Sax meets the sitar: Biggi & Nema Vinkeloe take free jazz to a Carnatic village concert

Free-jazz artiste Biggi Vinkeloe from Sweden tells us about playing a South Indian classical concert for the first time, and her new album.

Jaideep Sen Published :  26th February 2019 12:18 PM   |   Published :   |  26th February 2019 12:18 PM
Biggi & Nema Vinkeloe

Biggi & Nema Vinkeloe

Biggi Vinkeloe last visited India in 2011, for a project named Bangalore Meine Liebe (Bangalore My Love). Earlier this February, she returned to the city with her daughter Nema Vinkeloe, who plays the violin, to perform and conduct workshops at the Bangalore School of Music (BSM), at the 17th East West Music & Dance Encounter.

After the festival, the Vinkeloes sought out more musical adventures - attending concerts, and even recording an album. Their biggest moment yet was a celebration at the village of Suttur, close to Mysore, where they were urged to get on stage, alongside some prominent names in South Indian music.

"We were a bit nervous, as we had never performed with Indian musicians before," says Biggi, who plays the flute and alto saxophone. "It is a blessing to bridge the gap between generations, and to work as partners in music."

For their concert, the Vinkeloes were hosted by percussionist Pramath Kiran, and joined by BC Manjunath on mridangam, as well as Dr Manjunath on violin and Rafiq Khan on sitar. "Suddenly, we were all sitting on the stage for an almost two-hour concert," recounts Biggi.

"Nema sang one of the Vachanas - it was a beautiful moment. We also got some space to improvise. I feel there is so much to learn and study - fortunately, the musicians were very generous sharing their knowledge." 

When it comes to melding jazz improvisation with classical music, despite its rule-bound nature, Biggi observes, "In a way, the styles seem to be far from each other, but there are many elements in common as well." They had little time to prepare, she recalls, though the musical give and take - was effortless.

Biggi & Nema Vinkeloe; photo by Jofi Porinchu

"We had to rely on our ears, and our ability to react to the music. The classical musicians use different codes and rhythm patterns, so we paid a lot of attention. When it was our time to add something, Dr Manjunath would look at us. We did not have any communication issues, it all went very well."

The Vinkeloes also recorded a new album, in keeping with Biggi’s focus on genre-bending projects. To give us a glimpse, she explains, “For two intense days, we recorded a whole album in totally different styles - from Hindustani classical and movie songs to classical soprano, with traditional Swedish songs, percussion - cajon, djembe and more, harmonium, violin, saxophone and flute. The result is an incredible tight mix of music from different horizons and continents."

Photo Nema Vinkeloe Uuskyla
Biggi Vinkeloe: Photo by Nema Vinkeloe Uuskyla

To date, Biggi has released more than 30 albums, while their newest record from Bengaluru will soon be released on a Swedish label. Later this March, she expects to be a part of the Women in Jazz Festival in Washington DC, while she also features on The Harold Trio's new second release, featuring Amy Bormet on piano and Tina Raymond on drums, expected this summer. 

Read the complete interview online on

- Jaideep Sen