Hear the sound of the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band as they march full steam ahead into your eardrums. Their riotous trumpets, trombones and euphoniums are peppered with a winding clarinet and loud, clattering drums. At home under the beat of the bright Rajasthan sun, the bells and valves of their instruments glisten brightly in the haze. Meanwhile their hot-headed music romps its way through an exploration of Indian brass band tradition, love songs played boisterously sparkle alongside joyously cacophonous orchestration.
Brass bands have been popular in India since the 1750s when the ensembles were introduced by the then ruling British colonialists. Today, brass bands are firmly a part of Indian tradition and are hugely popular at weddings, births, national events and religious ceremonies. Leader of the band, Hameed Khan ‘Kawa’ grew up in Jaipur listening to the sound of the local brass bands blasting out at numerous parades and festivals in the city. Hameed hailed from a musical lineage and was schooled in Hindustani classical and folk traditions from a young age. As a talented tabla player, in 1984 he was invited to perform in France to play in a fusion ensemble. Here, enmeshed in the creative Parisian milieu, Hameed developed the idea of blending his traditional grounding with his long-held interest in brass band music. Returning to his home continent, he swiftly set about forming Jaipur Kawa Brass Band, the vehicle for his spectacular artistic desires.
Gathering his ensemble, Hameed only made time for the finest gypsy musicians from Rajasthan. The line-up also includes a hypnotic Kalibelia dancer. The Kalibelia people are a nomadic Rajasthan tribe who traditionally live on the fringes of society. The Kalibelia dance, known as sapera, mirrors and mimics the movements of a writhing snake, an animal for which they are famed for charming. The band is also accompanied by a fakir, whose enthralling on stage antics include swallowing sabres, outrageous juggling and extreme gravity-defying balancing.
The show-stopping cavalcade makes for a striking spectacle and has earned the wayfaring band performances in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and extensively across the UK – from the Isle of Sheppey to Penzance. Dance Of The Cobra encapsulates the dynamism of their live performances in stunning audio quality.
The repertoire of the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band captures Hameed’s vision of eclecticism – meshing together gypsy dances with popular songs, Bollywood blockbuster soundtracks, traditional folk, classical and all that is in between. The words are unfalteringly saccharine, ballads of longing soaked in icing-sugar sweetness. Memories of ‘happiness like a flower about to open’ nestle alongside calls for a darling beloved to come to ‘thirsty lips’, or for ‘the Maharaja who rules my dreams’ to return. As with everything ‘Kawa’ though, the melodious lyrics are performed with just the right balance of deep drama and high voltage joyousness. Cast aside your expectations and join the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band parade, as they stamp, stomp and sidestep their irresistible Dance Of The Cobra.