When John Fernandes was a boy, he loved the ghumot and it was a big part of his life growing up in Quepem. Be it a cultural festival, be it a religious feast or even if it was regular day at home when friends and family got together, the ghumot was part of every celebration. “It was not just about playing the ghumot, it was about the vibe it created. If you played the ghumot, it meant someone would sing folk songs and someone would always dance to the rhythm of music made by the ghumot,” said John.
John is now part of a cultural group that aims at preserving age old traditions. Saddened that the art of playing ghumot is dying out, he feels the only way it can be revived is if today’s generation inculcates that love for Goa’s original instrument.
The first Ghumot festival aspires to do just that. On Friday, February 24, volunteer Viresh Borkar and others were practising at Siridao beach under the shade of the palm trees, where the event will be held. A large group of picnickers were present nearby and they heard the sound of the ghumot and approached Viresh and asked them if they could watch them. Minutes into the performance, the picnickers started dancing, singing and even tried to play the ghumot at the impromptu jam session. “This is the kind of energy we expect to see and this is aimed at preserving our Goemkarpon (Goan identity) . Everyone is bringing their own element to the festival,” said Marius Fernandes, a socio-cultural activist who has taken the lead in organising the festival. Alexys, the famous cartoonist, will be drawing caricatures of the ghumot players while Margarida Tavora E Costa from Raia has dedicated her family’s collection of ghumots for the festival. The main act at the festival will be the performance of ghumot players who currently perform at traditional Catholic festivals like the mando or in Hindu temples.
“The ghumot is an ingenious Goan musical instrument, literally born out of Goan mud. It is a symbol of communal bonding through music of two faiths of Goa. Unfortunately, it has been getting step-motherly treatment, due to the banned monitor lizard skin. But through the Ghumtanche Fest, it is aimed to arm this ghumot with an alternative skin and bring it into the limelight on a world music platform, with the people’s participation” , said Sanjeev V Sardesai, historian. While the acoustic percussion instrument is still a part of traditions like the Ganesh Chaturthi aartis, a major reason behind its decline is the fact that it cannot be made so easily anymore. The instrument is different from other percussion instruments, mainly because of the material used as the percussive skin. The tough skin of the monitor lizard, is stretched across the face of the specially designed clay pot and this is what gives the ghumot its unique sound. “The ban on hunting monitor lizard came in 1972 and since then the practice of making ghumots has invariably slowed down. Musicians also do not use the ghumot as much as except for traditional events,” said Marius. His son, Ashley, has taken it upon himself to try and find a solution and has done an in-depth study about the origins of the ghumot and how sheep membrane can be used as an alternative. This was his thesis at the School of Audio Engineering, Middlesex University in the United Kingdom. “For the ghumot festival, players will be bringing ghumots with goat or sheep skin and the idea behind this is to encourage people to use alternatives,” added Marius.
The festival will not only see folk singers who will perform along with the ghumot players, but experts who will explain the craft involved in making the ghumot. These experts will talk about what mud is used to make the instrument, potters will show how it’s made, the string maker will demonstrate how the unique sound is created. Most of the ghumots will use goat or sheep skin that covers one of the two mouths of the pot and the skin cutter and skin fitter will give a presentation on the process involved.
The organisers add that the surprise act at the festival will be number of women playing the ghumot. They point out that it is quite regular for men to play the ghumot but you do not normally get to see women playing the ghumot. “A lot of the young women have been trained to play the ghumot for the festival. This will be a great attraction at the festival and we hope it encourages others to try and learn the art” said Madhavi Parab, a festival volunteer.
The festival also have Zagor artistes, a traditional folk drama performed in many villages in Goa, who will play bring the mandalem, a sister instrument of the ghumot, which is a different type of percussive instrument used only by these artistes. This is an example of how the Gumtache festival can be a melting point for various cultures in Goa and keep the legacy alive for posterity.