The fusion of traditions at the Jodhpur Flamenco and Gypsy Festival is a visual and emotive exploration of rhythm.
Of the passion and pathos of the Cante with the joyous, raucous melodies of the Thar desert. The mellow tones of the acoustic guitar with the shrill keening of the Kamaicha and the Sindhi Sarangi. The power and the poise of the Flamenco baile with the sinuous whirling of the Kalbelia dancers.
An explosion of joy and colour and romance that underscores the fact that beneath all those surface distinctions we aren’t that dissimilar after all.
The imposing 15th century citadel setting does the fusion proud. An elevator whisks us up to level three. We walk through a gorgeous courtyard ringed by carved jharokas that is set up with food stalls, another with a well stocked bar and onward to the open air venue.
The music might belong to rural peasants but the crowd is well heeled and cosmopolitan. Yellow turbaned staff, straight out of the pages of an EM Foster novel, pad in and out of fluted doorways into the patrons lounge that is cordoned off from the hoi polloi and where celebrity guests (and those that can afford lounge passes) hobnob with royalty. I much prefer the ‘commoner’ seats for their proximity to the performers and better access for photography. Not that I have much of a choice.
Stunning monochrome portraits of Rabari nomads by Rohit Chawla line the softly lit ramparts surrounding the stage. Mexican painter Carmen Galofre captures the scene live from a raised platform to the right. And a silvery spherical moon presides benignly over it all!
Sounds of the Sands provide a soothing prelude to the festival in the intimate Moti Mahal adjacent to the first courtyard before the concert moves out into the open. It is the stridently beautiful rendition of Kesariya Baalam ricocheting off the medieval ramparts that sets the tone for the magic in store.
This ode to Rajput bravery that has evolved into the quintessential welcome song evokes the romance of Rajasthan for me and I love every version from the ones belted out by poor buskers at tourist sites to refined Bollywood interpretations. But this pacy, powerful performance by Bismillah Khan of Rajasthan Roots is on a different level. One could be forgiven for assuming that the traditional foot-tapping, finger-snapping desert tunes that follow have been specially created for the visiting Andalusians.
Next, dancer/choreographer Daniel Navarro steals hearts with his exquisite footwork that gives the Manganiar Khartal (castanet) a run for its money. Did you know the Spanish castanet is NOT a part of true Flamenco at all? I didn’t either!
The line up is impressive. Flamenco jazz guitarist Augustin Carbonel ‘El Bola’, Latin jazz pianist Chano Dominguez, his son, percussionist/guitarist Pablo Dominguez, bassist Javier Colina, drummer Israel Varela, Flamenco guitarist Jose Manuel Leon, violinist Victor Guadiana, vocalists Naike Ponce and Javier Romero Flores ‘El Indio’…all put up mind blowing performances.
But it is the dazzling jugalbandhi between Mexican born Flamenco dancer Karen Lugo and the Manganiar artistes of Rajasthani Roots that sets the stage alight. Before rain disrupts the final act.
Plans, even royal ones it seems, can oft go awry. The drizzle turns into a storm. The elevator comes to a standstill. The tunneling effect in the passages exacerbates the impact of the gritty, gale force winds.
It takes tremendous effort to remain standing while simultaneously trying to keep the grit from our eyes and our clothes from flying up over our heads. Stylish Louboutins and practical Nikes are indiscriminately soaked through. I am glad I ignored R’s raised eyebrows and packed an extra pair of shoes but I stress over the spare glasses that I didn’t. Talk of priorities!
The freak storm clears up by morning and the show goes on. A few late starts notwithstanding, even better than day one with the addition of acclaimed gypsy musicians from Turkey and nightly ‘tribal house beats’ by DJ Hamza and percussionist Latif Khan.
Culminating in a grand finale on day three titled “Chano and Friends” that has all the artistes -including the mesmerizing Sapera girls – up on stage for a scintillating medley.
And most of the audience on its feet.
· The region that Jodhpur is a part of is known as Marwar.
· Manganiar refers to a community of hereditary nomadic musicians from Rajasthan.
· Jharokas = Ornate overhanging windows/balconies
· Jugalbandhi = Duet