Jazzing up the ‘Mandu’ for 20 years

Photo by Abesh Maharajan, JazzMandu via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

JazzMandu in concert. Photo by Abesh Maharajan via Nepali Times, used with permission.

This article by Uma Dhital was originally published in Nepali Times and an edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Besides the popular Dasain, Tihar (Deepawali), and Chhath festivals, Nepal is known for Kathmandu’s very own international jazz festival: Jazzmandu. The festival's name is a blend of “jazz” and “Kathmandu,” the capital of Nepal.

The event has grown since its inception in 2002 with new and prolific artists from across the globe flying into Kathmandu to showcase their talent and experience the unique atmosphere of the Valley. The melange of chosen venues reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of Nepal and also features performers from around the world.

Jazzmandu this year encapsulated and continued to show the power of music and its ability to bring people together. From the pulsating groove of Plurism’s African rhythms and the mellow emotive voice of Lucile Chriqui to the bright tones of the Samundra band’s rendition of Nepali folk music, this year’s jazz reflected the diversity of this music genre.

A free concert for the students of St Xavier's School in Jawalakhel gave students exposure to the unique delights of jazz. There were concerts at various venues in Kathmandu, Jazz Upstairs and the Dutch group Under The Surface performing at Electric Pagoda with experimental electronic sound. Multinational Palouse Forro performed at Jazz Upstairs, while Swiss South African group Faku took on an intimate set at EDN in Sanepa.

The Jazz Bazaar at Gokarna Forest Resort gave guests a captivating musical showcase with the full Jazzmandu line-up. The historic Baber Mahal heard the rich tradition of Brazilian music. The penultimate evening in Yalamaya Kendra, in the Patan suburb of Kathmandu, was a culmination of the week, with both foreign and Nepali artists performing a magical fusion of Nepali classical music and jazz.

The festival attracted a diverse audience of Kathmandu residents, tourists and expats. Said deputy European Union (EU) ambassador Joëlle Hivonnet: “Jazzmandu is getting better every year. Although it does not attract world-renowned artists like the Montreux or Marciac festivals, it manages to bring upcoming artists and covers a variety of styles. I particularly enjoy bands that mix Nepali and Western instruments.”

Photo by Abesh Maharajan, JazzMandu via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

JazzMandu. Photo by Abesh Maharajan, via Nepali Times, used with permission.

The Lucile Chriqui quartet, a formidable new force in French Jazz, ascribed their experience of Jazzmandu and Nepali culture as an experience like no other: “It feels like being on tour in one city.”

The band held a charity concert to raise funds for the burn victims at the Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital. “It was amazing to perform for such an important cause. We realised the power of music as a tool for connection,” said Chriqui.

The band wants to take back to Paris the special energy and friendliness they experienced from the Nepali volunteers, which inspired them to try and connect more with tourists visiting their own country, and the unique pace of life in Kathmandu especially compared to Paris, where “one hour feels like a minute.”

Chriqui also hopes to continue to experiment sonically, inspired by the timbre of Nepali traditional instruments. “Maybe I’ll also take home a singing bowl too,” she quips.

Next year Nepal’s pioneering music event will turn 20. Co-founder Navin Chettri says, “Initially, we were met with some reluctance and confusion regarding jazz, but now there is no need to explain, Jazzmandu has put both jazz and Kathmandu on the map.”

When asked what’s in store for the special 20th anniversary, Chettri replied gleefully: “No spoilers.”

Jazz at the Gate

In contrast to other Jazzmandu evenings, where the setlist was structured to showcase each act separately, Jazz at Patan on November 7 celebrated the cultural exchange between jazz and Nepali classical sounds with musicians from around the world.

The meticulous fusion of repertoires and celebration of cultures abandoned the formulaic composition of “mainstream” music structure, and transgressed genre to create a spiritual and meditative sound described by attendees as “grounding,” “unique” and “irreplicable.”

The lantern-lit evening at Yala Maya Kendra facilitated an intimate experience for attendees who put stress and hunger aside, allowing the technical prowess, professionalism, and self-expression of the bands to remain the focal point of the evening.

Photo by Abesh Maharajan, JazzMandu via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

JazzMandu. Photo by Abesh Maharajan, via Nepali Times, used with permission.

Artist Sisonke Xonti highlighted the privilege of performing in front of a live crowd again, a crowd that another artist Nick Aggs described as “the best at Jazzmandu.”

“In order to celebrate the unique sound of each artist, there needs to be a reciprocated level of intimacy and respect between artist and audience,” added Aggs.

Singer Lucile Chriqui was left feeling that the crowd was “truly listening and connected.” She added: “So much energy, so much love represented the very essence of Jazzmandu, which is to connect with people and demonstrate that music is a divine, universal language.”

Guests felt transcendental: one concertgoer was in disbelief at the ability of the artists to champion all instruments and voices and extolled the “inexplicable” connection she felt between everyone within the 100-year-old Rana-era courtyard in Patan.

The evening ended with a standing ovation, and the crowd ambled out of the venue, still processing the magic of what they had witnessed. Jazz at Patan had a multicultural audience and celebrated the oneness of humanity and was an event to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

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