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Zila Khan: ‘Folk and Indigenous Music is Endangered in India’

The renowned classical vocalist and artistic director of the upcoming Ranthambore Festival discusses the urgent need for preservation of arts

Sunil Sampat Jan 19, 2017
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The acts at Ranthambore Festival will include Mumbai-based singer Zila Khan. Photo: Saadiya Kochar

“Local music is slowly but surely getting eroded from lack of patronage in the changing lifestyle in the country,” says Zila Khan. Photo: Saadiya Kochar

With the decline of various classical Indian art forms over the past few years, the Ranthambore Festival is a concept that seeks to change things around. Scheduled to take place from January 27th ”“ 29th in at the Nahargarh Palace in Rajasthan, the festival will highlight and assist in the conservation of various endangered species and art forms. The event will feature folk, fusion and jazz music as well as dance performances.

The acts on the bill include Mumbai-based vocalist and artistic director of the festival Zila Khan, Ahmedabad-based activist and Indian classical dancer Mallika Sarabhai, Indo-jazz flautist Rajeev Raja, London-based pianist Karl Lutchmayer, and Hindustani classical-folk duo Maati Baani apart from local Rajasthani folk artists.

In this exclusive interview with ROLLING STONE India, Khan discusses some of the core concepts on which make up the foundation of the Ranthambore Festival.


Tell us about why are you holding this festival, and why in Ranthambore?

The core reason for holding this festival is to not just spotlight but to directly aid and assist conservation. Apart from wildlife conservation, we have felt the need to help folk and indigenous musicians in India. Their art form is slowly but surely getting eroded from lack of patronage in the changing lifestyle in the country. Our festival is featuring 35 different artists, highlighting their talent and, hopefully getting them noticed and recognized in India and internationally to get them going once again.

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The reason we chose Ranthambore over Agra and Goa [the other two possible locales considered] is because Agra has other tourist distractions and Goa has several music festivals in any case. When tourists come to this beautiful place, we will have a committed audience, several of whom may be tourists from abroad; this is a natural destination for tourists from everywhere.

Who are the principal organizers for this festival and how did you get together?

Ashutosh Pande, who is passionate about wildlife preservation and runs his own NGO, myself, involved with my NGO called Ustadgah [which works for the assistance and upliftment of musicians], as well as two brothers, Abhimanyu and Dhruv Alsisar all had similar ideas. We got together and decided to raise both money and awareness for the cause of conservation. We also involved Jaideep Singh for ensuring smooth sailing of our project. This is our first attempt and we certainly hope to make this a regular festival.

Why have you singled out folk and indigenous music for your cause of conservation?
Good Question. You will easily understand that this is the music of the earth, the music from the roots of our country. I can see that these basic art forms are truly endangered. We are attempting to throw a lifeline to this art form of India. We expect, through festivals like ours, to spread the awareness of the need to support our music and the artists who create it.

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What about the artists chosen to perform here?

Well, Mallika Sarabhai is a great artist who needs no introduction and who believes in the cause we are promoting. Similarly, other musicians, including international artists like Lutchmayer and Fabrizzio are travelling all the way to Ranthambore to also support our cause. Rajeev Raja from Mumbai is a fine musician who, along with his band is pitching his talents to help us. And, of course, Zila Khan will be singing too! All in all, we have a group of musicians who are dedicated not just to their artistry but also to the overall purpose of this grand three-day festival. Please wish us luck!

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