As the curtains closed on the 15th annual Jazzmandu, the audience and organisers were taking stock of the performances at this unique festival.
The showcase event has always been the Jazzbazaar at Gokarna Resort. With its lush greenery, Gokarna provides the perfect, magical backdrop for this multi-act event.
Although as one avid concert goer put it: “You have to be truly committed to jazz to take on this road,” referring to the torturous Chabahil- Boudha-Gokarna stretch, which has been under perpetual construction for more than a decade.
Yanik Shrestha, an RJ with Radio Nagarik 96.5, hasn’t missed a single Jazzmandu since the festival’s inception 15 years ago. Jazzmandu has taken fans like him on a dynamic journey to explore a masala of culture, music and spirituality.
“Jazz is one of the most important arts of this century: it has this ability to be fluid and absorb all kinds of music. People are beginning to understand that it’s not this stodgy, closed-in music: it has a big heart," he adds.
The Palouse Jazz Project, which performed at Gokarna, is made up of faculty members from the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho. It plays traditional jazz standards along with its own compositions. Pianist and vocalist Kate Skinner’s rendition of 'A Beautiful Friendship' was lilting and lovely.
Filtron M brought together artists from New York, Mali, Switzerland and Nepal to create NepaMali, which had its debut at Jazzmandu this year. Manu Koch of Filtron M relates how he and Navin Chettri had been talking for years about bringing a kora player to Nepal: this year they introduced Balla Tounkara, who plays the 21-stringed, lute-harp instrument. The sound is evocative of long narratives told under open skies and melds exquisitely with the bass of the saxophone and guitar.
Improvisational, experimental, young and vibrant, the music of Samuel Wootton Toy Story defies categorisation: every once in a while, like a conjuror, the title artist would extract another item from his eclectic collection of global percussion instruments and add another layer of sound to the music.
“Jazz is exciting and special because it is an art form which enables the thrill of creating spontaneously, in direct response to impressions, circumstances and locations,” says Wooton.
Priti Rai has come to Jazzmandu at Gokarna every year. "It is one place during the week-long jazz fest that allows me to listen to all the performances on one stage. And also meet people.”
Rakesh Khadgi, a regular concert goer, has a different take. He laments the fact that the festival is a great cultural event for Kathmandu, but not a musical one.
He expalins: “These events have become about seeing and being seen rather than the music, and I find that to be in conflict with the objectives of Jazzmandu, which is to bring international music to Nepal and showcase Nepali music to international artists.”
Indeed, Jazzmandu has brought new voices and acts, providing Nepali audiences exposure to international music. This year the Julia Sarr Collective, with its West African rhythms and jazz melodies, was a good example of the festival’s broad scope.
But Khadgi shakes his head: “Looking at the audience, it doesn’t look like the organisers are bringing international music to a Nepali audience, it looks like they are bringing international music to audiences that have already had exposure to such kinds of music: expats and well-heeled Nepalis.”
Another festival-goer, Pooja Rana, agrees that Jazzmandu could try to be more inclusive. “True, they conduct master classes for select students, but the other events are prohibitively expensive."
Kathmandu needs events like Jazzmandu, and many people will continue to flock to them in droves. But reducing the entrance fees, and broadening the appeal to a larger audience (perhaps even outside Kathmandu) would expand the reach and impact of the festival in its next 15 years.
Jazz it up in ‘Mandu, Sahina Shrestha
The young in Jazz, Hannan Lewsley