Dubai residents create album to keep Indian customs alive for future generations

Deepa and Bharat Chachara have produced the 10 track Halo Dhol Vajayoun (Come Let’s Play the Drums) album to recreate memories for the Thathai Bhatia.
A dance group performs to the new music during the launch of the album at the Indian Consulate in Dubai.  Satish Kumar / The National
A dance group performs to the new music during the launch of the album at the Indian Consulate in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // The Thathai Bhatia community, rooted in north-west India, is perhaps best known for its cuisine – strictly vegetarian and avoiding pungent flavours, even staples such as onion and garlic.

Fewer people know that the community also has a rich history of traditional folk music. Now a couple from Dubai, having brought an appreciation of Thathai Bhatia cooking to a wider audience with a recipe book and website, aim to do the same for their community’s musical heritage.

Deepa and Bharat Chachara published Panja Khada (Our Food) in 2002, the first collection of recipes from the unique Thathai Bhatia cuisine. They followed it up in 2010 with a website, panjakhada.com.

The couple’s latest project is Halo Dhol Vajayoun (Come Let’s Play the Drums), a 10-track CD that aims to recreate musical memories for the Thathai Bhatia community, who number only 15,000 worldwide, 7,000 of them in the UAE.

The Thathai Bhatia songs were usually sung during a dhol, or drum, ceremony the day before a wedding or during religious ceremonies for young children.

It was customary for older women to sit together with the dhol, and while one person played the drum another woman struck it with a steel spoon to keep time.

“Now very few people know these songs,” Deepa says. “Some know only a few words and Bollywood songs are replacing the old lyrics. We were worried the next generation would have no knowledge of our heritage.”

The Thathai Bhatia first came to this region 200 years ago, predominantly as merchants, and traded spice for pearls.

“Our community has historic links with the UAE because our forefathers came to Sharjah,” says Bharat, general manager of the India Club in Bur Dubai.

“So pearls for us are more precious than gold or diamonds and you can hear this expressed in the songs too. Many songs are steeped in history.”

It took the couple two years to find the songs, identify senior citizens who knew the lyrics, decide on the musical composition and finally record the tracks.

The traditional music was altered to turn the slower, traditional rhythms into upbeat numbers and appeal to a younger audience. Classical instruments such as the flute, drum and violin lend a deeper resonance to the catchy tunes.

“In some cases we changed some difficult words to simpler words,” said Deepa. “We have retained the traditional essence of the songs so it will appeal to all. We also made sure there is no techno, no hip-hop, so our core dialect is retained.”

The collection includes themes such as a bride being teased about her in-laws, another girl dreaming about the gifts her brother will give her, including a pearl bangle set, and a grandmother imagining scenes from her grandchildren’s weddings.

Like many expatriates, Deepa, 40, and Bharat, 43, worry about passing knowledge about their customs to their children who have little connection with India.

“Most of us can’t read our language and so few children understand it. It frightens us that in a few generations children may not know what our origins are. The majority of our relatives reside in the UAE and not in India so we worry about what identity our children will have,” Bharat said.

“Our project attempts to make sure that our traditions are not lost. We felt if we did not make an effort to get the music together soon, there would be nothing left to preserve.”

The Dh15 CD is available at Madhoor Stores in Meena Bazar, Dubai.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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