The 12th edition of World Sacred Spirit Festival gave a glimpse into the future of spiritual roots music
Women and children first. It’s strange that this maritime code of conduct should ring in my head while attending World Sacred Spirit Festival (WSSF) 2019.
The 12th edition of the fete at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur was lit up with ‘well-in-tune’ messages of how cultures from Argentina to Sweden mingle and exchange; a message that is significant in this time of rising intolerance.
But, what struck me the most at the event organised by Mehrangarh Museum Trust was the importance of the above-mentioned phrase—especially to the continuation of various vibrant cultural traditions. So, Indulge examines how WSSF invites attention to movements which are changing the musical landscape.
A different touch
The inaugural eve—which was to act as a sneak peek into the three-day festival—hosted two all-women projects. Azerbaijan-based Ingie, a qanun (a West Asian string instrument) orchestra, led by Tarana Aliyeva has been performing together for 14 years, trying to find a new voice for women on the instrument.
“Historically, females used to play qanun in our country back in the 16th and 17th century. But, after that men had a monopoly until the diversity was revived post-1960. Even now there are few women who play it professionally,” says Tarana, after a show which focussed on setting a sublime mood rather than showing off technical mastery.
“Men are stronger, so naturally they strike harder. But, a woman’s touch is softer and I guess they can play faster,” informs the instrumentalist, who has toured around the world with extensive stints in the Americas and Asia.
Across the seas
Telli Turnalar was the next women-only project, originating from Paris and Berlin. All four who took to stage share a common passion for Anatolian music; especially the instrument saz.
They feel that their different origins—including two who trace Turkish and Kurdish descent—and present-day life in Europe gives them distinct perspectives on the music they practice.
“We’re women hailing from different ethnic backgrounds. I believe that the inter-cultural work done by women is always different from that executed by men,” says vocalist and instrumentalist Petra Nachtmanova.
“Even though we sing poems from the 12th to 17th century, we include the (European) instrument hurdy-gurdy in our compositions, which are sometimes polyphonic in nature, unlike olden songs.”
Taking the road
Mehrangarh Museum Trust’s commitment to spiritual roots music goes beyond festivals. Organised as two showcases at WSSF, ‘Learning Music’ featured the next generation of Langa and Manganiar musicians alongside maestros belonging to these two communities.
The interesting fact is that the Trust took it upon themselves to ensure the continuation of Rajasthani folk music through camps organised in the villages where these peoples reside.
“We raised concern about fewer youngsters taking up our instruments like the kamaicha and they acted quickly. Over the past two to three years, the number of attendees have gone up and kids are keen on continuing the tradition rather than chase new trends,” says elder kamaicha player Ghewar Khan.
If you think WSSF is all about sitting around in a meditative posture, you’re way off the mark. Some musicians played at Mehrangarh Fort with the intention of making the crowds jump up from their seats and get to the floor. Here are a few:
Duplessy & The Violins of the World
Mathias Duplessy is a living legend. Some say, that he can play nearly 40 instruments! However, we did witness his infectious energy firsthand—playing the guitar in this project with four other musicians working on a Swedish nyckelharpa, Chinese erhu, Mongolian morin khuur, Indian Sarangi. “I have a connect to different folk conventions and sometimes it’s romantic. This is essential to play with musicians from these traditions,” says Mathias, who has composed for movies like Finding Fanny.
Despite their name, making puns aren’t the strongest skill of Jean-Pierre Smadja and Mehdi Haddab. The duo kept the spirits up at the late night ‘afterparty’ with the Arabic lute, oud. They built an experimental set-—ranging from slow chill-out vibes to faster dance music—with electronic beats splashed with the sound of an electrified oud driven through pedals.
Scottish music definitely has roots in dancing. If you don’t believe me, four-piece outfit Rura will definitely convince you. Their instrumental showcase with guitar, fiddle, bagpipe, bodhrán (drum) and flute has won them accolades like Scots Trad Music Awards. “We do draw a lot from our ancestral music, but our chord progressions and arrangements are contemporary. We sound Scottish but the music is new,” says Steven Blake, who plays the pipes.
Besides folk, the festival also presented young Indian classical talents on the banks of a serene lake. Violinist Ambi Subramaniam, son of the celebrated L Subramaniam, represented the Carnatic lineage. Breaking the ‘purist’ approach, this youngster has been collaborating with flamenco and electronic artistes. So, we ask him about spirituality and its preservation in fusion music. “One advantage of instrumental music is that the performer might have a spiritual meditation on his/her mind but the audience can take away what they want,” says Ambi.
The writer was at the World Sacred Spirit Festival on an invitation.
Pics: Jose Joy & Mehrangarh Museum Trust