Breaking cultural barriers, blending genres and being bold — Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival was bigger than ever

In its fifth edition, the festival saw localites grooving to Russian music, singing along with Catalonian vocalists, and foreign festival-goers tapping their feet to vernacular rock and Bollywood.
Mame Khan performing at Gandhi Maidan
Mame Khan performing at Gandhi Maidan

DURING THE OPENING act of the recently concluded Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival, 21-year-old Ginni Mahi brought her performance to a close on a serious note. “Let’s end caste system and discrimination,” she proclaimed as the crowd broke into a loud cheer. With her rich repertoire of folk and hip-hop, the Jalandharborn artiste, famous for her anti-casteist songs, stayed true to ‘We Are the World: Unity in Diversity’, the festival’s theme this year. In another instance, pop sensation Ankur Tewari mentioned the present political climate in the country as he performed Woh Hum Nahin, his peace anthem, that had created ripples across social media.

But these were not the only recall-worthy instances at the three-day fete, nor were political overtones its only highlight. In its fifth edition, the festival organised by Delhi-based event company Seher, saw localites grooving to Russian music, singing along with Catalonian vocalists, and foreign festival-goers tapping their feet to vernacular rock and Bollywood. Altogether, Udaipur World Music Festival (UWMF) achieved what every music festival aims for — bringing people together.

<em>NoJazz on stage</em>
NoJazz on stage

Having brought down over 150 artistes from 13 different countries to perform across several days at the three main venues — Ambrai Ghat, Fateh Sagal Pal and Gandhi Maidan, UWMF wasn’t focused on world music as a genre, but was more about bringing together music from across the world. “You won’t see a festival of this scale and diversity anywhere in India. We have brought down some of the best international artistes to perform here, and have tried hard to rope in artistes like Habib Koite, which was a dream come true. Through this, I attempt to democratise music and that’s why it’s not a ticketed event. Why should only the elite be able to attend concerts? Music should reach everyone,” claims Sanjeev Bhargava, the organiser, adding that he travels around the world and attends festivals to meet curators and artistes who can collaborate with his initiative.

A bridge across genres

A free festival meant that all of Udaipur was invited. As a highly energetic crowd gathered for the flag off, the stage — that resembled a palatial structure — lit up, standing elegantly against the night sky at Gandhi Ground, where all the closing acts of the day were to be held. Soon after the inaugural performances — an Indo-French tribute to Gandhi and Martin Luther King by Sudha Raghuraman and Jeffery Mpondo — Swiss jazz-rock trio Schnellertollermeier took to the stage with their genre-defying set, which although started with slow instrumentals, erupted into a high-octane brute rock in no time.

<em>Manuel Troller from Schnellertollermeier</em>
Manuel Troller from Schnellertollermeier

During a post-event interaction, David Meier, the drummer, shared, “Our music is experimental and we find influences from not just rock but also jazz, electronic and even classical music.” But, how familiar are they with Indian classical music? Manuel Troller, the lead guitarist, was quick to respond with a backstory, “I’m not very familiar with Indian bands but back when I was in college, I got hold of this record by Pandit Shivakumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain and I felt so connected to it. It had so much influence on me that now when I look back, it almost feels like an emotional journey.” Just as he finished, festival- favourite When Chai Met Toast took over the stage with their cheerful neo-folk tracks and French electro-jazz outfit NoJazz followed suit with their foot-tapping numbers.

<em>Ashwin Gopakumar from When Chai Met Toast</em>
Ashwin Gopakumar from When Chai Met Toast

When words fail

After a groovy night of jazz and rock, what awaited us the following day, was a liberal serving of Sufi, West African Blues and Fado. The Sufi music group, Out Of The Box — Jail University Band, comprising convicted inmates of Udaipur Central Jail, stole hearts with their renditions of Bulleh Shah’s Dama Dam Mast Qalandar, Rajasthani song Kanya Manya Kurr, among others.

<em>Out Of The Box — Jail University Band</em>
Out Of The Box — Jail University Band

As they concluded with messages of peace, brotherhood and their dream of a better world, the crowd had warmed up for one of the most-promising fadistas of this generation, Sara Correia — who spoke of love, pain and emotions through her vibrant take on Fado, the Portuguese blues. With the minimal accompaniment of acoustic and bass guitars, her voice took centre stage as she sang of love, loss and everything in between. Post-gig, when asked if she finds the language barrier a challenge to communicate her verses, she denied, “Fado is all about feeling. You don’t need words to understand it. It’s like the sensation of touch. You feel it, You don’t need words for that.”

<em>Sara Correia</em>
Sara Correia

The 26-year old's requisite vibrato and gracious dance moves had the audience reciprocating with cheerful shout outs throughout her performance. The rest of the day didn’t disappoint either, as Rajasthani folk singer Mame Khan, Malian sensation Habib Koite and Thaikkudam Bridge staged electrifying performances throughout the afternoon and evening slots.

<em>Vian Fernandes from Thaikkudam Bridge</em>
Vian Fernandes from Thaikkudam Bridge

In tune with times

If you are one to skip the fest’s morning sessions for sleep, we strongly recommend you reconsider because the intimate gigs held at Ambrai Ghat offer an experience that is unmatchable. A boat ride across the lake will take you to the beautifully set venue where artistes performed on a raised platform overlooking the hills.

<em>Mico Kendes and François Clavel</em>
Mico Kendes and François Clavel

The tranquil stillness of Lake Pichola and the glowing Udaipur sun made for the perfect setting for Kurdish singer Mico Kendes’ evocative music. Now residing in Switzerland, his songs, mostly in Arabic and Kurdish, are about Kurdistan and its stories. It was but natural to wonder if he feels the need to get political in his songwriting. “Although my songs are deeply rooted in tradition, it’s never really political. There’s depth, meaning, even elements of Sufism but no politics,” said Mico, adding that his songs are based on Kurdish legends he’s heard growing up. While mentioning the prevailing tension in his homeland, he clarified, “Despite all the conflicts, there is still music in the hearts of people. They do have an active music scene — weddings, parties, concerts and everything. I may be living in Switzerland or France, but I’m Kurdish at heart. I stay Kurdish, so does my art and music. And that is my politics.”

<em>Nikhita Gandhi</em>
Nikhita Gandhi

The closing day also featured Karelian folk outfit Sattuma, Indian fusion band Advaita, Bollywood sensation Nikhita Gandhi and celebrated Spanish pop ensemble Oques Grasses, who collectively made sure the crowd did not reach for their chairs even once. As the curtains fell on the fifth edition, Sanjeev took to stage to announce next year’s festival dates along with a promise — that it will be at least twice as big and more international than ever.

(The writer was at UWMF by invitation)

—Fathima Ashraf

Email: fathima@newindianexpress.com | Twitter: fathiimaashraf 

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