Sounds of India echo - thanks to folk music fests
By Yashika Mathur, New Delhi, Mar 1 : From the interiors of India to soirees big and small in urban centres, India's folk musicians are going places and getting increasingly new audiences. And giving them the much-needed platform are folk music festivals in centres as varied as Mussoorie and Mumbai.
In a win-win situation, the festivals connect music aficionados who get to hear the authentic sounds of India and artists whose talent gets recognition.
According to Gurmej Raja, a qawwali singer from Punjab, festivals open windows for both the performer and the audience, often including foreigners as well.
"These festivals help us in a big way. Our culture is very different and unique. Such festivals should happen because they teach the world about our culture," Raja told IANS after performing to a packed audience in Rajasthan's colourful town of Pushkar that recently played host to the Blue Lotus Music Festival.
India is a country where it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that languages and dialects, and sometimes culture, change every few hundred kilometres. But Raja feels music can conquer every barrier of language.
"Music connects us to god. I always see a lot of foreigners enjoying and swinging to our music every time we perform, even though they do not understand the lyrics," he added.
Sufi singer Raza Khan is also enjoying the spotlight.
Khan, who belongs to the Sham Chourasi Gharana in Amritsar, performed at a few music festivals and now has travelled to countries like Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
"Such festivals should continue so that artists get work globally," Khan told IANS.
Himanshu Dugar, organiser of the Pushkar festival, said such events boost the confidence of talented artists, who otherwise remain restricted in their regions and earn in a limited way.
"Folk festivals help in many ways. They essentially help in promoting artists' talent and get them good income," Dugar said, adding that the exposure gets them concerts abroad and in India.
"With today's communicative tools, especially through social media, every artist, regardless of his or her origin, can attain global presence, if not with a billion hits on YouTube, then at least with a 100.
"Now an artist needs patronage, which he or she only attains via these festivals. The bigger the festival, the more credibility the artist has regardless of the quality of their work," Vedabrata Rao, organiser of the upcoming Carnatic Music Festival (Vriddhi) in New Delhi, told IANS.
The festivals are growing.
The "Music in the hills" event, for instance, is held in different hill towns like Shimla and Mussoorie. Begun in 2007, audiences flock to hear qawwali, folk and even blues.
Then there is the Yaksha Music festival, which has been an annual affair since 2010 and takes place in Coimbatore every year, as also the Fireflies Festival of Sacred Music held at the Fireflies Ashram off Kanakapura road in Banglore.
There's a flip side too.
It is not always easy to get money and sponsorships, says Ashutosh Sharma, who organises the annual Amarrass Desert Music Festival in the national capital.
"Festivals like these run on sponsorship. Sometimes sponsors backtrack at the last moment, and this is anyway not a very profitable line. Most festivals make very minor profits. Only the ones which are heavily funded earn better amounts," Sharma said.
But the sounds are getting amplified.
Other than the music festivals, shows like MTV's "Coke Studio" also provide a platform to promote folk artists by bringing forgotten folk sounds from interiors and fusing them with contemporary ones.
(Yashika Mathur can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)