Festival Report: Indie and Fusion Sparkle at Ranthambhore Music and Wildlife Festival 2019, Rajasthan
The third edition of the festival, now under new management, featured a reliable lineup in a cozy setting
Just a week after the dazed out desert blowout that was Magnetic Fields Festival at the Alsisar Mahal in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, the Nahargarh palace hotel in Ranthambhore played host to the eponymous Corona Ranthambhore Music and Wildlife Festival (RMWF) between December 27th and 29th, near Jaipur.
While Abhimanyu Alsisar is the prince and Rajasthani royalty who has helped launch both festivals, RMWF has been through a few changes in its three year run so far. Cycling through a couple of organizers and curators, the festival’s 2019 edition was produced and promoted by Believe Entertainment, a branch of the Paris-headquartered tech and music services company. In addition to partnering with brands such as Corona, there seemed to be only the slightest bit of importance given to the wildlife part of RMWF, with an art auction, photography session and a couple of documentary screenings.
As far as the experience went, the music and brands like Corona did more than enough to make sure it was sufficient. Amidst cold evenings, the festival’s music programming began at around 5:30 pm at the Corona Hathi Kund mainstage and went on well past midnight over at the Jeep amphitheater. To enhance the festival experience, there was everything from specially crafted drinks to eye and hair makeup booths and stargazing, the latter of which proved to be a nonstarter due to low visibility.
If you were there for the music, however, RMWF did not disappoint at all. Day one featured the country-hopping, folk-fusion wizardry of Kolkata artist Arko Mukhaerjee and his collective. In his primal, powerhouse croon, Mukhaerjee jumped from “The Banana Boat Song” from Jamaica to the apt “Hum Dekhenge” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz as well as American folk standards and qawwalis. Making sure to comment on the current socio-political climate of anti Citizenship Amendment Act protests, Mukhaerjee simply said he didn’t want forces divided by the country and went on to prove just how united we all can remain through music.
Performing to mostly families and couples who were cozied up by mattresses and heating towers, New Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co. (and the subsequent hypnotic, loud and dancefloor-friendly set by the band’s frontman Suryakant Sawhney’s electronica alter ego Lifafa) kept the banter to a total minimum. They instead turned up with an hour-long set, diving into “Where The Money Flows,” “Soulless Friends,” “I’m This,” “Namonia” as well as the all-out jam that was “Love Demons.” If no one had heard of Peter Cat at Ranthambhore before, this introduction would have them hooked, as they would with Lifafa’s breathy, bhajan-like bent into house, chillpop and dance music.
With the mist just settling and flitting off the pool right in front of the Corona Hathi Kund stage, Mumbai hip-hop artist Naezy was tasked with changing the mood once again. He joked about wanting to jump into the pool, but kept his presence to the stage with DJ-producer Karan Kanchan and drummer Hamza Kazi (part of pop artists like Armaan Malik and Jonita Gandhi’s band, but also behind the kit for prog band Coshish). With a live band, Naezy remained at the top of his game, relying on a backing track just for his song’s choruses. From “Aane De” to “Mama Mia” and an unreleased collab with producer Ritviz. Songs like “Rukta Nah” and the one-two punch of “Aafat” and “Aafat Wapas” ensured the crowd were on their feet.
Day one closed with a sweeping, emotive performance from Ditty and her band, which currently comprises guitarist/bassist, keyboardist and vocalist Dhruv Bhola aka Bowls and Peter Cat drummer Karan Singh. Running through her album Poetry Ceylon at the amphitheater stage, anyone who had a spot away from the frigid, near-midnight breeze would be able to appreciate the simplicity and earnestness in Ditty’s poetry and indie stylings.
If day one featured artists of ever-changing moods, the second day felt slightly more reigned in and streamlined in its flow – Pushkar-origin percussionist and global phenom (thanks to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Israeli artist Shye Ben Tzur’s fusion act Rajasthan Express) Nathulal Solanki and his Nagada Ensemble were all out entertainers (with a vocalist dance-balanced glass over an earthen pot on his head). Traversing jazz, fusion and more, Indo-American flautist and singer Rasika Shekar and her band were adding moody rock to the night that ranged from ghazals to opera and even a specially picked version of Rajasthani folk mainstay “Kattey.”
Mame Khan for his part remained the genial host – never mind that he powered his way through his set with a hot drink on stage. From “Bole Toh Mitho Lage” to “Mast Qalandar,” Khan was an uninterrupted, dynamo performer who impressed upon the audience that he was adding his own touch to even the most popular songs like “Kesariya Balam.” With audiences dancing their way around the pool to the front of the stage for a short interaction with Khan, the singer was entirely pleased.
Closing proceedings at RMWF at the amphitheater stage was Mumbai singer-songwriter Sameer Rahat (frontman of rock/prog band Joshish) trying out his Urdu blues setup with a very relevant set of tunes. Assuming the role of bard at times, songs like “Gyaan” and “Kya Lena” had the crowd moving around and plenty of calls for an encore. When Mumbai-based Arunchalese singer-songwriter Taba Chake got on stage for a solo set, his fingers were freezing but his spirit was the exact opposite – warm and affectionate on stage. “Would you like to dance a bit?” Chake asked as he delivered sing-along friendly tunes like “In Waadiyon Mein,” “Aao Chalein,” “Walk With Me,” “Hugulo” off his 2019 album Bombay Dreams plus “A Family Get Together” and “Morning Sun” off his 2016 EP Bond With Nature.
Ranthambhore Music and Wildlife Festival has clearly been an ever-evolving event and with this iteration, they’ve managed to find the right way to program music (there was even a secret set by Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Raghav Meattle), but it clearly remains a getaway festival for families and music fans who can afford being in palatial surroundings. Nothing like knowing your target audience, but the festival can do with more than just encouraging philanthropy towards the wildlife side of things.