Nepali Times
Life Times
Hitting the right notes


TUNE TEACHER: Mariano Abello, director of KJC, explains they included jazz while naming the school because it sounded 'catchy'. The school offers classes in different genres.
When Mariano Abello (pic, right) came to Nepal from the United States seven years ago, he started off by helping his brother in the clothing business. But the Argentinian-born Spaniard just couldn't keep himself from his passion for music, and started playing and giving private lessons. When Chhedup Bomzan of the Jazz Upstairs Bar and Navin Chettri, drummer and vocalist of Cadenza, invited him to be a part of the Jazzmandu festival, he jumped at the offer and agreed immediately.

Before long, Abello quit his job and started teaching music full-time. He was playing almost every night at hotels, parties, bars, and embassy functions. One night he told Nirakar Yakthumba, the bass player of 1974AD, about his interest in starting a musical school. "I was telling Nirakar how unfortunate it was that so many talented Nepalis lacked formal music education. He looked at me and said, 'let's do it'." One thing led to another and they found a place in Lalitpur next to Moksh restaurant and Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC) was born in 2007.

Initially, there was very little interest because people got the impression that KJC taught only jazz. But through word of mouth, music enthusiasts flocked to the conservatory after finding out that it also offered classical music, rock, pop, Indian, and jazz classes. "We thought maybe 50 students would show up, but 115 ended up enrolling. We even got emails from international musicians about their interest in teaching at KJC," reveals Abello.

Although KJC is not the only music school in Nepal, it is one of the few that have professionalised the field. It has proper sound proof classrooms and an actual curriculum. "In Nepal, music is taught orally and many of our students also thought they could learn by just touching the instruments," admits Abello. "So it was a little difficult at first to change this attitude and make them understand the importance of theory." Five years later, the enthusiasts are warming up to the academic aspect of music and work just as hard here as they would at school.

Abello and Yakthumba started KJC with the aim of making music more accessible to Nepalis of all ages and backgrounds. And 64-year-old Deepak Man Sherchan was a perfect fit. An architect by profession, Shrestha has been learning how to read and write music, and play the saxophone since the past ten months. He says, "At my age I need to work harder than all my younger classmates, but this does not discourage me." He wants to master the saxophone in four years and plans on teaching music at schools.

"With KJC, we have shown it is possible to run a professional music school," says Abello. "Now we would love to see schools introduce proper music programs into their curriculum because music not only teaches discipline, but also improves children's language, listening, and mathematics skills.

Jazzing up Dasain

Whether it's lok-dohari blaring through a microbus, a catchy Kollywood tune on radio or the sounds of the saxophone permeating through the alleys of Jhamsikhel, Nepalis love their music. And with Dasain around the corner music is bound to get louder and merrier. Add two jazz festivals to the mix and the party just got started.

While jazz is not native to the subcontinent, it enjoys immense popularity in Nepal. Jazzmandu festival, which turns ten this year, and Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC) which is celebrating its fifth anniversary in October attest to the popularity of the genre.

To celebrate its fifth birthday, KJC is organising a music festival from 4 to 13 October. The festival features certified workshops from Gene Aitken, a renowned music educator and Mariano Abello, director of KJC. And Jazzmandu's annual party is set to begin from 1 November onwards and promises to be bigger and louder than last year.

See also:
The Jazzers in 'Mandu
The jazzy crowd of this year's Surya Nepal Jazzmandu has arrived in town.

Once upon a time in Jazzmandu
Mark your calendars for next week, it's time for some jazz!

Watch videos from Jazzmandu festival of years past:
Jazzmandu 2011
Jazzmandu 2010
Jazzmandu 2009
Jazzmandu 2008

Music about Kathmandu:
Cat Stevens
Bob Seger

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)