A quiet spring evening in Budanilkantha was punctuated by the murmur of excited school children. The students had been waiting with eager anticipation for the Jazz for School Children organised under the Jazzmandu 2004 festival and hosted by Budanilkantha School.
After Shillong's Soul Mate and Kathmandu's resident jazz ensemble Cadenza, Max Lolo from Benin took the stage. Within moments, the guitarist had the young audience mesmerised. Many people in Lolo's hometown haven't even heard of Nepal, and we could say the same of Benin here. So what brings an African musician to Nepal anyway? Quite simply, his heart.
Max Lolo, by now a celebrity of no meagre standing in west Africa after his hit single Assak Pedea last year, comes to visit his girlfriend who lives and works in Nepal. In the process he is making quite a name for himself in our neck of the woods.
It all began last July on his first visit to Nepal when he met the members of Cadenza at the Upstairs Jazz Bar, the band's base. He had such a great time that he decided to come back this year to perform at Jazzmandu. And at Budanilkantha, the kids just loved him. When he slid into the reggae riffs of Ahizi, a song about the tradition of polygamy in Benin, the children couldn't stop cheering Lolo on. "My music is international. You can say it has African rhythm and European beat, but it is fusion and anyone can feel it," says Lolo.
The roots are pure African. The music comes from Vodoun where the percussion is spiritual. He mixes this African drums with jazz, creating a sound like no other. Up at the school, Lolo is backed up by Cadenza's drummer and Gaurav Basnyat on base guitar. He's all praise for the Nepali musicians: "Cadenza really understand jazz and how to make fusion and Gaurav is great. He picks up very quickly on the bass. I was very happy to play with them."
This year at Jazzmandu Lolo's had the first big show of his own in Nepal at Yak and Yeti on Wednesday night, Sounds of Africa. He's having such a great time, he's planning to stay three months, and is recording his second album here. Just throw in some madal, Lolo.