It's been a while (in India) since you'll have felt the need for a jacket at 3 pm. This was certainly the case one December afternoon at the small but typically Rajasthani town of Mandawa, which welcomes you with its dunes, its narrow but dependable roads and of course, hospitality that feels regal. The second edition of Taalbelia Festival was set up at Castle Mandawa and Desert Resort, with the former being a royal quarters-turned-hotel and the latter a recreation space offering a traditional stay with modern luxuries. It helps when festivals are hosted at resorts, because that saves everyone the trouble of too much travelling. The two venues for the three-day festival were about a 10-minute drive apart, and hosted four stages for artists ranging from modern electronica, hip hop, rock and folk/fusion.
Taalbelia, which hosted its first edition in January 2017, returned within the same year with a lot of the same artists, even. They found trustworthy acts in the likes of Ankur Tewari and the Ghalat Family, Reggae Rajahs, Shadow and Light, Gaurav Raina (Grain) and Sound Avtar, among others. Of course, even as artists may return, the crowd changes. Held over the Christmas weekend (23-25 December), Taalbelia was attended mostly by families, a group of friends and of course, the royal family of Mandawa themselves, who host the festival alongside showrunners Event Crafters.
So it was no surprise then to hear Ankur Tewari call out to producer Raina in the crowd and say, “I’d use another word, but there are children here.” It got a few laughs and kept the Mumbai singer-songwriter’s set entertaining as always, but the “bad word” schtick continued on all three days, with Mumbai alt rock/fusion band Anand Bhaskar Collective’s eponymous frontman also restraining himself. Attendees rushed up to get photos with those performers right after their adrenaline-fueled sets, but when Monica Dogra took the stage (after a very traditional folk performance by Sawan Khan Manganiyar’s troupe) on day two at the same Dhobi Ghat stage, she showed a fierceness that almost took people by surprise. An electronic set brought to life with producer Dutty Deedz at the decks and drummer Linford D’Souza as well as dancers, Dogra was as you’d like her to be — a bit reticent at first knowing her front row comprised families and kids, but later on, unhinged in her motion and words — her icebreaker was asking the crowd to repeat a catchy expletive-centred refrain. Safe to say no one walked up to her for a selfie later.
Most of Taalbelia wished to present artists who breathed new life into traditional music — Namit Das and Anurag Shanker’s powerful set was the best example, while Filter Coffee were just right and producer Malfnktion could’ve used more ears for his post-midnight set. Rajasthani folk's celebrated lot — such as Sumitra, Bhanwari Devi and Mooralala — didn’t have to try very hard to own the crowd’s attention, and fusion artists such as Maati Baani and Prem Joshua (joined by renowned Carnatic vocalist Mahesh Vinayakram) were a tad self-indulgent but enjoyable.
And then, of course, there were the party-starters and rockstars. Day one featured a special collaboration between rock veterans Indus Creed and Shillong folk hero Lou Majaw, which was all rock ‘n roll and blues energy, while singer Mohit Chauhan played a crowd-pleasing mix of solo material, songs from his days with Silk Route and of course, Bollywood numbers. Everyone else was there to get feet moving — from the nu-disco performance of Madboy/Mink to desi bass from MojoJojo, dancehall/chart-busting tunes from Reggae Rajahs, techno by Avantika Bakshi, trap and twerk by Su Real and hip hop from Raja Kumari. With the sets varying in time due to the occasional festival schedule running an hour or two late, Raja Kumari still played a short but powerful set, proving why she’s here to leave a mark everywhere she performs.
As far as destination festivals go, Taalbelia has everything set up just right — although one assumes attending a festival during the Christmas weekend is not always an easy ask. There were lac bangle workshops, miniature painting showcases and kite-making workshops and guided walks through the havelis of Mandawa — enough to pack in the days, but just right to keep you hyped for the next day’s proceedings. From the 10 am performances at the courtyard-style Meera Chowk stage to all-out party-down mode by midnight, Taalbelia did have something for everyone.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2018 14:02 PM