Festival Review: Udaipur World Music Festival 2019
The fourth edition of the three-day event unexpectedly scaled down but made good on its promise of quality global artists
It’s always a bit strange (and mostly a major let-down) arriving at a three-day music festival only to find out it’s now essentially two days. But even then, knowing that seasoned New Delhi event company Seher was in charge of running things, they did manage to keep the momentum going at the fourth edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival (UWMF), held between February 15th and 17th.
Seher, who produce events such as South Asian Bands Festival and the Delhi Jazz Festival in the capital, had assembled 19 of the globe’s most noteworthy artists, including the likes of composer-producer Karsh Kale, rock band The Local Train and Kashmiri singer-songwriter Vibha Saraf, among others. If any first-time attendee was puzzled about the name of the festival before this, it became quickly evident that UWMF wasn’t about world music as a genre, but more about representing music from around the planet.
While day one was toned down from a glimpse into folk, cinematic fusion and pop to a classical tribute by flautist Shashank Subramanyam to those who lost their lives in the recent Pulwama terrorist attack in Kashmir, the venue – sports stadium Gandhi Ground – offered a good visual insight into expectations. UWMF is a free festival, which meant all of Udaipur was invited, the colorful billboards dotting the city of culture and crazy good street food.
The only exception was for its morning session, which hosted Subramanyam once again and enchanting Persian classical from Iran’s Delgocha Ensemble on day two and on day three, somewhat avant-garde flamenco from Spain’s Rocio Marquez Duet and devotional songs from Manjusha Patil-Kulkarni. Held with a view by Lake Pichola, at the Amet Haveli hotel, the morning stage was a good mood-setter for each day, after which you could take an extended break and return at 3 pm, walking down the single road that runs along Fateh Sagar Pal, an artificial lake that looks a bit like a dam.
Somewhere halfway down from the walk at Fateh Sagar Pal, there’s music, chairs and a burst of the color blue. The afternoon stage was understandably a bit sunny and you’d have to dodge around to find a shaded area (or toast a bit in the sun), but the music remained pristine. Rescheduled from day one, Yemeni-Israeli band Gulaza were gentle and jazz-informed, narrating stories of women from the region over a sweeping contemporary sound that included drums, guitar, cello, banjo and more percussion.
As far as collaborations went at UWMF, there was only one – that of Swiss jazz pianist Yves Theiler and his trio inviting Chennai-based kanjira artist Shree Sundarkumar. While there were a few sound problems that discomforted the musicians, they ensured lively jazz tunes, accompanied by percussive complexity.
The evening’s program finally gave Gandhi Ground some much needed energy, courtesy of Aizawl’s much-celebrated indie rockers Avora Records. They didn’t waste much time pepping the crowd, but it was all for the taking for Portuguese rockers Albaluna. With a hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, a traditional Turkish stringed instrument called baglama and thumping percussion, Albaluna came across more as metalheads using traditional instruments than anything else, swinging and headbanging to prog-incorporating rhythms, including their latest single “Gargull.”
There were truly no dearth of intriguing, unheard of instruments demanding attention at UWMF, from Indonesian act Rhythm Rebels’ self-made upright bass of sorts (which completed their eclectic and organic electronic set with a didgeridoo and drums combo) to South African pop-rock band Hot Water’s Afri-CAN guitar, made from old tin cannisters by frontman and founder Donovan Copley.
Hot Water were returning to Udaipur after first performing at the festival in 2017, but this closing set on day two ran on a tad too long, leaving a sour taste, despite the fact that Copley took a break in the set to throw lollipops into the crowd. Sure, it was happy-go-lucky hooky pop rock, but it just got stretched to the point that it wasn’t as engaging to hear.
Day three’s afternoon proceedings followed just the right flow, however, even if it was early in the day. Greek act Udopia eased in listeners with a blend of saxophone, oud, accordion and a drummer who would occasionally break into dexterous moments of rhythm, and Kashmiri singer-songwriter Vibha Saraf balanced her gentle Kashmiri lyrics (drawn from 13th and 14th century poets) over a simple guitar and key accompaniment. She was vocal about the strife and loss of life in Kashmir, but stayed on course to deliver soothing, celebratory music, including her best-known Bollywood hit “Dilbaro,” from 2018 film Raazi.
UWMF only upped the energy levels from thereon, with one of the best performances coming from French-Cuban hip-hop artist La Dame Blanche. Yaite Ramos Rodriguez could throw down mean bars at great speed, but then she brought out flute leads. Keeping stage banter to a minimum – possibly because she didn’t speak much English – La Dame Blanche had equally formidable instrumentalists, including drummer (and clarinet player) Pierre Mangeard and guitarist-DJ Marc Damblé. La Dame Blanche clearly juggle the best of many worlds – reggae, hip-hop, rock, funk, Latin and more – and their set was perfect for that.
Barring a crowd-pleasing covers set by Manipur rockers Traffic Jam, the festival closed with the smoldering rhythmic energy of the Natig Rhythm Group from Azerbaijan – who showed us India and Azerbaijan had more in common than most know – and arena rock masters The Local Train. Running through everything from “Gustaakh” to “Khudi” and older songs like “Aaoge Tum Kabhi” – perhaps fully aware of the crowd getting a bit out of hand with puzzling chants of “Pakistan Murdabad” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” – UWMF thankfully ended, avoiding any incidents.
Despite a half-day shutdown in the city and local groups protesting any public programs in a supposed period of mourning, Udaipur World Music Festival thankfully changed the mood around for many residents and tourists alike.