When it comes to aural pleasures, the setting can be crucial. At the Ranthambhore Music & Wildlife Festival 2019, it was positively magical. Held from December 27 to 29, the festival played out in the capacious confines of Nahargarh fort—barring the wildlife bit, of course.
The main gigs were held around the resplendent Hathi Kund—the centrepiece of the property—with the audience floating to other locations for the DJ nights and cool after-parties under a star-studded sky. Supporting events, ranging from puppet theatre to stargazing, tattooing to wine tasting and documentary screenings, too were held across the fort.There was an art auction. Ace photographer Aditya (‘Dicky’) Singh conducted a wildlife photography workshop. You could attend as much, or as little, of all this as you pleased. To make the most of it, staying at Nahargarh helped, but wasn’t mandatory. And, of course, there were jungle safaris. But the main act was indisputably the music.
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The festival got off to an explosive start with a traditional Rajasthani song by the Arko Mukhaerjee Collective, which they made their own. This is an eclectic band, and their music incorporates a range of influences, everything from Harry Belafonte to African music and even Bollywood.
Besides, Arko has a stunning musical range, and his voice was one of the best heard at this edition of the festival. In stark contrast was the dreamy, lilting act of the Peter Cat Recording Co that followed. Self-confessedly, their music has evolved from album to album, ranging “from gypsy jazz to psychedelic cabaret; ballroom waltzes to epic space disco; bossa supernova to uneasy listening.” The music turned an envelope with Lifafa, PCRC frontman Suryakant Sawhney’s solo project, which combines “acoustic folk elements and old-school disco layered with a baritone voice that can be angsty and meditative” at once. Distinctly trippy. But the act everyone had been waiting for that evening was Naezy. Aka Naved Shaikh, he is the guy Ranveer Singh portrayed in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, the runaway hit of 2019. Wished he hadn’t lip synced, but who am I to rap a rapper?
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There was something for every musical taste at the festival. If day one was cool and edgy, day two was more folk and trad, kicking off with Nathulal Solanki’s nagada ensemble. Flautist Rasika Shekar was a tad mellow but Mame Khan, undoubtedly the star draw, got the festival’s groove right back with his warmth, charisma and riveting stage presence. Khan has come a long way since his Coke Studio outing in 2012. He could have used a larger crowd though. I wonder what the tigers made of it. Their two-legged friends certainly had a ball. My only quibble: if you were not a guest at the fort, the food on offer was a bit sad (think momos reheated in a microwave). But, hey, when the music itself is such a balm, who needs chicken soup for the soul?
This article was originally published in the February issue of the magazine.