These artists are among the participants of the first edition of three-day Jodhpur Gypsy and Flamenco festival, which begins on Thursday evening. They are part of the first act on the main stage, titled Agustin Carbonell and Footprints of the Desert. Carbonell, better known by his stage name, El Bola, is one of Spain's leading flamenco guitarists and composers. The festival will bring together about 20 artists from Spain and 25 from Rajasthan for an audience of about 1,000 people every day.
Flamenco is a dance and music form that arose from the gypsy communities of Andalucia in southern Spain. The Langas are a Muslim community of folk musicians originally form Sindh who are now concentrated in Rajasthan's Barmer district. Kalbeliya dancers come from a community of snake catchers, and their dance consists of sensuous movements recalling those of serpents. These are among the many Rajasthani folk forms that will be represented at the festival.
Staged at the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, the festival attempts to showcase flamenco in India and enable musicians from local folk traditions to collaborate with their Spanish counterparts. There is considerable evidence, especially linguistic, to suggest that European gypsies had their origins in parts of north India, including Rajasthan.
The organisers – the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and Jodhpur-based CRN productions – hope that the Gypsy and Flamenco festival will become an annual feature. This will make it the third international music event to be set in Jodhpur, and more specifically at the Mehrangarh Fort. Every February, the fort hosts the World Sufi Spirit Festival, and in October, the Rajasthan International Folk Festival.
"A major reason for Jodhpur becoming a hub for such music is the vision of our trustee, the former Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh," said Karni Singh Jasol, the director of the Mehrangarh Museum, located in the fort. This is an opinion that several people echoed.
It has helped that Jodhpur was already a hub for the crafts trade, with a sizeable number of foreigners living here, many of them engaged in exporting furniture and handicrafts. Among them is Roberto Nieddu, the Italian founder of CRN Productions, which has partnered with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust to organise the Jodhpur Gypsy and Flamenco festival. He has lived in Jodhpur for the past two decades.
"Before that, I was travelling here to design and buy products for my company in the US," said Nieddu. "I decided to open a company in Jodhpur because I was fascinated by the craftsmanship, the music and the colour of Rajasthan."
Finally, the visible and sustained success of RIFF has been a major spark for other endeavours. RIFF began in 2007 and was always ambitious in scope. "Jodhpur RIFF is the flagship event, but we do many other things through the year," said Divya Bhatia, the festival's artistic director. "The festival is not an end in itself. Our main aim is to positively impact the income of folk musicians in general. We may not be the employers but our work should open doors for them."
The festival has facilitated 14 international collaborations so far, and has taken several Rajasthani artistes to festivals abroad. To cite just one particularly successful example, Bhatia in 2008 put together a group called Dharohar. It consisted of eight Rajasthani musicians, the UK beat boxer Jason Singh and another UK musician, Bex Mather. While performing at the festival in 2009, they caught the eye of the manager of the English Grammy-award-winning folk rock band Mumford and Sons, who asked them to collaborate with his group.
Later that year, the eight Rajasthani musicians, who called themselves the Dharohar Project, and Mumford and Sons recorded together in Delhi. In 2010, they submitted the recordings to iTunes, which created an EP out of four tracks, and as a consequence of that the group was invited to the iTunes Festival in London, the only Indian group to be have ever been invited there. Each of the group's members earned Rs 60,000 in royalties from the project, Bhatia said.
It all started in 2007 when Gaj Singh offered the Mehrangarh Fort as the venue for the first RIFF, which was a creation of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, of which he is a trustee. This foundation had already been holding Jaipur International Heritage Festival for several years, an event dedicated to all the arts and crafts of Rajasthan. The organisers though it would be good to also have a festival dedicated to music. In the end, this umbrella festival gave rise to both to RIFF, which first took place in October 2007, and the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2008.
"The heritage festival was a mechanism to revitalise the arts and crafts of the state," said Jaipur-based Faith Singh, who was founding trustee along with her husband John. "It looked at the entire gamut of arts in that area. When it came to looking for a venue for RIFF, we were lucky to get the fort. It is one of the most magnificent venues you could have in the whole world. India has no dearth of those sort of places. It is a question of making these available."
Here's a clip of the Dharohar Project performing with Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling.
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