Spiritual music from around the globe converge at Jodhpur as World Sacred Spirit Festival kicks off at Mehrangarh Fort

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Jodhpur: The mystical vibe of various spiritual traditions enlivened the grounds of the Mehrangarh Fort as the 12th edition of World Sacred Spirit Festival (WSSF) rolled out its carpets on February 22. Conceptualised by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust to preserve Sufi music, the festival now showcases the spiritual nature of various musical cultures across borders.  This year, the three-day festival happens across multiple venues spread across the fort area including the beautiful Chokelao Garden within the grounds and by the serene Jaswant Thada Lake.

The opening event on February 21 evening at Rao Jodha Park, that gave a glimpse of what the festival stands for, was attended by foreign and Indian patrons. The audience were given a royal welcome by a performance by Rajasthani Gair dancers as the latter arrived at the venue overlooking the fort walls guided by rustic lanterns. As the host greeted everyone in to settle down for a mystical night, Ingie orchestra from Azerbaijan took to the stage to play the first notes at the festival. Led by Tarana Aliyeva, a well-versed qanun player with nearly three decades of performing experience, the four-piece outfit represented the Azeri tradition of Baku which is a confluence of Turkish, Persian and Caucasian elements. The performance based on the melodic scales from Azerbaijan was accompanied by a light winter breeze and the moon which rose up from behind the dais. To further enhance the energy, dancer Mukadasi Mijiti, who is of Uyghur origin, stepped out in front, presenting her fluid movements inspired by the ancient cities of Uzbekistan. Combining influences from places like Russia, Persia and Turkey and reminiscent of the Silk Road, the performance bridged the East and the West.

As the moon rose higher, Anatolian music played by an all-women quartet took to stage. The ensemble names Telli Turnalar was born out of the shared love for the string instrument saz used in Turkish and Kurdish songs. Petra Nachtmanova, Eléonore Fourniau, Gülay Hacer Toruk and Cangül Kanat gave the night a close with soothing vocal harmonies.

The first official day at World Sacred Spirit festival started at the lake side Jaswant Thada. As the crimson sun broke through the mist Barkat and Jalal Khan came together with their popular bhajans. Songs of Kabir and Meera resounded across the waves, acting as a wakeup call to the city. Moving to the garden within the fort, the late morning show by Andaaz brothers took listeners on a spiritual trance. Moving through songs like Allah Hu, Bhar De Jholi, Kripa KijiyeMaharaj Moinuddin and Dama Dum Mast Qalander, they slowly brought the energy up with their long renditions up to a point where people had their hands raised to the heavens.

Argentinian guitarist Lautaro Tissera Favaloro’s entry changed up the mood to one of deep emotions. As the sun warmed up the lush lawns of Chokhelao Garden, the young classical guitarist gave life to his music which is in tune to the different forms of Argentinian dance such as Tango, Milongas, Waltz, Zamba, Carnvalito, and Gato. Exhibiting exceptional musicianship, he had the crowd in confusion whether to tap their feet or observe the intriguing guitaring.

What got people really moving was the sound of the Scottish bagpipe presented by the young band Rura. Steven Blake, Jack Smedley, David Foley and Adam Brown simply had the crowd dancing from the first track with their highland pipes, fiddle, flute, bodhran drum and guitar with tracks like Day One and The Glorious 45. Not only did they get a crowd dancing right in front of the stage, but they also delivered a well-planned set list offering space for emotions and contemplation.

The afternoon sessions started off at the same venue. This unique event was the result of learning camps organised by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust to ensure the continuation of Rajasthan’s diverse folk traditions. The maestros from the Manganiyar community had guided young artists from their community through camps in their village in Jaisalmer. Promising talents made their debut alongside prominent musicians from the community.

Evening event Raga on the lake took the festival participants back to Jaswant Thada. Young Bengaluru-based musician and the son of the acclaimed violinist L Subramaniam, Ambi Subramaniam, was the performer here. Starting off with a Thyagaraja composition, the prodigy amazed the crowd with his dexterity, accompanied by khatam and mridangam artists. The best part about the evening was yet to come. The well-executed collaboration between the violinist and three Manganiyar musicians included two tracks in Raag Peeli and Pesh.

The fort’s terrace hosted the late evening events starting with a meditative Iranian singing by Shiraz accompanied by traditional instruments like tar and tonbak. The bigger venue, the Zenana Deodi Courtyrad capturing the allure of the fort was ready to host last two events of the night. The energetic persona of multi-instrumentalist and film composer Mathias Duplessy saw excitement among the crowd at its peak. Alongside Guo Gan on erhu, Aliocha Regnard on nyckelharpa and Nara Kargyraa on morin khuur, together known as The Violins of the world, he created magic and also got onstage sarangi maestro Sabir Khan.

The night wound up with a showcase by Madan Gopal Singh’ Chaaryaar, consisting of the ace guitarist and banjo player Deepak Castelino, soulful sarod player Pritam Ghosal and an energetic multiple persussionist Amjad Khan. Madan Gopal Singh is a fantastic musician, but also a scholar and this shone through during his performance. An expert of the Sufi tradition but also a teacher of English, he not only presented his songs but also explained them, translating magical poetry and lyrics for the audience. His songs transition from Sufi masters to the likes of Lorca, Neruda, Brecht, Tagore, Iqbal, and even the Beatles, Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Simon and Garfunkel translated, adapted and incorporated into one another seamlessly. This night was no exception as he took the audience on an overwhelming journey from Bulleh Shah to John Lennon, translating exquisite old German spiritual poetry into English, before performing it in Punjabi for the audience and invoking, almost in the same breath, ‘Bismillah’ and ‘Ram Naam’. The Manganiyars collaborated with him on stage

eventually, joining the power of their voices and music to his, magnifying the effect manifold.

The festival will continue on Saturday featuring artists Yom and Algoza ensemble, Derun – the snake healing dance of Nayaks, Telli Turnalar and Raitilia featuring Jackson Scott in the forenoon. A Langa camp showcase will follow this and the day’s Raga on the lake will have young khayal practitioner Mohammad Aman. Later in the evening, over 40 Rajasthani and international artists will pay tribute to Meera Bai at Zenana Courtyard while poets Kabir and Amir Khusru will also be remembered by Shujaat Khan. The after party, later in the night, sees the name DuOud, an electric lute project, on the roster. Sunday morning patrons can wake up to Sufi music by Sawan Khan which will lay a close to the main events.