When a crowd of largely Rajasthani men between ages of 18-45 responded in ecstatic frenzy to African singer Dobet Ghanore’s call from the stage, I realised music really does bring the most diverse people on the same page. ‘Africa’ cried Dobet from stage to about 5,000 people. ‘Africa’, ‘India’, ‘Yeah’, they shouted back. In a drastic change, as soon as the song came to an end, the crowds began sloganeering ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, joking, getting restless even aggressive. This, till another song made them sway to its tunes again.
This was but a glimpse of the many contradictions noticed under the canopy of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Where on one hand the event brought a diverse group of musicians singing about freedom, desire and unity from across the world, one couldn’t overlook the fact that it was funded by a corporate- Vedanta- that has been mired in controversy for crushing people’s rights. Where in essence, it was organised to bring music from world over to the people of Udaipur, it had an exclusive private slot of performances for VIPs in the opulent property of Jag Mandir beside the Udaipur lake palace. However, what the festival did, most importantly, was give moments of rapture through music, to a diverse audience.
This first ever World Music Festival of Udaipur was held on 13-14 February. The two-day musical affair had three sessions per day which were spread over three venues across the city of lakes: an exclusive morning session at the picturesque Jag Mandir, the afternoon one at the beautiful lakeside of Fateh Sagar, and an evening session at the Railway Institute grounds. The city’s atmosphere was already charged with festivities as the annual Lake festival concluded just before the world music festival began. Clearly a tourist’s city, Udaipur played host to a vibrant mix of audience as well as musicians from the world over for this event.
This was also an occasion to strengthen diplomatic relations. Spain and India were completing 60 years of diplomatic ties this year. The festival was also a celebration of that. And thankfully so, as it was because of this diplomatic milestone that virtuoso flamenco dancers Juanma Zurano and Tamara from Spain gave an unforgettable hour-long performance to an enthralled audience.
The event became a confluence of artistes, each distinguished in their style of music. The green rooms and backstages of the different venues also became a meeting point for these musicians. Hanging around the backstage, one could see musicians engaging in casual conversations, discussing music. The atmosphere was indeed festive. There were resonances in the experiences of some artistes as well. Two musicians from completely different backgrounds, Sonam Kalra (of the ‘Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel’) and Oum (the acclaimed Morrocan fusion singer) had strikingly similar stories of growing up with the love of music. Though both did not have a Christian upbringing (Sonam is a Sikh from Delhi while Oum a Muslim from Morocco), they were drawn to gospel music in their teens. “When I started singing gospel music, people around me thought that I am this crazy sardarni singing Christian bhajans,” says Sonam. Oum had to face similar kinds of reactions to her choice of music back in her country. But she talks these experiences with a positivity that is reflected even in her distinct style of music. “If some people, be it even our parents or people from our culture, say that you cannot do something, it is still our responsibility to try doing it if we believe in it,” says Oum.