The gypsy jazz band made its first, but likely not its last, visit to Colombia in early September to take part in the 23rd Festival Internacional de Jazz del Teatro Libre.
Drummer and native Colombian Fernando Garavito had submitted Le Chat’s promo pack to festival organizers when visiting family in February. “In June, we received an invitation that said, We really like what you’re doing; it’s a very fresh idea,” says Garavito. “Kind of suggesting that maybe people in Colombia really have not heard the rebirth of gypsy jazz as it’s happening in the rest of the world.”
Well, they’ve heard it now. Le Chat Lunatique made some fast friends in Colombia who can help spread word of the band from Bogotá to Berlin.
The audiences were, indeed, not familiar with gypsy jazz. “We had to sort of describe it over and over again,” says guitarist John Sandlin.
The lack of familiarity, however, did not dampen listeners’ enthusiasm. The band was happily surprised that their stage patter and the elevated wordplay in their lyrics were not entirely lost on the audiences, despite the language difference.
The band captured the attention of a video company, amplificado.tv, that had got wind of the group through a friend of Fernando’s. “They liked our music,” says violinist Muni Kulasinghe, “so they made five videos of us. It helps us in terms of having really nice, high-quality video. But then they’re using it as a promotion for themselves.”
Meanwhile, a new record company, Sandunga Records, will press vinyl 45s using soundtracks from two of the videos. The company distributes its wares in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Berlin.
“I think our trip was a very fortunate one,” says Garavito. “Great hosts. The festival was fantastic. The warmth of the people. I think that it puts you in a very good place.”
So can the coca leaves that the band brought back to the States, engaging the interest of a “cute puppy dog being handled by a burly policewoman” in the Houston airport, says bassist Jared Putnam. (No one was detained.)
The success in Colombia reaffirms for Le Chat Lunatique that it has something to offer audiences well beyond Albuquerque. “We play in Albuquerque a lot, and we have a lot of diehard fans here who really love us, and we really love them, like they’re good friends at this point,” says Kulasinghe. “But when we play in other places—standing ovations in both concerts. Really full-on enthusiastic.”
There is a price to pay, though, for the adulation. As the band was leaving Bogotá, an inspector at the airport discovered Putnam’s delicate mustache scissors in his carry-on bag. “They got confiscated,” says Putnam.
“I’m sure they’re in the scissors and nail clippers black market in Bogotá,” says Garavito.
“Yesterday, I was at the grocery store looking for a replacement for them, and they were 10 dollars,” says Putnam.
“That’s because they’re beauty appliances,” Kulasinghe explains.
Perhaps he can write it off.