RadioandMusic
| 23 Oct 2017
Jazz gets a French twist in Mumbai

MUMBAI: Ever since Emmanuelle De Decker found shelter and comfort in India, the French-born took advantage of the evolving music scene to demonstrate her love of jazz that began during her teenage years. Emmanuelle’s (or Emma) journey In India opened with a brief stint at Alliance Francaise de Calcutta – in the West Bengal capital which first welcomed the genre of jazz almost a century ago.

Decker has orchestrated and curated a couple of established and reputed music festivals in India – the now-two-year-old ‘Nariyal Paani’ and the ‘Goa International Jazz Festival’ established in 2014. The magnitude of Emma’s obstacles while curating and directing a music festival is more complex than that faced by other festival organisers. For two reasons – the genre of jazz and the paucity of its loyal supporters; and the  disinterest among sponsors towards the execution of a festival revolving around the genre.

"Jazz is the folk music of the machine age" - Paul Whiteman

"First, we need to ask if we have the musicians." Her 12 long-and-successful years in India have shaped Emma into accepting the land as her new home. "In the past two years, the sudden emergence of jazz musicians has been encouraging to note." Emma’s on-ground portrayal of support strictly towards jazz resulted into music festivals, thus leading to a new journey where the festival director hopes to expose jazz in multiple effective ways as she can. “The exposure should begin with people at a younger age, with institutes and music schools promoting and educating about the genre.” Emma’s longest stint before entering the music festival arena was at one of Mumbai’s oldest and finest live music venues – blueFROG – as head of Live Music Programming, and she credits the experience at the franchise for the understanding and knowledge that helped during the early stages of Gatecrash – her music management agency that undertakes several jazz festivals, gigs and events.

Apart from the 'Goa International Jazz Festival' and ‘Nariyal Paani’, Gatecrash has also handled artist and stage management for the Ziro Festival, and acts as the artistic advisor for the ‘Dhaka Jazz & Blues Festival.'

Goa International Jazz Festival Nariyal Paani

“I believe in a community,” explains Emma, “a community that together believes in one cause. I have been lucky enough to surround myself with people who have the same goals for jazz as I do. And not just jazz, the otherwise ignored genres of music.” Emma observed that the distinctive factor that separates India to other countries regarding unfamiliar artistes has been the quality of the live performances. “In 2015, Nik Bärtsch's Ronin performed in Goa Jazz Festival and trust me, several fans later approached me to ask more about Ronin, just to enquire about him and meet him. If a live performance is strong or charismatic, it will be a success in India.”

“The emotional reaction is all that matters!” – John Coltrane

Sponsors count the maximum turnout as the luring factor to associate themselves with any music festival, and as history suggests, jazz festivals do not manage to achieve that as often. “But we will focus to put artistic value in quality. That was the reason why I fell in love with jazz. That continues to be the reason why I will continue to push the genre into the lives of more people through whatever mediums I can.”

And she seems pretty determined about it. The website – jazzinindia.com – has rightly become every jazz venue and musician’s go-to place to remain updated with the scene. The portal allows venues to book jazz artistes, and provides fans with detailed information on everything-jazz in India.

“Music is a journey. Jazz is getting lost.” - John O’Farrell

Emma’s recent implementation of her aspirations drives her efforts beyond festivals and multi-day events focusing on music. Gatecrash (Emma’s agency) begins yet another effort towards the growth of jazz scene by bringing it to several venues in Mumbai, starting this August. “We will organise more and more jazz shows across venues in Mumbai. The focus on festivals will continue, however, the effort needs to be extended to more cities,” she adds.

In 1920, African-Americans settled in India, later sharing and educating about the genre of jazz. A century later, a French woman has kick-started a similar task in modern times. The task wouldn’t be any easier, however an optimistic Emma believes in adapting to challenges, and George Gershwin’s quote – “Life is a lot like jazz. Best when you improvise.”