Rajasthan International Folk Festival — a musical extravaganza beyond boundaries

Diversity took centre stage at Jodhpur RIFF 2023, revelling in grandeur with stellar performances
In frame: The Living Legends preforming at  RIFF 2023
In frame: The Living Legends preforming at RIFF 2023

Kitna Maza Aa Raha Hai — the evergreen number from the 1972 Hindi blockbuster Raja Jani came to one’s mind instantly. The song had the sensual voice of Lata Mangeshkar, so effortlessly serenaded by the ‘Dream Girl’ Hema Malini. That shot was canned both at Jagmandir Palace and Nehru Garden in the picturesque city of Udaipur. Not far from Udaipur, the action in the 16th year of Rajasthan International Folk Festival aka RIFF was a sight to behold in the blue city of Rajasthan — Jodhpur.
Keeping up with its tradition of being diverse, this year’s Jodhpur RIFF outdid itself with several stellar acts including that of the famed Vinayakram family, led by the legendary Vikku Vinayakram. Another attraction was the focus on percussion with khartal, Maharashtrian and Rajasthani dhol drummers leading the way. The music festival, which has been hailed for providing audiences with an immersive experience, year after year, saw the participation of more than 300 performers.  

Club Mehran - Maharashtra Dhol Tasha in collaboration
with the dhol drummers of Rajasthan

One of the star performers was Idu Khan Langa, who mesmerised the audiences with tunes strummed on his algoza. In case you didn’t know, the musical instrument has been dubbed ‘the flute of the desert’.  Estonian duo Kuula Hetke weren’t far behind with another wind instrument. They effortlessly took the audience on one-of-its-kind storytelling artistry with a little bit of their personal histories weaved in.

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Former athlete, functional trainer and award-winning third-generation classical dancer Tarini Tripathi was another key attraction. For the curious Georges, she happens to be a legatee of her mother and grandmother, Gauri Sharma and Padma Sharma Tripathi, eminent names in Kathak. She taught the audience fundamentals of Kathak in her boot camp and how to wriggle Kathak into your fitness routine, making the proceedings all the more fun. 

Other star attractions of this year’s RIFF were undoubtedly bhapang maestro Yusuf Khan, leading exponents of the bhapang, mashak, Jogiya sarangi, and Khari dance — musical traditions from the Mewat region. An engineer by profession, Yusuf has made it his mission to preserve Mewat’s folk music heritage. One can even go to the extent of saying it is in his genes — his grandfather and father were renowned bhapang players. Through performances, demonstration lectures, and conversations, audiences were able to engage and learn more about this remarkable musical art form from the remarkable Yusuf Khan.

Jodhpur RIFF makes it a point to coincide with the Sharad Poornima. Ergo, on October 28, the well-attended Moonrise Concert, featured All India Radio’s leading classical flautist Avadhoot Phadke, who with his national award credentials, enchanted the audience with an exquisite flute recital, which simply seemed to be beyond this world. 

<strong>Moonrise concert </strong>
Moonrise concert

The Indian bamboo flute, the bansuri, is notorious for demanding from its masters, great precision and breath control, but of course, for Phadke, this was a child’s play considering the tutelage he hails from — training under his mother Dr Rasika Phadke as well as other eminent musicians, Raghvendra Baliga, Pandit Shankar Abhyankar and Pandit Rupak Kulkarni. Giving Phadke company was another accomplished musician, Mrugendra Mohadkar, on flute, and ace percussionists Rupak Dhamankar (tabla) and Pratap Avadh (pakhawaj). 
The same evening saw performances of Kalbeliya singers Mohini Devi, Sugna Devi and Asha Sapera. The women of this once-nomadic community were known to sing along with snakes. However, over time, the practice was banned by wildlife preservation laws. Of course, the women didn’t give up and this only led to the women performing an evolved form of dance instead, mirroring the movement of snakes. 
Longtime collaborators and friends, Jeff Lang and Greg Sheehan from Australia with their own set of accomplishments were also in the fray as far as performances were considered. A dholak interlude was also in the scheme of things led by the brilliant Feroze Khan Manganiyar. The festival also provided masterclasses for young musicians.
For the second-to-last performance on the stage was Smita Bellur, who holds the distinction of being one of the first females to be accepted as a student of the Warsi Brothers’ traditional qawwal singing lineage. Bringing up the rear was Ars Nova Napoli, who brought the hustle and bustle of the streets of Naples to the Jodhpur RIFF stage. 

A dash of the south

The festival does its best as far as inclusivity is concerned. Therefore, the Southern part of India wasn’t left behind. Mahesh Vinaykram with Carnatic vocals, accompanied by the mridangam and violin enthralled audiences with his Carnatic bhajans.

<strong>Mahesh Vinayakram</strong>
Mahesh Vinayakram

If you have watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, you would need no introduction to the world of Ghoomer.  Asha Sapera, a skilled Kalbeliya dancer, led a dance boot camp at the festival, introducing the unfamiliar attendees to the traditional Rajasthani dance form.

For Jodhpur RIFF’s Indie Roots session at the Chokelao Bagh, Harpreet brought a captivating literary flair, presenting her haunting performance of Khooni Vaisakhi, a Punjabi ballad written by Nanak Singh in 1919. Jodhpur RIFF’s ‘Living Legends’ segment featured ‘Kohinoor’ Bundu Khan Langa, who was affectionately nicknamed so by the late Queen Elizabeth II. Khan is a pioneer of the khartal (an instrument belonging to ancient times used mostly in devotional songs) in the Langa community. 

Bade Ghazi Khan Manganiyar took the stage next. A celebrated vocalist hailing from the village of Harwa in Barmer district, he is the recipient of the prestigious Marwar Ratna Award for his contribution to Rajasthani music. Khan is known for rendering traditional songs passed down through generations within the Manganiyar community, and in particular, has drawn praise for his mastery of traditional compositions in Sorath and Khamaiti

Parampara, led by the renowned percussionist Vidwan TH Vinayakram was another major draw. The performance featured the ghatam, an ancient earthen percussion instrument, accompanied by rhythmic beats on konnakol, kanjira, and mridangam.


This is of course not an exhaustive list of the top-notch performers of this year’s festival, which could be summed in director Divya Bhatia’s words as such, “Every year, at Jodhpur RIFF, we are humbled by the response of audiences, from Jodhpur, India and the world, who make their way to Mehrangarh for the festival. Especially touching are the heartfelt compliments and kind words of audience members, many of whom have attended the festival for years and been witness to its journey. We are grateful for this outpouring of love and support and hope to continue in this vein, building relationships with our regular festival-goers while welcoming new listeners.”

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