They are an endangered species. People who want to be in tune with the times but the times are refusing to listen. Their tools of livelihood are musical instruments which if not given a platform will soon turn into antique pieces resting in some fascinated foreigner’s cupboard. Fortunately, there is a friendly RIFF playing for them. Yes, folk musicians from different corners of Rajasthan got their due at the just concluded Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) in Jodhpur.
“The Government feels it is a tourism or art and culture issue but for us it is a matter of livelihood and rural development. For their survival money is important but respect is crucial. RIFF aims to revive their self esteem otherwise the kids will not take up to the art,” said John Singh, the co-founder of Jaipur Virasat Foundation, which organises the annual festival around sharad purnima.
And there could not be a better way than making the masters of folk share the stage with the stalwarts of different genres of music. So we had a bhopi Bhanwari Devi singing “Kesariya Balam” with Rekha Bhardwaj and Lakha Khan playing his Sindhi sarangi with Ustad Sultan Khan. Rekha admitted that she can’t match her because she has acquired the art through a guru, while Bhanwari has it in her blood. Ustad Sultan Khan, who refused 19 concerts because of ill-health could not say no to this one. After all it was in his home territory. He was a bit circumspect in the beginning as he compared the folk with the classical. “Folk is rooted to the ground while classical moves in the air. Folk dikhta hai, classical mehsoos karte hain.”
But as the full moon took a decisive shape, the two shores met on the stage with Lakha and his son Anwar matching him note by note. Ustad was effusive in his praise. Lakha was modest but pointed out towards his adventurous streak. “Classical always remains in control while we, who have learnt on our own, take liberties. At times we go out of tune but at times we discover something new as well.”
Next night it was the synergy of Flamenco and Kalbeliya as Rajki Nartaki took the flamboyant Antonio Fernandez Montoya by surprise. “I was not prepared but when I was told, I took it as a challenge and somewhere our steps match,” said Antonio. Fernando Casas, producer of Flamenco gala tour, who is on a gypsy trail, said there is a similarity between the gypsy dances of Rajasthan and Flamenco and perhaps that is the reason that the Spanish ambassador has asked to work towards making Jodhpur, the Flamenco capital of India.”
On the sidelines there were workshops on instruments, which are fast fading away. “Instruments like nad, surinda, alghoza will not last because there are only a few artistes left who can play them. There are not many people who can make sarangi. I say instead of buying instruments as antique pieces adopt the artistes,” said Vinod Joshi, the regional director of the JVF, who is working with the artistes at the village level. “The village level festivals are more important because there the artistes are put to close scrutiny and when the Maharaj (Gaj Singh, who is a trustee of the festival) pats the artistes, even the sarpanch realises their value. Also these are secular festivals where artistes from different castes and religions come together for a common cause.” Joshi, an anthropologist, by education suggested a cultural mapping of these artistes. “NREGA has been successful but why make everybody do physical labour. Why can’t a surinda player teach his art in the local primary school and get paid?” asked Joshi.
One carried the thought back to the stage where Juma Khan’s bhapang (an offshoot of Shivji’s dumroo) and Kohinoor Langa’s khartal were making their presence felt amidst the drums of Sivamani. “Give me a world class sound system and I can match anybody,” exclaimed Juma.