At 2.30 on an uncertain Spring afternoon I have a telephone appointment with Yashwant Bajaj. I’d like to do an interview of about 10 questions, but I have to wait until he returns to Italy from Singapore. Yashwant is a businessman who deals with speculative securities in Asia. He’s of Indian origin but grew up in England, travels the world and has a villa in Massa Martana to which he often returns along with his wife and children.
He has a passion for rock music and an idea….. to bring the atmosphere of major international festivals to Umbria. I really want to tell this story, especially, as now, his idea has taken root. And how! The first ‘Umbria Rock’ has materialized from nothing, and from 3rd August will bring three days of indie, rock and the best electronic music to Massa Martana in what promises to be one of the biggest events of the year. The festival will comprise two stages for electro and rock music surrounded by greenery and meadows, with a camping area in the heart of the Monti Martani, for a full-on fun, friendship and nature experience. A very respectable, Brit-style line-up includes; The Kaiser Chiefs – fresh from the release of their new album currently Number 1 in the British charts, Paul Weller ‘the modfather “,ie. the father of British mod music, Peter Hook and the Light – a welcome return to Italy for the founder of Joy Division and New Order, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’ll also be James, The Charlatans, Courteneers, The Cribs, Basement Jaxx and many others. And there won’t just be music – indie films provided by the British Council will also be screened.
So where did you get the idea of the Umbria Rock Festival from?
«For 8 years I’ve had a house in Massa Martana, and I’ve been able to attend festivals like Umbria Jazz, Trasimeno Blues, as well as Lucca Summer and Rock in Roma. In England we have a lot of festivals and their format is completely different. They’re permanent fixtures and many of them take place in the countryside, so I thought it was strange that in Italy, with all this scenery, there weren’t similar events. I had the idea that Umbria would be a perfect location for a rock festival; and here it is».
How long has it taken to organize an event that manages to bring together the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs, Paul Weller, Peter Hook and Basement Jaxx?
«We’ve been thinking about it for three years, but it all came to a head last Summer and since then we’ve started organizing it».
Is it true that you also contacted bands like Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire and The Arctic Monkeys?
«Yes, but seeing as this is a new festival we had to find space amongst the existing ones, not so much in Italy, but in Europe and the rest of the world, and some of the bands already had commitments. However, it’s only the first one, and without saying anything too obvious, I hope they’ll be able to perform in the future!»
In order to bring about this festival you’ve created ‘Asha Music’, a truly multinational company. Who’s backing it?
«Mainly me and my family but I’ve also got some outside investors – people from the finance world – from Asia, some Europeans including a Swiss, and an American – about a dozen in all».
Which major international festivals have inspired you?
«I was really lucky to grow up in England and go to festivals like Glastonbury and Reading. Then I was fortunate enough to go to similar events when I was travelling round the world – like the Fuji Festival in Japan … and I wanted to create something similar in Umbria».
Italy is going through a difficult period financially and many cultural events, including rock festivals, have succumbed to the economic crisis – what are the selling points of this event?
«The crisis that has gripped the financing channels in many countries including Italy, has meant that a greater number of people have chosen to invest in Asia because it’s an economy with a better position than Europe. Now I’m doing something for Italy with this festival in an area where no one else wants to invest. I also think there’s nothing else like it».
A million euro festival – who are the major sponsors backing this first event?
«Being the first year it’s hard to find sponsors with ease, so my group of investors has done a lot».
Who would be your ‘dream’ performer to take the stage at next year’s festival?
«Among contemporary artists there’s a really wide range of great performers I’d like to see, but I’d prefer not to say who».
How many people are you expecting, and do you think there might be an international reflection in the public you attract to the festival?
«We’re doing a lot of marketing in the UK and in the rest of Europe, particularly focusing on Germany and Switzerland, so hopefully there will be a lot of people from abroad».
Is there a chance you can make this a ‘travelling’ festival and use different locations scattered around Umbria?
«Of course; the idea was to create a major event for the whole of Umbria, though it’s no coincidence that I chose Massa Martana. I have a house here, I know and am very fond of these places, there was an earthquake, the area has been rebuilt but the economy has collapsed and if I can, I want to do something positive that has a significant return».