Wondering how to spend those dull days between Dasain and Tihar holidays? Fret not, the week-long Jazzmandu festival is back, so you can party all the way through to Laxmi puja.
Single-handedly responsible for putting Kathmandu on the world-jazz map, Jazzmandu, scheduled for 24-30 October, continues to bring in some of the biggest names in the genre from around the world and our own back yard. Around the city, world-class musicians perform with Kathmandu as their backdrop.
Jazz is a musical style perfectly suited to the city of Kathmandu. Walking through its streets, one is barraged with the staccato of motorbike horns, diverted by unexpected alleyway turns and constantly surrounded by its sweeping hills. Like jazz, life in Kathmandu is spontaneous, given to punctuations of beauty, sublimity and discord. The Jazzmandu music festival, now in its 11th year, is a perfect expression of this extemporaneous city.
But jazz hasn’t always been home in Kathmandu. Ten years ago, one would be hard-pressed to find a Nepali capable of pronouncing the word ‘jazz’, let alone going to see the music. But as artistic director Navin Chettri can attest, a lot has changed in a decade. “People don’t ask what jazz is, anymore,” says Chettri. Now, Jazzmandu has become something of an institution: “People look forward to it as much as Dasain.”
This year’s festival features a smattering of artists hailing from the USA (The Claudia Quintet), India (4th Element), Switzerland (Eliane Amherd), France (Yaite Ramos Quartet) and the Netherlands (Mike del Ferro). None, save a member from the Yaite Ramos Quartet, have performed at the festival before. They join a collection of Nepali artists, including the Cadenza Collective, Joint Family Internationale, and the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory faculty. With musical roots as disparate as Afro-Cuban, classical Western to soul, the festival is sure to be as much education as it is entertainment.
Joint Family Internationale’s single Neta ji went viral on Facebook and Twitter after its release last April. The group’s song, which mocks the failed political leaders of Nepal, struck the right cord with the audience not just for its entertaining lyrics, but also the foot-tapping composition. The single went on to win three awards at Hits FM Music Awards last month, including best new artist, best performance by a group and best pop composition.
The reggae group from Kathmandu, which was virtually unknown among mainstream music listeners, has now garnered a strong fan base and will be performing at this year’s Jazzmandu. Joint Family Internationale (JFI) released their debut album ‘One Good Thing’ in August ,which is now available on iTunes, Amazon and all major digital music stores globally.
“We are grateful to the organisers for giving us the opportunity to perform alongside such talented musicians from all over the world,” says Sanjay Shrestha, guitarist of the band.
JFI was formed in 2008, but lapsed shortly after, only to re-form in 2010. They have since been pulling crowds with their fun performances. They draw influence from artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Katchafire, Cat Empire, Groundation and Afro Dizzi Act. The band has an eclectic mix of Nepali and international musicians that add an extra spunk in all their songs and performances.
Says Sanjay Shrestha: “We hope our music brings people together for fun, peace, love and happiness.”
Sanjay – Guitar/backing vocals, Zimba – Vocals, Inap – Saxophone, Kismat – Drums, Bijent – Bass, Basant – Trumpet, Mahesh – Guitar, and Gemma – Trumpet
It’s only three weeks until Kathmandu swings to the beats of Jazzmandu. We know you’re excited—well, so are the ones performing. Here’s what the artists had to say about their experiences and expectations.
How do you feel about Jazzmandu?
4th Element: The band is really looking forward to Jazzmandu especially in sharing the stage with other international artists.
Yaite Ramos Quartet: It’s always interesting to travel with the music and for the music. Our percussionist Julie Saury was here in 2009 and we’re very excited to be here as a band.
Mike del Ferro: I am thrilled about my first visit to Nepal. I was in touch with the organisers for years and finally everything worked out this time.
Elaine Amherd: I am very much looking forward to collaborate with Nepali musicians and to discover Kathmandu.
How would you describe and define your music?
4th Element: Our music is based on a fusion of funk, jazz, RnB, and soul.
Yaite Ramos Quartet: When our flautist Yaite arrived in France from Cuba, she infused her musical self with other influences. So, the songs we play create an exciting mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazzy harmonies and powerful singing.
Mike del Ferro: When I travel, I look to collaborate with musicians from cultures quite different to my own. The results, which are eye-opening, have let me build musical bridges between cultures. So, I combine these with the revered canons of Western music and drive it with the audacity of jazz improvisation.
Eliane Amherd: My songs are mostly witty anecdotes of my experiences. For example, As if, which I wrote in Rio, goes: “Hi how are you, what’s your name, where are you from, how long do you stay, do you like Rio?” That is the pickup line I heard from men about 10 times a day when all I tried to do is sunbathe in peace. And then of course there are happy and sad love songs.
How important do you think festivals are in promoting the careers of musicians?
Mike del Ferro: Extremely important, because festivals are the best opportunities to be heard and meet a lot of people which can be very useful for your network and career.
Elaine Amherd: Festivals are an incredible opportunity to play for a big audience and to experience the cultures and people of a foreign country. Which again becomes an inspiration for new creations, songs etc. You meet also artists from other countries, so it means something to be invited to play in an international festival.
Who are your favorite jazz musicians/vocalists?
4th Element: Randy Crawford, Lalah Hathaway, George Benson, Phillip Bailey, etc. Too many to name.
Mike del Ferro: There are many, but to name a few: Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane.
Elaine Amherd: I listened to a wide variety of music when I was young, going through phases and all. Later, I became fond of anything with a lot of rhythm like Latin and Brazilian music. Elis Regina is one of my all time favorites and if anyone ever wants to emerse themselves in Jazz singing, Ella Fitzgerald is a must.
Do you also teach music/singing?
Elaine Amherd: I teach guitar and vocal lessons if people ask me for private lessons. And I teach workshops.
Mike del Ferro: I mainly do master-classes when I travel.
Yaite Ramos Quartet: Daniel Stawinski, our piano player, is a specialist of Latin music and he teaches at a Latin music school in Paris. Our bass player, Bruno Schorp, also gives lessons.