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Festival Review: Ragasthan 2018, Jaisalmer

All the highlights that took place at the desert music festival which featured a brilliant, not-so-usual lineup of artists

David Britto Mar 02, 2018

Nagaland folk group Tetseo Sisters performing at the Birakha stage. Photo: Courtesy of Ragasthan

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If you’re all for destination festivals, Ragasthan 2018 held in the Golden City of Jaisalmer was the place to be between February 23rd to 25th. The desert music festival returned for its third edition after a four-year hiatus and packed a punch with its multi-genre lineup which included artists from all over the country as well as overseas performers.

Knowing Indian geographical challenges, getting to the festival was an uphill task, there were no sign boards on the main road leading to the festival campsite and some of the cab drivers responsible for bringing attendees from the airport, railway station and bus stop weren’t briefed thoroughly on the directions.

Once we finally reached the festival venue–Desert Glamping campsite–we were assigned our tents (others pitched their own) for the rest of the weekend. Out in the desert, there was importance given to getting right the basic amenities such as a bed and attached bathroom, which is how you build a good impression.

After settling in, we proceeded to the tea stall and water stations that was made free for everyone and had a look around the flea market as well as the food stalls for a quick bite before heading towards the stages. At the flea market, there were handmade lamps, T-shirts and souvenirs available as well as the Cosmic Twins store that were selling everything from herbal tea to facial products and organic soaps. Apart from the music, other activities at the festival included cycling on the dunes, movie screenings after sunset and art and craft workshops.

Day 1: Time for Wine  

Finally after making our way across the gorgeous sand dunes at the venue, we arrived at the Birakha stage where New Delhi-based Hindustani classical and folk singer Bawari Basanti was about to start her set at a blistering 4:30 pm. Despite the heat, the singer held the crowd’s attention with her strong vocal prowess, accompanied by a backing track. At one point, Basanti even got off stage and walked into the sand to interact with the few people in the audience.

New Delhi indie alt rock band Man.Goes Human

Just when things were looking up, a sandstorm occurred and all performances were halted as the wind was blowing quite furiously. After a two-hour delay, things subsided and we moved towards the Morio stage to catch New Delhi indie alt rock band Man.Goes Human. The group performed material from their 2015 eponymous debut album as well as the title-track from their recently released record Moonglasses showcasing a strong rhythm section and even distributed a pair of “moon glasses” to the crowd.  

Guwahati-based progressive jazz band Wine O’ Clock was up next and they set the bar high for the day. Keyboardist-vocalist Pritam Boro stemmed with creativity and was exceptional, even taking the instrument off its stand and playing it with one hand while holding it at a 90 degree angle with the other. Although Boro’s vocals weren’t the strongest, the band were super tight with their groovy basslines, thrashing drums and even presented the crowd with a psychedelic jazz cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” under the cool Rajasthan evening sky.

Two consecutive performances by seasoned acts from the Capital took the stage at Morio next. Contemporary-pop and Hindustani classical duo Shadow and Light performed material mostly from their second album Elements and vocalist Pavithra Chari amazed us with her clean and crisp vocals. Next, FuzzCulture amped up proceedings with their heavy electronica-rock sound. Guitarist-vocalist Arsh Sharma was at his frontman best getting people in the crowd to come right in front of the stage and start dancing while drummer Srijan Mahajan pounded away at his kit. Attendees even joined the band in a sing-a-long for their catchy early favorite “Do We Get A Grammy Now?”

Vancouver live electronica band Delhi 2 Dublin thrilled us with their world music sound. Violinist Serena Eades and dhol player Ravi Binning’s complementary style made for a great sonic experience. The band also incorporated Punjabi music elements and vocalist Sanjay Seran wowed us as both a singer and rapper.

Morio was then converted into the night-time electronica stage Ammara featuring performances by electronica artists such as melancholic act Grey Spaces and Rajasthan’s own DJ Reverse Osmosis, from Jaipur. Ammara went on right into the wee hours of the next day on all the days of the festival.

Day 2: The Energy and the Melody

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After missing out on his scheduled performance on the first day of the festival due to the sandstorm, Mumbai synth pop artist Cowboy and Sailor Man was rescheduled to play on day two. The musician went on at 3:30 pm at Birakha on a surprisingly pleasant and cool afternoon showcasing his lo-fi sounds and chilled vocal melodies.  

Mumbai singer-songwriter Vernon Noronha (L) with bassist Leron D’souza

Providing a soundtrack to the picturesque setting in the dunes was Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Vernon Noronha who totally changed the vibe with his acoustic pop sound. Attendees stretched their feet with beers in their hands while Noronha–accompanied by bassist Leron D’souza–serenaded them with songs from his debut EP Closer To Home as well as his rustic, harmonica-aided single “Saving All My Love.” The musician also tested the waters with new material that included the blissful “Dark Red Lines” and was also called on for an encore where he performed his hit heart-wrenching track “Come Back Jack.”  

Jammu-bred singer-songwriter Saby brought his bilingual acoustic delight next. Saby sounded much better vocally when he sang in Hindi, but it was his English song “Step Away” that brought a chuckle to the audience when he said the lush track was a “mild fuck you to parents.”  New Delhi guitar maverick Dhruv Visvanath upped the ante with his percussive guitar playing at sunset. Visvanath played songs off his debut album Orion such as the melodramatic “The Enigma” and the vibrant “Four” showcasing immense guitar skills and vocal proficiency.  

Back at the Morio stage, it was time for some hip-hop courtesy of Mumbai crew Swadesi. The group created a lively aesthetic with all the members sporting black T-shirts and spitting bars with full blown thoroughness. New Delhi MC Prabh Deep took the stage next after two false starts due to technical issues; the rapper was third time lucky and put on quite a show with his strong verses off his debut album Class-Sikh.

Mumbai band Daira brought their avant-garde psychedelic rock sound to Morio and guitarists Vikalp Sharma and Shivam Pant indulged the audience with solos and guitar wails alike.

The energy levels on day two ended quite high, courtesy of the stellar melody-driven world music group Farafi (part of it led by horn player Madhav Haridas). Meanwhile, the Ammara stage featured performances by Jaipur techno artist Pal-E, Mumbai deep house artist Kusai and more.

Day 3: Folk enchantment and more

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The final day of the festival witnessed an effortlessly honest set by Arunachal-bred, Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Taba Chake. The versatile musician switched between acoustic guitar, electric guitar and the ukulele and sang beautifully in both Hindi and English. New Delhi blues/electronica three-piece act Fopchu were, despite the allure of a unique blend of sounds, quite a letdown. The band took ages to set up while attendees baked in the hot sun to wait for them to start. Once they did start, it was definitely not worth the wait as the group seemed as confused performing their music as some of us did hearing it in the audience. Fopchu though did have jokes for the crowd, some of which were better than the songs they performed.

Soon after, Bengaluru acoustic instrumental three-piece outfit Stuck In November transitioned Ragasthan into a soothing and calming scene. The band didn’t utter a word during their performance and let their art do all the talking which was supremely pleasing.

From the mountainous state of Nagaland to the sand dunes of Rajasthan was probably one of the most anticipated acts of day three, the folk-pop group Tetseo Sisters. It’s amazing how their perfect harmonies and synchronization also integrated blues progressions, singing about love and life with an infectious amount of happiness.

Serbian jazz fusion band Naked before their performance at Ragasthan. Photo: Feliks Voloz

Over at the Morio stage was Mumbai rock-rap group Marshall & the Mischief who performed a mix bag of originals and covers that included Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be” and Coldplay’s “Magic.” Frontman Yohan Marshall’s vocals and rapping expertise were tasty and drummer Azamaan Hoyvoy’s syncopation and vocal harmonies just added to the mix. Stand-in bassist Ruell Barretto (from reggae/hip-hop act Bombay Bassment) packed a punch with his solid tone and even took over vocal duties while the band covered Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” with drummer Suyash Gabriel from New Delhi post-rockers Zokova joining them.

There was more enchanting world music at the festival, courtesy of Serbian band Naked. Drummer Goran Milosevic was a true performer and ruled the roost pushing his bandmates (almost like they were telepathic) to the limit creating a vibrant combo of Balkan jazz and world music. Naked played tracks off their full discography including their most recent record, 2017’s Yes, and ended up receiving a rapturous applause from the audience after their set.

Alt rock outfit Fame The Band

But that’s not to say rock had its fill by then. Alt-rock outfit Fame The Band, originally from Tura, Meghalaya’s sublimely traversed cover territory (Foo Fighters’ magnum opus “My Hero”) and left a mark with their own work of genius “Over And Out.” Zokova submerged us with their instrumental rock expertise and guitarist Ritwik De channeled out some incredible fretwork. Ammara partied on till 6 am the following day with a stand-out electronica performance from Tel Aviv artist Bemet featuring Mumbai sitar player Imran Khan.

For a festival that certainly seemed like a logistical nightmare, the organizers, crew and artists put on an incredible display of professionalism and dedication to the 800-odd people, making Ragasthan 2018 a destination festival worth experiencing. From the beautiful dunes to the majestic camels on site and the stupendous caliber of music on show, one can only hope it doesn’t take too long for the next edition of Ragasthan.

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