The Flavour of Indo-Mauritian Folk Instruments
The major musical instruments of the first Indians to settle here were, like those of the Africans, the percussion instruments. Among these, the ‘dholok’ (drum) ‘dholki’ (bigger drum) ‘daf’ (small tambourine) ‘tavil’ and ‘tappu’ (South Indian drum and tambourine respectively) and later the ‘tabla’(a
pair of drums of North Indian origin) remain the most important rhythmic instruments in Indian folk singing in Mauritius. Percussion instruments still shape both popular and folk music in the Indo-Mauritian culture.
The development of Indo-Mauritian folk-instruments in the island is interesting indeed. Although vocalists rather than instrumentalists are given pride of place in Indian folk
singing, the music is bound together by a ‘taal’ (rhythm) which is the time cycle that remains fixed throughout every rendering.
The ‘dholok’ and ‘tabla’, originating from North India, accompany most of the folk groupsinging even to this day. The ‘dholok’achieved its great
popularity in the days of indentured labour as itwas among the only musical instruments to accompany social group-singing, festivities and even devotional recitations. It did not take long for the rural singers, who
were mostly untutored and untrained, nor oniy to master tneir instruments but also to fabricate them locally. A ‘dhoiok’ was usually made by emptying both ends of a tree trunk on which was fixed a
goatskin at both ends.
There were different sizes of ‘dholoks’ depending on whether the players were male or female. Women used the dholoks for their group-singing which was generally
confined to the inner apartments where males were not allowed. Social events such as marriages or birth ceremonies were occasions for singing, dancing and merrymaking. The percussion instruments ‘tappu’ and ‘tavil’ are
considered by Mauritians of South Indian origin as sacred instruments, destined to accompany religious sacrifices and ceremonies. On such occasions, taking into consideration the invocation ceremonies in honour of
various deities, these percussions are some-times accompanied by the ‘udukku’, another instrument of South Indian origin which is used to heighten the spiritual ‘mood’. These are the main instruments
at the culminating moment of ritual sacrifices or ceremonies.
Among Mauritian idiophones of Indian origin, the ‘jhaal’(a pair of copper cymbals of varying sizes) has played a central role in the musical traditions of the island. In
the earlier days the ‘jhaal’ featured predominantly in almost every religious and cultural activity. One cannot think of the ‘holi’ festivities on the island without the jhaal and the dholok,
the sound of which still echoes in the air for days together.
The‘manjeera’ (smaller cymbals) Jhaal and, to a lesser extent, the “khanjari” and the ‘kartaal’ (wooden cymbals), were mostly used for devotional singing.
The family of traditional wind instruments of Mauritius regroups the ‘bansuri’ (North Indian flute) which is used in almost all happy occasions of singing and
merry-making, the ‘shankh’ (conch) which is used exclusively during sacred recitations and religious ceremonies, and the ‘nadaswaram’ (South Indian wind instrument) which is used for both
religious ceremonies and social events especially weddings.
Traditional musical instruments of Mauritius, after years of vacillating fortunes and changing social and economic environments, have to a great extent, lost their popular base. And
yet these old, neglected instruments, which have been severely challenged by the modern electronic age have not died out. They have been superseded but not replaced. It is up to our musicians, to make determined
efforts to preserve this wonderful heritage of Mauritius. Some of these instruments are now making a come-back into the”new and modern” music of Mauritius. There is a possibility that this will take our old,
forgotten musical instruments of yesteryear to new frontiers, from revival to regene