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8 Best Moments from Jodhpur RIFF 2019

The Rajasthani and global folk music festival’s 12th edition brought together spontaneous collaborations as well as long-awaited ones

Anurag Tagat Oct 22, 2019

Ghatam exponent Vikku Vinayakram at Jodhpur RIFF. Photo: Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

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Between staying up for late the RIFF Desert Lounge sessions and then catching the sunrise at the RIFF Dawn performances at the gigantic Mehrangarh Fort area, the 12th edition of Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) stayed true to providing exceptional music. Here’s what caught our attention across the three days we attended of the five-day festival held between October 10th and October 14th.

Bringing a Historical Monument Alive

The 15th Century structure of the Mehrangarh Fort and its surrounding monuments such as the Jaswant Thada played host to all the performances at RIFF. While there’s plenty of history to be explored, RIFF brings a new, current-day relevance to the fort. After all, at which other fort in India are you likely to see Mewati folk songs as well as Armenian-Swiss folk-jazz?

Adjusting the Ratio

At a time when music festivals are encouraged to curate more women artists, RIFF’s lineup reflected that even though they’re a lot more genre-bound than others. In addition to their festival’s closing jam called the RIFF Rustle being led by Cuban drummer Yissy Garcia, there was also a showcase performance Womanly Voices, which brought together Rajasthani folk voices such as Sumitra Devi, Mohini Devi and mother-daughter duo Ganga and Sunder. Other stand-out performances included Israeli artist Nani aka Noam Vazana, Polish artist Karolina Cicha and her all-woman trio, plus folk-jazz act Authentic Light Orchestra’s Veronika Stalder.

Rajasthani vocalist Sumitra Devi (in yellow, center) at Jodhpur RIFF 2019. Photo: Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

The Legend and His Kin

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The only Carnatic music performance at RIFF was courtesy of one of the titans of the form, ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram. The member of jazz-fusion band Shakti was joined by his son Mahesh Vinayakram (a master at hand pan, morsing and konnakol) as well as his three grandchildren – kanjira artist Swaminathan Selvaganesh and Mahesh’s kids Gurupriya and Guruprasad. It was all in the family for the showcase called Parampara, which was percussive and rhythmic expression at its best.

Rise and Shine

Those familiar with Indian classical music know of its association with times of the day, but at the RIFF Dawn sessions, there was a lot more on offer. While Rajasthani folk artists like Baghe Khan Manganiyar and Gemra Ram opened the RIFF Dawns on October 12th, and then we caught a surreal performance by the Authentic Light Orchestra, U.K. multi-instrumentalist and zither artist Andrew Cronshaw and Mahesh Vinayakram on October 13th. The festival closed with Punjabi folk artist Bir Singh’s powerful performance at RIFF Dawns on October 14th.

Dusk and the Moon

By catching the RIFF Dawns and evening sessions at the Chokelao Bagh at the fort, it was evident that every performance was programmed intentionally for a specific time of the day. Gwalior gharana vocalist Pushkar Lele created some other kind of energy at the Moonrise session on October 13th, singing “Chanda Ji Aa Hi Gaye” in his distinctive lilt. On the day of the full moon, a few minutes later, the moon did appear and escaped cloud cover, much to everyone’s delight at Jaswant Thada.

Los Angeles DJ-producer Jose Marquez brings the beats to Club Mehran at Jodhpur RIFF 2019.

The Spindoctor

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Even electronic music has a place at Jodhpur RIFF, as we witnessed at the Club Mehran set on October 12th by Los Angeles-based DJ-producer Jose Marquez. At the decks and moving from Latin to Afrobeat to even Indian-inflected bass music, this was a loud and energetic party for perhaps the newer audiences at RIFF.

The Man from Mali

Seasoned kora player Ballake Sissoko performed a laidback, meditative set at RIFF on October 12th, as part of the Strings and Beats mainstage curation. The huge Old Zenana Courtyard at Mehrangarh didn’t have all the seats full, but every ear was silent and transfixed on this one upright stringed instrument performed by Sissoko. The performance took on a new life with a lively, impromptu collaboration with Rajasthani folk artists.

Kora player and composer Ballake Sissoko at Jodhpur RIFF 2019.

Collaborations Galore

On day one of the official festival proceedings at Mehrangarh itself, we heard the Irish and Rajasthani collaboration called Citadels of the Sun at Chokelao Bagh. It had been in the works for nearly nine months. Featuring fiddle player Sarah E Cullen, bouzouki artist Martin Coyle and Paul Cutliffe on uilleann pipes, they were joined by rising star and sarangi artist Asin Khan Langa and Sawai Khan Manganiyar on dholak, morchang, bhapang, khartal and vocals. Although they stretched on a bit beyond their five pieces/movements to jam a bit meanderingly, the main focus of telling stories perhaps encapsulated the Jodhpur RIFF experience best.

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