If music is your thing and folk the flavour you revel in, you should be in Jodhpur from tomorrow. To get soaked in the sounds of music. To feel your soul get strum. For tomorrow, on October 21, the ramparts of the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the Sun City, will bristle with musical notes of all hues in a colourful celebration of music. The 2010 chapter of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) will see both local and foreign artistes play to their own beat, weave soulful tunes to soothe the mind and the soul.
Jodhpur RIFF — which has Mick Jagger and Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur as its patrons and UNESCO, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces as its partners — is ranked among the top 25 international music festivals in the world and is running into its fourth year. Like earlier, the spotlight this year will be on the traditional folk music of Rajasthan and the collaborations between Indian and international groups. The five-day festival packs a melodious punch with its cocktail of roots and devotional music concerts and interactive folk sessions.
A joint initiative of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, the festival is scheduled to open with a traditional maand (folk music which was sung in the royal courts of Rajasthan) performance by Ali Mohammed (Shekawati), Pt. Chirenji Lal (Jaipur) and Banarasi ji (Jodhpur).
The magnificent fort will then reverberate with the sounds of traditional abhangs and thumri rendered by Hindustani classical maestro Dr Ashwini Raja Bhide-Deshpande who belongs to the khayal-based stylised singing gharana of Jaipur-Atrauli. She will sing traditional abhangs of saint poets, like Namdev.
According to Divya Bhatia, the festival director, RIFF’s beauty lies in the fact that it strikes a balance between its texture and its flavour. While its texture remains traditional and Rajasthani, its flavour (and resonance) is “truly contemporary and global”.
We meet when Bhatia is in New Delhi for media interaction. The festival director, in his prolific and protracted career as an “arts professional”, has juggled between many fields. His resume runs into five pages, enlisting his works in theatre, films and arts. With 10 years experience in online design and branding, he also freelances as a consulting Web specialist. Reacting to my hyperbolic observation (“Your CV reads like a novella”), he laughs: “I’m usually not in the habit of sending out my CV.” Bhatia doesn’t need to. For the festival programmer, artistic consultant and producer is a venerable figure in the art and culture circuit in India and abroad.
The texture of the festival this year, he says, will be a combination of two factors: spiritual and percussive. “We are hoping to mix the devotional element with the tribal element. The texture depends a lot on the belief or the idea that in traditional cultures, the separation of spirituality from daily life is almost non-existent. Spirituality is part and parcel of the daily life,” he says.
The festival will string together a rhapsody of different, little-heard instruments — from iktaara by the maand singers and bauls to rudra veena played by Bahauddin Dagar.
Bhatia says that the tradition of haveli sangeet (the temple music practised in Nathdwara in Rajasthan) has not just got to do with music. “There is an element of musicality which has got to do with a larger connection of life,” he says. From the opening performance to the concluding one, which will see another musician from haveli sangeet perform, the entire spectrum is devotional.
Add to that the spell-binding, stirring performances by Pakistan’s Sufi rock band Mekaal Hasan and the genre-breaking sensations, Sona Mohapatra and Susheela Raman, and you have the promise of a soul-uplifting affair.
Talking about the lineup, Bhatia sounds upbeat. Each of the artiste in the festival complements its texture, its flavour. What Mohapatra, for instance, does is called desi soul. But most people don’t know where to locate her because she does “her own thing”. She has earlier collaborated with Aussie rock band INXS, pop legend David Bowie and Kailash Kher. “She has something which is so organic in contemporary sangeet. What is that something? We can’t quite put a finger on it,” says Bhatia.
Mohapatra, who sings Bulle Shah and Meera Bai, will perform at RIFF with three folk artists: Bhavanri Devi, Roshni and Suraiya, the bhopa-bhopi, lok geet and maand singers respectively. Her solo performance will see Mohapatra play along with her composer-producer-musician husband Ram Sampath.
The lineup, which will strum along magic and mysticism, also includes DJ Maga Bo from Brazil, the 16-member Warszawianka folk dance ensemble from Poland, Zawose Family from Tanzania and flamenco gypsy-jazz guitarist Augustin Carbonell “El Bola”. The sheer virtuosity and range of these performers will take those present on an electrifying trip.
Maga Bo’s claim, says Bhatia, is: “My laptop is my folk instrument.” His roots music have enchanted many. And at RIFF this enchantment is only set to find more takers.
If you have listened to percussion king Pete Lockett perform, you will find it hard to give RIFF a miss as Lockett will rustle up some magic with Rajasthani artistes and Latin harpist Diego Laverde.
All these acts may have music at their core, but you can’t separate spirituality from the performance. The texture is music. The focus is the celebration of music. But the kind of sense or feel you will get at RIFF will have to do with the richness of music which has a larger-than-life connection.
Bhatia says that the festival goes beyond the usual, “standard Sufi thing” which you witness at regular concerts. “That is being done a great deal. But the bhawna (emotion) is missing somewhere. Also, we wanted to avoid a Sufi label,” he says.
The festival may be a coalition of many performances under one roof, but what you will get to see and feel will be a “non-performative element” that lies at the root of the certain tradition that these musical forms come from.
For most practitioners of these folk forms, what they do is not just performance. And, Bhatia says, he didn’t want to present them as mere performances. “The urban audience sees it as performance. But it’s actually devotion-cum-music. You can’t take music out from the devotional element,” he says.
In a city like Mumbai (where Bhatia comes from), while an individual may have faith or belief, but unless you know where to look, it is quite “soulless” in the city. The texture of RIFF is such that people come out with a “feeling of soul”. And while they are there, they experience such a thing as soul.