When Davy Sicard takes stage at Jodhpur’s majestic Mehrangarh Fort today and joggles the kayamb — a tray-like percussion instrument made from cane reeds — to sing maloya folk, he’s likely to get people dancing to his tunes. “That’s the effect this folk has on people. It’s intense, trance-like, foot-tapping music,” says Sicard, 42. But if Sicard was singing the same tunes a little over three decades ago in his hometown — Reunion Islands — life would be very different. His instruments would be smashed to smithereens and he would be beaten up and put behind bars for singing what was called “the music of the demons”. It is also the music that questions the political and social system and constitutes songs of protest.
Sicard’s throaty vocals and chants form a folk called maloya, music sung by Creole descendents of the Indian, African and Malagasy slaves, who toiled in the sugar plantations of Reunion Island. Back in the day, the music was also played at ceremonies where people used maloya to enter a trance-like state to converse with their ancestors; the ceremony assured social cohesion. But was banned by the Catholic government until 1981.
“They thought it was not comfortable enough; it was political. Also, it had origins in slavery,” says Sicard, who found maloya at 19, much after he’d been influenced by American music. “I decided to merge maloya with guitars and drums and make it true to what I knew best,” says Sicard, who will be the toast of Jodhpur RIFF — Rajasthan International Folk Festival on October 14, and will perform at Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi on Saturday.
Featuring on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this indigenous music and dance will be the finale of the second day of the festival. It’s on till October 17.
Jodhpur RIFF, which completes a decade this year, is curated by festival director Divya Bhatia. It will allow festivalgoers to savour the maand, revel in the guitar riffs, claps of the khartals, and thumps of the dholak — all of which will resonate in the ruins of Rajasthan.
Apart from featuring a slew of Rajasthani musicians, this year will feature classical vocalist Jayateerth Mevundi from Dharwar, who will bring musical traditions of Maharashtra and Karnataka and merge them with his kirana gharana gayaki. While music will echo in different parts of the Fort, Jaswant Thada, the ornate cremation ground for the royalty, will come alive at dawn with morning concerts featuring devotional singing by Bhaga Khan Manganiyar, Meghwals of Mewar — musicians known for tanning hides. Ace Australian percussionist Ben Walsh, who is known to be one of the more innovative drummers in recent times, will orchestrate RIFF Rustle — the festival finale — which will feature a moonlit jam between Rajasthani percussionists, Scottish saxophone player Brian Molley, and members of Brazilian band Bixiga 70.
The festival is till October 17. For passes, contact: jodhpurriff.org