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Folk for the soul

The Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival is back in its fifth edition with a sensational line-up. Here's why you should catch a 108 year-old performer sharing stage with world-renowned saxophone players

The cool night breeze carries the strains of a masak as a full moon rises, bathing the fort in silver light. This is not a scene from a folk tale, but an actual experience that could be yours. In its fifth year, the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) is scheduled from October 12 and 16 to coincide with Sharad Poornima, the brightest full moon.



Jodhpur RIFF is an endeavour between His Highness Gaj Singh II, Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur and John Singh, Founder Trustee of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF) and his wife Faith Singh, Founder Patron of JVF. The Maharaja and the Singhs decided to come together to give folk artists a festival to highlight their musicianship.

The Maharaja who is also a trustee of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, suggested the Fort as a venue. Since 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF has been showcasing nearly 150 Rajasthani folk artists every year at the imposing fort.
This year is going to be no different. Festival director Divya Kumar Bhatia says, "We are highlighting some of the folk artistry of the Marwar and Mewar region this year. The Mewar communities play unusual instruments."

Be enthralled by veterans
Seventy five year-old Shakar Khan who plays the kamaycha, a string instrument, has emerged from voluntary retirement this year. Bhatia explains, "He is probably the only living guru of the kamaycha. The knowledge these artistes have has been passed down through generations. We invited Khan to perform with two generations of kamaycha players." Nemi Baba, a 108-year-old algoza player, is also expected.

Khan is one of the artistes performing on the third day of the festival, which Bhatia says presents a substantial offering. Performing at Living Legends (Rs 350) is Kadar Khan Langa on the Sindhi sarangi and vocals. Bhanwari Devi from the Bhopa community (that sings devotional songs of folk deities) is also part of this section. Both have performed at the Edinburgh International Festival under 'The Legendary Music of Rajasthan'.

Beatboxing and the morhcang
Back by popular demand is Dharohar, featuring Jason Singh performing in the section called Club Mehran (Rs 600-Rs 700). Dharohar combines the talents of singer Sumitra, witty poetry by Jumma Khan, beatboxing by Jason Singh and Raies Khan on morchang.

The second day sees a familiar face -- Sufi singer Kavita Seth of Ektara (Wake Up Sid) fame. International collaborations of repute are expected. Yuri Honing, one of Holland's most celebrated saxophone players, will be collaborating with Sumitra to produce a blend of Jazz and folk.

More than music
RIFF also showcases dance, puppetry and magic, especially for school kids. This includes Kathak of the Jaipur Gharana collaborating with folk music of the Manganiyars. The festival closes with Dawn Devotions (free entry) by Ani Choying Drolma of Kathmandu. Known as the 'singing nun', she will be chanting and singing spiritual songs. Bhatia says, "All folk music is spiritual at its core, and she embodies this."

Book donor passes at http://jodhpurfolkfestival.org

What else to do
> There is no better way to know the culture than to interact with locals in their environment, and that's where village safaris come in. Jodhpur Village Safari (http://www.jodhpurvillagesafari.com/) and Bishnoi Village Safari (http://www.bishnoivillagesafari.com/) have tours that let you visit weavers' and potters' homes, along with a chance to spot some wild life. Jodhpur Village Safari is priced at Rs 400 per person for half a day and Rs 650 for a full day, while the Bishnoi Village Safari started by locals is priced at Rs 500 for half a day and Rs 750 for a full day.

> Hidden in rocky hills lies Jaswant Thada. The white marble monument was built in 1899 by Sardar Singh in memory of his father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The main memorial is built to resemble a temple. The marble has been polished so that it emits a glow when the sun's rays fall on it. The cenotaph has two more tombs in it.

> Grab a picnic basket and settle down near artificial lakes -- Balsamand Lake, 5 kms from Jodhpur, and Kailana Lake, 8 kms from the city. The latter offers great views of the setting sun and is an ideal spot for bird watching. Swimming here can be dangerous, though.

Music festivals around the country
> The Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan has been staged for the last 135 years, easily making it the oldest Hindustani Classical Music festival in the world. Since 1875, the festival is held on the last weekend of December to pay homage to Baba Harivallabh, a saint and a Hindustani Classical music expert. Held in Jalandar, the festival is free and sees close to 40,000 people watching 20 artists perform. Even Gandhiji visited the sammelan in 1919. http://www.harballabh.org/

> The Dover Lane Music Conference that takes place in the third week of January in Kolkata, showcases not just Hindustani Classical music but Carnatic too. What started as a small musical gathering in the bylanes of Kolkata in 1952 has become a platform for artists like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt. Ravishankar and Ustad Bismillah Khan, to share their art with almost 4,000 people every day. http://doverlanemusicconference.in/

> Ruhaniyat -- The All India Sufi & Mystic Music Festival is held between November and March in different cities like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Chennai. An initiative of Mahesh Babu and Nandini Mahesh of Banyan Tree Events, the festival (it's name means soulfulness) brings to the forefront sufi singers, Bauls (from Bengal) and Kabir Panths. Donor passes are made available at Rhythm House, Mumbai or on http://www.bookmyshow.com/

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