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Respect India for not ‘canceling culture’ – Russian jazz king

Saxophone maestro Igor Butman says cultural collaboration is vital for “starting dialogue” between nations

Renowned jazz musician Igor Butman, who recently performed in India with his quintet, has said that India has not only maintained amicable relations with Moscow at political and economic levels but continues to be a significant hub for cross-border cultural exchange, particularly for Russian artists and musicians.

Speaking to RT backstage in Mumbai, Batman emphasized that art, in general, and music, in particular, can be a tool to help people of different cultures, colors, and backgrounds understand each other. According to the musician, art can help people discover the beauty of “finding the conversation” and “dialogue” to resolve issues. “All the problems are very small, but people make them big,” he opined.

Butman expressed his respect for the Indian people and their leadership for not falling into the trap of “canceling culture” – something that Russian artists have been increasingly facing in some parts of the world. “Musicians do not cancel politics, so politicians should not cancel the music or art. This is the only tool that can help understand each other,” he said. 

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Born in the USSR in 1961, Butman made his way to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston on a scholarship in 1987. He then became a part of the thriving jazz scene in New York City, where he worked for the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He later shared the stage with legendary musicians Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kevin Mahogany, George Benson, Gino Vannelli, and Wynton Marsalis, among others.

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Butman, who was touring India for the seventh time in the past decade, said he loves performing in a country where people “appreciate good music.” The maestro’s connection with India goes back to 2003 when he first arrived as a part of the ‘Days of Russian Culture in India’ initiative. Over the years, he has returned to the country repeatedly, drawn by a relatively small but dedicated jazz subculture blooming in metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bangalore. 

Even with jazz being a niche genre, Butman believes there is a scope for cooperation between Russia and India, as well as a particular interest among artists. “Collaboration is a must because we have to understand each other, love each other, respect each other, know each other’s history,” Butman said. 

There is an excellent scope for fusing traditional Indian musical forms and Russian jazz, he added. The musician recalled sharing the stage with legendary Indian violinist Subramaniam Lakshminarayana earlier this year at a jazz festival in Moscow. “Dr. Subramaniam improvised on Indian ragas, and we all improvised on Indian songs. We also played some jazz and Russian songs. It was very spontaneous; it was total improvisation,” Butman said, recalling his experience.

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