Every year the Blue City of India turns into a folk fortress. At Jodhpur RIFF, music aficionados get to experience the multi-hued flavours of global music.
Reverberating sounds emanated from the Jaswant Thada. I reached Jodhpur just in time to see the day break with two of Sekhawati’s most powerful female vocalists in the Bhopa-Bhopi tradition. The vocalists Bhanwari Devi and Patashi Devi heralded the first dawn at Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival). They sang traditional folk songs and everybody, some foreigners some local wayfarers, listened as sun enveloped the Blue City. This was my second time in Jodhpur, the land of erstwhile Marwari kings and the home turf of Jodhpur Polo Team.
Folk rich music
There’s something about Rajasthan that attracts maximum number of tourists each year. And why not, the ruggedness of the state is balanced with the vibrancy of the lives and styles of the natives and the royal labyrinth by the rich folk flavour. The invitation to be a part of Jodhpur RIFF was too good to let go, so I started my sojourn to Jodhpur again, but this time my visit introduced me to the folk way of life in Rajasthan. A typical RIFF day begins with a Dawn Devotion where select artists perform their best songs as the sun cracks open. The scintillating performance by Bhanwari Devi harbingered the folk carnival open and it was time for me to bask in the eclectic mix of folk music.
Jodhpur RIFF is an annual festival that coincides with the brightest full moon night Sharad Purnima. A partnership project of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF), the five-day long festival promises a diverse itinerary amidst spectacular settings of the Mehrangarh Fort. This year too the cultural extravaganza gave platform to more than 250 local and international artists who gave away solo and group performances and even jammed amongst themselves.
Musicians from world over vouch for the fact that music is a universal language. Keeping the statement true to its meaning, Jodhpur RIFF added another feather to its hat by collaborating with Celtic Connections, Scotland’s annual music festival. It was a memorable occasion when two of world’s leading festivals joined hands to promote and showcase some of the best music on an international scale. The reciprocal arrangement will now enable the Scottish and the Indian musicians to jam and perform gigs together and promote their music to the rest of the world. The Scottish musicians performed this year at the sunrise concert that was coined as the Scottish Dawn (as against the Dawn Devotion performances by the Indian artists). The special concert highlighted the Scottish folk songs in Gaelic and English and mouth music by young Kaela Rowan from Edinburgh. The exchange programme also got Bhanwari Devi to perform at the Edinburgh Music Festival this year. Well, that’s called jamming together for music.
“Music doesn’t have language. The musicians who have come here are veterans in their respective fields. They play percussion instruments, sing and dance not to make a living but to satiate their hearts,” quipped Divya Bhatia, the festival director. Festivities didn’t stop for a moment at Mehrangarh Fort that stood witness to a variety of traditional dance forms reflecting the distinctive regional cultures of the state. The festival featured an assortment of events like a jazz night, a Rajasthani night, gypsy and traditional dance forms.
It is a classic fusion of interactive sessions, staged performances, and late night jam sessions. Clad in colourful lehengas, young women twirled to the beats of dholak and harmonium played by their male counterparts while performing the Chakri Nritya. The group came specially from Hadoti region to be a part of the festival. The Zenana Courtyard was where a group of men performed Chang dance. Dressed in white dhoti kurta and a red bandhini turban, these men moved in a circular motion holding a tambourine each while two flutists and a cymbal player matched the rhythm of the dancers. Thumping tunes of the classical fusion mixed with a strong saraangi and khartaal flavour emerged from the open courtyards of the magnificent fort. With a combination of audience, I devoured the soulful renditions.
Everywhere there were artists holding fort with their performances. Moving towards the upper deck of the fort, I came across an artist who was busy playing a nagada. The tune was familiar so I walked a little further. Standing in front of him was a crowd of more than hundred people and only Indians were seen smiling. The tune was ‘Why this kolaveri di’. I couldn’t stop gushing like many others. Music really is a universal language, I gave a note to self and moved towards the Chokelao Bagh where another set of performers, instrumentalists, and storytellers from various Rajasthani folk communities were busy interacting with music enthusiasts.
Chokleao Bagh is the garden area of the fort where a shamiana like setting was put up so that visitors could informally interact with the performers. This is where I met John Singh, co-founder of JVF and one of the patrons of Jodhpur RIFF. Singh, along with his team, has been actively working to preserve the state’s cultural legacy. “We under the guidance of John da travel to the interiors of Rajasthan and handpick valuable artists. We listen to their stories. of these artists are farmers. But they sing, dance and perform on different occasions, like if there is a wedding and even if someone is bitten by a snake,” informed Vinod Joshi, Communications Director, JVF.
The Dholi community of musicians and drummers, is named after the traditional instrument they play that is dhol. It is interesting to know how dhol playing styles differ community to community. Two different ways to play a dhol were shown live by the Manganiyars and the Dholis. “Once these performers are done with their act, nobody cares about the hardships they face, especially with advancing age,” rues Singh. He quips that he will never forget the first time he experienced the music of some of Rajasthan’s great performers and artists.
In the In-Residence session, music enthusiasts interact with folk communities like the Manganiyars who perform in a group of five to six; and their main percussion instruments are – a sarangi, khartaal, dholak, harmonium and a morchang.
Manganiyars are mostly Muslims yet they sing
about Hindu deities. I was lucky to witness the peformance by Chanan Khan, one of the living legends of the Manganiyar community. He is one of the few who has kept the tradition of stringed instrument the kamayacha alive even today. He has played nationally and internationally and features significantly in Paula Fouce’s recent film ‘Song of the Dunes’. “I got this kamayacha from my grandfather, who got it from his,” pondered Khan when I asked him how old the beautiful instrument is.
Another Muslim community of folk artists is the Langa community for whom the main percussion instruments are the Algoza, Murla and Shehnai. Latif Khan Langa, a humble man of 75, performed a the ‘Living Legends’ session at the festival where he gave live demonstrations on the three main instruments he masters in. While he was busy playing wedding tunes on his sarangi, padharo mhare des on Algoza and a raga on Murla, his mobile phone kept ringing. And why not, the veteran artist has been to 70 countries and has lovers all over the world!
Jodhpur RIFF is exquisitely programmed to present to music lovers the unique collaborations between Indian and international performers. And this time also the festival had a rich aura of international artists surrounding the halo of traditional music. I watched the crowd go gaga when Mark Atkins, the Australia based percussionist played didgeridoo and jammed with Rajasthani percussionists with elan. Latin inspirations came alive on stage when Grupo Cimarron from Colombia created sensational music as Carlos Rojas created symphonies on Latin Harp. The group played latin drums, guitars, harp and enthralled the audience with their splendid skills. Overall, the festival introduced me to a heady combination of folk, jazz, and contemporary music that transcends global boundaries.
The enchanting evening of Desert Lounge, instrumental and vocal recitals by artists from different communities from Rajasthan gave me a rare glimpse of the stunning musical and vocal talents that this community has cultivated and passed on for generations. Jodhpur RIFF weaves together the talent of hundreds of performers, the festival is just one among a series of mela.
Rajasthani virtuoso’s Jumma Khan Mewati (bhapang), Nathu Solanki (Nagada), Daya Ram (vocals), Padmaram Meghwal (vocal) Raeis Khan(morchang), performed.
Photo courtesy: Rajiv Jha (copyright)