Jaipur Literature Festival: Remembering Cheb-I-Sabbah
It was a magical winter’s night at the foothills of Amber Fort. The wine never seemed to stop flowing and our feet never stopped moving to the music. The year was 2012 at the Writer’s Ball, Jaipur Literature Festival . DJ Cheb-I-Sabbah had the who’s who of the literary world grooving to his beats dressed in bright sherwanis and shawls. It was the last time he performed at the Literary Carnival. Chebi passed away on November 6, 2013.
A legendary figure in the global electronic music circuit with a career spanning over four decades, Cheb-I-Sabbah’s sounds found home at this global event. He was bringing cutting edge music to the festival, to a new audience eventually opening their minds to fresh music and paving way for a new generation of electronic and alternative musicians in India.
He left an everlasting impact on the festival crowd and crew. In honour of his work, the Jaipur Literature Festival is putting together a tribute night for Chebi at the 2014 gathering. While the festival has been an international voice for Indian and global musicians, offering them a stage to connect with newer and wider audiences, Chebi was among the first few to represent these sounds.
Chebi Ji has been a powerful influence not only in the electronic music scene but in many musical genres […] He gained popularity through his albums released with Six Degrees records which displayed his unique style combining Indian classical, devotional, African and Middle eastern music with traditional dance rhythms and electronica. I believe he created an outstanding body of work that has been cherished all over the world. His mastery has also been acknowledged by some of the greatest musicians out there” reflected Tapan Raj from the Midival Punditz.
For William Dalrymple, festival director/travel writer and historian, it was Chebi’s album Krishna Lila that turned him into an instant fan. When the music stage became official in 2007 at JLF, three years after the launch of the festival, Chebi performed for the first time: ”he rocked the music stage. He became an annual fixture at the Writer’s Ball and played every year except in 2013. He would have the whole crowd dancing. His music was sophisticated, very cleverly put together. Even when he was ill in 2011 and 2012 and looked a bit like an old Jewish Gandhi, his music was as powerful as ever.”
Treading the fine line between contemporary and traditional; mixing new-age beats with authentic classical Indian, Middle Eastern and Arabic influences – Chebi’s approach to bringing people into the future fold of sounds was very well thought out. JLF for their part have been pushing the same idea thus planting the seed for many new generation artists to grow.
The Midival Punditz are one of the bands playing on the memorial night. The others include Karsh Kale and Gods Robots. “We are still trying to figure the entire list of musicians who will be present that night. But, we will definitely be performing the song, ‘Young of the morning’ that Karsh, Gaurav and I composed for Chebi Ji when he passed away,” notes Tapan. Chebi has touched so many lives in so many different ways and for Tapan his sense of humour stands out. “I remember how he always made fun of Gaurav and me and said ‘What kind of Pundits are you guys? Drinking beer and eating burgers’…he was a strict vegetarian,” he remembers.
After its inception in 2004, the festival has grown a million fold and earned international recognition. William who programs the festival is an avid music collector and is constantly digging for fresh sounds. This reflects strongly on the line-up. “I brought out Asian underground sounds – artists such as Transglobal Underground, Badmarsh and Shri who played in 2007, Kash (Kale) and Anoushka (Shankar) in 2008, Susheela Raman who collaborated with the Paban Das Baul Natascha Atlas, Chebi-I-Sabbah who collaborated with Rajasthani folk musicians have all been a part of the festival,” says William
Some of the most renowned global artists have debuted in India at the festival including 1 Giant Leap, Dub Collosus and Natascha Atlas; the Grammy Award winning band Tinariwen from Mali is the highlight this year. India is bubbling with independent music festivals, a truly important time for music and musicians in the country. What makes JLF special is the huge international exposure it gives Indian artists. The audience is a mix of intellectuals, literary aficionados, writers and culture experts; not something one would see at an electronic or a rock music festival, at least not in so many numbers.
“We started with 4,000 people in the first year. Last year the footfall was a 2,50,000. So it’s getting bigger and bigger.” According to William, it’s the spirit of the festival that attracts them: “we are not here to make money but to promote great talent which is our privilege and I think people respond to that. It has been called one of the top 5 music festivals by reputed magazines such as Songlines although it is a literary carnival,” laughs William adding that there are more and more young people flocking to the festival. “We are still running on a shoestring budget for the music stage which is one of the biggest hurdles,” he adds.
With a great line up both literary and musically, this festival is definitely one of the few that has the courage to invite musicians from different genres to perform for an eclectic crowd, at the same time giving the audience a taste of both the traditional and the ever-evolving sounds of India.
Jaipur Literature Festival
17-21 January 2014
JLF Music Stage (Jaipur- Hotel Clarks Amer, Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, jaipur, Rajasthan)
Artists performing this year:
The Kutle Khan Project featuring Colleena & Queen Harish
written by Shri K