The biggest Jazz Party in the Himalayas – and maybe the highest in the world
The World Jazz Music Festival ended in the first week of November, 2012 in the Himalayan City of Kathmandu, Nepal. Nicknamed Jazzmandu, the festival’s main feature was traditional Jazz with captivating fusion. Artists from around the globe performed in this festival. Bands and artists arrived from Norway, Switzerland, USA, India and Thailand to perform alongside some local bands that were lined up for the entertainment of the audience. The weeklong event was sheer entertainment throughout, with tremendous focus on performance-based music for the audience. This was the 10thJazzmandu in the last 11 years, skipping only one year owing to political instability in Nepal.
This year’s Jazzmandu was spread across various tastefully selected venues that included historic sites, museums, charming resorts and hotels, providing an opportunity to simultaneously witness endless music and to discover Nepal in its diverse colours.
Jazzmandu 2012 was graced by the presence of famous performers like Marlow Rossado (USA), an 11 time Grammy Award nominee pianist, composer and producer, and Tito Puente Junior (USA) who carries his father’s mission to show the world what Latin Jazz is all about. His father, Tito Puente is considered the father of Latin Jazz who won numerous awards for his contributions. Marlow is a ‘Salsero at heart who grew up with the sounds of Fania’. His debut album ‘Salsalsa’ (2009) took the number 1 spot in Puerto Rican charts.
Along with Tito Jr. he played mixed Latin Jazz and Salsa complimenting authentic Afro-Cuban sounds from the Caribbean. Marlow and Tito Jr. travelled to Nepal for this festival, only to fall instantly in love with the valley.
From Bangkok, Thailand, Rootman, one of the most adored bands throughout the festival, shocked the audience by fusing Jazz with contemporary hip hop and club music. With a lineup of ten, their band includes a DJ with turn tables, a lightning-fast keyboardist, an exceptional bassist who doesn’t think twice before experimenting, and of course rhythmic and conventional Jazz instrument players. Their musical influences include Funk, Jazz, Soul, R&B and Hip Hop, which was quite evident in their performance.
Beat Kaestli of Switzerland played exquisite conventional Jazz in English and French – Beat is a songwriter, arranger and a producer who now calls New York home. NoJazz of France strikingly fused Jazz with Drum & Bass and Hip Hop, making it a club-like environment. Their first album was produced in 2002 by a legendary producer of Miles Davis’s Columbia years, Teo Macero.
‘Cadenza Collective’, a Nepalese band, filled the air with their magic, making the audience coming back for more. Navin Chettri, who is Cadenza Collective’s drummer and part vocalist, is one of the pioneers of this festival. He has been behind all the efforts to make Jazzmandu a reality since its inception, and before. Pursuing a degree in music in the US, he is responsible for overseeing the entire event’s activities while focusing on his own show with his brother and other band members.
A high-energy surprise of the fiesta was various bands jamming live with each other, with little or no rehearsal. Taking advantage of Marlow Rosado and Tito Puente Junior’s band’s experimentation, they responded to their lead to create enchanting music on the go.
A unique trio called Suzy & 2 of Norway experimented with some African instruments, making it a first time experience for many. Cecilie Giskemo and Siri Kvambe on the vocals played Mbira Nyunganyunga and Kalimba, which are classic African thumb-pianos. Cecilie has shifted to Nepal from Norway to teach music. Her other two colleagues had specially flown in to perform at the event. Additionally, Cecilie created a distinctive and exceptional fusion of Norwegian, Jazz, African and Eastern music using her eastern classical RAAG’s skills that she has recently started working on as Prabhu Raj Dhakal’s student. They collaborated for this show and were the opening artists in most evenings.
Kutumba from Nepal was followed cheerfully by the spectators for their outstanding performances in folk tunes and improvised sounds. It was breathtaking to witness Tablas, Sarangees, Sitars, and other eastern classical instruments attributed to the Indian subcontinent blending in with Jazz and enhancing its beauty. An Indian Band from New Delhi, Adil and Vasundhara did incredibly well in singing and playing Jazz in English. Their music spectrum spans Jazz Fusion, Funk, R&B, Blues and Gospel.
The well-organised and executed event was jam-packed throughout the festival. The audience, mostly tourists, some of whom had especially come to Nepal to attend the festival, found it worth every moment. With state of the art equipment for sound, lights, stage etc., the ambience was vibrant and the mood exotic. Jazz on the Himalayas is definitely an unforgettable experience.
Jazzmandu is the brainchild of a few Nepalese businessmen and musicians, with an incredible story to tell. A few music enthusiasts were encouraged to promote Jazz in the valley by a well-established businessman and a Jazz lover Suman Sachdev. Suman, along with his network of friends and fellow businessmen, for example the owner of Gokarna Forest Resort and the owner of Shangri-la Hotel funded the event for the first few years. The best part is that the promoters were not looking for a return but only to promote Jazz in the valley. The musicians were lucky to be given space by the landlord of a famous restaurant called the Upstairs Bar (now renamed Jazz Upstairs Bar) in Katmandu for practice and shows. This bar has previously hosted shows by famous artists like STING.
Jazzmandu is now fully supported by sponsors. Navin Chettri revealed that this festival has exceeded his expectations. He looks forward to the event every year. In Suman’s opinion, Jazzmandu has become a ‘big deal’ in the Jazz world – including all participants, including foreign experts on the sound system and volunteers for these shows, said Suman. In order to encourage new comers and hopefuls, the management also organised Jazz workshops and clinics for educational reasons. This gave amateurs a chance to mingle with experienced musicians and learn from them, absolutely FREE!
Although, there were no Pakistani performers in this festival, the management of Jazzmandu did however mention that they would love to have performers over from Pakistan in the future. In fact, Suman said that he loves music from Pakistan and has recently purchased Coke Studio’s latest season.
And here’s an interesting fact just for the readers: Suman’s mother is from Lahore who migrated to India in 1947. They later moved to Nepal. Now based in Bangkok, he still considers himself Punjabi.
The management and performers both are interested in taking this festival to other destinations, and may consider Pakistan as an option, provided the security situation in the country improves. But of course, just like the rest of the world, the performers and the management’s views on Pakistan were negative, i.e. terrorism, extremism, political turmoil, anti-music and anti-western sentiments are unfortunately, closely affiliated with Pakistan. However, most of the performers are fans of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and cherish his music with great respect.
We need such festivals in Pakistan – although the Rafi Peer team has made incredible efforts in the past to promote such music and festivals in Pakistan, especially Lahore, but our country’s current economy, political and security situations and heavy taxes on entertainment have made it next to impossible to hold such cultural events. The Punjab Government on the other hand, has banned Basant that had served as a ‘Dollar magnet’ for years.
It is suggested that the Punjab Government reduce taxes on entertainment, help promote festivals, manage Basant in an effective way. For example sanction a ‘Basant Stadium’ just like stadiums dedicated to cricket, hockey and other sports with appropriate health and safety policies and procedure.
Jazzmandu is a great platform for cultural exchange and to introduce one’s national music too. Pakistani Jazz enthusiasts and musicians should prepare and participate in this festival for the sake of music and to promote Pakistan’s image abroad. You will have the whole world as your audience. Navin, who is also the chief selector for deciding who gets to play, has set a healthy criteria to ensure only the most talented perform in the shows. According to Navin, he looks for talent, creativity, variety, and ‘new stuff’ when qualifying an artist. Although experience is not essential, one may be required to submit a portfolio to prove their claim, unless they are able to think of another way of doing it. So far, almost all performers have been delighted and honoured to be given an opportunity to perform at Jazzmandu.
On a different note, Nepal is a beautiful country and worth your time and money for tourism.