In this interview, Divya Bhatia talks about the key attractions at the Jodhpur RIFF 2022, his long association with the festival while looking back at its legacy.
Jodhpur RIFF is back after a two year gap. This year, from the 6th to the 10th of October, under the brightest full moon, Jodhpur’s majestic Mehrangarh Fort will light up once again to play host to over 250 amazing performers, showcasing the best of Rajasthani, Indian and global roots music, as well as breathtaking collaborations between their creators. While Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar-Jodhpur is the Chief Patron of Jodhpur RIFF, Mick Jagger, front man of the rock band The Rolling Stones, is the International Patron of the festival. The Festival Director and Producer of Jodhpur RIFF is Divya Bhatia.
In this interview, Divya Bhatia talks about the key attractions at the Jodhpur RIFF 2022, his long association with the festival while looking back at its legacy, and the relief program he ran for the folk musicians and their families during the pandemic, among other things.
Q. Tell us about your association with the Jodhpur RIFF.
A. Jaipur Virasat Foundation was set up in 2002. They started a festival called the Jaipur Heritage International Festival. They were looking for someone to run it and someone who had known of my work with the Prithvi Theatre Festival recommended my name. That’s how I got involved with Jaipur and Rajasthan.
Jaipur Heritage International Festival had two offspring. Jaipur Literature Festival was one and Jodhpur RIFF was the other. I have been leading Jodhpur RIFF since its inception in 2007. What attracted me about Jodhpur RIFF is music, which has always been my first love. Both my parents are teachers and right from my childhood they never imposed any restrictions on me. I started learning tabla when I was 7 years old. But during my professional theatre life in Mumbai, I had stopped doing music and so Jodhpur RIFF was like a homecoming for me.
Q. This will be the 13th edition of the Jodhpur RIFF and mark its 15th year. How do you look back at the festival’s journey?
A. Till date, the Jodhpur RIFF has presented over 800 Rajasthani musicians including the likes of Kutle Khan, Chugge Khan, Nathulal Solanki and Bhanvari Devi, among others. Many of our musicians have gone on to perform at some of the world’s biggest platforms. The folk artists mostly come from economically weaker sections of society and often they don’t get the respect they deserve. But when these folk artists collaborate with international artists at the festival there is a great sense of mutual respect and admiration. It is something that every artist strives for. The festival was primarily created to celebrate roots music everywhere and help folk musicians find work in India but today they get invited to perform over the world.
Q. Tell us about the relief program you ran for the folk musicians and their families during the pandemic.
A. We have lived in a world where we planned each and everything well in advance to a point that we even announced the dates to the next edition of the festival a year in advance. One of the key things that we were conscious of was that there were no festivals happening for a very long period owing to the pandemic. And we kept on having these windows when we thought we would be able to make a comeback only to be followed by another round of lockdown. Now, this created a strange uncertainty in the field of live performing arts. What this taught us was that if we living in the urban areas could face this kind of uncertainty and unpredictability then the folk artists are bound to be more severely affected by it. Therefore, we decided to run a relief program where we were able to support folk musicians and their families and this could also include musicians who were not associated with Jodhpur RIFF. We ended supporting artists across 60 odd villages in Rajasthan with food, medical, and with financial aid. We started in June 2020 and it continued till about April 2021.
Q. What are the highlights at Jodhpur RIFF 2022?
A. While the duo of Sawan and Kachara Khan will be bringing Sufi poetry in Manganiyar musical traditions in an interactive session, Tel Aviv-born singer-songwriter Riff Cohen will enthrall the audiences with a unique blend of French Pop, Avant-Garde, traditional North African music and Classic Rock. Cohen sings in French, English and Yiddish.Dan Coutts’ film Heading West on Scotland’s famous acid croft band Shooglenifty and their time here, featuring Rajasthani musicians, the fort and Jodhpur RIFF will also be screened as part of the festival. This will mark the film’s Asia premiere. As part of Living Legends, Padma Shri Lakha Khan and Padma Shri Anwar Khan Baiya grace the stage of Jodhpur RIFF this year. As is customary, a smorgasbord of performers will come together in our grand jam, the ‘RIFF Rustle,’ during the festival’s grand finale. This year’s rustle will be led by Bombay Brass’s ace saxophonist and producer Rhys Sebastian.The RIFF Dawn sessions this year will include Shabad and Nirguni Bhajans, ‘Kabir Vani’ in Madhya Pradesh’s Malwi Folk style, ‘A Khasi Dawn’ with traditional music from Meghalaya, and music from Rajasthan’s Meghwal community. The festival will come to an end with a session by Prahlad Tipaniya as part of RIFF Dawns.
Q. Also tell us about the new attractions this year at the festival.
A. ‘Citadels of the Sun,’ for instance, is a unique collaboration born out of the many folkloric, musical and historical connections between India and Ireland, which began between musicians in Ireland and Jodhpur three years ago, but which ripened online, during the pandemic. It basically allowed us to explore ways and means of getting artists back on their feet during COVID-19. During its digital evolution, each side of the collaboration was represented by Marty Coyle and Asin Khan Langa. And we will be showcasing indie musicians Bawari Basanti—who promises to enthrall the audience with classical-electronica-indie sounds—and Harpreet—for whom music suggests an opportunity for poetic subversion; he will be rendering Kabir, Bulleh Shah and original soul songs—for the first time.
We also raised some money for projects in order to explore and experiment with new ideas. One of those projects has culminated in a band called SAZ, which basically comprises three young Langa musicians, Sadiq, Asin, and Zakir. They decided to come together as a band. Their songs have been recorded and they have also written new songs which we will be putting up soon. They are also doing live performances as SAZ in India as well as abroad. This is a sort of a pilot project and its success has given us confidence to keep exploring such new ideas.