Why the Rajasthan International Folk Festival resonates with performers

The RIFF is a platform to infuse sounds of the desert with international music
Image courtesy: ©Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

Every year when the moon is at its brightest best in the north of India, during Sharad Purnima, the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur comes alive with droves of music lovers. It’s time for the annual, 4-day Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF). More than a decade old, the festival started as a platform for revival of Rajasthani folk music, and a place to infuse sounds of the desert with international music. 2018 was no different. In tune with the spirit of RIFF, musicians from Spain, Portugal, USA, Reunion Islands, Tehran and more came together with Rajasthani folk musicians to create unforgettable sounds. While it was a treat for listeners, we caught up with some of the best musicians to tell us why they loved playing at RIFF.

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Gene Peterson, USA

 

Image courtesy: ©Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

“This is such a humbling setting that one feels like walking around with reverence – speak in hushed tones. But here we are, being told to experiment, amp up the stage and have no restrictions. To me, this is the biggest joy. It’s so new, yet it feels like home,” said award-winning percussionist, Gene Peterson after stepping out of a practice session with Rajasthani troupe and world famous beat boxer, Tom Thum. Gene was the ‘rustler’ of the festival, composing the headlining act of getting multiple musicians from different countries and Rajasthan to come together for the final performance of RIFF.

Sumitra Devi, Rajasthan

Image courtesy: ©Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

Sumitra Devi’s strong alto and distinct gravelly throw journeyed the audience through Mira Bai’s inimitable love for Krishna. The bhajan (devotional) and traditional Rajasthani folk singer has been a regular at RIFF and other international festivals, but she has a special connected with Mehrangarh Fort. “Playing for an audience that understands, or attempts to understand the depths of our music is the best part of playing at this festival. I feel honoured and respected at this venue.”

Jenny from Bush Gothic, Australia

Image courtesy: ©Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

Born out of themes of the gold rush in Australia, gritty crimes and mouldy jails, bush songs offer a different perspective of storytelling from the country. In the voice of Jenny M. Thomas along with her trusted fiddle, double bass and drum, the stories were even more haunting. Mildly lit arches of the Chokelau Garden of the fort added to the moodiness of the tales. For Jenny, performing in front of an Indian audience was “quite unlike how Australian audiences respond. Since the music comes from times of the gold rush and British immigration, there is a strange resonance and understanding in this audience as we have similar backgrounds.”

Ana Pinhal, Portugal

Fado, the oral tradition of music from Portugal travelled to Indian ears through the voice of Ana Pinhal. She had played two concerts in Delhi and then arrived at the ancient fortress of Mehrangarh. She said, “It’s amazing. One romanticizes the fact that so much would have happened in the ancient fort. You wonder if it’s really magical or not. But this truly is. We have many forts in Portugal and I have played in several of them, but this is much bigger with a fantastic view.”

Dapu Khan Merasi, Rajasthan

Image courtesy: ©Jodhpur RIFF/OIJO

Playing in the company of royal surroundings is not new for Dapu Khan. And yet, he calls himself lucky to perform for royalty. The Kamaicha stalwart sung songs of changing seasons, separation and love to a serendipitous drizzle. “I play often in the Jaisalmer fort, and have come here many times. But I feel extremely honoured to play for Baap Ji (HRH Gaj Singh, chief patron of the festival) and be heard in the courtyards of Mehrangarh.”

The inspiring venue and equally mesmerizing performances will be back next year too. Book tickets on www.jodhpurriff.org.

Note: Paraphrased quotes with the permission of the performers.