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The musicians lived in India without access to electricity or consistent access to water, so “the contrast was difficult to imagine,” he said, when they talked about the five-star hotels where they had stayed — in London, Paris and New York when commissioned to perform.

Manganiyars, who are traditionally Muslim but are often nonpracticing, are classified as a seminomadic tribe by the Indian government. They qualify for many of the same constitutional protections and benefits aimed at low-caste Hindus like Dalits, or untouchables, and those from what are officially called Other Backward Classes, according to Surinder Singh Gajraj, an official with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

These protections and benefits have not always been realized in rural India, but they include school scholarships, land entitlements and housing for families living below the poverty line.

Generations ago, the patrons of the Manganiyars were the Rajputs. But the distinction has been relaxed to include other Hindus in Dantal, a village in Western Rajasthan of a few thousand people clustered near a lone cellular tower, one of the few signs of modernity.

Watch a Manganiyar performance. Video by anmaro888

With high-pitched voices that wiggle and shake, Manganiyars sing at weddings and religious gatherings. Their mandolin-like kamaichas are made from mango wood and goat hides. They perform sobering songs about abuse, love, loss and the casualties of past battles, evoking historical figures like Alexander the Great.

They also help faith healers reach a trance state.

Source: NYT > World

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