International Jazz Day – A call for global peace and unity

Posted on April 29, 2022

International Jazz Day, which is celebrated annually on 30 April, was initially proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference in November 2011. This celebration aims to raise awareness of jazz and its diplomatic ability to unite people from across the globe. The theme of the 2022 event, which is ‘A call for global peace and unity’, emphasises the importance of jazz as a means of achieving unity and peace through dialogue and diplomacy. International Jazz Day is intended to highlight the significance of jazz as an educational tool, as well as a medium for cooperation and dialogue. Many governments, education institutions and other organisations participate in promoting jazz music to foster greater appreciation for not only for the music, but also for the contribution it has made towards creating more inclusive societies.

This year’s All-Star Global Concert will be staged in the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. Jazz icon Herbie Hancock will act as the host and artistic director, alongside the musical director John Beasley. The programme will feature performances by accomplished jazz artists from all over the world and will be webcast on the UNESCO website. The event will also host a JazzWomenAfrica concert, organised in collaboration with the cultural agency Anya Music to bring together jazz women from across Africa in order to counter the insufficient recognition and under-representation of women in the music industry. The international programme for the day also includes a plethora of events such as concerts, social outreach programmes, educational activities and other performance initiatives taking place in more than 180 countries. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said: ‘Jazz carries a universal message with the power to strengthen dialogue, our understanding of each other, and our mutual respect. As the world is affected by multiple crises and conflicts, this international day highlights how much music and culture can contribute to peace.

In South Africa, jazz first started gaining popularity in the early 1900s. Its development and evolution can be contributed to the vibrant cultural diversity of the country’s population, as well as the growing influence of the African American music culture. This, coupled with the legislated racism and censorship of the apartheid government, created a unique ‘artistic forge and mould’ that was responsible for the evolution of jazz in South Africa. South Africa has a long history with jazz and has produced many celebrated jazz artists, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and of course Miriam Makeba, to name but a few. During the apartheid years, South African jazz was closely associated with the struggle for freedom, and for many South Africans jazz represents triumph over adversity. It seems fitting that the Freedom Day celebrations in South Africa will be followed by International Jazz Day celebrations.

To celebrate International Jazz Day in South Africa, jazz events will be staged in all our major cities. Cape Town will have the Jazz, Hiphop and Poetry online discussion, Johannesburg will host the ‘Concert in The Garden’ fundraiser event, Durbanites can enjoy the Sagiya International Jazz Day Festival 2022, and Avzal Ismail and the Johannesburg Jazz Quintet will perform in Pretoria.

The University of Pretoria is represented at the International Jazz Day concerts hosted by the Sagiya Foundation in KZN, in partnership with the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE), The UKZN Centre for Jazz and the UKZN Centre for Creative Arts). The University is an associate member of the South African Association for Jazz Education. Prof Mageshen Naidoo, an associate professor of music and coordinator of Jazz Studies in UP’s School of Arts who is currently serving a second term as president of SAJE, will perform in both a Freedom Day concert in KZN and in the IJD concerts.

UNESCO highlights the following as some of the significant contributions of jazz:

  • Jazz breaks down barriers and creates opportunities for mutual understanding and tolerance.
  • Jazz is a vector of freedom of expression.
  • Jazz reduces tension between individuals, groups and communities.
  • Jazz encourages artistic innovation, improvisation, new forms of expression and inclusion of traditional music forms into new ones.
  • Jazz stimulates intercultural dialogue and empowers young people from marginalised societies.

Herbie Hancock, chairman of the Jazz Institute and co-chair of the International Jazz Day, who will host the event this year, said: ‘With conflict and division in many parts of the world, it is my hope that, through the universal language of jazz, our celebration this year can inspire people of all nations to heal, to hope and to work together to foster peace.’

Giné Gebhardt, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria.

International Jazz Day is celebrated annually on 30 April.

- Author Giné Gebhardt

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