As Jodhpur RIFF turns 10, it's a case study in how music festivals in India can be sustained
The 10th edition of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) is a study in many ways of how and why music festivals in the country can be sustained. They’re completing a decade next year, and they’ve surely shown no signs of stopping or getting too populated either.
RIFF has its formula down pat, and more importantly, a support system that few music festivals receive in the country. This year’s edition of RIFF, which takes place between 13 October and 17 October, is hosted by two heritage trusts — the Mehrangarh Museum Trust (which has lent the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur as a venue) and Jaipur Virasat Foundation.
When it comes to gathering funds, either there’s a big fat sponsor or a number of sponsors who want their branding pasted in every available space, or the kind who tend to be a sponsor only in name and tend to write questionable cheques. But when you have UNESCSO showing their support ever since the second edition of RIFF, it’s fair to posit that the festival has a long-term plan including the fact they’re a not-for-profit event.
RIFF gets openers' advantage when it comes to festivals in Rajasthan — drawing in an international and nationwide audience for the experience it offers. It’s only after this that the doors to festivals in Rajasthan are fully open, from the eclectic, alternative Magnetic Fields Festival (9-11 December) to the World Sacred Spirit Festival in February.
Sure, at RIFF you might pay up to Rs 12,500 (for a four-day season pass) or Rs 5,000 per day (for the main festival dates of 14-16 October), but the gathering of Rajasthani and pan-Indian folk musicians with world, jazz and fusion artists from across the globe is often too rare to ever experience again, anywhere else.
Even if you haven’t heard of Australian percussionist Ben Walsh, world/gypsy Hungarian troupe Sondorgo or Brazilian Afrobeat collective Bixiga 70, it doesn’t make sense to think RIFF is trying to be as pretentious and snobby as possible.
But the chief patron of the festival, Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar-Jodhpur, said in a statement, “The Rajasthani folk musicians are at the core of Jodhpur RIFF. It is important that they feel a sense of pride and dignity, a sense of home and are able to present what their peers and elders consider authentic. At the same time, they realise that there are opportunities for them as artists in their own right – to create and to collaborate with exemplary musicians from across Rajasthan and around the world. And Jodhpur RIFF gives them both… this is why festivals like Jodhpur RIFF are important.”
At the Living Legends stage, sarangi-vocal veterans Lakha Khan Manganiyar and Kadar Khan Langa will engage in a jugalbandi on 14 October, while the next day includes something undoubtedly spellbinding — shehnai artist Pempa Khan Manganiyar with Sufi poetry and vocals from Sawan Khan Manganiyar.
Since this is a festival with a lot of traditional music, it's safe to say that the best performances could happen even before the sun goes up. The RIFF Dawns, which takes place between 5.30 am to 7.30 am, will host the Meghwal of Marwar singing bhajans on 14 October, Jaisalmer-bred singer Bhaga Khan Manganiyar’s folklore-filled performance on 15 October and the Kannda, Hindi and Urdu vibrancy of Smita Bellur on 16 October.
RIFF even wants to bring in moonrise as effectively as it does sunrise, with Marathi-Kannada vocalist Jaiateerth Mevundi of the Kirana Gharana of Dharwad performing what we modern festival-goers like to call a sundowner set on 16 October. In between, the festival also promotes mingling between both sides of the globe — Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma (who made their RIFF debut in 2014), will match their upbeat energetic skills on the Greek lyra with Ghewar Khan Manganiyar (kamaicha), Jeff Lang (guitar and slide), Masha Natanson (Polish and gypsy vocals) and more, on 15 October.
As far as jams and jugalbandis go, the festival tops itself with an impromptu onstage collaboration to unofficially bring RIFF to a close (it formally ends on 17 October with another Dawn session), with Ben Walsh collaborating with festival stars for the RIFF Rustle. This includes saxophonist Brian Molley and members of Bixiga 70.
Like other festivals, music might be the main focus, but it’s not the only thing to keep you entertained and enchanted at RIFF. There are tours of the Mehrangarh Fort Museum, film screenings, workshops exploring the history and culture of instruments. RIFF director Divya Bhatia added in a statement, “There are some new aspects to the festival this year, such as storytelling and some workshops. We try and bring in a new cultural or musical element or two, every year. It keeps us on our toes and keeps the festival fresh for the repeat visitors. As we enter our 10th year, we feel confident that we can continue to innovate and experiment, and bring about the best that Rajasthani folk has to offer, along with some of the most exceptional artists of the world.”
We don’t know if international patron and all-round rockstar Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones will be around (considering his band would’ve just finished performing at a festival in California), but if you’d like to know why the RIFF is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, you better make plans for Jodhpur.
Jodhpur RIFF takes place between 13 October and 17 October. More details here.