Jodhpur RIFF 2022: India’s Custodian Of Roots Music Pushes Envelope Even Further

A terrific beginning at Jodhpur RIFF 2022; festival goers are enthralled by this musical smorgasbord


Jodhpur RIFF, India’s original and best roots music festival held at the Majestic Mehrangarh Fort, began in 2007 with the primary goal of nurturing the immense talent of Rajasthani folk artists. In the middle of its 15th year and 13th edition now, the festival has not only succeeded in creating a wide audience for the rich folk scene of Rajasthan but has gone far beyond its initial mandate by evolving into a space that fosters the unique sounds and collaborations in roots music at large, both within the subcontinent and at the global level.

Made possible by its patrons, chief among them HH Maharaja Gajsingh II of Marwar-Jodhpur, Jodhpur RIFF is an indispensable haven for Rajasthani artists — who, as a consequence of the festival, have not just earned incomes but also a greater reach and wider oeuvre — and music-lovers across India who flock to it each year for a truly enriching musical experience. This year, the festival featured nearly 300 artists spread across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Wales, Mauritius, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, and Ireland. 

At this edition after its two-year hiatus (due to the pandemic), festival-goers arrived with a renewed appreciation for the unique community built around Jodhpur RIFF. On the 6th of October the festival welcomed the next generation with the wholesome energy of the Children’s Folk Morning. Children gathered in the beautiful environs of Veer Durga Das Memorial Park to witness traditional Rajasthani art forms, curated to delight and inspire the curiosity of their nascent minds. The program featured Kathputli, Ghoomer, Kachchi Ghodi, Teraah Tali, a special performance by young Ustads-in-the-making from the Langa community, and the crowd-favourite, Rajasthani Circus, which had the young audience gasping and applauding in awe.  

Jodhpur RIFF’s City Concert, entry free and open to all, kicked off the festival with some of Rajasthan’s most renowned folk artists, along with a glimpse of the wide variety of international acts set to perform on the festival’s main stage (usually lasting four and a half hours, and beginning at 7.15 pm) in the coming days. All the way from Mauritius, the young singer-songwriter Emlyn brought the house down with infectious beats of sega, the music of slaves from the island, binging an immediacy to the sounds of the past, singing about contemporary environmental concerns through traditional instruments like the ravanne and kalimba. The show symbolised a promise of what was to come. 

Festival Director of Jodhpur RIFF, Divya Bhatia said, “This year at Jodhpur RIFF, we have great acts from India as also from Ireland, Wales, Brazil, Mauritius, and many other countries, interacting and collaborating with some of the most talented Rajasthani musicians; these artists, through their music offer us a window into their cultures and histories, but we also get to witness conversations among different cultures through exciting collaborations like the ones we have this year.”

The 7th of October was ushered in by Jodhpur RIFF’s first ‘dawn concert’, comprising the meditative hymns of Meghwal singers against the backdrop of a rising sun over the Jodhpur skyline (befitting, as Jodhpur is known as ‘the sun city’ and Mehrangarh the ‘fortress of the sun’). The concert was held next to the exquisite Jaswant Thada, a glorious cenotaph built in the memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.

The 7th of October also featured an ‘In-Residence’ session in the day; a performance-cum-interaction with experts on the Khasi music tradition of Meghalaya. Dr. Mebanlamphang Lyngdoh, accompanied by a group of Khasi musicians,  engaged with the audience to introduce the fascinating musical instruments and traditions of the Khasi people. 

The evening’s show-stopping Main Stage performances began with an all-female ensemble, representing the best of Rajasthani folk. This comprised Sumitra Devi, Mohini Devi, Ganga-Sunder and Suraiya ji, accomplished folk vocalists who have overcome patriarchal prejudices to carry on the legacy of their ancestors. Next, there was an enchanting guitar set from Brazilian producer and instrumentalist Mauricio Caruso, bringing to India, in his first ever performance in the country, folk tunes from Galicia as well as popular melodies from his homeland, along with his original compositions, haunting and full of energy at the same time. 

Gareth Bonnello, AKA the Gentle Good, captivated the audience with his unique brand of music inspired by Welsh folklore. His set also featured a much-anticipated collaboration between Bonnello and Khasi and Rajasthani artists. Beginning separately, they came together in the finale of the act to create a distinct aural world for the audience to immerse itself in. Emlyn and her voice full of passion and soul, which some had already sampled at the City Concert, was once more a hit. The end of her set brought with it a lovely surprise: Emlyn’s percussionist took to the tabla, as she explained that she and her co-performer have ancestry from India.

Finally, the widely acclaimed and award winning band ARIFA, its members hailing from Bulgaria, Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands and Germany, closed the Mainstage with their layered and magical music, performing on the kaval (a traditional Bulgarian flute), a piano, a cello, and a unique percussion set with components from nearly every continent in the world. Their multicultural set weaved diverse rhythms and styles into a performance that threaded past several different moods as well.

The night came to an end with Jodhpur RIFF’s  ‘Desert Lounge,’ featuring Langa artists from Badnava narrating the stories of the star-crossed lovers Dholu and Maru, and the legend of the hero Durgadas Rathore. It was lively and emotional storytelling, led by legends of the Langa community, Sardar ji, Kadar ji, and Askar ji Langa, accompanied by the sindhi sarangi and alghoza. 

At the end of the night, as festival goers trudged back through the exquisite Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park placed adjacent to the Mehrangarh Fort, there was a sense of exhausted fulfilment in the air, infused with some giddy excitement at all that is yet to come at Jodhpur RIFF 2022. 

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