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Chapter 28

The Lahr Kuh--Robat thana and bungalow--Saïd Khan--Persian and
Beluch music, songs and dancing--Beluch musical
instruments--Beluch melodies, love and war songs--Comic
songs--Beluch voices--Persian melodies--Solo
songs--Ululations--Persian instruments--Castanets--Persian and
Beluch dancing--The chap.

South-west of Robat (at 210° bearings magnetic) stands a fine mountain, the Lahr Kuh, and from it descends a little stream flowing towards the north-east. There is a large thana (fortified post-house) at Robat of eight rooms and a spacious court for horses. A shop with grain and provisions is found here, and a post office with the familiar black board outside on which one was rather amused to read the usual postal notices in the English language stuck upon it--announcing Queen Victoria's death, notifying that the office would be closed on such and such bank holidays, and other public news.

The quarters of the Jemadar and his seven levies, of the Duffadar and the postmaster, were enclosed in the high-walled thana with its imposing entrance gate and four towers at the corners. Beyond the thana was the old resting place built of stone, with six rooms, but now rather in a tumbling-down condition.

Then last, but not least, of the buildings was the new bungalow, with a nice portico all round. It contained four spacious, lofty rooms with well-drawing chimneys. There were windows, but not yet with glass in them, and this was rather an advantage, because the air of the mountains was pure and better than would have been the shut-in atmosphere of a room. Each room had a bathroom attached to it--but of course the bath had to be brought by the traveller himself.

This was one of two types of rest-houses which are being built by the British Government for travellers on the Nushki-Robat route. The other kind was of similar architecture but with only two rooms instead of four. These bungalows were solidly built, well ventilated and excellent in every way--of course in relation to the country they were in. It was not proposed when they were put up to compete in comfort and cuisine with the Carlton Hotel in London, that of Ritz in Paris, or the Waldorf-Astoria of New York. They were mere rest-houses for traders and travellers accustomed to that particular kind of travelling, and the British Government ought to be greatly thanked for building these shelters at the principal halting-places on the route. Only a few are completed yet between Robat and Nushki, but their construction is going ahead fast, and within the next year or so, if I understood right, they would all be ready to accommodate travellers. They were a great improvement on the old thanas, which, although comfortable enough, were not always quite so clean on account of natives using them.

After travelling in Persia, where one climbs down a good deal in one's ideas of luxury and comfort and is glad to put up even in the most modest hovels, it seemed to me quite the zenith of luxury and comfort to set foot inside a real whitewashed rest-house, with mats on the floor and a fire blazing in a real chimney. News had come that I should arrive that afternoon, and the levies with the Jemadar in their best clothes all turned out to receive me, which involved considerable hand-shaking and elaborate compliments, after which I was led into the room that had been prepared for me.

Saïd Khan, who has been employed by the Government to look after the postal arrangements and other political work on the Persian side of the frontier, was also here parading with the others, as can be seen in the illustration.

Saïd Khan was a tall, intelligent, black-bearded, fearless person, wearing a handsome black frock-coat, a mass of gold embroidery on the chest, and a beautiful silver-mounted sword--which, by the way, he wore in a sensible fashion slung across his shoulder; with his well-cut features, strong, almost fierce mouth, finely chiselled nostrils and eagle eyes he was quite a striking figure.

The Duffadar, who stood on his right hand, had a most honest and good-natured face, and he, too, looked very smart in his uniform, cartridge bandolier, silver-handled sword and Enfield rifle. His men were also armed with this rifle which, although of old pattern, is very serviceable.

With the exception of Saïd Khan, the people represented in the illustration formed the entire stationary male population of Robat, but some small black tents could be seen in a gully a little way off inhabited by nomad Beluch.

On hearing that I was much interested in music, the Duffadar, who was a bit of a musician himself, arranged a concert in which all the local talent took part. On this and many other later occasions I heard Beluch music and singing and saw their dancing, and as I also heard a good deal of Persian music while in Persia I daresay a few words upon the music and dancing of the two countries will not be out of place. In many ways they are akin.

A large instrument called the Dumbirah or Dambura--something like an Italian mandola--was produced which was handsomely carved and inlaid in silver. It had three strings, two of which were played as bass; on the third the air was twanged in double notes, as the thumb and first finger are held together, the first finger slightly forward, and an oscillation is given from the wrist to the hand in order to sound the note twice as it catches first in the thumb then in the first finger. The effect obtained is similar to that of the Occalilli of Honolulu, or not unlike a mandoline, only with the Beluch instrument the oscillations are slower.

The movement of the favourite Beluch melodies resembles that of a Neapolitan tarantella, and these airs are generally more lively than melodies of most other Asiatic people. Endless variations are made on the same air according to the ability and temperament of the musician. The notes of the two bass strings of the instrument are never altered, but always give the same accompaniment on being twanged together with the violin string on which only the actual melody is picked out.

There is then the Soroz, a kind of violin made of a half pumpkin, which forms the sounding board, and a handle to it with four keys and four strings. It is played with a bow of horsehair.

The other instruments in use are the Seranghi, a kind of superior violin such as the two central ones represented in the full page illustration. It has no less than fourteen keys, is hollow and uncovered in its upper portion, but has a skin stretched in the lower half of its sounding case. It is also perforated underneath and is played with a bow called gazer.

The Rabab is a larger wooden instrument of a somewhat elongated shape, and its lower portion is also covered by a tight sheepskin--the remainder of the uncovered wood being prettily inlaid with silver and bone. This instrument is twanged with the fingers and has eighteen killi or keys, twelve with metal strings and six with gut strings.

The Surna, or flute, is made of bamboo with a brass funnel. The mouthpiece is very ingenious, made of crushed cane fastened into a cup which is firmly applied to the lips, thus preventing any wind escaping at the sides. It certainly gives a very piercing sound when played loud.

The Dohl, or drum, was also of wood with sheepskins drawn tight at the two ends while wet, rolled up all round the rims of the apertures, and kept in position by leather strips.

Besides these the Beluch shows much ingenuity in improvising musical instruments to accompany his songs, out of any article which will give some sound, such as his rifle rod, which he balances on a bit of string and taps upon with the blade of his knife, or two pieces of wood which he uses as castanets, and, failing all these, snapping his fingers and keeping time with the melody.

There is a certain weird, barbaric charm in Beluch melodies, and, unlike the Persian, the Beluch possesses a very keen ear, in fact, a thorough musical ear, even according to our rules of harmony. To an unthoughtful European there may indeed be a certain monotony in Beluch melodies, but never a grating discord which will set one's teeth on edge.

Monotony in music, or rather, a repetition of the same melody until it becomes monotonous, is, rather than otherwise--if one comes to think of it--a fault on the right side, for if a melody is repeated time after time it means that the people themselves like it and appreciate it. There is no doubt that anybody with an unspoilt musical ear rather fancies listening over and over again to a melody which appeals to him--and we need not go as far as Beluchistan to be convinced of this--for we ourselves have been known to take fancies to songs of so high a standard as Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, The Honeysuckle and the Bee, &c., and we hum them while soaking in our morning tub, we whistle them as we go down to breakfast, we strum them on the piano after breakfast, we hear them rattled outside by a barrel organ, as many times as there are forthcoming pennies from windows, while we are having lunch, we hear them pathetically sung at afternoon parties by hired entertainers, bands play them in the restaurants during dinner, and we hear them in the theatres, in music halls, and everywhere,--so that we cannot very well blame others for the monotony of their melodies since we largely follow the same course as theirs.

The Beluch plays and sings because it gives him real pleasure, and he is quite carried away by his music. Certain notes and combinations of notes, especially such as are very high and shrill, but in good tune, seem to go straight to his heart, and he revels in them. When singing, therefore, he prefers to sing in falsetto--as high as the furthest strain of his voice permits--and having worked himself into a semi-dazed state gradually descends to low deep notes, which by contrast appeal to him and not only give balance and character to his melody but produce quite a good harmonious effect. The low notes, however, are never ejaculated, but hummed, almost buzzed, with a vibration in the voice which is most melodious. The sound is like an indefinite letter U.

The beginning of a song is somewhat sudden and startling, and usually too loud, as if the singer had not properly gauged the extent of his voice in relation to the instrumental accompaniment, but he soon manages to get in most perfect unison with the melody of the dambura and the violin or other instruments, except in cases of singers endowed with extra musical genius, when they will go on improvising by the hour, using the theme as a guide. They generally sing in a minor key, with pretty refrains at the end of each bar.

The most common and favourite air is the above on which elaborate variations are added.

The Beluch singer seldom changes from minor into major or from one key into another, but he is very fond of repeating the same melody in all the octaves within the utmost limits of the compass of his voice. It is considered a feat in singing to hold a note for an interminable time, as also to go through the greater portion of the melody without taking breath, and it really seemed extraordinary that some of the singers did not break a blood vessel in the process. The eyes of the performers got so swollen and almost shooting out of the head with holding the notes so long, and the veins of the temples and arteries in the neck swelled to such an extent as to cause serious apprehension.

On one occasion I heard an improvised song with the accompaniment of the soroz (violin) only. This time--an exception in my experience--the song was given in a deep, low, nasal voice, each note being tremulous and held on for several minutes in a most plaintive manner.

Some of the love songs were quite pathetic and touching, and in the war songs, the grievances were poured forth very plaintively with an accompaniment of strings and drums and burst out suddenly into fire and anger. At this point, when the musicians were carried away by the martial words of the song, the instrumental accompaniment became next to diabolical. It was very inspiriting, no doubt, and made them feel very war-like. The din was certainly such as might have turned any man into a fighter.

Love songs, in which the singer imitated women's voices to perfection, were really most graceful and sad, and quite interesting were the musical recitatives with violin accompaniments which the Beluch render in quite a masterly way.

Then there was the comic song--quick-timed and full of life--much too full and too comic to appeal to a European, and so fully illustrated that personally, I infinitely preferred the more melancholic ones which had more music in them.

Duets and trios were occasionally attempted with quite good results, except that there always seemed to be a competition as to who should start highest, and this had occasionally a grating effect.

The Beluch possess most soft musical voices, well-rounded and graceful, quite a contrast even in mere conversation to those of their neighbours the Persians or the Afghans; but the character of the Beluch songs and music is not dissimilar from the Persian, and both betray a markedly Arab origin. In Persian songs, too, an andante movement with chorus joining in every few bars frequently occurs, but in the Persian chorus we generally find a liking for chromatic diminuendos and crescendos, which are not so frequent in Beluch music.

Persian music is inspiriting. There are certain musical notes the vibrations of which seem to go to the heart more than others, and on these notes the Persian musician will work his melody. Sad love songs in a falsetto voice are prevalent, and are sung so high that, as with the Beluch, it makes one really quite anxious for the safety of the singer. The notes are kept on so long and the melody repeated so often, that the artery and veins in the singer's neck and temples bulge out in a most abnormal manner.

There is no actual end to a Persian melody, which terminates with the exhaustion of the singer, or abruptly by the sign of the hearers who get tired of it. The musicians every now and then join in the chorus and repeat the refrain.

Tenor solo songs by boys are much appreciated, and these, too, are very plaintive with frequent scales in them and certain notes held long at the end of each bar where the chorus join in. These sustained notes have modulations in them with infinitesimal fractions of tones. Ululations with long, nasal, interminable notes and capricious variations at the fancy of the singer, but based on some popular theme are also much liked by Persians.

More than in anything else, however, the Persian, like the Beluch, delights in tremulous notes, of which he makes ample use in his melodies.

The rhythm of Persian and Beluch music is much alike, although as far as instrumental execution goes the Persian surpasses the Beluch, having a greater variety in his orchestra and the instruments being more perfectly constructed.

The Santurie, for instance, a kind of zither, with eighteen sets of three strings each, is a most harmonious instrument from which beautiful effects can be obtained by the player.

The thar> a sort of guitar, has four keys and is played with a plectrum, and the Kermanche, Cynthour, Tchogor, the Tchaminioho--the latter, a circular instrument covered by a skin, with one metal and two gut strings, on a long metal stand, is played with a bow;--the dumbuk (drum), with only one skin pasted round its single aperture, the lower part being solid; the flute pure and proper, with five apertures on one side and one on the other, on which very low clear notes are obtained, and a pretty tremolo,--and other instruments of minor importance, are all employed in Persia.

The Persians are masters at playing the drum. Most marvellous effects are obtained by them. They hold the drum on the left leg with the left arm resting on it, and tap it with the tips of their fingers round its edge. For broader notes it is struck with the palm of the hand. Soft, gentle notes as well as the rumbling sound in good time with the air they accompany, are extracted from the instrument, so fast in its vibrations as to produce a continuous sound that one would never believe came from a drum.

Metallic castanets are used both by the Persian and Beluch in the dancing, and it is usually the dancers--one or more boys--who play them.

Many of the songs and melodies I heard in Persia reminded me very forcibly of Spanish melodies, which, like these, are undoubtedly of Arab origin.

Whatever fault one may find with Persian or Beluch music, one cannot say that the performers do not play with an immense deal of feeling and entrain--a quality (the primary one, to my mind,) in music often lacking in musicians nearer home, but never in Orientals.

The dancing, both Persian and Beluch, is not so interesting. It is usually executed by effeminate long-haired boys generally dressed in a long pleated coat with a tight belt, and wearing a number of metal bells attached to the ankles. The Persian is probably the more lascivious of the two in his movements, and, having begun by throwing his long shock of hair backwards twirls round gracefully enough, keeping good time with the music. This is merely a feat of endurance, resembling the dancing or spinning dervishes of Egypt, and generally ends by the dancer suddenly squatting down upon the floor with his flowing gown fully expanded in a circle around him. The skill of the dancer is shown most in successive dances, such as the slow progression by merely twisting the feet to right and left, occasionally varied by raising one foot directly above the other, then throwing the head far back and the body in a strained curve, with arms raised fluttering like a flying bird, while the song to which he dances imitates a nightingale.

Contortions and suggestive waist movements are much indulged in Persian dancing, as well as throwing the body backwards with the hands almost touching the ground behind and walking while in this position--not unlike an exaggerated form of the "cake-walk" of our American cousins.

Each dance is closed by the dancer throwing himself down upon his knees in front of the musicians, or in turn before each of the spectators.

Beluch dancing was very similar, although much simpler. The two photographs, reproduced in the illustrations, which I took at Sibi, show one a row of Beluch musicians, the other a Beluch boy in the act of dancing a sort of toe-and-heel dance, in which with extended arms he gradually fluttered round, keeping time with the music. In some of the quicker movements he either snapped his fingers or used wooden castanets, or held the pleated skirt of his coat fully extended like butterfly wings. There was very little variation to his dancing which, like the Persian was more a feat of endurance and speed than a graceful performance. The ankle did most of the work.

Somewhat more wild and primitive was the chap which I witnessed at a camp in north-west Beluchistan. It consisted in swinging the body from right to left, lifting up now one leg and then the other, and waving the head to and fro in a most violent manner. The Beluch get much excited over this dance, which requires some degree of stubborn tenacity, and the spectators urge the dancer to continue when he shows signs of getting tired. All superfluous clothing is discarded in a most alarming manner at various stages of this performance, and the arms are flapped vigorously against the naked body which is made to sound like a drum. The performance is not allowed to stop until the dancer is quite exhausted, when he simply collapses in the arms of one of his friends. The musical accompaniment to this dance verges on the diabolical, the rhythm of what melody there is being interspersed with abundant howls, yells and snapping of fingers from the enthusiastic crowd all round.