Please don’t stop the music

The Udaipur World Music Festival wowed with several top-notch International Acts and some rare gems from India.

Play on:

The morning began with a crisp uplifting Abhang raga at Ambrai Ghat by Manjusha Kulkarni, but it was the languorous shadows on the Fateh Sagar lake that accentuated the hypnotic rhythm of David Dagmi’s Jumbush drum, accompanied by the grainy darkly powerful cello played upon by Leah Sabbah and the lilting guitar plucked upon by Yaiv Hashachar, that gave a melodic lift to the resounding and poignant voice of Igal Gulaza Mirahi, who sang of the pain and silence surrounding the lives of child-brides from Yemen. Come evening and the powerful, yet slightly raw, the voice of Chand Afzal tore through the soft egg-yolk of a sunset on the lake, singing “Mere Kabar Ke Pathar Pe Hindustan Likhna” (write Hindustan upon my gravestone), to resounding applause.

The fourth  edition of the three-day Udaipur World Music Festival (UWMF) wrapped Rajasthan’s lake-city in a blanket of music, a blanket that was made of patchwork which showed us once again that despite the current unrest in the country, the language of music can be a unifying force bringing people from the far corners of the world together under one ‘tent’ with a common passion—the love of music. The festival served up a diverse smorgasbord to choose from: international acts from Yemen, Switzerland, Portugal, Greece and Cuba, to Indi rock bands Local Train and Traffic Jam, that had students headbanging at the city’s Gandhi Ground. Hot Water, a politically stirring, yet a very up-tempo rock group from South Africa, featuring lead singer and guitarist Donovan Copley, Manu Dibango, Angélique Kidjo, and Habib Koitié, created an extravaganza as its lead-singer and guitarist threw lollipops at the crowd amid soap bubbles and wild shrieks.

No Pain No Gain:

“There is a mushrooming of festivals around the cities of India that spreads the joy of art and music beyond the metros. Why should only they have all the action?” says Sanjeev Bhargava, the curator of Seher that organizes the Udaipur World Music Festival annually. He is also known for his association with the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa and the Jazz Music Festival in Delhi.

Why World Music? “I chose this genre because I think audiences are open and ready to listen to more than just Bollywood or mainstream Pop. We always underestimate the common man, but I have found over the years that the audience in Udaipur, (from the cab driver to a backpacking hippie) is excited about the festival. It is a risk, but nothing ventured nothing gained,” says Bhargava, who manages to drum up corporate sponsorship for festivals like the UWMF every year. He points out that the general lack of support and a sense of inertia experienced in government-sponsored music and art festivals is what pushes him every year. “The bigger fish tend to eat up the little fish and don’t allow them to grow, that’s why festivals like this are important,” he avers.

Local Train featuring lead singer Raman Negi, Sahil Sarin, Paras Thakur and Ramit Mitra.

The Risk Takers:

While all the music was inspirational and engaging in its own way, some of the festival specials this year were the Israel-Yemen group Gulaza, Hot Water from Africa with their infectious energy, La Dame Blanche- a hotwire singer from Cuba who performed a wicked mix of hip-hop, Cumbia, dancehall and reggae, and Udopia the Greek ensemble who delved into their folk roots. The two Indian specials were Chand Afzal and the young Kashmiri singer Vibha Saraf, who sang the original track Dilbaro from Raazi, and did a cover of Bhumro bringing the message of peace from Kashmir.

“I have a very special relationship with Chand who was a street-musician when I discovered his talent,” says Bhargav. When we met the Sufi singer later in the afternoon at his sound check, we heard the story from both ends. “I owe everything to Nizamuddin Auliya and Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti. But after that, it is Bhargav sir!” he says with a toothy grin. “Darga Mein Humari Buniyaad Hai (we have our history in the Darga) but I began singing Gurbani Kirtan, (the holy music of the Sikhs) for my first performance with him,” says Afzal, explaining that his music cuts across barriers created by religious groups that try to make Sufi music exclusive to the Darga. “Now Sufi music has become popular with songs like Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodha Akbar) but I have been taking risks with my music since 1984,” says Afzal.

Another artist who has been taking risks since his twenties is Igal Gulaza Mirahi who grew up in Yemen watching his mother suffer under the patriarchal system that married off women at the tender age of nine and ten to men who were fit to be their grandfather. “Women like my mother and her mother before her used to work from dawn to dusk, milking cows, washing clothes and doing endless chores only to eat scraps and leftovers at night,” says Mirahi, who went on to revisit the ancient Jewish Yemenite women’s songs to bring them to the shores of China, South Korea, Europe, Poland, Germany and now India. “When I sing, it is to give voice to their struggle. Initially, being a man, I was conscious about singing the songs of Yemeni women, but as I researched and went to libraries, I realized that it is a human issue beyond gender,” says Mirahi. When he met Sabbah, a trained classical cellist who studied in the US, the group formed its rock-solid foundation and have been making music together for the last three years.

La Dame Blanche or the White Lady is an ancient Celtic myth of a white lady in Europe who is known for her mystical powers. “I keep some of that magical powder tucked away in my secret pocket,” says the Cuban singer, flautist and percussionist Yaite Ramos Rodriguez who strode on to the stage in white calf-length boots and a Cuban cigar protruding sassily from her lips. The music that emanated from her metal flute was a sound that was filled with dazzling energy. Her concert had everyone on their feet, as did the evening set by Hot Water, although in a completely different way.

Copley says it all when he points out that music brings people together, “You could say that music got into me…when I am feeling alone and I want to be one with the people, I use music to connect to them. It is the one true way that I know and I found this spiritual approach here in India, at the age of 21!” says the 42-year-old musician. “My message is just one thing: be true to yourself.”

Cover Image: Cuban Hip Hop artist La Dame Blanche aka Yaite Ramos with her band.

Images: Paromita Patranobish