Slow but steady start for Latin music, dance

Kolkata, July 21 (IANS) Let the hip-shaking zumba and the energising rhythm of the conga jazz it up for you. Thanks to a clutch of Kolkata musicians and dancers, Latin music and dance forms have made a slow but steady start in India.

Pioneers in introducing the Latin jazz genre in the country in 2006, city-based Los Amigos - a quintet of international and city-based musicians - is working hard to promote the relatively unknown version of jazz.

"Though we are really loved and appreciated in the city, we are yet to find a bigger audience across the country. There is not much awareness about Latin jazz in our country," Pradyumna Singh Manot aka Paddy, pianist and co-founder of Los Amigos, told IANS.

Besides Paddy, Los Amigos comprises co-founder Monojit Datta (congas), Premjit Dutta (timbales), French percussionist Emmanuel Simon and Latin American musician Sergio Dinarte.

The ensemble kicked off its international career with the 2011 Java Jazz festival in Indonesia and has performed in prestigious concerts such as the Congo Square Jazz Festival, Kolkata, and the Kala Ghoda festival, Mumbai.

Paddy rues the fact that while listeners in the west are eager to try out new music, Indians are "slow to move forward" in embracing non-traditional forms like Latin jazz - a unique juxtaposition of jazz from the US and the Latin music of South America.

"People on the other side of the world are eager to listen to different kinds of music and when they search for Latin jazz in this part of the world, our band turns up. But Indians are not aware that such a genre exists," Paddy said.

Moreover, a paradoxical attitude prevails. Music lovers are conscious about brands, but irreverent to quality.

"Whereas listeners abroad look for quality, in India it is the brand that matters. In India people recognise brands. So we are looking for a management which can make us a brand name, Paddy explained.

Branding has indeed played a "huge role" in making danseuse Satyaki Saha and partner Sovit Biswal household names.

Fans may not connect with their outfit Mambo City, but the names Satyaki and Sovit are enough to evoke laudatory responses.

The Kolkata couple were the only non-celeb participants in the fifth season of the "Nach Baliye" popular dance programme.

Their stunning performances popularised Latin American dances. However, Satyaki laments the absence of professionals in the field.

"People know our names though many have not heard of Mambo City, our team of two. Salsa plays a very important role in lifestyle, socialising and fitness for Indians in general. In Kolkata too it has grown to a large extent but still continues to be a niche market," Satyaki told IANS.

"There are not too many professionals in this field. There is only a certain segment which has taken it up as part of lifestyle and a way to meet people," said Satyaki.

Nurturing salsa and other Latin American streams such as the Mambo, zumba, Cha cha cha, Boogaloo and Bachata, accomapanied by the conga (Cuban drum) through Mambo City's classes has been a challenge as most of those wowed by the vibrant steps "do not want to go through the rigours of training".

"So the purity of the dance forms gets lost somewhere. Latin dance forms are primarily social dance forms which are not a part of Indian culture. Hence it will probably continue to be niche," said Satyaki.

With the internet helping them grab maximum visibility, Satyaki feels things are looking up for those wanting to be professionals.

"The good news is that there are a lot of Salsa festival organisers in India who are doing a very good job of promoting this art," said Satyaki.

For Los Amigos, the priority lies in making a mark by playing music of a high standard.

"Money and fame will follow. It's a slow start, but hopefully things will change steadily and Latin jazz will be appreciated across the country. It is the responsibility of us musicians to give options to listeners," Paddy said.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

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