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Experiments with music at Jodhpur RIFF

The Rajasthan International Folk Festival will present experiments by 300 artists

A moonrise session at Jaswant Thada from an earlier edition. Courtesy: Jodhpur RIFF
A moonrise session at Jaswant Thada from an earlier edition. Courtesy: Jodhpur RIFF

Dawn at Mehrangarh Fort, which sits majestically atop a hillock in Jodhpur, is said to be magical. And when this moment is accompanied by the strains of a nirguni bhajan by the vocal quartet Sharma Bandhu, it becomes even more so. As memorable, perhaps, are performances by the traditional musician communities of Langa, Manganiyar and Meghwal early in the day.

In its 16th year currently, the Rajasthan International Folk Festival, or Jodhpur RIFF, coming up later this month will present 300 artists from India and abroad. To be held from 26-30 October across the city, at venues such as Jaswant Thada, Veer Durga Das Memorial Park and Chokelao Mahal, it will give audiences a chance to listen to the music of Mahesh Vinayakram, son of the legendary ghatam player and Padma Bhushan awardee T. H. Vinayakram, a.k.a. Vikku Vinayakram, says festival director Divya Bhatia. There’s a special focus on wind instruments, with performances by the Estonian group Kuula Hetke (which, translated into English, means Listen to the Moment).

As always, Jodhpur RIFF will host collaborative projects—Rajasthani folk artists jamming with jazz musicians, and more—but this year, the experiments will bring other performing arts into the fold. For instance, Kathak dance pieces are being set to Rajasthani folk songs and percussion.

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One of the major highlights is a performance by SAZ, a band made up of three ingenious Rajasthani folk musicians, who have rearranged traditional lyrics to contemporary music to reach out to younger audiences. One of the band members, Asin Khan Langa, won the prestigious Aga Khan Music Award last year. SAZ has collaborated with saxophonist Rhys Sebastian on the Cool Desert Project to create a blend of two very different genres.

Then there’s Lisbon-based Miroca Paris, who began his career by playing various instruments, including drums and guitar for Madonna. He will be paying homage to the rich African Cabo Verdean music traditions. Bhatia confirms that artists such as Jasser Haj Youssef, one of the leading violinists of our times, Jeff Lang, Australia’s most accomplished slide guitarist, songwriter and singer, and his music partner and percussionist Greg Sheehan, will, in fact, collaborate with Rajasthani folk artists performing at the festival this year. One performance to look forward to is by Suonno D’Ajere, a music group from Italy that is reviving the Neapolitan vocal tradition, along with the band Ars Nova Napoli.

Bookmark the session where Harpreet Singh, a young independent musician, will be performing the Punjabi poem Khooni Vaisakhi (Bloodied Baisakhi) in a tribute to the victims of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. This poem, a response to the massacre, was written by Nanak Singh, a 22-year-old at the time, who survived while pretending to be dead under a heap of bodies. Published in the early 1920s, the poem was banned by the British. Six decades later, accidentally discovered by his grandson Navdeep Suri, it was translated into English and reached out to the world.

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Perhaps therein lies the significance of Jodhpur RIFF—that it continues to spotlight artists who need both platforms and patrons, while informing audiences of the journeys undertaken so far. “In keeping with the rich legacy of the festival, Jodhpur RIFF will continue to support traditional forms of music and performing arts, nurturing and supporting Rajasthan’s folk communities,” says Bhatia.

Abhilasha Ojha is a Delhi-based art and culture writer.

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