It was still dark outside Jaswant Thada, a cenotaph near Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur. As they waited for sunrise, folk artists sitting on the steps of the cenotaph sang Kabir's verses. It isn't usual to attend a music performance at 5.30am, or to walk down dimly-lit paths to Rao Jodha Park to listen to midnight Sufi sessions by Manganiyar artists.
But you did both at the annual Jodhpur RIFF, an international folk festival held at the majestic Mehrangarh fort from October 8 to 12.Following Indian musical tradition, where ragas are associated with seasons and with the time of day, the festival organises performances at different times of the day to suit different melodic modes. This year, over 400 folk artists from Rajasthan and countries as diverse as Scotland, Netherlands, Australia, France and the US participated in the event, which is timed to coincide with the Sharad Purnima harvest festival.
|Jamuna and Mali Devi|
Lost in devotion, the ektara in her hand and Mira Bai's verses on her lips, Jamuna almost looks like a manifestation of the medieval bhakti poet when she sings on stage. Mali Devi, her younger sister, who plays the jhanjh (metal cymbals), accompanies her.
The sisters from Charanwasi village in Churu district were brought up in the family tradition of singing devotional songs and learned from their father. They cannot read or write, but nevertheless know every verse of Kabir, Mira or Tulsidas that has been taught to them. The oral teaching tradition continues with both their sons now performing with them.
A versatile singer from the Dholli community, Jamali Bai's ancestors used to perform in the Rajputana durbars of Bikaner.
A student of the famous Allah Jilai Bai, she has been singing maand lok geet (a local folk singing style) on All India Radio for the last 40 years.
She is well known for her soulful rendition of traditional mystic songs and has a voice that's like Pakistani folk singer Reshma's.
A rockstar of sorts, Bhanwari comes from the Bhopa community, long associated with folk music. In her community, a male singer or Bhopa is complemented by a Bhopi or female artist. So deep rooted is the tradition that Bhanwari, from a small village in Rajasthan's Churu district, reveals that when her husband's family came with the marriage proposal, she wasn't asked about cooking or housekeeping. She was asked to sing. John Singh and Vinod Joshi of JVF, who organise contests across Rajasthan to discover local talent, first heard Bhanwari sing at night.
"It felt like she had stirred our souls," says Joshi. Bhanwari sang traditional devotional songs and performed in jagrans with her husband. In 2004, she performed at the Jaipur Heritage International festival before an audience of hundreds. She performed with Rekha Bhardwaj at Jodhpur RIFF in 2007. She will also be lending her voice to a Bollywood song.
|Sumitra Das Goswami|
Now in her twenties, Sumitra has been singing with and learning from her father since age eight. Most of their early performances were at all-night jagrans in their native Pali district.
When word spread that the JVF was looking for local folk talent, Sumitra, then a teenager, was one of many musicians who came forward. "Her voice was hypnotic," says Joshi.In the last decade, Sumitra has grown from a village bhajan singer to an internationally acclaimed artist. In 2007, Dutch Jazz saxophonist Yuri Honing expressed interest in collaborating with her. They first performed together in the Netherlands and performed at this edition of RIFF too.