I have come a long way, says Mame Khan, India’s first folk singer to walk Cannes 2022 red carpet: know more about his journey
Once a little-known Manganiyar musician from Jaisalmer, Mame Khan created history by becoming the first folk artiste to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival this year
For the last two decades, the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France has become an extravagant affair as a coveted platform for fashion and films. Celebrities across the globe deliver some promising show-stopping appearances on the red carpet. And this year, while many celebrities have made their presence felt at the India Pavilion on the first day of the festival including Deepika Padukone as a jury member, what stole the spotlight on the red carpet was Rajasthani folk singer Mame Khan.
Once a little-known Manganiyar musician from Satto, a secluded and sleepy village in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Mame Khan created history by becoming the first folk artiste to sashay down the red carpet for India earlier this week. Dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire, a fuchsia kurta and dhoti paired with a heavily embroidered navy blue jacket and Rajasthani pagdi, trimmed moustache and warm smile, Mame Khan boasted a unique demeanour. He did more than just walk the red carpet, he also sang the famous Ghoomar song that had Deepika Padukone, Urvashi Rautela, Pooja Hedge and Tamannaah Bhatia breaking into dance. We caught up with Mame Khan over a phone call from Cannes earlier this week and it took us no time to sense his excitement and joy that he calls, “inexplicable ma’am.”
“It’s a true pleasure to walk the red carpet with all the renowned people of our industry. I am really honoured and it is such a great experience to represent India and my small community of Manganiyars,” begins the singer and expresses that he was happy to sing Ghoomar when AR Rahman was present at the event. “Shekhar Kapoor and Urvashi Rautela told me to sing something and then I invited Deepika Padukone to dance and she called other actresses as well,” reveals the musician.
The Manganiyars are a group of hereditary musicians who belong to a fringe Muslim community in Rajasthan. The Manganiyars sing, always in unison, ditties of local maharajas, of bygone battles, and stories of gods and goddesses that have been passed down through generations. These songs are mostly in praise of Hindu deities and celebrate Lord Krishna and for centuries have bound the two communities together. “We are a small community and whatever I have done till date is because of the people I grew up learning and singing with,” he expresses and shares that he grew up listening to his father Ustad Rana Khan’s riyaaz at home and sang since he was a child. “My mother also used to sing at home because women can’t sing in public in my community.”
Mame Khan may have become popular globally after his stint at Cannes, but the singer is already a favourite among many Bollywood musicians including ShankarEhsan-Loy. Having sung in a slew of films such as Luck by Chance, No One Killed Jessica, Mirzya, Sonchiriya and Dasvi, Mame Khan tells us that he decided to go solo and collaborate with different musicians rather than singing with one troupe and travelling to perform in a group. It was in 2005 at singer-actress Ila Arun’s daughter’s wedding that a Mumbai-based musician spotted him and introduced him to composer-singer Shankar Mahadevan. This meeting led him to sing Baawre in Zoya Akhtar’s film Luck By Chance in 2009, a track that fused an array of sounds and uniquely tweaked the concepts of qawwali and Rajasthani folk.
While Baawre established Mame Khan’s name in the music industry, he became a household name and was validated by the music fraternity after he crooned two songs for Coke Studio in 2015 with Amit Trivedi. Mame sang a traditional folk called Chaudhary, and another was titled Badri Badariya, where he collaborated with singer Mili Nair. Mame Khan continued to frequent music festivals as a solo performer and finally, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya established him as a formidable artiste.
When asked if his collaborations made him change the way he would perform initially, the musician responds in the negative. “I never wanted to change anything. I am always of the opinion to stay with my roots. I may improvise and sing fusion at times because it’s the need of the hour but my music will always have the Manganiyar flavour,” insists the singer, who along with his group has also performed in theatre director Roysten Abel’s musical The Manganiyar Seduction. Inspired by Amsterdam’s red-light district, the stage of the play is built up to a four-story structure, comprising small boxes, each one outlined by lightbulbs and a performer.
Not without my music
Looking back at his journey, Mame Khan recalls his financial constraints at home for a large part of his life and several rejections from music labels as a folk singer. “But I have come a long way. I am overwhelmed and thankful to my father and my community. It feels nice that now my singing is respected abroad. This event especially is memorable for me,” concludes the musician.