Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Herbie Hancock at UNESCO
PARIS - Herbie Hancock is a musician on a mission.

The jazz legend, who was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador last July, says he wants to use his art for the good of humanity.

“In recent years I have become conscious of a different perception of myself in this world which goes beyond being a musician,” Hancock said prior to a special concert in Paris Monday night at the headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency.

“That might sound crazy. But I now see myself in terms of my potential value as a human being. In fact I’m more interested in the real value of being a musician … which is to serve humanity,” he told the audience, who had come to see him perform with musical friends Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, Manu Katché and Stephen Brown.

Hancock’s projects include establishing an international day of jazz, to “promote a month of learning and the celebration of jazz in 195 countries around the world”. (UNESCO has approved this proposal, and the first International Jazz Day will be celebrated globally on April 30, with its official kick-off at UNESCO headquarters on April 27.)

The day will introduce jazz education and appreciation worldwide “as a way to encourage intercultural understanding, dialogue and respect, especially among youth”, the award-winning pianist and composer said.  

His concert in Paris celebrated the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which was drawn up in 1972 to protect cultural and natural heritage. So far, 188 countries have ratified the agreement, and 936 properties have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. These include iconic structures such as India’s Taj Mahal, Cambodia’s Angkor temples and the United Kingdom’s Tower of London.

Esperanza Spalding performs with Hancock
But also included are national parks, archaeological sites, and historic town centres such as Camaguey in Cuba, Bruges in Belgium and Timbuktu in Mali.  The famed “pirate city” of Port Royal in Jamaica will soon be a candidate for the list as well.

Hancock has proposed that the locations where blues and jazz began be inscribed on the World Heritage List too: “from farms in the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans to Chicago to New York”. And he would like to see jazz music engraved on another UNESCO list (the Intangible Heritage List) alongside already recognized cultural contributions like French gastronomy.

UNESCO experts say that the protection and promotion of World Heritage sites can create jobs and give an economic boost to countries, and they have designated sustainable development as the theme of the anniversary celebrations taking place globally throughout 2012.

“The World Heritage sites have indeed contributed to sustainable and economic development but this is little known,” Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, told SWAN in an interview.

“People think that these are just iconic sites, but they generate jobs, they generate revenue and they promote tourism,” he added.

Despite the inclusion on the World Heritage List of a growing number of sites from less developed regions of the world and the progress made in strengthening the Convention’s policies and practices, “much remains to be done to ensure a full representation on the List of the world’s outstanding natural and cultural diversity”, UNESCO says.

Corinne Bailey Rae and Esperanza Spalding
“The most formidable challenge that the Convention will have to face over the coming years are related to global phenomena such as population explosion, diminishing financial resources and climate change,”  the organisation says. “These are responsible for a wide range of environmental and socio-economic pressures that pose a serious threat to World Heritage properties.”

For his part, Hancock said that when he recently visited some of the sites, he’d had an “eye-opening, incredibly inspiring and uplifting experience”.

“In Cambodia, I became aware not only of the beauty and the importance of World Heritage sites - it was the extent to which the establishment of this site impacted the local community, the city and the entire country by fostering tourism which has a very positive effect on the revenues of the country,”  Hancock said

He added that the places were also significant for “passing down the history of a people” and for “providing a record” of traditions that might otherwise have been lost because of wars and other calamities.

Hancock’s speech was rousing, but it was his music that hundreds of Parisian residents and UNESCO staffers had come to hear. And he didn’t disappoint. He played fresh and funky versions of his famous compositions “Cantaloupe Island” and “Watermelon Man”, cruised beautifully on “River” with Bailey Rae and accompanied Spalding on a special song she had composed for the evening.

That song, which featured Bailey Rae and Spalding doing a clapping, “patty cake” routine, drew the loudest applause of the evening. The two young women, looking like sisters on stage, showed that jazz, art and culture are alive and well, despite what Hancock called this “rapidly changing world”. - A.M.