This is producer, DJ and musician, Maga Bo’s third time at Jodhpur Riff. This year he is collaborating with Rajasthani folk musicians Rais Khan (morchang), Manzoor Khan (dholak), Hakim Khan (vocals) and Jassu Khan (bhapang and khartal). It’s the last day of the festival. Having performed with the group the night before, he is finally free from rehearsals and soundchecks and is walking towards a part of the Mehrangarh Fort that affords him a good view of the sunset. We walk with him.
What performances did you watch?
I saw Maya Kamaty from the Reunion Island. Really, really liked her and her band. I saw Spiro. I saw Manu Chao, of course. Manu Chao was great. I saw a bit of the qawwali yesterday (by Rizwan and Muazzam). That was great. And that was it. I didn’t have any time to watch more because I was rehearsing and working on getting our own performance ready.
From among the ones you saw, is there any particular performance that stands out for you?
I think Manu Chao. He was incredible. I am a huge fan. I was really hoping to meet him but…
With your own collaboration you had said you had an idea of what you wanted to do, but you were also open to exploring other possibilities. How did it go? Where did you start?
In some ways it exceeded my expectations. In other ways it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I guess that’s normal because to create a performance, meet new people—I had met them before but I didn’t really know them—to put together a performance for half an hour… and we ended up playing for 45 minutes. Anyway, to do this within three days is not easy. Especially with electronic music, because it requires a lot more preparation than just taking up an instrument and playing it. I was really happy with the result and I hope we get to do it again because I think the more time we spend on it the better it gets.
What exceeded your expectations?
What really exceeded my expectations was that the musicians were really enthusiastic and energetic and had a lot of ideas and were open to trying new things. And the part where… maybe I shouldn’t say it didn’t meet my expectation…
But you wished you could do more?
We made some mistakes. I don’t know if other people noticed but we noticed it of course. But that’s something that takes time and practice to prevent. Some of the things were cultural differences— because the music that I’m bringing, the beats that I’m bringing, have a certain method of counting, and how the musical system is approached and understood here is a little bit different. So there were times where they didn’t understand what I was doing. And there were times where they were doing things that were obvious and clear to them but I just didn’t understand…
How can one get past that?
Oh, with time. Time, learning and exposure.
How did you pick the songs to work on?
I think I had 12 beats ready to go and we went through all of them. And they would say, “Maybe it could be this one for this one. Let’s try this.” Someone would throw up an idea and I’d say, “Yeah, that’s the rhythm that works with that.” And then we remember the lyrics: “Oh! What are the lyrics here?” And then we would put it all together in a way that works. So it was pretty natural on that level.
Did you ask the Rajasthani musicians you were collaborating with what the lyrics meant?
Yes, I asked them what all of the lyrics meant but it’s really time-consuming to get a complete translation. They don’t speak English so well. And my Marwari and my Hindi are, well, non-existent. So someone standing there and translating all of this is not practical. But I asked about all the songs and what each one was about. One was about the woman sending her husband to buy jewellery—“Oh! I want an earring.”—and then the whole verse is about the earring. And the next verse is about: “These are the bangles that I want.”
So how did you choose which songs you wanted from the songs they suggested?
I think it was most important that the rhythm and the melody… that musically it went together without even thinking about the lyrics. There were some that we tried on the first day and it seemed like those worked. Then we did it the next day and: “No, no. It’s totally wrong. Doesn’t work at all. Let’s drop that one and do something different.” It’s funny because I think there were beats of mine that they really liked and they wanted to do something with them. So they didn’t understand why it wasn’t working for me and I didn’t understand why it was working for them. That’s normal. It could happen with someone from my own culture.
Any insights you drew from working with them, collaborating with them and listening to them play?
I don’t think there is anything particular, anything specific. For me it was about gaining more experience in working. This was a very special situation. It’s not every day that someone flies you to the other side of the world and pays you to do something like this. You have the entire infrastructure— a place to stay, a place to rehearse, a venue to play, a sound system, a sound engineer. I’ve had the fortune of doing that quite a few times in a few places and so my methodology of working has kind of slowly evolved with that, in a way. So I don’t think I have any specific insight but I think I have a little more confidence. Something special about Riff is that people are really nice here. A lot of people who have come and played here, they’ve come once with an attitude that’s like, “Okay, let’s see if this works. Let’s see if we like each other, if we like the music, if we have the same ideology, philosophy of life or whatever… ” And the next time you do a little bit more and then a little bit more. I think there is a relationship that is sort of developed. I know when I get here everything is going to be taken care of. I know that someone will pick me up from the airport. That’s a small, banal example but there are many, many small details like that that happen and make it all work.
Do you play according to the taste of the audience here? Do you gauge how they respond to what you play and decide accordingly, while playing sometimes?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve played here before and I play music from all over the world— music that I have made and produced myself. But a lot of it they don’t understand, or they’ve never heard it before. It’s something really new. So to bring them and guide them to that place you have to make connections between something that they know and something that they don’t know.
So you do play a bit differently here then.
Yeah, I got to play tracks that I produced for the film Patang, set in Gujarat. At the first song people go crazy. Every time I play this song, people always come out and say, “Oh my god! What is that?” It’s called Pujari. So that’s something that I made in collaboration with other people. It has bhangra in it, it has elements in it that people understand and can relate to, but it also has things that come from me and from my background. So that’s a nice starting point, or one place that can make new connections with other things as we go along.
(Image: Maga Bo performing at Jodhpur Riff. By Rajesh Prabhakar for Jodhpur Riff / Oijo.)