Over 90 folk musicians from villages around Jodhpur in Rajasthan have learnt about how they could use social media to directly promote and market their art to the world and thereby break the grip of middlemen who exploit them at their will. They were participating in a Social Media for Empowerment (SM4E) workshop on December 21 organized by DEF in partnership with Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and Rupayan Sansthan, the local strategic partner, at Arna Jharna – The Desert Musuem – near Jodhpur. The musicians represented the Langa, Mangniar, Kalbeliya, Dhadhi, Bhopa and Bhat communities whose traditional music has now received national and global acclaim thanks to the efforts of the late Komal Kothari, fondly remembered as Komalda, who won a Padma Bibhushan for his life-long work in conserving India’s living traditions.
Traditional folk musicians are facing what is often referred to as “vanishing” arts and crafts of India – a phenomenon seen even in other areas of traditional art and craft. As most musicians and artisans are not aware and educated enough to promote and market their folk art and music to the world, they have to depend on middle-men who exploit them at their will. Low incomes and poverty arising from such exploitation is leading to younger generations not taking up their traditional family skills leading to a crisis of conservation.
Arna Jharna – The Desert Museum, was conceived and built by the legendary folklorist and ethnomusicologist, the Late Komal Kothari, who is also lovingly and respectfully called Komalda. Komalda received the Padma Shree in 1983 and then the Padma Bhushan in 1984 from the government of India for his extraordinary work with the folk musicians of Rajasthan. The non-profit Rupayan Sansthan was also founded by Komalda.
DEF in line with its mission of digitally empowering people, collaborated with Rupayan Sansthan to hold a workshop for three generations of folk musicians from Langa, Mangniar, Kalbeliya, Dhadhi, Bhopa and Bhat communities from villages around Jodhpur to inform them how they could use social media, Smart Phones and mobile apps such as Whatsapp to directly promote and market their skills to the national and global community. While the organizers had not expected more than 60-65 folk musicians, more than 90 musicians actually turned up to participate in the Social Media for Empowerment (SM4E) workshop.
The younger generation of musicians already had Smar Pphones and knew a little about Whatsapp. Some had even heard about Facebook, but had never been on the platform. The older generation was the least initiated in to technology. However, they acknowledged the importance of technology to keep pace with the modern world.
The workshop started with a performance by the musicians of the Langa Community. DEF has been working towards digital empowerment of folk musicians of Rajasthan for a long time and this workshop took that effort a step further. DEF founder-director Osama Manzar enumerated his vision that one day technology will be integrated with their lives in such a way that it would be as easy as breathing. However, there’s still many a mile to go to realize that dream. The Chief Guest, Vijay Singh Nahta, SDM of Shergarh district, also expressed the will and inclination of the government to be a productive and effective medium for the change to happen sooner than later.
Nobody understood the importance of this workshop more than Kuldeep Kothari, son of late Komal Kothari. He has seen his father’s frustration, pain and struggle to empower the folk musicians for several years. And now his father’s dream is finally taking shape.
In simple language, social media is nothing but an act of interacting, sharing, informing and discussing with people who share your vision and aspirations. Having said that, being on social media is one thing, but if the folk musicians don’t know how to create impactful digital content then the whole effort is an exercise in futility. So Ravi Guria, Dy. Programme Director, Media and Communication of DEF, spoke about how to create digital content. And the art of creating content for social media is about telling your story in as few words as possible. One can even share stories in the form of a film, photographs or just sound, he explained.
Folk musicians were truly fascinated when they were told that the most important tool for creating stories for social media is in their hand – the Smart Phone. They were oriented towards how to create impactful content by using the Smart Phone, which was followed by a hands-on session. The participating folk musicians were divided into groups and they began creating content. The content that they have created is being uploaded in the Facebook page that is specially created in the name of ‘SM4E workshop for the folk musicians of Rajasthan’.
As the day progressed, the workshop also gained intensity. The Khamayati project was conceived by the Barefoot College and DEF to bring folk musicians of Rajasthan on one digital platform. Shweta Rao, the Project Manager of Khamayati, spoke eloquently about why it is important for the folk musicians to represent themselves directly to the world. And Khamayati has a comprehensive interface that can achieve that vision. Shweta engaged the folk musicians in a discussion to make Khamayati website more user friendly.
Sunny Sharma enthralled the folk musicians with some of the inspiring best practices all across the world where musicians have effectively leverage the power of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and SoundCloud, and achieved success beyond their preliminary imagination. The eyes of participating folk musicians were twinkling as they absorbed and digested this information. Their posture reflected the surge of energy within them. All of them were on the edge of their seats rearing to go and replicate the inspiring stories articulated by Sunny.
Everything aside, foremost it is important for the folk musicians to understand the significance of being able to interact directly with the world without the help of middlemen who most often than not misrepresent them and also claim major pound of the flesh. And then it is the process of making that extra effort to learn and educate themselves so that they can truly be empowered. Through the workshops like this and other efforts we can only show the path, but the main thrust to achieve that goal has to come from the communities themselves. And the vigour and zeal was more than evident during the workshop.
At least, the beginning has been made. All the folk musicians who participated in the workshop have an email ID and are all connected to each other through a Whatsapp group called ‘Social Media Workshop’. Futhermore, they also have their Facebook and Instagram profile now. Three Social Media agents from the community have pledged to take the initiative forward.
The curtains came down on a productive day with a performance by the Langa community who expressed their inclination and enthusiasm towards the knowledge and skills imparted to them with an exhilarating performance that would be remembered long after the participants departed.