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Desert Songsters

The Mehrangarh Fort loomed large over the blue city of Jodhpur.

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
October 18, 2011 3:39:24 am

The Mehrangarh Fort loomed large over the blue city of Jodhpur. Inside the mammoth and wrinkled walls were a congregation of artistes who presented some stellar performances at the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival),making this edition one of the most well-received.

Living Legends

Glittering rainbows made their way inside,as the kaleidoscopic mirrors at Mehrangarh Fort’s Moti Mahal reflected the orange light of the sun on Friday evening. Bathed in its multi-hued patterns,61-year-old Kader Khan Langa of Marwar began his performance with the weeping strains of Sindhi sarangi. This was followed by Shrawan Gegawat’s mashak recital. An Indian version of the Scottish bagpipes,Gegawat,considered the only player of the instrument in India,had everybody swaying. Only the kilts were missing. “My dhoti is just as comfortable,” he joked. The two folk artistes had performed at the Edinburgh Music Festival earlier this year.

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A multi-ethnic band — Rupa and the April Fishes — from San Francisco presented the best performance at the festival this year. They were the toast of the festival,technique-wise as well as music-wise. Rupa Marya,lead singer of the band,displayed her vast repertoire as she sang everything,from a French song,titled Les Abilles,to an interesting rendition of a song called Elephant. As Marya combined the lyricism of Latin American music with the rhythms of cumbia,the dramatic cabaret,it led to one massive street party. The electrical atmosphere even had the patron of the festival,Maharaja Gaj Singh,shaking a leg.

Strings and Song

A couple of performances in the Zenana courtyard were equally flamboyant. One of the more interesting ones was by Band of Brothers. Comprising two pairs of brothers — Slava and Leonard Grigoryan from Kazakhstan and Joseph and James Tawadros from Egypt — this Australian band presented excellent guitar riffs,paired with oud melodies and the beats of an Egyptian percussion instrument called rick. The star of the day was Davy Sicard from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. His performance,in Maloya and French,accompanied by traditional percussion from the island,had a mesmeric effect. “I flirt with music and it throws back amazing surprises,” said Sicard.

Poetic Moves

When the complexity of Jaipur gharana’s kathak,with its powerful footwork in rare taals and multiple spins,combines with the folk music of the desert,the result is some interesting pieces of music and dance. Titled “Sampravahi”,the performance on the final day had Anurag Verma dancing to songs from shringar rasa from the Manganiyar’s community. A rare combination of folk and classical,a petite Verma,with thousands of ghungroos matching the beats of the tabla,was in step with kathak’s universal appeal.

Dawn Devotions

One of the most talked-about and wonderful sections in the festival were the morning sessions at Jaswant Thada — the royal burial ground overlooking the fort.

Despite the late nights,the early morning concerts were jam-packed. As the profound rhythms by Pandit Pravin Arya on pakhawaj and Ustad Moinuddin Khan on sarangi made their way,the sun was rising in the horizon. While the lilting strains of Raga Lalit by Arya and Khan coloured the morning with calmness,Ani Choying Drolma’s Sanskrit and Tibetian chants brought serenity.

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