Often overshadowed by more conventional tourist hubs of Rajasthan – Jaipur, Udaipur, Bikaner, the end of the year however tourists make a beeline for Jodhpur. For its RIFF time, the pioneering roots (‘folk’, in general parlance) music festival, now in its 16th year.
Jodhpur RIFF, India’s beloved roots music festival, is back again this year with a stellar line-up that brings to you a veritable buffet of glorious musical traditions from around the world. From October 27 to 30, Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort will host over 300 celebrated performers, showcasing the best of Indian and global roots music, dance, and collaborations between amazing artists. This year will not just see performers from various parts of the country, there will also be performers from distant parts of the planet, including France, Australia, Cabo Verde, Italy, Estonia.
After a couple of years of Covid induced gap, the festival made a return last year, with learnings from the downtime. “While we couldn’t do the festival for three years, we were able to support artists by raising money – about £40,000 and were able to support about 2,500 individuals – some for a few months, some for a little more” says Festival Director Divya Bhatia. “What it brought home to us was how critical it was that the three pillars on which we have done the festival – getting them recognition, facilitating respect for what they are and what they do and then eventually some livelihood. That came home very strongly. Some of the artists began to think of other professions – whatever they could get. We realised we had to become more relevant. Festivals have emerged – some better than others. What we are going to grow into is important.”
Among the changes that the festival brought in the last edition are sections called Indie Roots, an afternoon slot and a dance choreographer to work with traditional arts. “The idea was to explore what ‘indie’ means in our context and the other was to bring in other art forms where music plays a critical role,” says Bhatia.
“This year, we have grown the offering. We have a dance evening where we have a Kathak dancer working with folk musicians, and we have an independent contemporary dancer taking a traditional story – Narsimha – from a Mohiniattam tradition and adding a very contemporary musical component to it.” There will also be a session called Khooni Vaisakhi by Harpreet, known for his musical renditions of humanist and politically charged poetry.
For the dawn concert, the number of artists has grown – and the list of the artists is quite a mix. And for those who have loved dancing away the night under the starlit desert skies, the club component has also grown, with the offering growing to a collaboration, a band and a DJ, reveals Bhatia.
The audience, in the pre Covid era, comprised about 70 % domestic audience and the rest coming in from all parts of the world. “Last year we were apprehensive that we were not going to touch those numbers for international visitors,” muses Bhatia. “But the festival did. A thing that naturally emerged is that for this edition, we have a lot of collaborations with Indian artists. This is part of the growth of the landscape and ecosystem, where all people want to collaborate, including Indians, which was not the case ten years ago. We will see more Indian artists, but we also see as many international artists as we have seen earlier. I think we have a more mature programme.”
Bhatia feels that the experience of the lockdown and Jodhpur RIFF being one of the festivals that has been able to return, there is a greater interest in the festival. “There is more acknowledgement internationally than we had. Whether that will translate into a more international audience, time will tell.”
15, and going strong
15 years for a festival is a significant time, and Bhatia takes time out to dwell on its legacy. “In these years, the national and international landscape for the folk artist has changed and we have been instrumental in facilitating some of that change. We were amongst the first, not just as a music festival, just as an international music festival, but also the only festival that really put its eggs into this basket in a town which nobody had on their radar including tourism, who only saw it as a half day destination. 15 years later, many more of these Rajasthani folk artists are invited to festivals all over. The landscape has changed. Now these artists are in demand all over.”
Bhatia also points out that there is greater hope that many of these folk artists will continue the lineage of traditional music, whose demise seemed imminent a few years ago. “There’s hope. People like Mamme (Khan) Kutle (Khan) have become visible. It has given younger musicians hope, a sense of purpose.” As audiences gather once again in Jodhpur, that is a legacy any cultural institution, especially a festival can rightly take a bow for.
RIFF 2023 – performances to look out for:
SAZ, which came together through Jodhpur RIFF, is a band comprising a trio of ingenious young Rajasthani folk musicians who have rearranged traditional Rajasthani lyrics to relatively more contemporary music.
- A special focus on Rajasthan’s percussion instruments — the dholak, bhapang and khartal
- The popular Dawn Concerts will feature vocal quartet Sharma Bandhu, renowned Carnatic vocalist Mahesh Vinayakram. One dawn concert will be dedicated to wind instruments with the young Idu khan Langa on the algoza followed by the Estonian group Kuula Hetke on their magical flutes.
- Cabo Verdean Miroca Paris will bring his driving, playful music which offers a fresh take on the rich heritage of the island nation’s music traditions.
- Neapolitan trio of musicians Suonno D’Ajere. From different backgrounds, they have collaborated to restore the dignity and depth of the Neapolitan vocal tradition.
- Italian roots project Ars Nova Napoli will perform from their varied repertoire — from the Pizziche Pugliese to Sicilian serenades, from the Neapolitan classics to the Calabrian tarantellas.
- ‘The Cool Desert Project’, a collaboration between the Rajasthani folk trio SAZ and Rhys Sebastian, India’s leading saxophonist.Expect a whole lot of bluesy riffs, desert vibes and off-beat dance grooves.
- Jasser Haj Youssef, a master musician of the Aga Khan Music Program, will perform a solo set on his chosen violins.
Jeff Lang, Australia’s most accomplished slide guitarist, songwriter and singer will perform with his long-time friend and collaborator, percussionist Greh Sheehan.
- Khartal legend Bundu Khan Langa will share the stage with his sons Zakir and Kasam, and colleague Bhanwaroo.
- Another living legend performer is Bade Ghazi Khan Manganiyar, acknowledged for his mastery of various traditional compositions in Sorath and Khamaiti.
- RIFF will have two dance bootcamps. One with Asha Sapera will teach the famous Rajasthani dance form of ghoomer. Kathak dancer Tarini Tripathi, who has developed a fitness routine involving elements from her Kathak training.
- Late night Club Mehran performances feature Afrobeat and Dancehall outfit Nkumba System and Latin American DJ Chonta aka Alejandra Gomez and ‘Dholworks’ – a new collaboration commissioned by Jodhpur RIFF which brings together the historical battle of the Rajasthani dhol drummers.
- Veer Durga Das Memorial Park (Masuriya pahadi): Bal Mela: Children & Folk Morning
- Mehrangarh Fort (throughout): Fort Festivities
- Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park (Adjacent to Mehrangarh Fort): Desert Lounge – acoustic performances at midnight that go on till the wee hours of the morning
- Jaswant Thada (Near Mehrangarh Fort): Dawn & Moonrise Performances, Opening Night City Concert.
- Chokelao Bagh (Mehrangarh Fort): Moody RIFFS, In Residence, Dance Boot Camps, Indie Afternoon – Main Stage performances; a series of interactive sessions with our custodians of culture; dance learning sessions.
- Near Dhana Bhiyan Chatri (Mehrangarh Fort): Living Legends’ performances.
- Old Zenana Courtyard (Mehrangarh Fort): Strings and Beats Main Stage performances, Insights Main Stage performances, & RIFF Rustle.
- Salim Kot (Mehrangarh Fort): Club Mehran–a late night afterparty.