Once upon a time in jazzmandu
by PAAVAN MATHEMA
It's the season of festivals, and not just Dasain, Tihar and Chhat. In the last two months, Kathmandu has played host to two literary festivals, a documentary festival and now we are in the throes of our annual jazz party, Jazzmandu.
Surya Nepal Jazzmandu turns nine this year and, we are happy to report, has stuck to its annual promise. "When we started the festival in 2002, it was difficult to even find a jazz CD in Kathmandu," recalls Navin Chhetri, the drummer and vocalist of Cadenza. "Now the genre is popular, and we no longer have to explain what jazz is."
An impressive, varied ensemble of invitees this year testifies to the growing success of the event. Surya Nepal Jazzmandu has put Kathmandu on the international jazz map, getting mentions in Jazz Times and Lonely Planet. Chhetri says that he gets emails from outfits around the world who want to be part of the festival.
Jazzmandu has put Nepal on the global map in terms of first-class music festivals. Each year more and more people turn up for the festival, and its popularity is certain to grow by leaps and bounds. Yes, it's time for all things Jazz!
The Jazzers in 'Mandu
The jazzy crowd of this year's Surya Nepal Jazzmandu has arrived in town. The festival kick started on Thursday with a competition for local jazz bands, and has something to fit everyone's schedule. Here's who's who of the visiting acts and resident bands this year.
Six piece band Neighbourhood comes all the way from Sweden. Their music is an energetic mix inspired by the jazz, funk and soul of the 70's, and has a pulsating groove that makes it hard to sit still. The band has been highly commended for their debut album Maybe Tomorrow.
Founded in 1994 by Swiss guitarist Eugene Montenero, Bconnected has stayed connected and produced 7 records during its career. Having performed in several jazz festivals around the globe, Bconnected's music reflects a diverse influence while keeping its roots in jazz.
The Cuban League
A special treat during this Jazzmandu is the sound of Afro-Latin and Cuban jazz. Evolved through tremendous cultural exchange between outstanding musicians from the United States and the Caribbean, this form of jazz is recognised for its syncopated, infectious and danceable rhythms. The Cuban League from the US will introduce Kathmandu to authentic Afro-Cuban sounds from the Caribbean. The band brings the talented voice of Xiomara Laugrat, singing to the music of bass player Yunior Terry and pianist Alex Tosca Laugart. "The music we play is a bit like telling a story... the story of our lives and our culture. The music will be a flight to Cuba and everyone is welcome on board," says Terry.
Cadenza will bring its band members back from US and India to jam in Nepal once again. Cadenza's sound is comprised of elements from a wide array of experimental styles such as Nepali classical and folk blended with afrobeat and funk.
Hailing from Brisbane Australia, Nick Aggs returns to the Kathmandu Jazz Festival for the fourth time. A popular Australian saxophonist, keyboardist and composer, Nick is the band leader of Australia's fusion band Afro Dizzi Act. He is looking forward to performing some of his compositions with his old friends Cadenza.
Rabin Lal Shrestha Eastern Classical Trio
Rabin Lal Shrestha is a performer and teacher and one of the most respected tabla players in Nepal. Rabin Lal has traveled around the world, sharing the joys of his tabla and winning numerous awards .This year, Rabin Lal will feature Bina Shrestha on sitar and Nagnedra Rai on bamboo flute.
The Window Seat
This talented trio from India will be joined by singer Suman Sridhar for the festival. Sounds influenced by afrobeat, funk and jazz with a melodic and improvisational outlook make this band unique.
Gandharva refers to traditional musicians of Nepal who travel with their sarangi. Formed in 2000, this group will add the Nepali touch in the festival with traditional instruments sarangi, flute, madal and kartal.
The KJC Faculty Combo
Originally formed to showcase the ability of the teachers at Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, KJC Faculty Combo brings forth a talented lineup of musicians for their debut at Jazzmandu. Their repertoire will include music from a diverse range of musical genres.
Surya Nepal Jazzmandu escaped the city to the Gokarna Forest Resort for Jazz Bazaar. Under the shade of giant trees, the line-up of all of this year's Jazzmandu artists delivered stellar performances all afternoon and into the night, culminating in a spectacular jam session.
The day started with Gandharva, a quartet of traditional Nepali musicans on maadal, saarangi, and baansuri who presented several lively Nepali folk tunes. Shyam Gandharva was grateful for the opportunity to play to an appreciative crowd, and expressed his concern over the decline of Nepalese traditions.
The showcase of local talent continued with All My Friends, a young jazz trio invited to play at the Jazz Bazaar after winning the Jazzmandu Jazz for the Next Generation band contest. Kiran Shahi, Abhishek Bhadra and Ian Eustis especially impressed the audience and the other musicians with some of their original compositions, reminding everyone of the tremendous potential of Kathmandu's young jazz artists.
Swiss visitors' bconnected came next with complex compositions of layered rhythms and melodies, using great dynamic contrasts and frenetic solos to create their distinct sound. Window Seat Mumbai took the stage next. The quartet blended racy vocals from Suman Sridhar with aggressive rhythmic work from drummer Lindsay D'Mello and bassist Sonu Sangameswaran. The Robin Lal Eastern Classical Trio followed, and their ethereal sound blended with the buzz of cicadas in the Gokarna forest to set the perfect mood as afternoon moved into evening.
Jazzmandu veterans Cadenza Collective threw the evening into high gear, getting the crowd to their feet and dancing. Led by Navin Chettri, the musical mastermind behind Jazzmandu, the band's catchy rhythmic licks and a deep rhythmic groove proved irresistibly danceable.
Up next was the young Swedish band Neighbourhood who kept the party going in style. Playing original compositions, Neighbourhood's endearingly brash style continued to win fans.
Headline act Cuban League took the stage last, with the crowd already primed and begging for more. Yunior Terry was superb on the upright bass, orchestrating the group's Latin rhythms with his robust yet playful sound, and complementing the rhythmic base from the group's visiting percussionists.
Axel Tosca Laugart joined in on the piano and demonstrated a distinct hip-hop sensibility that added another rhythmic layer to the group. Xiomara Laugart, Axel's mother and a living legend in Cuba, soon joined them on stage, lending her voice to several Latin favourites. Xiomara's captivating stage presence and impeccable ability to play the crowd soon had the audience in raptures. Sensing the crowd's energy peaking, she invited other musicians to the stage to jam.
Even after a full day of spectacular performances, the final jam session was undoubtedly the highlight of the show. The crowd screamed, swayed, danced and jumped as all the day's artists took the stage, taking turns on their instruments. The crowd and the musicians fed off each other's obvious elation to create an atmosphere that left even veteran musicians in awe. After an ecstatic end to the concert, audience members could barely find the words to describe what they had just experienced. Still breathing heavily, music fan Kishor Maharjan could think of only one thing to say: "More musicians like this please. More!"
Jazzmandu 2011 Reporter