India Today - - FEATURE - By URSILA ALI

On a cloudy Jan­uary af­ter­noon, the shift­ing sands of Ra­jasthan, which till now res­onated with the folk tunes of the Man­ga­niar and Langa tribes, mar­ried con­tem­po­rary world mu­sic and gave us, the en­rap­tured au­di­ence, a slice of other-worldly mu­sic.


For us, the suave city-dwellers, the cul­ture vul­ture hipsters, the mu­sic buffs who know the mu­sic scene in­side-out, an in­die mu­sic fes­ti­val means a chance to back­pack to an ex­otic lo­ca­tion and spend an­other week­end in the bliss­ful com­pany of lyrics and rhythms. But Taalbelia, the four-day fes­ti­val which saw 30 artistes from across gen­res was any­thing but an­other in­die fest. A rare glimpse into Ra­jasthan—a strong con­nec­tion to its folk tra­di­tions, a royal her­itage and an un­par­al­leled hos­pi­tal­ity, Taalbelia was a sapid mix of art and cul­ture, tra­di­tion and moder­nity—the best of both worlds.

It would be wrong to call it a

hid­den king­dom, but the lesser­known jewel in the crown of the Shekhawati re­gion is Man­dawa. Till now the town has hosted many a Bol­ly­wood film pro­duc­tions—PK (2014), Ba­jrangi Bhai­jaan (2015) and Pa­heli (2005) to name a few, as well as tourists who come here on a fresco trails. A mu­sic fes­ti­val was a first here.


Gau­rav Raina aka GRAIN, who was ear­lier part of elec­tronic fu­sion group MIDI­val Pun­ditz and now is a DJ ex­per­i­ment­ing with con­tem­po­rary sound­scape and lyri­cal melodies ex­plains why Man­dawa was the best place to host the fes­ti­val. “The town lies on a biker route. The vil­lagers are ac­cus­tomed to invit­ing trav­ellers with arms wide open. When you have such hos­pitabil­ity, ac­cep­tance to new ideas is easy,” says the mu­sic pro­ducer. It is be­cause of this ac­cep­tance that Bhan­wari Devi, a shy ghoong­hat-clad woman who has an as­ton­ish­ingly large vo­cal range, was able to per­form bhakti songs which in Ra­jasthan, has been a largely male­dom­i­nated realm. Devi’s Kat­tey, made fa­mous by MTV Coke Stu­dio re­ceived a re­sound­ing ap­plause. If Devi brought an au­then­tic ori­en­tal touch, Shil­long-based band, Soul­mate was giv­ing us the Blues quite lit­er­ally. Soul­mate’s vo­cal­ist, Tips Khar­ban­gar, a mod­ern day Ja­nis Jo­plin, had us en­gaged through­out the hour-long gig. A fes­ti­val rev­eller made an in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tion, “her pipes are in­cred­i­ble. Her voice is pos­si­bly trav­el­ling all the way to Delhi right now”. Band mem­ber Rudy Wal­lang let us in on the se­cret of mak­ing great mu­sic. “You have to be emo­tion­ally naked to make the Blues. It is com­plex to make, but eas­ier to re­ceive,” he says.


While there was a melange of rock, elec­tronic, folk and clas­si­cal, there were two acts that stood out from the rest of the gen­res. Reg­gae Ra­jahs, the eight-year-old Ja­maican sound sys­tem, also the first of its kind in the coun­try livened up the desert with reg­gae beats. “One of the big ap­peals of reg­gae is that it cov­ers a wide spec­trum of is­sues. We write and sing about free­ing one’s mind from what we call the Baby­lon sys­tem (or bru­tal op­pres­sion of the mind), just hav­ing a good time or even ganja,” says band mem­ber Gen­eral Zooz. The sec­ond was a rap act. Divine, born as Vi­vian Fer­nan­des and now fa­mous by his stage moniker, has been called a Slum­dog or a ghetto rap­per. Divine is aware of this clas­si­fi­ca­tion but does not re­buke it. He is proud of his hum­ble roots (JB Na­gar slums), calls him­self a “gospel rap­per” and was part of the church choir. “I don’t iden­tify with the gang­ster cul­ture glo­ri­fied by rap­pers in the west. You don’t just be­come a rap­per by wear­ing gold chains and fancy shoes. I rap to rep­re­sent my re­al­ity and where I come from,” says the young artiste.

Pan­dit Vishwa Mo­han Bhatt per­forms at the Taalbelia fes­ti­val in Man­dawa, Ra­jasthan

Folk dancers liven up the per­for­mance venue

The op­u­lent Cas­tle Man­dawa

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