Nepali Times Asian Paints
Jam packed Kathmandu


For a rainy October Wednesday evening, Lazimpat's Jazz Upstairs was filled generously with people. Pharadon Phonamuai rolled up his wet jeans and blew into his saxophone while fans cured their chills with pegs of whisky.

It was Jazzmandu's unofficial kick-off jam session. If it were not for this festival, we would have never met Phonamuai's Thai/French band, Vatchapuj, and we would have never wished that they ruled the world. They looked like teenagers who drank a little too much coffee, but their lungs... Phonamuai can trumpet with or without the saxophone, and even in the dives of London and New York, we haven't met a flautist like Vincent Martial. These guys probably have rubber valves for lungs, and they can bend their instruments to their will.

They are not even the headline band at Jazzmandu, which is in its seventh year in Kathmandu. That spot is shared by two Brazil-influenced bands - Trio Urbano from New York and Sheyla Costa La Brasileira from Paris. Trio Urbano even features Grammy award-winning pianist Dario Eskenazi.

Therein lies the strength of Jazzmandu. Its popularity belies the reality that the last seven years in Nepal haven't been particularly peaceful, prompting the organisers to tag the festival with the slogan 'Music for peace and compassion'. Yet it consistently attracts top talent from around the world. "I get an email everyday from musicians who want to participate in Jazzmandu," says Nabin Chhetri of the band Cadenza. He started the festival with Chhedup Bomzan of Jazz Upstairs after seeing their first live jazz band in Australia.

In fact, the idea of a jazz festival in Nepal - in Shangri-la, the top of the world, a place where you least expect it - might be the attracting factor. This novelty could also explain why there is another music festival of not too dissimilar music in Kathmandu this week: the Himalayan Blues Festival, which boasts an equally impressive line-up, and will be playing in some of the same venues as Jazzmandu.

Organisers for both events played innocent to the date clash and fans of live music will probably not object to having too much of a good thing. In any case these festivals are less about having jazz and blues symposiums, and more about just the music. That's why while the foreign bands and artists come wielding saxophones, basses and drums, Nepali bands like Kutumba have their tabla and sarangi.

It is also about collaboration and cultural exchange. "The best thing about the festival is definitely meeting the artists," says Rajat Rai, who has played with Cadenza in Jazzmandu for the past two years. On Wednesday he joined Vatchapuj on stage and played guitar while Martial and Phonamuai bellowed awesomeness. "No matter where you are from, it's easy to talk about music. If it wasn't music it probably wouldn't have happened."

That may be the entire point of these festivals. "These guys have no idea what to expect when they come here. They have no idea about other artists. They come here and make awesome music together," says Jazzmandu's Chhetri. "I get a kick out of that."

Jazzmandu line-up

Jazzmandu headliner
Friday, October 9, 7-9PM
Regency Ballroom, Hyatt Regency
An evening of Brazilian jazz featuring Trio Urbano from New York and Sheyla Costa La Brasileira from Paris

Gokarna jazz bazaar
Saturday, October 10, 5-10.30PM
Gokarna Forest Gold Resort and Spa
A music marathon with international and Nepali musicians - Trio Urbano, Sheyla Costa La Brasileira, Yuro Honing Trio, Vatchapuj, Soulmate, Trebeka, Simon Fisk, Cadenza, Kutumba, Prustaar

Jazzmandu master class
Sunday, October 11, 2.30- 3.30PM
Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, Jhamsikhel

Upstairs jam
Sunday, October 11, 7.30PM
Upstairs Jazz Bar, Lazimpat

Jazz at Patan
Monday, October 12, 6-8.30PM
Patan Museum Square
Nepali classical music and jazz with Cadenza and others

All-star fever
Tuesday, October 13, 6.30-10PM
Shambala Garden, Hotel Shangri-La
The festival finale with all featured musicians

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)