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#TravelingBandJournal: Folk Trippin' Tales

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Playing at RIFF Jodhpur, birthday celebrations galore, 'Sur Mera' unplugged and jammin' with folk artistes

Getting to share a stage with legendary artistes like Ustad Sultan Khan on the one hand and the true upholders of the musical traditions of Rajasthan on the other was nothing short of a dream come true for Swarathma. The Rajasthan International Folk Festival opened our eyes and ears to a world we knew existed but had heard of only through accounts of others who had traveled there, and had brought back rich nuggets that spoke in whispers of a land where music was more than a way of life, it was life itself.

Jodhpur hosts RIFF each year, put together by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation among other organizations that have had the brilliance of vision to bring together contemporary, classical and folk musicians on one amazing platform, in a setting that cannot be rivaled. A 500 year old fort, bathed in moonlight! With 2 stages and numerous other performance and showcase areas, the fort and its surroundings transform into a different world!

Swarathma had a total blast. Jishnu could join the festivities well after they’d begun owing to a family commitment, and Pavan couldn’t make it on the tour owing to poor health, but the rest of the boys more than made up for all that.

So the pool was thoroughly lounged about beside, Montry’s birthday was celebrated in style (the bakery at Jodhpur had a tough time spelling ‘Send it ra’ and ‘Montry’), and two days were spent doing absolutely nothing at the Samand Lake Palace about 60km outside Jodhpur city. The Samand Lake Palace swimming pool: electric blue water overlooking a stark desert, that meets fading shades of blue sky. Now this is a brilliant hotel that once was a hunting lodge; wonderful people for whom we played unplugged, much to their bemusement, not having hosted a bunch of total freaks such as ourselves.

This is a bit of a rare video, what with shorts and tracksuits being the costumes instead of dhotis and jodhpurs. Also, the sudden jerk and squawk you hear at 3:12 is videographer/manager Nikhil Raj colliding with a chair he thought was made of air. It also features a squatting audience of the staff members who politely inquired as to what we did for a living. We made some friends by the time we left. And we hope to return.

Much of this cake, meant for Montry's birthday, ended up on his face.

Which would explain the glow on his face afterwards.

Folkin' Hell: Jam Sessions from The Other World

And now, ladies and gents, the real reason we went to the Rajasthan International Folk Festival. For the rare opportunity to jam with folk artistes, to feel, even if for an instant, music created with no motive known to so-called civilized men. Music created by instinct.

We spent the better part of our three-day stay at Jodhpur either soaking in the terrific ambiance or worrying about our show. The fact that our hotel was 60km from the venue didn’t help either, it was a long drive into town! And so it wasn’t until the last day that we had time to ourselves.

We’d met Rais Khan when he performed with Dharohar before our performance. His powerhouse performance blew us away and we pretty much stalked him thereafter. The moment we got a chance we whisked him away from the performance area to a dark (and relatively quiet) area of the fort. We jammed. And how!

This free flowing jam lasted about half an hour, weaving in and out of folk-patterns, djembe rhythms, kanjira expressions and vocal histrionics. We did the whole gamut of folk: Nimbuda (Rajasthan), Shadher Lau (Bengal), Theyyam (Kerala) and Carnaticalaaps. Suffice it to say that we had a complete blast.

Thanks to Ashima Yadava for the video. You can check out her photography here.

P.S. Apologies for the poor video quality, lighting was bad. We hope it doesn’t show us in bad light. 😉 The grooving, dancing, swaying silhouette is a Texan fan of ours who we met at the gig. He had the most fun!

Text & Pictures: Jishnu Dasgupta

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