Merasi Performance Transforms Syracuse University
There was standing room only in
Slocum Auditorium as the Merasi performers took the stage, performing a
combination of local Rajasthani folk songs, Sufi classics, and Hindu bhajans.
Their spirited performance captivated the audience.
These men are members of a
community of low-caste Muslim musicians from the district of Jaisalmer,
Rajasthan in the Thar desert who are carrying on a tradition that spans
thirty-eight generations. They are descendants of musicians who performed for
Rajput maharajas and at temple festivals, creating a blend of Hindu and Sufi
genres of music.
Historically marginalized, the
Merasi community has been denied access to education, healthcare, and political
representation. Even today, most live in poverty, surviving on less than
$2/day. Once called Manganiyar (beggar), the members of this troupe
today call themselves Merasi, meaning musician, and aspire for a better
Dr. Sarwar Khan, founder of the Indian NGO Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan
(LKSS), and Karen Lukas, founder of U.S.—based Folk Arts Rajasthan, have worked
together for 20 years to try to improve the conditions for the Merasi
performers and their families. They run both education programs and music
preservation programs in the city of Jaisalmer. They also organize musical
tours in the U.S. to bring attention to the issues of the community. This is
the second U.S. tour for the group and they hope to come again.