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Festival Review: Ranthambore Festival, Rajasthan

The three-day festival had everything from exquisite classical music, panel discussions, films and more

Sunil Sampat Feb 02, 2017
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Darpana Academy of Performing Arts put up a show that was a melange of different Indian folk dance forms. Photo: Courtesy of Ranthambore Festival

Darpana Academy of Performing Arts put up a show that was a melange of different Indian folk dance forms. Photo: Courtesy of Ranthambore Festival

One was apprehensive and very curious about a large-scale international festival featuring multiple art forms, and if it was ever going to be pulled off in a remote locale in the jungles of Rajasthan. The three-day multi-cultural Ranthambore Festival was held at the Nahargarh Palace in Ranthambore from January 27th-29th. It was organized by the NGO Puqaar, dedicated to conserving indigenous music and wildlife.

It can now be reported that the festival had a huge turnout, and was, in fact, a marvel of organization in face of the logistical hurdles that needed to be addressed. This was the very first edition of the Ranthambore Festival. Subsequent attempts can only get larger and better.

First and foremost, the locale was breathtaking and three stages were used for the various concerts and discussions held. The theme of the festival was ”˜conservation.’ The music chosen was the endangered species of folk music. One of the chief organizers of the festival, Abhimanyu  Alsisar, who also runs the Magnetic Fields Festival in December each year, said he had travelled for several months in Rajasthan to scout for traditional talent to be hosted at the festival. He made a film of the various artists he heard; this film was screened at the festival and several of the artists filmed also performed at Ranthambore. These included groups singing Sindhi and Kutchi Sufi music in the ways of their ancestors. There is no state funding for these art forms which need to be preserved and encouraged.

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Another organizer, the eloquent and outspoken singer Zila Khan, held an interactive workshop at the amphitheater, constructed from start to finish in an incredible 100 days. She emphasized the great tradition of Hindustani classical music. Khan said that is an essential part of our sabhyata, our heritage, having come to us from the Samaveda. “Our culture is endangered by the disappearing knowledge of our classical music; it is very important for us to know the grammar of our music,” said Khan. She added, “This music is a science, it is mathematical and has come to us from the ancient knowledge of Samaveda. It is as important as the discovery of the number zero, which has also come from the same science. Ignore it at your own peril but without it, we might as well be robots. Promote our music just as we promote our yoga.” Khan minced no words and connected fully with the participants. Interestingly, Khan runs an NGO called UstadGah for the upliftment of classical musicians in India who have no patronage. “Save the tiger, but also save classical music,” was Khan’s message.

The headliners all performed at the Hathikund Main Stage, a large open-air stage with a swimming pool in the foreground and seating beyond it. If any criticism is due, it would be that the artists and the stage were separated from the audience, which, in turn, led to reduced involvement of the latter in the proceedings. Future editions of the Ranthambore Festival might need to address this issue.

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On the opening night, concert pianist Karl Lutchmayer, Director, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, London played exquisite pieces from Chopin, Ravel, Listz, Debussey and Bartok. His explanations about the music he played went a long way in  understanding the classical pieces he chose to play. Mallika Sarabhai and Darpana Academy of Performing Arts also performed on the opening night in a brilliant dance recital.

Khan’s concert featured the Rajeev Raja combine; they played a mixture of sufi, ghazal, traditional folk and even John Lennon’s music. Also featured on the set was the fabulous Belgian saxophonist Fabrizzio Cassol. Khan stole the show when she walked among the audience singing the famous ghazal “Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo.”

The outstanding band Maati Baani performed their ”˜music without borders’ set. They had a guest artist, Rajwada from Kutch, who combined well with lead singer Nirali Kartik.

There was a huge thrust of wildlife conservation as well. Films, panel discussions and interactive workshops on the subject were held each day of the festival. In addition, handicrafts, specialty cookouts, drum circles and kalaripayattu performances and displays made for a complete festival experience at Ranthambore.

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