feet, he danced in front of the wall of musicians leading them with head nods, arm movements and a clicking instrument. It almost seemed like he was communicating in a silent language the audience wasn’t privy to. As opposed to a baton, the clicking instrument lead the musicians while also adding to the sound.
At one point, he turned his attention to the audience. He created a pattern of clicks that the audience repeated in a series of claps. Ranging in levels of difficulty, the audience participated in the performance, as the band played softy behind him.
In the big finale, the entire band played as the lights rode across the wall in horizontal and vertical designs. However, this didn’t mark the end of the show. Khan brought out the creator and director, Roysten Abel, who introduced the musicians and spoke to the audience.
“Love is the message of the night,” Abel said.
Abel then asked if the audience wanted to hear an encore. If the standing ovation wasn’t enough, the thunderous applause indicated their desire to hear more.
In contrast to the more jovial, traditional music that had been played throughout the night, the encore was a soft ballad about “seeing love in all things.” As the tune began to fade, all 32 red curtains closed.
The Manganiyar Seduction is now off to bring their culture and music to New York City. Undoubtedly, the enthusiasm with which they were welcomed to DC is a likely indication they will return.
The beautiful music and joyous energy they brought to the stage was unparalleled to any performance I’ve seen. And while it was for only 80 minutes, I feel lucky to have heard a piece of Manganiyar culture.
For more information about the The Kennedy Center’s World Stages series, visit here.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F Street, NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org