The locals of Udaipur perhaps never imagined that one day a coloured woman from Cuba would make them dance to her tunes! Cuban singer Yaite Ramos Rodriguez, better known as La Dame Blanche—who journeyed to Paris for love and stayed back to pursue musical genres such as salsa, reggae, dancehall, hiphop and classical music—entertained the audiences at the recently-concluded Udaipur World Music Festival with her Spanish songs.
This confluence of cultures and musical genres isn’t the only mindboggling thing about the festival, which is organised by Seher, a group of cultural enthusiasts founded with the vision of taking Indian culture to a large number of people. What’s truly amazing is the fact that you don’t need to pay a single penny to attend. All you need is an open mind and an appreciation for cultures from around the world. Sanjeev Bhargava, festival director and curator, Udaipur World Music Festival, believes that world music “should reach more people” and gain more “visibility”. “I didn’t come to this space to make money. I genuinely want to spread music,” he says.
Bhargava, who is known for introducing the Delhi Jazz Festival in the national capital, was asked by the government of Rajasthan to think of a thematic fest and establish a festival in a city other than Jaipur in the state. With the Udaipur World Music Festival, the fourth edition of which took place this year from February 15 to 17, Bhargava started a destination festival. “Year after year, music lovers mark their calenders and come to Udaipur during this time. If mid-May belongs to the Cannes Film Festival, then mid-February belongs to the Udaipur World Music Festival,” he says.
Going by the crowds thronging this year’s event, Bhargava seems to be right. The performance space was jam-packed with people for most performances, including that of Yves Theiller Trio from Switzerland. The Swiss jazz band is so fascinated with Indian music that it went ahead and collaborated with Shree Sundarkumar, a Chennai-based musician, and together they mesmerised the audiences with a unique amalgamation of Swiss jazz and Indian kanjira.
Not just the Swiss, the Greeks, too, seem to be in awe of Indian music. Udopia music group from Greece drew inspiration for its performance from the country’s ancient musical heritage besides ritual dance music, urban songs and modern grooves. Their drummer Kostas Anastasiadi is especially inspired by the tabla, he says.
Israel’s Igal Gulaza Mizrachi, a singer known for his passionate performances and a unique combination of instruments, transported audiences to a world of prayer, dance, love and longing with his performance of ancient Jewish Yemenite women’s songs, which have been passed down from mother to daughter over generations.
Mizrachi, who learnt about the rhythm of the dholak for a few days, participated in a school workshop as well on the insistence of Bhargava.
Then there was Natig Rhythm Group from Azerbaijan. Known for revolutionising nagara percussion, they entertained audiences with various types of nagara performances.
Closer home, Kashmiri artiste Vibha Saraf, who gave up her job as a financial consultant to pursue music, moved audiences with her Kashmiri songs, explaining them to the audience simultaneously. Then there were Indian bands such as Avorra Records and Traffic Jam, and Afro-pop band Hot Water, all of whom sang in English.
But even if you didn’t know the language, the music triggered strong emotions. Take, for instance, this elderly woman from France. As per Bhargava, she came to know about the festival at a hotel in the city she was staying at, and decided to attend. The performance of Delgocha Ensemble from Iran—which plays the traditional music of Iran based on Radif, a collection of old melodies that have been handed down by the masters to students over generations—moved her so much that she broke down mid-performance.
Besides touching the hearts of listeners, the festival also lays great emphasis on getting recognition for local artistes, as per Bhargava. “We must showcase Rajasthani music too… During a music festival, it’s not just the performance that is important. The interaction on and off the stage is equally important,” he says. Apart from the performances at the festival, there was also a welcome concert by local artistes at the Udaipur airport and railway station because “Padharo mhare desh is very important for Rajasthan” and a great way to encourage interaction between local and foreign artistes, says Bhargava.