Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) has become like one of those desert roses. It always beckons one to return, to savour the maand, to revel in the riffs, and claps of khartals, all of which resonate in the ruins of Rajasthan. Under the light of the year’s fullest, most luminous moon, and inside almost a century-old Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur RIFF will come alive for the next five days.
The burly walls of the sprawling fort, perched 400 metres above the skyline of Jodhpur, will resonate with dholaks, guitar riffs, and all the song and dance that this festival has been known for. It’s now a fixture on the calendar of many Indian music goers who earlier looked deliriously Westward for “better than just ordinary” music acts, and for foreign visitors too, who find the idea of Indian music merging with Western form interesting.
With eight editions under his belt, festival director Divya Bhatia hasn’t been more confident. He says that while it’s relatively easier to curate the festival now, there are different kind of challenges every year. “In the international world music scene, RIFF is now a well-known festival, referred to as a musicians’ festival. But in terms of curating it, finding the right artistes, keeping it exciting, and also thinking of its impact on our Rajasthani artistes, all that remains a challenge,” says Bhatia, whose real work begins after every festival is over.
He travels to a variety of festivals, sometimes presenting Rajasthani musicians. He accompanied folk artiste Sumitra Devi to Germany in May this year when he met a band manager. The result is a visit by Ghana-based reggae artiste Papa Julius to the festival this year, known for his music on racial differences, among other issues.
This year, the festival will open near the city’s clock tower, the idea being to “reach out to everyone”. The opening concert promises to be an aural and visual extravaganza with male dancers, Jumma Khan’s Bhapang party and fire dancers taking centre stage.
As for the festivities inside the fort, the stellar line-up is being led by Grammy-winning bassist and “godfather” of hip-hop, reggae and world music sounds, Yossi Fine. The Israeli artiste will present a solo set and follow it up with a collaboration with Kheta Manganiyar on khartal and Feroze Manganiyar dholak in what, at this stage, sounds like an interesting blend of some Indian folk percussion with an extreme bass groove. The festival includes another Grammy winner, flautist Wouter Kellerman, whose Grammy came with the Indian keyboard player Ricky Kej for the album Winds of Samsara (2015). Kellerman is known to be a master in fusing contemporary and classical sounds.
With a plethora of international artistes looming large, there are 270 Rajasthani folk artistes who will also be a part of the festivity. This year Akla and Dariya Manganiyar, two Manganiyar women with dhols, will perform on the second day. Women in the community are not allowed to sing or play music.
While music will echo in different parts of the Fort, Jaswant Thada, the ornate cremation ground for the royalty, and the ideal point to view Mehrangarh Fort, will come alive at dawn with morning concerts. The sun will rise alongside the tunes of Meghwals of Marwar, a community engaged in tanning of hides. The group will sing bhajans of their local deity. Another dawn performance will have Kellerman collaborate with ghatam maestro Mahesh Vinayakram. The festival will also include interactive sessions with Rajasthani folk artistes apart from special concerts for children.
Bhatia, who has curated and created a festival, which has seen good years and some average ones, has also constantly lived with the murmurs that one of the king’s schoolmates might make an appearance. Two years ago, he did. Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones frontman and Maharaja Gaj Singh’s schoolmate from many years ago and a notoriously private musician, turned up at RIFF and cemented its place in the world music scene. Will he turn up this year? One will have to wait and watch.
As for the pulsating bass lines and familiar riffs, they seem to be in the right place to go off.
The festival will be held between October 23 and 27. For tickets visit jodhpur.org