From the Great Thar Desert of India, the Merasi ensemble brings an ancient, world-class artistic legacy charged with passion, mastery, and social significance. Infectious rhythms spring from thirty-eight generations of Muslim musicians performing for Rajput maharajas and at temple festivals, where Hindu devotion and rich desert culture blend to create an invigorating celebration of diversity.
Leadership support for music programming in 2016 provided by the Anne and Chris Flowers Foundation and the Thompson Family Foundation.
The Merasi hail from Jaisalmer, a small, remote desert city distinguished by its continuously inhabited medieval fort, where they have played their unique blend of sacred and secular music for both Hindu and Muslim patrons for over 800 years. On indigenous instruments such as the nagara, khartals and murli, they play rhythmically complex music, taking turns with instrumental and vocals. They are storyteller-musicians, narrating the Great Thar Desert’s folk past through celebratory songs.
The Merasi’s role in society has been and is defined by a patronage system including Jaisalmer’s royal family. The Merasi remain an auspicious presence at births, weddings, funerals and other rites of passage. Yet outside of these celebrations they are scorned, victims of a caste system in which they are labeled as “Manganiyaar,” meaning “beggar.” To compound matters, modernization is sweeping across India, marginalizing traditional music like theirs.
Since 2004, the non-profit organizations Folk Arts Rajasthan and Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan have worked together toward a just future for the Merasi, collaborating to produce tours promoting the community’s music. The Merasi have now given hundreds of public performances around the world.