Where Rajasthan Meets the World
Jodhpur RIFF, one of the best destination music fests of India, is taking off again
Imagine yourself on a platform overlooking the ”˜blue city’ of Jodhpur. A wintery sun is rising on the horizon and the contours of Umaid Bhavan, one of the largest art deco palaces in the world, is getting sharper. To your right is the Mehrangarh fort, rising like an enormous boat in the desert. At your back is Jaswant Thada, the serene mausoleums of the Marwar royals. And unreeling in front of you are songs sung by the Meghwals of western Rajasthan, a tribe of weavers known for their devotional repertoire.
It is an enduring image that gets repeated on the first dawn of the four-day RIFF [formerly called Rajasthan International Folk Festival.] This year, the eighth edition of the music festival is currently taking place in Jodhpur [October 23-27.] It is held around the Sharad purnima, the full moon of the month of Ashwin, and brings together a galaxy of musicians from around Rajasthan, India and various parts of the world.
The dawn concert isn’t even the main course served at the fest. The festival kicks off in the middle of the city, with a short concert near the Clock Tower in the middle of the city of Jodhpur. But then it moves to Mehrangarh fort on the edge of the city, where the various courtyards serve as stages for concerts on the evenings.
Apart from the dawn concert at Jaswant Thada, the only other concert outside the fort walls is the Desert Lounge, an all-acoustic show of Rajasthani traditionals atmidnight ”“ this year on the 25th night ”“ at the Rao Jodha Park, which has been nurtured to life by its ”˜executive gardener’, Pradip Krishen.
You might ask why such a traditionally-rooted festival would count Mick Jagger ”“ yes, the same one the Keef calls ”˜Your majesty’ ”“ as a patron. That has to do with the old friendship between the present titular king of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh, who did his studies in England, and Ye Olde Mick.
The reason festival director Divya Bhatia ”“ who, along with Vinod Joshi, puts together the line-up every year ”“ has moved away from the long tag of an ”˜international folk festival’ and has preferred the shorter RIFF is that the selection has moved far beyond folk. Over the years, we have heard rock, jazz and soul as much as folk from various parts of the world. This year, RIFF will stage its first reggae act, with Julius Nartey, aka Papa Julius, and his band Zion Nexus, which has musicians from Ghana, Iran, Germany and Bolivia.
For a frenetic 72 hours starting todayÂ evening [October 24th] one will get to hear a variety of acts within the fort walls. Shooglenifty, a Scottish band combining traditional tunes with uppity rhythms, will combine with Chanan, Swaroop, Sattar and Chhote Manganiyar on dhols. Grammy-winning bassist Yossi Fine will play with Kheta Manganiyar on the khartal and Feroze Manganiyar on the dholak. Another Grammy awardee, South African flautist Wouter Kellerman, will be collaborating with Rajasthani musicians, too.
Singer Parveen Sabrina Khan, of French-Rajasthani descent, will be accompanied by Ghewar Khan Manganiyar, an expert of the bowed string instrument, the kamaicha. And apart from various other Manganiyar, Langa and Bhopa performers, there will be Brian Molley’s jazz quartet, Emilia Lajunen and Suvi Oskala from Finland on five-string fiddles, and Delhi’s own ska band, The Ska Vengers.
You might be wondering that with such a smorgasbord of offerings, when do the festival organisers and the full-festival pass-holders get to rest. Well, thatÂ usuallyÂ comes right after the dawn concert every day.
(Amitava Sanyal is a Delhi-based writer who has attended three earlier editions of the Jodhpur RIFF)