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Desert sounds travel across state
SHWETA SHARMA  2nd Oct 2011

Pope with Rajasthani musicians Ranaram Bhil and Chananji at RIFF 2010

t was during her undergraduate degree in English Literature, that Georgie Pope developed an interest in India and its vibrant culture. Following her interest, she came here in September 2009, after pursuing her masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Her quest to learn about the country took her to John and Faith Singh of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF), where she volunteered for JVF-initiated festivals like the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF). Pope's love and passion for India, its music and traditions led her to launch Sound Travels, an initiative to validate the music of Rajasthan.

"I extended my stay in India from three months to six, and then returned for longer periods as I was drawn in by the music and the fascinating stories of the performers in Rajasthan. Working for JVF and the RIFF taught me a lot about the musicians of the state [the changes they've faced since Independence, the specific issues facing female musicians and the tremendous and inspiring talent of thousands of professional musicians]. After two years of going back and forth between the UK and India, I realised that I wanted to learn and share more," she says.

Sound Travels connects music lovers, travellers, ethnomusicologists, producers and musicians with the wealth of art in the Indian subcontinent. It makes expeditions through the villages of Rajasthan, takes short trips over long weekends and curates interactive musical evenings, gigs and workshops for all those who are interested.

"Sound Travels is not about some stuffy tradition that needs to be preserved — it's about getting people to see an unbelievable source of extremely talented and energetic musicians who could knock the spots off most of the second-rate guitar bands that clog our night life," Pope said.

She stresses that she is not doing charity work, but merely facilitating an exchange between the culturally rich but financially poor and the new middle class who have some spare money and a desire to engage with culture. The first official Sound Travels trip is scheduled for 1 October.

The trip begins in Delhi, where it pays a visit to Nizamuddin for some live qawwali. The group will drive into the desert to Shekhawati to meet non-professional drummers and see how and where drums are made. Next, they will head to Jaipur to meet the JVF team for a discussion on the Kalbeliya community (snake charmers, black-dressed dancers and singers), followed by a Kalbeliya performance. It will then head to Pushkar, where nagara master Nathoo Lal Solanki will hold a drumming workshop before taking the group to a camp. The group will go to Ajmer (where they'll see a sacred performance in the Ajmer Sharif) and then finally to Jodhpur, where the music festival takes place over five days.

"I was working on an ad hoc basis, but wanted to work out a feasible way in the long term where I can make my passion my profession. I thought of starting with Rajasthan, which I know fairly well, and if that works, I'll expand to Bengal, and beyond," she concludes.

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