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News |  01 Nov 2023 13:43 |  By RnMTeam

After 5 Days of Immersive Magic Jodhpur RIFF 2023 Bids Audiences Adieu

MUMBAI : According to many audience members who keep coming back to Jodhpur RIFF—India’s favourite roots music festival—the reason they do so is the ‘immersive experience’ the festival offers, taking listeners back in space as well as time in a gorgeous red sandstone mediaeval fort, while some of the best roots artists in the world keep alive and reinvent musical traditions which are more than centuries old. These roots performers come to Mehrangarh Fort, in Jodhpur, from Rajasthan, India and around the world. Under the aegis of the festival, they collaborate with one another to find shared moments in the country’s and the world’s living heritages— something music can facilitate, more than words ever can. This year’s Jodhpur RIFF saw more acts than ever before, and over 300 performers.

Festival Director Mr. Divya Bhatia said, “Every year, at Jodhpur RIFF, we are humbled by the response of audiences, from Jodhpur, India and the world, who make their way to Mehrangarh for the festival. Especially touching are the heartfelt compliments and kind words of audience members, many of whom have attended the festival for years and been witness to its journey. We are grateful for this outpouring of love and support and hope to continue in this vein, building relationships with our regular festival-goers, while welcoming new listeners.”

28th October

Jodhpur RIFF Dawn with the Sounds of the Wind

On the 28th of October, even before dawn broke, Idu Khan Langa brought forth tunes from the desert to an audience at Jaswant Thada, on his algoza. The algoza, often referred to as ‘the flute of the desert’, is the archetypal wind instrument of the Surnaiya Langa. What followed his act was another wind instrument, flutes from the Western Classical tradition, played by the Estonian duo Kuula Hetke. With a unique storytelling artistry, the two took audiences on a journey through the folk music of their country, weaving in their own personal histories, in simple but ethereal melodies that enraptured all, not unlike Rajasthan’s own epic ballads.

Dance Bootcamp I

Soon after, Riffsters made their way to Chokelao Mahal, where they met Tarini Tripathi, former athlete, functional trainer and award-winning third generation classical dancer. A legatee of her mother and grandmother, Gauri Sharma and Padma Sharma Tripathi, respectively—both eminent names in Kathak—Tripathi has incorporated dance into her fitness career, as a way of core building and balance training. This was how she introduced the eager group at her bootcamp to the fundamentals of Kathak, emphasising dance as a way of life.

Interactive Session I

Jodhpur RIFF’s interactive session series gives the audience a rare opportunity to meet fascinating artists from various root traditions. This year, visitors met young bhapang maestro Yusuf Khan, leading artists who were exponents of the bhapang, mashak, Jogiya sarangi, and Khari dance— musical traditions from the Mewat region. Yusuf, an engineer by profession, is also a recipient of a state award for his talent with the bhapang and his dedication in preserving Mewat’s folk music heritage. His grandfather and father were esteemed bhapang players and his passion for Mewati folk mirrors that of his father— Umar Farooq Mewati. Audience members engaged with him as well as other artists present, to discuss form, traditional practice, and challenges to the same, through performances, lecture-demonstrations and conversation. As more of Rajasthan and India’s rich traditional cultural heritage disappears, Jodhpur RIFF puts the spotlight on the remarkable music forms and traditions nearing extinction and opens dialogue on how such challenges could be addressed.


Each year, Jodhpur RIFF is timed to coincide with the Sharad Poornima, and this year, it was on the 28th that the moon chose to shine, in all its glory, over Jaswant Thada. The Moonrise Concert featured All India Radio’s leading classical flautist Avadhoot Phadke, a national award-winner, who enchanted us with an exquisite flute recital. The bansuri, the Indian bamboo flute, demands great precision and breath control from the artist but Phadke makes this seem effortless, playing the instrument like an extension of himself. Having trained with his mother Dr. Rasika Phadke as well as eminent musicians Shri Raghvendra Baliga, Pandit Shankar Abhyankar and Pandit Rupak Kulkarni, Phadke is open to all kinds of music— he has also featured in Hindi film songs, working with popular composers and singers such as Sachin Jigar, Ankit Tiwari and Sukhwinder Singh. He was accompanied by another accomplished musician, Mrugendra Mohadkar, on flute, and ace percussionists Rupak Dhamankar (tabla) and Pratap Avadh (pakhawaj). The festival, in principle, seeks to encourage and provide a platform to young artists, alongside established legends, as the former will go on to become those who preserve and reinvent root, folk and classical traditions in the future.

Strings & Beats

As the evening progressed, the much-awaited Old Zenana Courtyard performances began with robust voices of Kalbeliya singers Mohini Devi, Sugna Devi and Asha Sapera, carrying on what used to be a widespread musical tradition in the Jogi-Kalbeliya community. The women of this once nomadic community sang along with snakes the community was famous for handling and rearing. When this practice was banned by wildlife preservation laws the women evolved a form of dance, mirroring the movement of snakes. Over time, this Kalbeliya dance form has overshadowed the Jogis’ musical traditions, with only a few women left who remember and perform these disappearing songs. One reason is the caste and social barriers to women singing; another, the fact that not many women can match the high pitch of the ‘been’ or reedlike instrument of the Jogi-Kalbeliya. But Mohini Devi, Sugna Devi and Asha Sapera can, as audiences found out for themselves, as they swayed to the beautiful, high pitched vocals as well as a dance performance at the end of the act. This year, Jodhpur RIFF has especially highlighted women performers, from Rajasthan, India and the world.

This was followed by an electrifying set by Australia’s Jeff Lang and Greg Sheehan, longtime collaborators and friends. With 25 albums and multiple ARIA Awards, Lang is Australia’s most accomplished slide guitarist, songwriter, singer, composer and music producer in the Blues and Roots genre. He began his journey at the age of 12 and is ranked as one of the world’s leading guitar players. Sheehan began his musical journey at 4 and has been drumming for 60 years, He is a much-loved and respected performer, teacher, visionary and a music producer. Both have long standing associations with Jodhpur RIFF. Jeff, a collaboration with Asin Khan Langa and a band called Maru Tarang. Greg produced the informal closing ceremony at the Commonwealth games in 2018, which featured the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan.

A dholak interlude came after this, featuring some of the best young Rajasthani dholak players, led by Feroze Khan Manganiyar, the state’s foremost dholak exponent. The performance was the outcome of a series of masterclasses for young musicians, supported by the festival.

Our penultimate performer for the Zenana stage was Smita Bellur, one of the first to be accepted as a student into a long lineage of qawwals (traditionally male singers) the Warsi brothers. Well versed in Sufi, Nirguni, Bhakti, Veerashaiva and Haridasa musical traditions, she dedicated this night to the Sufi, weaving new depths into poetry that is centuries old. Her set also featured India’s leading classical sarangi player Dilshad Khan and she was supported by a range of folk musicians including Sadiq Khan on dholak and Zakir Khan on harmonium.

Finally, as the moon wound its way through the night, the Old Zenana Courtyard played host to Ars Nova Napoli, who brought the streets of Naples to the Jodhpur RIFF stage. The group, which has remained true to its Campanian roots, has performed in the streets—in countless marketplaces, alleyways, weddings and birthday parties across Italy—as well as music festivals around the world, besides the studio. Committed to the belief that artistic expression should be freely available and accessible to the commoner, the group became an instant favourite with their range of music from Sicilian serenades, Neapolitan Classics, Calabrian tarantellas, extending all the way to the Greek rebetiko and Balkan music. This was their premiere India tour courtesy Jodhpur RIFF and, going by the number of people they had up and dancing to their music, full of the stuff of life, screaming for encores, there will be many more.

Club Mehran

As midnight drew close, audiences made their way to Salimkot, Jodhpur RIFF’s venue for the annual Club Mehran, where beats from around the world inspire you to dance; a space where roots music meets foot-tapping dance grooves. This year’s Club Mehran kicked off with the tropical sounds of Nkumba System, in India for the first time. A vibrant fusion of afrobeat and dancehall, Nkumba System brought to audiences the best parts of African and Latin American music. Audiences couldn’t get enough of this charming group of French and Colombian artists, or the charisma and infectious joy they brought to the stage, and the dance floor.

The second act was the premiere of ‘Dholworks’—Jodhpur RIFF’s new collaboration with percussionist and producer Viveick Rajagopalan, bringing together a historic battle: drums of Maharashtra Vs. the Rajasthani dhol. The intense bass of the Maharashtrian dhol tasha came together with the gentler Rajasthani dhol, creating a sound and rhythm which was truly unique. In recent years the Maharashtrian dhol tasha, traditionally a martial male bastion has broken down gender stereotypes to make way for amazing woman drummers.

The final performance of the night, a perfect wrap, was ChontaDJ, or Alejandra Gomez, who brought to us modern and traditional music grooves from Latin America, at once new and uplifting. A unique and highly respected artist and producer on the Colombian music scene, Gomez is also a socially engaged and conscientious artist who has founded Biche, an alternative music production house that focuses on the creative development of atypical and avant garde Latin sounds. She is also the cofounder of the collective Todopoderosa for gender diversity in the Latin independent music scene, a DIY publicist, an educational agitator, and a vinyl sector and underground promoter who deeply believes in collaborative and horizontal work. Courtesy Jodhpur RIFF, this is ChontaDJ’s first tour in India too.

29th October

Jodhpur RIFF Dawns with Songs from the South

Mahesh Vinaykram welcomed the third dawn of Jodhpur RIFF with Carnatic vocals, accompanied by the mridangam and violin. With his expert voice, Vinayakram enthralled audiences with Carnatic bhajans, riffing in parts with excellent co-performers to present an engaging jugalbandi as well. Hailing from a highly-accomplished musical lineage, Vinayakram is an indispensable member of Parampara, a Jodhpur RIFF project that has been instrumental in putting some of India’s most ancient traditional music on the global radar. He is also the first male singer to ever be cast in a Cirque du Soleil performance and a UNESCO Millenium Award-winner with over 125 singles to his credit, Vinayakram’s mastery of craft was something we were fortunate to witness against the enchanting backdrop of yet another beautiful sunrise at Jaswant Thada.

Dance Bootcamp II

Next, the inimitable kalbeliya dancer Asha Sapera conducted a dance bootcamp at Chokelao Bagh, introducing the uninitiated to the traditional Rajasthani dance of ghoomer. ‘Ghoomer’ is derived from the Hindi word ‘ghoom’ which literally means ‘to twirl.’ As the name signifies, the chief movement of this form is pirouetting with the footwork and hand movements always in synchronisation with this spinning motion. Over 60 audience members had the opportunity to learn first-hand from Asha Sapera of the intricate movements involved, to the backdrop of Rajasthan’s haunting folk music instruments. They left as an invigorated and insightful group, with a strong sense of the skill this popular dance form requires.

Indie Roots II

Bringing a powerful literary flavour to Jodhpur RIFF, this Indie Roots session at the Chokelao Bagh featured Harpreet, who presented a haunting rendition of Khooni Vaisakhi, a Punjabi ballad written by Nanak Singh in 1919.

Acclaimed for his musical renditions of humanist, often politically charged, poetry, Harpreet embodies the spirit of roots music in his nods to poetry and musical genres of the past in his own inimitable style. He also performs original compositions in several regional Indian languages including Punjabi, Urdu, Haryanvi and Rajastani. The session also featured a discussion between Harpreet and Navdeep Suri, a respected diplomat and Nanak Singh’s own grandson, who recently translated the poem into English. The audience soaked in the music as well as the words, as Harpreet Singh’s rendition of Khooni Baisakhi brought alive the feelings, often forgotten, which shaped the history of India as a nation.

Living Legends

Jodhpur RIFF’s living legends are those stalwarts of Rajasthani music who have reached pinnacles of mastery unfathomable by many and who we are lucky to have amongst us still. The first to take the stage this year, at the Dhanna Bhiyan Chhatri, was ‘Kohinoor’ Bundu Khan Langa, who was given the moniker by none other than the late Queen Elizabeth II of England, a testament to his remarkable talent and its recognition across the world. Bundu Khan ji is a pioneer of the khartal in the Langa community. A performer par excellence thanks to many years of committed practice, he began when he was eight under the tutelage of Ustad Sadik Khan Manganiyar. After many years of performing in India and overseas, he semi-retired from public appearances, reducing the number of performances. Instead he donned the role of ‘beloved teacher’ for many students. In this rare performance Bundu Khan ji shared the stage with his son Zakir Khan ji and colleague Bhanwaroo, to wow the audience at Jodhpur RIFF with his mastery and rhythmic prowess.

The next legend was Bade Ghazi Khan Manganiyar, a celebrated vocalist hailing from the village of Harwa in Barmer district who has been honoured with the prestigious Marwar Ratna Award for his contribution to Rajasthani music. Bade Ghazi Khan ji is known for his renditions of traditional songs which have been passed down through generations within the Manganiyar community, particularly his mastery of traditional compositions in Sorath and Khamaiti. His contribution to not just preserving but also promoting, with his mesmerising voice, the cultural legacy of the Manganiyar community, is invaluable. He is also one of the creators of the modern film song Nimbooda Nimbooda, inspired from an original folk composition.


The evening at the Old Zenana Courtyard began with Parampara, a project led by the legendary percussionist Vidwan TH Vinayakram, fondly known as Vikku ji or, otherwise, the God of Ghatam. He has been performing for over 65 years now, and has been a recipient of the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan and Grammy (America’s primary, peer-recognised music industry award). Parampara is that rare project which is a nation’s cultural treasure as much as it is a family’s legacy. Presenting a Carnatic music set that was highly meditative and trance-like, while being invigorating at the same time, Parampara was a captivating start to Jodhpur RIFF’s final night of music. The ghatam, an earthen pot that is one of India’s ancient percussion instruments, took centre stage, accompanied by steadily rising rapid rhythmic beats on konnakol, the kanjira and the mridangam. While he first presented on a Jodhpur RIFF stage in 2019, this year Vikku ji was back with his family: his elder son Selvaganesh (kanjira), his younger son Mahesh Vinayakram (vocals and konnakol), grandsons Swaminathan (kanjira) and Guruprasad (vocals), and granddaughter Guru Priya (vocals). Like his father, Selvaganesh has played alongside numerous illustrious musicians and has also been a part of Remembering Shakti. Like his father did with the ghatam, Selvaganesh is known for putting the seemingly little frame drum kanjira, on the national and international map.

The Cool Desert Project was next, a unique collaboration commissioned by Jodhpur RIFF between Saxontoast Rhys Sebastian, a master from Mumbai’s jazz scene, and SAZ, Jodhpur RIFF’s exciting trio of folk artists from the Langa tradition. Jazz and Rajasthani folk combined to evoke the shimmering and unhurried landscape of the Rajasthani desert, whose sound still felt urgent and upbeat, making for a beautifully complex musical experience. Rhys Sebastian’s saxophone, Asin Khan’s vocals and sarangi, Sadiq Khan’s dholak, and Zakir Khan’s khartal and vocals created a truly one-of-a-kind soundscape. Adding to this, much to the audience’s delight, was the vibrant Vaibhav Wavikar on drums, keyboardist Rahul Wadhwani, and ace bassist Ralph Menezes.

The khartal, an instrument with unlimited potential but one which has often been dismissed as ‘accompaniment only’, has been the focal instrument of this Jodhpur RIFF, and so it is but natural that it should find place of pride in the list of performances on the last night. A magical khartal interlude featured two separate groups featuring Rajasthan’s best young khartal players Led by Khete Khan Manganiyar, and Zakir Khan Langa respectively, the two groups displayed unbelievable dexterity and skills, leaving the audience amazed at their virtuosity. This display is also an outcome of a series of masterclasses and opportunities for young musicians to learn, created by the festival.

Next the audience was wowed by the India festival premiere of Miroca Paris, who plays like he was born for the stage, and has toured with internationally acclaimed artists including the likes of the Barefoot Diva, Cesaria Evora, and Madonna for over two decades. An island rhythm innovator, singer and multi-instrumentalist from Cabo Verde and Portugal, Paris routinely shifts between the guitar, drums, cavaquinho, and several other traditional Cabo Verdean instruments, making them come to life in his practised hands. Drawing on his knowledge as a percussionist, Paris bases his guitar-playing on rhythm: forward driving, playful with a fresh take on rich Cabo Verdean music. He composes his music from the ‘rhythm up’, not from lyrics or melodies, but from the stories he wishes to tell and the feeling which goes with it, which beat, vibe or dance. His original music took the night’s festivities to another level, the island tunes fitting into this vast courtyard of a mediaeval Rajasthani fort like an oasis in a desert.

The last performer of the night was Alif, a Pune-based band led by Mohammed Muneem, which has won the IRRA award for ‘Best Music Production’; the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2018’s ‘Best Music Video’ and Best Folk Song IIMA Award. The band takes its name from the first letter of the Arabic Urdu script, signifying oneness, the mystical and the unseen, which are also some of the interpretations the band brings forth in their poetry and sound. Deeply influenced by the folk music of Kashmir, Alif’s poetry, relevant and bold, brings lived experience to the stage, masterfully blended with a distinctive genre-defying contemporary and ethnic sound. If Miroca Paris got the audience on to the dance floor, Alif kept them there. And they refused to disburse, calling for the night’s grand finale: the RIFF Rustle.

RIFF Rustle

The RIFF Rustle is our largest, impromptu collaboration performance that concludes the festival's night-time revelries. A festival mainstay which audiences look forward to each year, the Rustle usually features one musician as a 'rustler', who then rustles up other musicians from the festival to participate in this performance in pairs or quartets or all together. Since we had so many great percussionists this year, we decided to have three collaborating rustlers for the first time ever—Greg Sheehan, acclaimed performer and producer with over 40 years of creating percussion projects and rhythms; Miroca Paris, ace multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer; highly skilled and accomplished saxophonist and producer (also our rustler in 2022) Rhys Sebastian. All three worked together to spontaneously gather musicians at the festival to come and jam with each other while collaborating with the Dhol Tasha, Kuula Hetke, the Dhol Drummers, khartal and dholak masters and other Rajasthani musicians, including SAZ and Irene Scarpato of Suonno d’ Ajere. A true extravaganza of every sound featured in the festival, it was a treat to see it come together from chaos to never-heard-before mosaic of music.

30th October

In his inimitable style, Harpreet Singh brought in our last dawn of Jodhpur RIFF 2023 with his own interpretations and compositions of humanist poets such as Kabir and Bulleh Shah. Then, the iconic Sharma Bandhu took the stage. For decades now, this legendary vocal quartet is a much venerated name in the modern spiritual music genres of North India, known for crafting a seamless tapestry of semi-classical music combined with wonderful vocals and skillful storytelling. Generations have grown up with their songs ‘Tera mera, mera tera’ and ‘Suraj ki garmi se jalte hue tan ko… ’. The four brothers, Pandit Gopal Sharma, Pandit Shukdev Sharma, Pandit Kaushlendra Sharma, and Pandit Raghvendra Sharma, are extremely popular for their bhajans and renditions of Nirguni poetry. As the audience swayed to this divine music, they brought the festival to a close as the sun rose to complete Jodhpur RIFF 2023.

About Jodhpur RIFF

Timed to coincide with Sharad Purnima, the brightest full moon of the year in North India, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. HH Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar-Jodhpur is the Chief Patron of the festival and Sir Mick Jagger is its International Patron. Mr. Divya Bhatia has been the Festival Director since 2008.

Jodhpur RIFF is a not-for-profit festival, committed to supporting the root music traditions. The festival takes place under the aegis of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.