The International Jazz Festival Vientiane is now a major event in Southeast Asia. The festival draws thousands of Jazz lovers and musicians from around the world. Champa Meuanglao spoke with Micka Perier, founder of the festival, to find out what makes it such a success.
Good afternoon Micka. What inspired you?
This city. For many years this town was a reserved place, but recently its intimate charm is no longer reserved for the lucky few. Laos is at the crossroads of ASEAN and a new magnet for communication. This Festival is the child of a dream: to create a people-based event using parameters such as our zero-waste initiative and put Vientiane on the world jazz map.
Why did you begin this Festival?
The first reason was selfish – I wanted to hear live jazz and live it. In a jazz concert the audience are not passive listeners. I wanted to create a magic Lao space for jazz. The very first time I put this together I knew I was onto something.
Could you tell me something about the history of the festival?
We started in 2015 in Sum Kai (Cage du Coq), a French restaurant downtown. I was expecting a small turnout since jazz is relatively unknown here. But the place was packed with both Lao and foreigners. It was magic. It could no longer be a one-time festival and we needed a larger venue.
Then we held the Festival at Bar 79. At the end of the second year, 2017, we had gone from 200 participants to 450 and needed a larger space. That is when I finally found the dream location: The National Circus.
It is important to understand the little-known jazz history of Laos. In fact, the great Duke Ellington played here in 1972. He flew in and played for two nights on a whim. This is real ‘panache’, a flight of fancy backed up with solid artistic and creative abilities. Panache is the heart of jazz.
4th Edition INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY VIENTIANE 2018
LAO NATIONAL CIRCUSAnd your new ‘dream location’?
We got lucky. The National Circus was built in the late 1980s by the former Soviet Union. It is a marvelous tumbledown sort of place built with greying cement circus tent walls and you can feel the performing arts energy in it. Its mystery lies in its great acoustics.
Our stage was built so people can dance in the arena. The Festival is unique in how the public and the musicians interact.
And the future of the Festival?
The future of the Festival is linked to the needs of the community. Last year we invested in biodegradable cups to eliminate plastic waste from the Festival. We have banned cans and bottles – beer is sold on tap and drinking water is free of charge. Food will be served on biodegradable plates. These are constraints are costly, but that is our panache!
This year we are involving more Lao musicians, giving workshops to local and foreign artists living here. We are bringing the khaen instrument, listed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, into our Festival to highlight traditional Lao music. We intend to put Laos on the world map as a major cultural player.
This year, for the Jazz Festival’s 5th iteration, it will take place at the Lao National Circus.
When: May 3 – 4, 7pm til late
Where: Lao National Circus
Interview by MAIR HYMAN
Photographs by BART VerWEIJ