There is something about a pink sunset bleeding into the blue city. I stood on the highest sand dune in Osian, drink in hand, waiting for the first performance of the ‘Colour Me Pink’ Jodhpur Jazz Safari to begin. It was the only distraction from the seductive view before me—a darkening, drowsy Thar Desert.
I like to think of my musical taste as a well-blended cocktail. Thanks to the polar opposite preferences of my family and friends, it ranges from Kishore Kumar’s emphatic yodels to Louis Armstrong’s gruff crooning. Naturally, when I first heard of a Holi jazz festival in a state adored for its folk music, I had to see it for myself.
Without much ado, I packed my bags and parcelled myself to Jodhpur. After the unfortunate combination of a heavy lunch and a two-hour drive, we reached our first venue—Reggie Singh’s Camel Camp in the ancient town of Osian, 69 kilometres beyond the main city. one of its regal denizens, clad in yellow, greeted us with a friendly lick—its name, coincidentally, was Royal.
The debut event, a poolside party, was a great opportunity to rub shoulders with the who’s who of the industry. I peeled my eyes away from the sunset and joined those heading to the holika dahan, a ritual signifying the triumph of good over evil. A monstrous pyre sat atop the dunes, the sheer size of it making me sweat. In the foreground, the puja for the ceremony had come to an end. As the first flame cracked alive, locals on camels circled the pyre, adding to the blaze. A group of folk singers and dancers circled the flames in the spirit of holi. Jackets came off; summer seemed to have arrived early.
In front of the stage, mattresses delicately rested on the warm sands. Karpatt, a French gypsy jazz band, was waiting for us onstage. Their ensemble had a patchwork guitar, which immediately caught everyone’s eye. Our murmurs were broken by the upbeat rhythm of the guitar and drums, which didn’t bother sticking to classic flows. They jumped off the stage, belting hindi lyrics amid the audience—people didn’t hold back from singing along, with one viewer even invited up the dune onto the stage. Karpatt’s infectious energy tumbled along with a lively burst of music from traditional folk singers, who had been with Reggie’s family for three generations. The desi vocals with the jazz rhythms really spiced up the evening. By the time Bombay Bassment, a Mumbai-based hip-hop band, got their hands on the mic, the crowd had begun to disperse for dinner. However, that sentiment lingered for hardly a few minutes before everyone flocked to the stage to shake a leg. I’m usually indifferent to rap, but with the rapid drum ‘n’ bass beats, and sheer energy of the performers, I couldn’t help but get in the groove.
Compared to the swingin’ first night, the following morning felt slow. Guests clad in pinks, greens, and yellows lounged at the Park Plaza as the Reggae Rajahs, a Jamaican-style crew of DJs focussing on dub and reggae, serenaded the batch. The pace took a mighty leap post-brunch. In an army of jeeps, we were transported to the clocktower area of Jodhpur. We hopped off and walked through the maze of shops and houses. Rosy sprinkles of gulaal gave us company. Our safari was nicely concluded at the ancestral house of Maharaja Dalip Singh in Jodhpur. Its vast compound had been turned into a party arena, with an elaborate feast lying in wait—laal maas, meatballs, pulao, curries, ice cream, and much more—presenting the best of the royal kitchen. Bollyjazz, a Delhi-based group, effortlessly turned back the clock to combine jazz harmonies with retro Bollywood melodies. At that moment, sophistication went out the window—it would’ve been criminal to not give in to my inner fangirl. I dragged myself to the front of the stage—swaying, chanting—for ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’and ‘Hum The Woh Thi’ from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. Singer Nikhil Mawkin’s satiny vocals were backed by an impressively cohesive band, noticeably the sweet runs of a flautist. She was given stiff competition by trumpet player Fabio Carlucci, whose infectious grooves arrested my attention.
A sudden crowd amassed at the tables, and I turned my head to see Karpatt making their way through the packed space, instruments in hand. They had abandoned the stage area to come to the people, who were now revelling with the musicians. I slid off my chair as double bassist hervé Jegousso whirled me away for a dance. We spun and danced as the crowd around us began to cheer. Quite a musical-like end to the two-day celebration! Reggie Singh, the organiser of Jodhpur Jazz Safari, promises that the festival will return with greater flair in 2021. Until then, I’ll have to make do with the Karpatt CD in my backpack.
Jodhpur Jazz Safari is a two-day music festival organised during Holi, fusing the city’s rich safari culture with the improvised beauty of jazz. Domestic carriers including Air India, Indigo, Vistara, and SpiceJet offer direct flights to Jodhpur from Delhi and Mumbai, and connecting flights from other cities. Osian is 1.5 hrs/60km from Jodhpur by car. Festival passes begin from Rs 3,000 and come in several variants, each with variable access. See jodhpurjazzsafari.com
This stringed instrument played with a bow is seen as the early version of a violin. Historically, nomadic communities like the Thoris and Nayak Bhopas would wander the state with the ravanahatha in hand, singing ballads of Marwar folk heroes. Made with a hollow coconut and animal skin, its nine strings are strummed with the help of a gaj, made of horsehair.
Wood from a seasoned mango tree covered in goatskin takes the shape of a kamaicha, with a hollow, round belly and an extended neck. The main strings made of goat gut are played with a bow, most notably by the Manganiyar community of western Rajasthan.
Old-school Bollywood fans will recognise the sound of the morchang. This plucked percussion instrument consists of a horseshoe-like ring with two metal forks, and a metal tongue in the middle. In the western world, it’s often called the jew’s harp and falls in the family of idiophones (instruments that wholly vibrate to produce sound). The morchang is preferred by the Langa and Manganiyar communities.
Satara and Algoza
The algoza is a double-barrelled bamboo flute with origins in Punjab. The Bheel and Kalbelia communities are known to adore its woodwind sound. The satara is made of two flutes—one carries the melody, the other a droning sound. Popular in the Langa community, players must continuously hold air in their cheeks with circular breathing, for a sustained sound.
Arguably, the most recognisable instrument in Rajasthani folk music. Another stringed instrument, it is carved out of wood with three main strings made of animal gut along the spine. Popular in the Jogi community, the sarangi involves unique methods like using the cuticles of the left hand to press the strings, and excels at mimicking vocal techniques.
The name is a giveaway for the appearance of this instrument. The ghara is an earthenware pot, sometimes with a membrane stretched over its mouth, used to generate rich percussion sounds. Starting in Punjab, it has travelled all the way to the Thar Desert. Depending on where you strike it, different parts of the ghara produce different sounds.
Sticking to essentials, the ektara comprises a single string stretched over a bamboo neck, attached to a body carved out of a gourd. Traditionally used by wandering bards and minstrels, it is rather popular amongst the Nath and Kalbelia saints, and also shows up in kirtans, Sufi music and the Baul music of Bengal.
Ballads of the Desert
While the Thar Desert swamps the geographic identity of Rajasthan, it is traditional folk music and dance that colour the cultural identity of the state. Unique styles, techniques, and even instruments are carried by the different communities in Rajasthan—the Manganiyars, langas, Kanjars, the nomadic Banjaras, Dholies, and Mirasis and jogis of Mewat are some popular indigenous groups.
If you have ever hummed lata Mangeshkar’s‘Tu Chanda Main Chandni;’ or ‘Ab To Hai Tumse Har Khushi’, you’ve already introduced yourself to the state’s Maand music, out of which came the Maand Raga. Sophisticated but feisty, Maand was once sung in praise of Rajput rulers in courts. now, it is seen as a semi-classical form—a fusion of folk tunes and classical ragas. Perhaps the best-known song in the style is Allah Jilai Bai’s ‘Kesariya Balam’.
Where Maand is spun around Hindustani classical themes, there is another style of music that worships spontaneity and emotions. Panihari music was conceptualised by the women who travelled miles to find water in the desert; they hummed its tunes to keep their spirits high. Themes of flowing rivers and waves were the crux of the genre, whose themes later broadened to include the daily life and chores of a woman. Panihari is synonymous with raw expression and is used to talk about love, disappointment and sacrifices in domestic life. Much of the state’s folk music is a homage to heroes and brave men. Local legends like Moomal Mahendra and Dhola-Maru are still revered in songs. ‘Pabuji Ki Phach’is one such musical ballad sung by the Bhopa community. It celebrates the 14th-century folk hero Pabuji, whose deeds are often hyperbole in songs. These singers are called to perform in villages during periods of misfortune and ill-health. The Bhopa plays the ravanahatha and is accompanied by his wife who illuminates relevant portions of the performance with a lamp.
Instruments such as the sarangi, ektara, matka, algoza, poongi, and morchang are known for being used by particular communities; and some are particular to the state. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more styles in the quaint interiors of Rajasthan waiting to be explored.