Saturday, 1 August 2020

SWAN’S SUMMER 'STAYCATION' SELECTIONS: 3 BOOKS

Reading is, of course, a way to travel, so here are our picks for memorable journeys even as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps most of us physically at home.

SAILING FROM STRIFE

The Belle Créole contains all the literary ingredients for which Maryse Condé is acclaimed: a gripping narrative, troubled characters, lavish descriptions, and a slow, simmering political backstory, set in the Caribbean.

The Guadeloupean author, who won the New Academy Prize (or alternative Nobel) in Literature in 2018, delivers a tale marked by tumult, love and desperation, skilfully translated from the French and Creole by Nicole Simek. The work, Condé’s 12th of 16 novels, starts with the “spectacular” acquittal of 22-year-old Dieudonné Sabrina, a gardener who is accused of murdering his employer - and lover - Loraine, a wealthy white woman descended from plantation owners, a “békée”.

Readers gain insight into Dieudonné’s past through a series of flashbacks from different points of view; through these we see the accused wandering through the city of Port-Mahault and finding sanctuary in a decrepit sailboat, La Belle Créole, while his homeland experiences strikes, violence and social disintegration. Condé paints a picture of the “suffocating” heat of the city, an “inferno” that portends “further abominations”, such as “furious rains” and hurricanes. In contrast, there's the compelling beauty of the sea, although it too can be treacherous, as we see when Dieudonné sails away.

Apart from the main character and his “crime, the story is a portrait of an island struggling with the legacies of colonization and inequality, while facing a future where the only certainty might be climate change. Nothing is clear-cut – not relationships, motivations, politics, or personalities. As Dawn Fulton writes in the afterword, the figures that Condé creates in her novels are “famously not heroic, yet they unfailingly speak to us, draw us in, incite our compassion, frustration, fear, and empathy.” This book will leave some dissatisfied because of the characters’ “contradictions and incongruities”, but in the end, it’s well worth the read. (University of Virginia Press)

THE CONFOUNDING ISLAND

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“There are few places more puzzling than Jamaica” states the jacket flap of Orlando Patterson’s The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonialist Predicament.

Over the next 346 pages, the Harvard University sociologist attempts to explain the puzzle: why an island with more churches per square mile than any other country can also have one of the highest homicide rates in the world; how a place that produces numerous stars in the arts and sports spheres still struggles with an “anaemic” economy and fragile infrastructures. And so on.

What, then, are the answers to this long-lasting enigma? Patterson investigates the history and culture of his homeland and offers pertinent explanations for what drives Jamaica and its people. In doing so, he reveals that the island is not so mystifying after all.

Many former British colonies are grappling with similar issues of colonial heritage, inequity, and globalization; but Jamaica’s “hypervisibility” (a word everyone likes to throw around at the moment) makes for a special case, and the island’s history naturally explains its present. From Spain’s’ “genocidal destruction of the once-abundant indigenous Taino population” to the brutality of British plantation slavery, Jamaica has a past that is “drenched in blood, like no other place on earth”, Patterson writes.

Some people will disagree with his assessment, and the book may not be everyone’s idea of “summer reading”, but it is written in an accessible, engaging style, with flashes of Patterson’s acerbic wit. Each chapter (except for the final one) poses a question. Why Do Policies to Help the Poor So Often Fail? Why Does Globalization Not Produce Cultural Homogenization? And so on. The responses are based on extensive research and also on the writer’s personal policy experiences. This is a must-read for anyone interested in postcolonial history… and in why poor children can run, sing or write their way to international renown. (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

HAIR BRINGS YOU THERE

That Hair, by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, takes readers to different continents - travelling by hair. Okay, enough with the puns.

Described by its publisher as an “autobiographically inspired tragicomedy”, the book is a coming-of-age story seen from the perspective of Mila, a biracial character growing up in Lisbon, the daughter of a black Angolan mother and white Portuguese father.

The exploration of her “curly hair” is a quest for identity that “intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics”, as Mila herself puts it.

The main themes relate to belonging, colonialism, migration, feminism, and the issues that arise from eternally being considered an outsider – even in one’s own land. Translated by Eric M. B. Becker, the writing is rich and evocative of place, past and present, and the book is a worthy addition to our reading list, no matter the season. (Tin House)

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

REVIEW: ‘BABENCO’ - THE STORY OF A LIFE, AND A DEATH

By Dimitri Keramitas

On hearing that the documentary Babenco is about the late Argentine-Brazilian filmmaker Hector Babenco, film buffs of a certain age will likely exclaim “Oh, that Babenco!”, because this subject is a true icon of cinema history.

Poster: Babenco - Tell Me When I Die
From the 1970s to the 1990s, Hector Babenco was a hard-to-miss presence, not just in Latin-American cinema but also in the US, unique (at that time) in his cross-over career.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Pixote, Carandiru, Ironweed, At Play in the Fields of the Lord were all critical successes, and Spider Woman (based on a novel by Manuel Puig) a commercial success as well. Major Latin-American directors like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and Guillermo Del Toro, who have achieved even greater mainstream renown, owe much to Babenco’s example.

In this new film - directed by Barbara Paz, Babenco's third wife, and shown recently at Switzerland’s 2020 Visions du Réel (online) festival - the acclaimed South American filmmaker states that a director must know how to tell a story.

When he made films of gritty documentary realism, there was always a narrative thrust. Later in his career he came to depend on literary source material: Puig, Peter Mathieson, William Kennedy. Oddly enough, in Babenco the subject seems to lose that interest in story, maybe because he was ill, or because he’d found that at a certain point story is no longer the most important aspect of filmmaking. At the end of his life, he sees the past as pieces in a jigsaw, though always with a constant underlying meaning.

It’s hard to say where Paz’s authorship begins and Babenco’s influence ends. He had strong predilections and ideas about filmmaking. These certainly impregnated the director’s approach, especially as the documentary is her first feature-length film. (There was another heavy-duty figure behind her; Willem Dafoe, with whom Ms. Paz co-starred in Babenco’s last film, was executive producer). The documentary exudes a feeling of collaboration, a warm melding of young and old, male and female.

One of Babenco's most famous films:
Kiss of the Spider Woman
In form, the film is a kind of mosaic. It contains haunting, but also obscure, scenes that represent Babenco’s musings and fantasies. We also get beautiful shots of Brazilian landscapes. Although Argentine in origin, Babenco was attracted to the wildness and beauty of Brazil and spent much of his life and career there, becoming a naturalised citizen.

We are treated to several extracts from his films, even a shot of him at the 1986 Academy Awards, where he lost out for Best Director to Sidney Pollack and Out of Africa (although William Hurt won for Best Actor, as Luis Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman).

Much more striking are interviews of Babenco at various phases of his life, especially his younger days. He seems physically very different from one phase to another. The dichotomy or multiplicity of Brazilian/Argentine, guerrilla filmmaker/Hollywood director, derives from his roots. Both his parents were Jewish transplants to South America. His mother emigrated from Poland, while his father was of Ukrainian descent. He continued the family tradition of immigration and outsiderhood, and always identified with marginal people, like the street kid Pixote, during his life of advocacy and idealism.

But Babenco is not just a documentary about a life, but also about a death. The subtitle is: Tell Me When I Die. Babenco contracted cancer in the 1990s, and his life turned into a continual struggle affecting his physical strength and also his memory. Once again, his features took on a marked change in appearance. Ms. Paz films the process of decline with clinical directness but also love for her husband. This was in line with his own sensibility, the determination to engage directly with life’s harshness. As we see him in a hospital bed or taking a test, he seems resigned, calm, curious about what’s happening to him. (When he died in 2016, at the age of 70, the cause was cardiac arrest.)

Babenco: a moving farewell.
Even as he’s being ravaged by his illness, Babenco is still concerned with filmmaking. He dispenses advice (or at least his opinions) to the much younger Ms. Paz, a neophyte filmmaker.

Lending a metafictional air to the film, we see a clip of Willem Dafoe playing a cancer-ridden character in a film Babenco directed (My Hindu Friend). We even observe them during the shoot, debating how an afflicted person would react in a particular situation. It’s amusing in a ghoulish sort of way, as the director isn’t simply making the film but is in the real position of the fictional character.

Babenco, which was awarded the “best documentary on cinema” prize at the Venice Film Festival, is fascinating as a portrait of an artist’s life. The black-and-white images are often engrossing, and the formal jumble reflects the multifaceted, ever-evolving subject. The focus on the director’s death gives the documentary a dramatic framework. We don’t get much about his life with Ms. Paz, his previous wives or his children. This is probably due to discretion on the part of both Babenco and Ms. Paz, which is understandable. However, it also results in a certain lack in the film, something missing, something thin. While not a perfect film, Babenco is nonetheless moving, and motivates the viewer to want to see some of Hector Babenco’s early work, and to await the next film by Barbara Paz.

Production: Gullane/HB Filmes. Distribution: Taskovski

Dimitri Keramitas is a writer and legal expert based in Paris.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

JOURNALS FOCUS ON CARIBBEAN DIASPORA, LIT, MEMORY

Over the past year, several international journals have been focusing on Caribbean diasporic issues, including memory and literature, with scholarly articles and creative work.

Among the most recent is the African and Black Diaspora journal, which has published a special issue titled “African-Caribbean Women Interrogating Diaspora/Post-diaspora” - now available online.

“The articles in this issue originated as papers presented at a conference held at London South Bank University in July 2018, representing the work of a network of scholars from the UK, Canada and the Caribbean,” says Dr Suzanne Scafe, who edited the special issue with Dr Leith Dunn.

The contributors “had been focusing on Caribbean women’s mobility, and, in particular, issues of diaspora, globalization and transnationalism,” adds Scafe, (See her earlier SWAN article.)

African and Black Diaspora describes itself as a “multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed international journal that seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of the lived experiences of people of African descent across the globe by publishing theoretically and historically informed as well as empirically grounded works in the social sciences and humanities that are intellectually challenging and illuminating”.

It is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, which publishes some 2,700 journals and more than 5,000 new books each year

For information on the contents of the special issue, please see: 


BABEL

For those who speak French as well as English, a special bilingual issue of BABEL looks at “Écritures minoritaires de la mémoire dans les Amériques” (Memorial Minor Writings in the Americas).

The scholarly articles discuss literature of the Americas (within the theoretical framework of "minoritaire" writing), with a focus on memory, history and resistance to domination. 

Edited by Dr Anne Garrait-Bourrier and Dr Christine Dualé, professors at universities in France, the volume has a foreword by Jamaican author Alecia McKenzie (SWAN’s founder).

The Caribbean writers whose works are analysed include Edwidge Danticat and Paule Marshall, among a wide-ranging collection that also examines “voices of rebellion” and memory in works by African American authors Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, James Baldwin, Jean Toomer, and Octavia Butler.

BABEL is published by the Université de Toulon in southern France. The open-access issue is available at:  https://journals.openedition.org/babel/6521

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

FINALLY SEEING - WHEN INJUSTICE IS CAUGHT ON TAPE


These tears, I know,
are not just for
you

They fall for
the ancestors
too

All those who’ve
died under knees,
boots

Unrecorded.

So many believe
only what they can
see

It couldn’t be
that bad, they said
carelessly

Now they have no
choice, but to look,
hear

There – it is recorded.

                                - SWAN
                       

Friday, 29 May 2020

THE MUSIC OF MADAGASCAR IS REAL STAR OF NEW FILM

The poster for Haingosoa.
The film Haingosoa had barely made it onto screens in France when the government ordered a lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Theatres, cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions had to shutter their doors, leaving the arts world scrambling to salvage numerous projects.

While the lockdown rules have now been eased, cinemas remain closed and Haingosoa - like many other films - is moving online. It will be offered via e-cinema and VOD from June 9, and viewers will be able to participate in virtual debates with its French director Édouard Joubeaud.

Haingosoa is ostensibly the story of Haingo - a young, single mother from southern Madagascar who, unable to pay her daughter's school fees, leaves her family and travels far to join a dance company in the country’s capital. Haingo has only a few days to learn a dance that is totally foreign to her, and viewers follow her ups and downs as she tries to make the move work.

Played by the engaging real-life Haingo, the main character readily gains empathy, and viewers will find themselves cheering her on. Yet, the real star of Haingosoa is the music of Madagascar, as the director mixes drama and documentary to highlight the country’s rich and diverse artistic traditions.

“I wanted to give a different viewpoint of Madagascar, by focusing both on the woman lead and on the country,” Joubeaud told SWAN. “I’ve always been interested in the music, and I wanted to show the range of stories as well as the culture.”

Musician Remanindry in the film.
Photo: Pitchaya Films_Marine Atlan
Haingosoa brings together several generations of revered Malagasy composers and musicians, such as Remanindry, Haingo's father. A leading performer of the music of the Androy, the island’s southern, arid region, Remanindry basically plays himself - and his own music - in the film.

Meanwhile, the Randria Ernest Company of Antananarivo, which provides the fictional dance space for Haingo, represents “in its own way” the dance and music of the highlands of today, according to Joubeaud.

Additionally, one of the composers of the film’s soundtrack is Dadagaby, an icon of Malagasy music whom Joubeaud knew for 10 years. The creator of countless songs popular in Madagascar, Dadagaby died during the making of the film - which is dedicated to his memory.

Haingo leaves her family to earn an income.
Photo: Pitchaya Films_S. Cunningham
The movie also features 13-year-old prodigy Voara, who performs two of her songs:  Sahondra (accompanied in the film by her father on guitar) and Mananjary. We see Voara singing in a backyard, as Haingo goes for a walk. The scene comes across as being there just for the music, with Voara’s striking, memorable voice.

There are segments as well showing young musicians casually playing instruments and singing as they sit on a wall, and dancers practising to traditional music - again just to spotlight the distinctive music and array of vocal styles.

So, what about the story, the plot? To be honest, this is fairly simple: Haingo goes away to try to earn enough to pay for her little girl’s education. The boss of the dance company she joins is harsh and puts her to work cooking and washing rather than dancing. But with the help of her friends, including the gifted dancer Dimison, Haingo is able to reveal her true talent.

Haingo in a pensive mood. Photo: Pitchaya Films
That is the surface story. The backstory is that the film is based on Haingo’s own life. She had a child at age sixteen and experienced many of the difficulties covered in the movie, and she’s at her most affecting when pleading for her daughter to be able to continue attending school, despite falling behind on the fees.

“You can feel the real emotion here because this is something she really had to deal with,” Joubeaud told SWAN.

As a director, he faced a dilemma: how much of the film should be about Haingo’s actual life?

“It was a little bit tricky,” he admits. “I didn’t want to expose too much about her life. So, we used her story as the starting point of the film and made a lot of the rest fictional. We wrote it in consultation with her.”

Edouard Joubeaud (Photo: McKenzie)
This diffidence comes across in the film and may be seen as a drawback. The drama never reaches the high point that viewers expect, and the finale is more of a fizzle than a flare.

The unsatisfactory ending is also due to budget constraints, Joubeaud said. After completing the first half of the film, he ran short of funds and had to make a decision: stop filming or continue?

He decided to continue, especially as part of the reason for the film was apparently to raise money for Haingo’s daughter to continue in school, and for the main character to see how she could move forward. (Now in a relationship, Haingo, 25 years old, is the mother of three children.)

As a French director, Joubeaud could have perhaps accessed more sponsorship by making the film in French, but he shot it fully in Malagasy. He says he has studied the language for many years, after first visiting the country in 1999. The work, however, is not eligible to apply for screening in some African film festivals because of Joubeaud’s nationality.

“I do recognize the limits of a French director going to Africa, and I don’t pretend to give anyone any lessons,” Joubeaud told SWAN. “I see this as a personal project, related to my life and to Haingo’s life. I think my responsibility is to respect her consent, to respect all the participants in the film and to avoid stereotypes.”

Regarding what he hopes viewers will take from the film, he added: “My first hope is that viewers will be enlightened by diving into the story of a Malagasy woman, by the richness of her context, and the richness of Madagascar’s diversity - in music, dance, culture.” 

Some viewers will indeed feel that they have gained an insight into the diverseness of Malagasy culture and a new appreciation for the music, but others will wish that the film had gone further and delved more deeply - into the socioeconomic reasons for Haingo's situation and into the legacy of French colonial rule on the island. -  SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A WRITER AND SCHOLAR 'INTERVIEWS' THE CARIBBEAN

Opal Palmer Adisa is a Jamaican writer, poet, academic and the director of The Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. In 2015, she launched Interviewing the Caribbean, a project to spotlight Caribbean “artists at home and in the Diaspora”, getting them to discuss their work and the arts of the region in general. 

Writer and scholar Opal Palmer Adisa.
After receiving wide acclaim from the beginning, the project now has a home at UWI, becoming an official journal of the university's press. 

SWAN met up with Palmer Adisa in Paris, France, last December, following her attendance at a conference on gender. 

We discussed her work - she has written some 20 books including novels and collections of stories and poetry, almost all of which are set in Jamaica or are about some aspect of island life - and in our conversation, we explored the importance of Interviewing the Caribbean as a long-term project and publication.

Describing herself as being “Jamaican to the bone”, Palmer Adisa also endorses and advocates for Caribbean federation. The following interview was completed via email.

SWAN: How did Interviewing the Caribbean begin?

Opal Palmer Adisa: I had been nursing the idea for 10 years, hoping to get a windfall to publish a yearly, fully coloured journal. I kept putting it off, then when Steve Jones agreed to partner with me and do design layout, we met and I concluded that online was the most feasible route, and that it would still be beautiful. So, in 2014 I decided to see who would respond to my call. Also, I believe the first issue had to have an important Caribbean name to set a precedence, and when Junot Diaz agreed to my interview, then I was on. Interviewing the Caribbean was launched and premiered in 2015.

SWAN: What were your main aims with the project and subsequent publication?

The first issue of Interviewing the Caribbean.
OPA: My primary goal was to give Caribbean writers and artists a place to talk about their own work.  There still isn’t a lot of critique on and about Caribbean writers and artists.  But also, as a writer whose works have been reviewed and critiqued, I often feel: I wish the person writing about my work had interviewed me to get some things right. I wanted to provide the platform for writers and artists to talk about their own work, to explore their process and intention in writing a piece, or creating a piece of art, and in general to have them share ideas about their work. This objective has not changed, but I am more deeply committed to the inherent value of this self-critiquing process.

SWAN: The Caribbean has produced numerous writers and artists. How has the project been able to highlight their contributions to a more global audience?

OPA: I remain firm in my belief of wanting to provide space for new or emerging writers and artists as well as established ones, and each issue of the journal has fulfilled that commitment. This is an exciting time for Caribbean literature at home and throughout the Diaspora. Although most of us are still unable to make a living from our work, more of us are winning awards, being recognized on the international market, and the work of more diverse writers are being heard and shared. I would like to think that we are a part of that trend. We have received submissions from Caribbean writers in Asia and New Zealand, so I believe the word is getting out there. We are striving to access the global market more.

SWAN: Interviewing the Caribbean now has an institutional home at the University of the West Indies (Mona campus). What does this mean for its longevity and impact?

A novel by Opal Palmer Adisa.
OPA: I am truly grateful that the UWI Press agreed to partner with us and commit to the journal. This is huge because of the solid reputation of the UWI Press, and also its reach. As we continue to expand our readership and membership, the position of the journal will be solidified and its continuity, after I no longer edit it, will be guaranteed. There is no other journal of its kind in the Caribbean, and it fills an important need. The UWI Press recognized this; being one of its journals will, I believe, enhance the stature and provide entrée into more academic spaces for IC to be used as a text in literature and art courses.

SWAN: The project also supports Caribbean publishing, a sector that comprises many dynamic professionals - who nevertheless face both new and longstanding challenges. What can be done to provide greater support for Caribbean-based publishing, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic?

OPA: There are two factors here: readership and the cost of printing that makes the purchase of books prohibitive in the Caribbean. With more attention to e-books this might support such efforts. We have to get people in the Caribbean to read and buy books for their children outside of school texts. We have to get the general population reading more. Some people do, but not enough, and cost is a factor, but also, in general, we are not a reading society. Ministries of education throughout the region have to invest in Caribbean books for children, and fund the library system so more books can be purchased. It will take a multitier approach - advertisement promoting reading among adults.

SWAN: Countries in the Caribbean region have a shared history and common concerns, and the literary reality can be a range of projects with similar themes. Ideas are like the wind - free to everyone. How do you retain originality, while maintaining your creative generosity?

The cover of the latest issue of
Interviewing the Caribbean.
OPA: What is original is how we tell the same story, about the same place and the same people. Simple, I focus on the story I am telling and try not to eavesdrop or tell someone else’s story. All writers borrow bits and pieces we hear and then we stitch our own composite. It’s your voice, however you define that and keeping true to that, that makes you original. You and I will hear the same story, but given our personal history, we will tell it differently that at times it is not even recognizable. I remember once writing a story about a woman from details she provided me with. However, when she read the story, she didn’t recognize herself or her story. I don’t think I disguised or distorted what she said, but I told it through my own lens and it transformed into a story not about her, even though it was based on details she told me, but rather a story about a woman conjured up from my imagination.

SWAN: How has the project affected your own work as a writer, poet and teacher?

OPA: A great deal. I am not writing as much, but I discovered that I love editing, and interviewing, and I feel as if I am making such an important contribution. I am really okay where I currently am in life. I am not teaching anymore, at least not full time so that is not impacted. I am still writing poetry, because I must, because I am driven, because without it I might not remain with my two feet on the ground. However, doing a journal is a full-time preoccupation. Before you are done with one issue, you are thinking about the next - who to interview? Is the theme relevant? Will you get enough good submissions to produce an issue, ad nauseam? And then there is the constant challenge after numerous emails to get writers and artists to submit their bios and photos… the nitty gritty work; it requires so much effort, back and forth, to receive all that is required to get the issue done. 

SWAN: What is the focus of the current issue, and who are the personalities featured?

The journal invites submissions for a special
issue devoted to late poet Kamau Brathwaite.
OPA: For the first time I had a co-editor, Juleus Ghunta, and that was such an amazing help and collaboration. I had decided on the theme in advance and because Juleus is an emerging writer, with a children’s book, and I liked his insight, I invited him to co-edit with me; he brought a lot to the project and was more in tune with those publishing in this arena. The issue we just completed is the 2nd of a two-volume feature on children’s literature and features some amazing writers, publishers and illustrators of children literature for the Caribbean.

SWAN: How do you visualize Interviewing the Caribbean in 2030?

OPA: That it is a coffee table book in every household that reads. That it is translated in all the major languages spoken throughout the Caribbean, and funded to offer more prizes to contributors.

SWAN: What is next for you, as a writer, poet and academic?

OPA: I want to make films of my work and other works. I want to write about 10 more novels and children’s books. I want to launch a literary journal for children of the same caliber as IC; it is a goal I have been working on since 2012 when I was living in St Croix.  I want and plan to continue to be open to life and live fully. - SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday, 10 May 2020

FRANCE’S BIGGEST REGGAE FESTIVAL SAYS ‘SOON COME’

One of Europe’s most popular reggae festivals has become another casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic, joining the list of arts events that have had to cancel their 2020 presentations or move to a virtual format because of the global health crisis.

Ziggy Marley performing at Reggae Sun Ska in 2019.
(Photo courtesy of the festival.)
The festival, Reggae Sun Ska, held annually for 22 years in France’s Médoc wine region, announced that it would not take place this year but would be back in August 2021. It also launched the hashtag #SunSkaSoonCome.

“This is usually the time when we count the days before the doors open… when the excitement of organizing this festival so dear to us becomes palpable, and when we look forward to hearing the bass reverberating on stage and festival-goers rushing to the entrance with their smiles,” stated the organizers.

“But after growing uncertainty… we must resign ourselves to cancelling the festival this year.”

The three-day event is known for bringing together music fans to enjoy reggae, calypso, zouk, dancehall and other forms of Caribbean music now performed globally.

Singer Tiken Jah Fakoly at Reggae Sun Ska 2019.
(Photo courtesy of the festival.)
In 2019, some 27,500 spectators traveled from far and wide to see internationally renowned artists such as Jamaica’s Buju Banton and Ziggy Marley; Trinidad’s Calypso Rose; France’s Dub Inc; Brazil’s Flavia Coelho; and Ivory Coast’s Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly. According to participants, the shows were some of the best put on by the festival, the largest event of its kind in France.

The 2020 line-up was to have included young Grammy winner Koffee, Zouk pioneers Kassav and legendary UK band Steel Pulse. But despite remaining “mobilized to move forward”, organizers said the decision to cancel was “inevitable” when the French government announced that public gatherings would be restricted after the end of lockdown on May 11.

Still, the festival has got used to dealing with setbacks over the years, surviving criticism and debates about what Reggae Sun Ska means for the Médoc region and having to relocate from one venue to another. The organizers say they are determined to guarantee the event’s “longevity”, and, alongside the music, they now offer a range of well-being activities, including outdoor yoga and dance.

A poster announces the 2021 Reggae Sun Ska dates.
“Sun Ska is a spirit, it's a family, it's a way of life, a way to think, a philosophy, and this state of mind is nothing Utopian,” said the event’s director Fred Lachaize, following the success of last year.

“Living together, learning together, co-building, recalling the essential values that make up our education and our daily life. This is the basis of our … collective gathering,” he stressed.

Lachaize and his team said the festival would “overcome this new obstacle to offer an unparalleled edition in 2021”.

Acknowledging that the arts sector is among the hardest hit by the pandemic, the festival organizers also called for support in ensuring that cultural events continue to exist, and they expressed concern for the vast numbers of people who’ve contracted Covid-19 as well as for workers on the frontlines.

“We often talk about ‘well-being’ and ‘living well together’ at Sun Ska, so let's take care of ourselves and others,” they urged. – SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

JAZZ DAY ARTISTS KEEP THE MUSIC GOING, VIRTUALLY

Some of the biggest jazz stars will be participating in International Jazz Day, held annually on April 30, but this year their performances will be virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A composite of the top performers on International Jazz Day.
(Courtesy of the organizers.)
As the disease spread, with nations implementing lockdowns, organizers had to scramble to reschedule the musical event and especially the flagship Global Concert, which was initially slated to take place in Cape Town, South Africa.

Instead of cancelling the show, the main organizers - the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO - decided to put it online.

Renowned pianist Hancock will host the Global Concert, which will feature artists from across the globe, including A Bu, Dee Dee Bridgewater, John McLaughlin, Ben Williams, Youn Sun Nah, and Dianne Reeves. The presentations will be streamed live on jazzday.com.

“These are unprecedented times for world citizens, and we are most grateful for the support, understanding and partnership of our Jazz Day community,” stated Hancock, who is a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for intercultural dialogue and co-chair of International Jazz Day.

Herbie Hancock (centre) at a previous Jazz Day concert.
“Armed with optimism, patience and grace, we’ll work through these challenges as families, communities, countries and as a stronger united world,” he added.

Hancock called on the public to use the “ethics of Jazz Day’s global movement” to reconnect, “especially in the midst of all this isolation and uncertainty”.

International Jazz Day was established in 2011 on Hancock’s initiative and recognized by the UN General Assembly, with the aim of celebrating jazz and highlighting the music's “important role in encouraging dialogue, combating discrimination and promoting human dignity”.

Since then, the Global Concert has been held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, at the White House (hosted by then U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama), and in New Orleans and other cities.

As in earlier years - prior to the main event - this ninth edition offers educational masterclasses, children’s activities and discussions via web conference featuring prominent educators and jazz artists. All this will be streamed live via a special UNESCO link: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/jazzday.

John Beasley (photo: McKenzie)
New York-based jazz radio station WBGO will also host a panel focusing on how International Jazz Day, and art in general, “can respond to the social isolation precipitated by the current public health crisis”, according to organizers. The panel will comprise artists such as award-winning bassist and composer Marcus Miller and South African vocalist Sibongile Khumalo. A live virtual audience will be able to submit questions throughout the session.

In addition, the day’s programming always includes local events around the world, and organizers and musicians from 190 countries “are curating their own digital events with music, videos and other original content showing how jazz brings us all together - unites us - even in challenging times”, said John Beasley, arranger, composer and long-time musical director of the Global Concert.

“Let's keep the intercultural conversations, cooperation, collaboration, and creation going because in the end we help raise mutual understanding, human dignity and peace,” Beasley said. - SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

LATIN AMERICA & CARIBBEAN WEEK CANCELLED, FRANCE

France’s seventh Semaine de l’Amérique latine et des Caraïbes (Latin America and Caribbean Week / SALC) has been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numerous cultural and educational activities had been scheduled for the period May 19 to June 6 throughout the country, but although France’s eight-week lockdown is set to end May 11, most public events will still be restricted.

“Unfortunately, the health crisis we currently face and the timetable set for the gradual resumption of activity force us to cancel,” said Philippe Bastelica, secretary general of the SALC at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I know how disappointed all those who have invested in this project will feel.” 

In previous years, the government and a range of associations spotlighted the cultures of the Americas with exhibitions, colloquia, book launches, concerts and other events - to celebrate links between France and the two regions. 

In 2017, the focus was on the Caribbean, with shows such as the “Jamaica Jamaica!” exhibition about the history of the island’s music (see the SWAN article) and a retrospective of the work of Cuban artist Joaquin Ferrer. In 2019, the events included a discussion of the rights of indigenous peoples and films on the Cuban revolution, at the Institute of Latin American Studies (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3).

Bastelica said the SALC will be “reborn” in 2021, a year that will be “richer and brighter than ever”. - SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Friday, 10 April 2020

UNESCO TO SUPPORT CULTURAL SECTOR HIT BY COVID-19

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced it is “launching initiatives” to support cultural industries and cultural heritage, sectors hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNESCO's Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
(Photo: UNESCO/Calix)
“COVID-19 has put many intangible cultural heritage practices, including rituals and ceremonies, on hold, impacting communities everywhere,” the organization stated April 9. “It has also cost many jobs, and across the globe, artists … are now unable to make ends meet.”

Governments ordered the lockdown of museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural institutions (along with schools) as infections from the new coronavirus spread around the world in March and April - resulting in 95,000 deaths as of April 9. (The victims have included cultural icons such as playwright Terrence McNally and musicians Manu Dibango, Ellis Marsalis Jr, and John Prine.)

Many arts businesses will find it economically difficult to recover, officials have acknowledged. Bookshops too have had to close their doors, while publishers have largely postponed the publication of books. Numerous international visual-art, literary and music events have been cancelled as well, including the UNESCO-sponsored International Jazz Day main concerts, which were scheduled to take place in South Africa April 30.

The UN had already launched measures to assist the estimated 1.5 billion students affected by school closures, but this is the first time its cultural agency has directly addressed the impact on the arts.

“UNESCO is committed to leading a global discussion on how best to support artists and cultural institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and ensuring everyone can stay in touch with the heritage and culture that connects them to their humanity,” stated UNESO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay on Thursday.

UNESCO's Paris headquarters are closed
during France's lockdown. (Photo: SWAN)
The agency (whose headquarters in Paris remain closed, in line with French lockdown rules) will convene a virtual meeting of the world’s culture ministers on April 22, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their countries and to “identify remedial policy measures appropriate to their various national contexts”.

This follows an emergency online meeting of education ministers hosted on March 10, and a meeting of science ministries’ representatives on March 30. Earlier this month, the organization introduced a “CodeTheCurve” Hackathon to “support young innovators, data scientists and designers across the world to develop digital solutions to counter the COVID-19 pandemic”. The Hackathon will run until April 30, in partnership with IBM and SAP, UNESCO said.

For culture, the organization said it was launching an international social media campaign, #ShareOurHeritage and initiating an online exhibition of “dozens of heritage properties across the globe”, with technical support from Google Arts & Culture.

It will give information via its website and social media on the impact of COVID-19 on World Heritage sites, which are partly or fully closed to visitors in most countries because of the pandemic.

The Eiffel Tower is one of many World Heritage sites
closed to the public during the pandemic. (Photo: SWAN)
Children around the world will be invited to share drawings of World Heritage properties, giving them the chance to “express their creativity and their connection to heritage”, UNESCO added.

On World Art Day, 15 April 2020, the organization will partner with musician and Goodwill Ambassador Jean Michel Jarre to host an online debate and social media campaign, the “ResiliArt Debate”. This will bring together “artists and key industry actors to sound the alarm on the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of artists and cultural professionals”, UNESCO said.

It remains to be seen how these initiatives will help the cultural and creative sectors, which provide some 30 million jobs worldwide. Many artists have reported dire circumstances, but many are also using their creativity to deal with the situation.

Since the health crisis started, artists have been providing online concerts, sharing artwork digitally and taking other steps to reach out to audiences, as “billions of people around the world turn to culture for comfort and to overcome social isolation”, to use UNESCO’s words.

“Now, more than ever, people need culture,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, assistant UNESCO director-general for the sector.

“Culture makes us resilient. It gives us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone,” he added.

For an earlier article on the impact of COVID-19 on cultural and creative industries, please see: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/03/arts-culture-trying-keep-lights-amid-covid-19/

Follow SWAN’s founder on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale