The three-day Jodhpur Flamenco and Gypsy Festival presented performances by Flamenco artistes, Langa musicians and Kalbelia, to prove that they have much in common

Over 40 local and international artistes gathered at the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur this week for a fascinating cultural exchange. Held over three days, the Jodhpur Flamenco and Gypsy Festival (JFGF) showcased a variety of performances by Flamenco artistes, Langa musicians and Kalbelia dancers. It could have been called ‘fusion’, but for the fact that both groups of performers have more in common than appearances suggest.

While the Langas are a Muslim community of folk musicians, said to have originated in Sindh and settled in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, Flamenco is a dance and music form that emanated from the Gypsy communities of Andalusia in Spain. There is strong evidence, however, that suggests that the Gypsies, also known as Romanis, emigrated to Europe from North India, particularly Rajasthan.

Like the people practicing them, the music of the gypsies and Banjaras has travelled in different directions, but it is possible to notice relationships of symmetry. As a Langa musician said, the footwork of a Flamenco dancer sits in perfect harmony with the beat of a kartal, a wooden clapper.

At the festival, which comprised performances by well-known Flamenco guitarists Pepe Habichuela, Josemi Carmone, Agustin Carbonell, also known as El Bola; Flamenco dancers Tamar Gonzalez and Karen Lugo; Langa musicians Sadiq Khan, Abdul Rashid Khan Sikandar Khan among others, the two forms met each other in a wholehearted embrace, showing none of the caution or wariness that estrangement breeds.

Remarkably, this meeting was facilitated not by an ethnomusicologist, nor indeed by someone born into any of these cultures, but by an Italian furniture designer. Roberto Nieddu who travelled the world before settling down in Jodhpur nearly 20 years ago to pursue his business interests, only to be distracted by the rich musical heritage of the city. Along the way, he started CRN productions, which partnered with Mehrangarh Heritage Trust to organise the festival.

“I used to have a house in Barcelona, I speak perfect Spanish and I know the music there…when I heard Rajasthani music I realised the connection between them,” he says. Roughly six years ago, he brought a group of Flamenco artistes to India for collaboration with local artistes. “Within seconds, they started jamming together. There was this connection. It was incredible.”

This experience proved the blueprint for a series of performances with the two groups of performers, titled Flamenco Roots. One of them saw Langa musicians touring Spain last year, which turned out to be a “great success”, says Roberto. “Both of them are giving things to each other. The exchange between them will enable both to grow as musicians.”

Roberto doesn’t see the collaboration being restricted to the brief encounter that a festival facilitates, but a longer, sustained, dialogue. “This is the difference between a festival and what we are doing. Usually in a festival, you see a bit of this and a bit of that. We don’t do that. A lot of the music you see is new music. This is why all the artistes are very excited about this project,” he says.

Next year, the Flamenco artistes have pledged a substantial chunk of their time towards the recording of an album with the Langas. The dissemination of this would bring much needed attention to the Langas, Roberto hopes.

“My dream is to have a recording studio for the Langas, because we are losing their songs,” he says. “If they are not given a platform, they are going to start doing Bollywood music, which would be a disaster.”