It’s a little surreal to hear a haunting Celtic song in the zenana courtyard of a 17th century fort in Rajasthan. It’s Sharad Poornima, the brightest full moon of the year, and everything looks like quicksilver in the soft moonlight. Jingling mandolins, tinkling banjos and the free-flowing fiddle of Angus Grant of the Scottish band Shooglenifty already had the audience at Jodhpur RIFF bobbing their heads. And, then their vocalist Kaela Rowan joined in and took the heady intensity of the set to another level. The mood quickly shifted from mesmerized to peppy once the be-turbaned Rajasthani dhol players joined them on stage.
Last weekend, I attended Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) for the second time. And, it was just as magical as I remembered it. RIFF, for me, is a heady mix of rustic Rajasthani sounds, discovering little known gems of global rhythms and the collaborations between them. And, the backdrop to all of this magical music is the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. Perched high above the skyline of Jodhpur, the burly walls of the fort resonate with sounds from around the world.
Through the five days of the fest, there are shows not just at the Fort but also Jaswant Thada (the ornate mausoleum for Marwar royals comes alive with dawn concerts), the Clock Tower (the opening ceremony was held here bang in the middle of the walled city) and Rao Jodha Park (hosts the Desert Lounge that starts at midnight).
This year I was determined to attend at least one dawn concert and I am so glad I did. Imagine sitting on a platform overlooking the blue city, with the fort on the right and the wintery sun rising on the horizon. And, unreeling in front of you is a free-flowing collaboration between some of the best musicians in the world. The experience it is totally worth missing a little sleep over.
What I love about RIFF is that both years I have walked away with memories of some amazing music. From 2013, the one musician I remember the most was Maya Kamaty, from the Reunion Islands, who mixed African and Creole rhythms with a touch of blues. Shooglenifty, who I had also heard the last time was back this year, and was one of the standout acts yet again. The other performance I loved was the collaboration between Grammy-winning flautist Wouter Kellerman, Carnatic vocalist Mahesh Vinayakram and Dilshad Khan on the Sarangi.
The moonlight, the music and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort all add up to an unparalleled experience at Jodhpur RIFF.