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Sufi Comes Alive at World Sacred Spirit Festival, Jodhpur

The 13th edition of the global festival was held across four days, featuring as many as 80 musicians from seven countries

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Anurag Tagat Mar 09, 2020

Oman group Areej Ensemble live at World Sacred Spirit Festival 2020 in Jodhpur. Photo: Courtesy of World Sacred Spirit Festival

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At the recently held World Sacred Spirit Festival at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the multicultural, transnational footprint of Sufi music and poetry was showcased across four days (February 13th to 16th). Whether it was Senegalese artist Sheikh Papa Djimbira Sow or Tibetan powerhouse vocalist Loten Namling, the four-day festival delved into traditional music in a setting like few other festivals, even within Rajasthan.

In this show of unifying art that’s traversed geographical boundaries, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust also curated Rajasthani artists under the moonlit night at the Rao Jodha park on day one. Veteran voices such as Kachra Khan, Dara Khan and more were coming together across Langa and Manganiyar communities. Omani group Areej Ensemble, who would also perform on day two at the Zenana Deodi Courtyard stage, were dramatic, meditative and exuded pure devotion through the course of both performances at the festival.

Kavita Seth

Sufi veteran singer Kavita Seth live at World Sacred Spirit Festival 2020 in Jodhpur. Photo: Courtesy of World Sacred Spirit Festival

The evening schedule at the courtyard across the two main days – February 14th and 15th – included a rousing performance from singer Kavita Seth (complete with a whirling dervish stepping on and off the stage), who had several in the audience up front and dancing. Taking it as her cue, Seth proceeded to get into Qawwali hits like “Tere Bin Nahi Lagda Dil Mera Dholna” plus her song “Iktara” for Bollywood film Wake Up Sid.

Loten Namling joined Seth for a sneak peek at a new collaboration brewing between them, his own performance on February 15th was sublime and powerful. He shared the evening’s lineup alongside Madan Gopal Singh’s accessible, sometimes humorous but insightful showcase of Sufi music and Iran’s renowned voice Mohammad Motamedi. A collaborator with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Motamedi brought operatic flourish to Persian poetry, supported by a supremely talented combo of percussion and strings.

Madan Gopal Singh

Sufi musician Madan Gopal Singh. Photo: Courtesy of World Sacred Spirit Festival 2020

While Madan Gopal Singh had spent an afternoon session working in John Lenon’s “Imagine” with his Sufi performance, his courtyard performance was called Char Yaar, marking a collaboration with Rajasthani musicians and his band. Invoking Urdu poets such as Murshid Hazrat and also allowing space for a khartal and tabla jugalbandi, marrying Rajasthani folk with poetry from across centuries.

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The late night sessions ran on until about 10:30 or 11 pm to ecstatic energy and the following morning, people gathered in scattered numbers at the Jaswant Thada lake for Kashmiri Sufi artist Farooq Ahmad Ganie and his troupe, singing with a resilience in their voice but also keeping things upbeat and playful in their folk tradition. Later through the morning at the fort’s Chokelao Garden, Danish Hussain Badayuni brought his Uttar Pradesh style, singing about music, love and magic. He returned for a second performance the next day, but the mid-afternoon sessions remained a big draw for the international artists at World Sacred Spirit Festival.

Moroccan singer-poet Walid Ben Selim and Chinese zither artist Jiang Nan. Photo: Courtesy of World Sacred Spirit Festival 2020

South Korea’s Duo Bud were animatedly at their janggu (a percussive instrument) and zither when a squirrel bolted across the stage at the Chokelao Garden, where one could also see langurs. Their music started out dark but went on to evoke strains of pop, classical and jazz hues in its arrangement. At the other garden stage – Jaswant Thada’s Char Bagh which offered a good view of the Blue City – a meditative, almost melancholic evening performance came courtesy of rudraveena artist Bahauddin Dagar and vocalist Pelva Naik. It cast a pensive mood for the audience lounged around on chairs and mattresses, but day three’s sunset performance was a different invocation of sorts. Flautist Rakesh Chaurasia performed a standout yet comparatively short set, showing off windpipe calisthenics and even putting the audience at ease when he introduced compositions. As is the norm, Chaurasia mentioned a beat cycle for one composition in raag Vachaspati but added, “No need to count, just sit back and enjoy.”

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While a Rajasthani and Peruvian collaboration was initially listed on the festival lineup, the closest we came to a cross-cultural showcase was via Moroccan poet-singer Walid Ben Selim and Chinese artist Jiang Nan on a zither called guzheng. British author Jeffrey Archer, a guest at World Sacred Spirit Festival, was most vocal in asking for not one but two encores, which Selim and Nan heartily obliged – the striking collaboration raged and quietly despaired in Selim’s openhearted, modulated croons about love and longing.

Kanishk Seth

Vocalist Devashri Golambre, singer-producer Kanishk Seth and flautist Adwait Kashikar. Photo: Courtesy of World Sacred Spirit Festival 2020

A special showcase the festival included was musicians from the Dhatt community who were aiming to revive their folk tradition, the Langa and Manganiyar child musicians too got a chance to shine through the afternoon sessions, although they were somewhat sparsely attended. By nighttime on the third day, however, about 300 or more were gathered for the all-night party that was helmed by Mumbai composer-producer and vocalist Kanishk Seth and his trio. Supported by vocalist Devashri Golambre and flautist Adwait Kashikar, the trio interpreted songs of poet Amir Khusrow through the lens of deep electronic, also jumping into Seth’s own material such as “Aane Ko Hai Khaab” and “Musafir.” Although it wasn’t a seamless party tailored for dancefloors – considering the trio took breaks between songs – the few hundreds ensured that the trio performed until the wee hours, rounding off the World Sacred Spirit Festival as a celebration of traditional music in different settings – whether you wanted to sit down, lounge about or dance around.

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