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Listening to Jazz

Announcement of the International Jazz Festival held in Haiti last month.

Announcement of the International Jazz Festival held in Haiti last month.

Hosting what has become the largest cultural event of the year, the city of Port-au-Prince grooved to the beat of eighth annual International Jazz Festival last month.  Musicians from 12 countries arrived in Haiti to perform in both free and ticketed concerts and put on workshops for aspiring Haitian vocal and instrumental artists throughout the week-long event.  The Haitian Tourism Minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, called the Festival, “…. a golden opportunity for Haiti to welcome foreign artists on its land, who can immerse themselves in our culture, and let our special vibes inspire new melodies. Haiti is a country where the arts mingle with each other in great harmony.” (To view the scope and flavor of the Festival, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdsNR736DWA&autoplay=1 )

In support of the event, the United States Embassy sponsored performances by the New Orleans-based  band, “Soul Rebels,” whose eight-piece brass ensemble fuses soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock and pop music. Additionally, Dr. Wesley J. Watkins, an academic from the San Francisco Bay area,

presented his theories of jazz and democracy in a series of workshops to the students of Holy Trinity Music School and Catts Pressoir.  In his

Playing jazz, maybe?  Jean Joseph Son's "Boys in the Band" RND459

Playing jazz, maybe? Jean Joseph Son’s “Boys in the Band” RND459

presentations, he used jazz music as a platform for the democratic process. Haitian students and youth were shown that active listening, cooperation, peaceful negotiation and participation are essential in the creation of both jazz music and democracy.  In his view, the two are mirror images of each other.

Maybe he’s got something there. Both jazz and democracy are inherently fluid and responsive. In each, individual contribution is integral to the workings of the whole. Trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis once observed that, “Jazz music is summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-to-come.” Similarly, democracy works – whether in the US, or Haiti, or anywhere in the world – if we constantly evolve by listening, feeling, understanding, and challenging ourselves to become better than we are.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

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