‘Music can bring people together’ may be an age old truth, but it’s one that is put into practice almost daily by Dutch jazz trumpet player Saskia Laroo. And with some effect, as she has been awarded a prestigious Indian peace prize, the Karmaveer Puraskaar. She received the prize for touring India in 2008 during and after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. ‘Emotions were running high, but I felt we had to move on’, she says now.
‘It’s a great honour and I’m really excited about it all’, Saskia says in her home in Amsterdam, on the eve of another Indian tour with her Salsabop Quintet. ‘And I think it’s actually appropriate in some way’.
Saskia features on this week's edition of South Asia Wired. Click below to listen, or click here.
Ms Laroo has been awarded the Karmaveer Puraskaar award by ICONGO, the Indian confederation of NGOs. ‘Karmaveer is a person who brings about change through the good deeds that he or she does’, explains ICONGO’s assistant director Meenu Chopra. ‘Saskia is definitely an example of that’. ICONGO hands out its awards annually on the 26th of November, the day the Indian constitution was adopted in 1949. Most of its awards are given to Indian citizens, but there are also ‘foreign’ categories.
ICONGO’s motto is taken from some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas: Be the change, Right every wrong and I can do. ‘With these awards, we want to inspire ordinary citizens to take action for social justice’, Ms Chopra says.
But why does a Dutch jazz musician receive this peace award? According to Meenu Chopra, Saskia was one of only a handful of Western artists to play in India in the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Despite a negative travel advice for foreign travellers, Saskia insisted in continuing her tour.
Concert for Peace
‘From what we heard here, it looked as if the whole of India had come under attack’, Saskia now says. ‘But I decided to go regardless. The only concert that was cancelled was the one in Mumbai. But we did play there and called it a ‘Concert for Peace’. The people loved it. You could feel that emotions were running very high that day’.
Saskia says that winning the award feels right. ‘It has to do with the way I play my music and how I treat music’, she says. ‘When I started in this business, I played all kinds of styles – from free jazz to Dixieland, and in later years I turned to salsa. Other musicians didn’t always understand that, but I hate it when people disapprove of each other’s musical styles. I’ve seen many musicians who always stuck with their own style and I don’t think that’s right. You should always look beyond your own musical borders’.
This shows in her CD catalogue which dates back to the early 1980s when she recorded her debut album. She never kept herself to one style. She is used to working with pop and rock musicians, but also with non-Western fellow jazz stars. ‘I always like to create a good atmosphere in my music. If that helps to bring together people of different nationalities and different cultural activities, then I’m satisfied,’ Saskia notes.
On her current tour in India, Saskia will also conduct workshops for local musicians. She’s also performing with some of them. She always tries to do that on her foreign tours, which have already taken her to different places in Africa, Asia and North America.
‘Jazz is universal,’ she says. ‘Jazz is also improvising. Wherever you go in the World, people are always playing improvised music in any style. I just like to pick up on that and to use those influences in my own music’.
This makes it easy to understand for Saskia that different musical styles from different cultures don’t necessarily clash. But it’s not just the music itself where this blending works – Saskia also sees this happening in the audiences when she’s playing.
‘I do think that music can help to bridge any divides,’ she says. ‘As a musician, you try to create a good atmosphere, to stir up certain emotions, that people from all backgrounds can relate to. If that happens, everybody’s happy – and I just hope that those feelings of togetherness and happiness will stay with people for a long time’.
Watch Saskia Laroo performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival.