Friday 29 April 2016


The fifth annual International Jazz Day will be celebrated around the world on April 30, with U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosting the main event – an All-Star Global Concert  at the White House on April 29, a day ahead of time.

The official 2016 Jazz Day poster.
According to the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO, which first designated the day in 2012, the concert will be broadcast as a one-hour prime-time television special on April 30 evening, and streamed on the websites of the UN, UNESCO, U.S. State Department and the White House.

The concert will feature a range of artists from around the world, paying tribute to what the organisers call the “truly American art form of jazz”.

Participating performers include acclaimed musicians Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sting, Terri Lyne Carrington, Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller, Hugh Masekela and a host of other stars. Pianist, arranger and composer John Beasley will serve as the evening’s musical director.

“We’ll probably be reaching more people this year than ever,” Beasley said in an interview.  He told SWAN that the concert will see some interesting artistic link-ups that will bring musicians together “across musical genres and geography”. For instance, R&B legend Franklin will be performing with Hancock, and English singer and bassist Sting with vocalist Jarreau and other artists.

In response to a question about the main issue of directing such a concert, Beasley said the key challenge was “dreaming up scenarios” for people to play collectively.

“I try to be creative and think of people that haven’t normally played together – something that takes them out of their comfort zone – and also adding the international element, to put people from all over the world together,” he said. “That’s the beauty of jazz; it’s a conversation. We can talk without words and find commonality.”

John Beasley (photo by Eric Wolfinger)
Last year’s concert at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris – one of 80 events in the French capital – saw Scottish singer Annie Lennox, more known for rock music, belting out jazz standards from a recent album, accompanied by Hancock on piano. It also placed the talented young bassist Ben Williams alongside veteran saxophonist Wayne Shorter, for one of the high points of a concert that had audience members dancing at the end.

According to Beasley, the event can “exemplify global kinship without borders, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or political affiliations.”

Since the first Jazz Day, the international audience has grown to 2 billion people participating in many varieties of jazz-themed events, Beasley told IDN.

Presented by UNESCO in partnership with the US-based Thelonious Monk Institute, International Jazz Day was conceived by Hancock and launched at UNESCO headquarters in Paris as well as at venues in New Orleans and New York in 2012. The aim was to highlight the power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity, and to use the music to promote intercultural dialogue and respect.

Tom Carter, president of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, told IDN that the 2016 edition was shaping up to be most successful one so far. “Our country is the birthplace of jazz, from its origins in New Orleans … and we’re proud that it has been embraced in all corners of the globe,” he said.

Herbie Hancock
The first International Jazz Day comprised events in 80 countries and has now grown to 195 countries – “all the UN and UNESCO member states”, Carter added.

As part of the celebration, the Thelonious Monk Institute launched “Math, Science & Music” on April 26, an education platform with free curricula, games, apps and other online elements “that use music as a tool to teach maths and science to students”.

The platform will address the growing need for students to gain skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and learn to think creatively, the Institute said

In a statement, Hancock – who also serves as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador – said: “We are thrilled that President Obama and Michelle Obama are hosting the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert at the White House, and are truly grateful for their commitment to jazz and its role in building bridges and uniting people around the world.” 

The Day will also see musicians and educators participating in a series of free jazz performances, master classes, improvisational workshops, and other events, he said. Additional key activities will include community outreach initiatives at schools, embassies, arts centres, hospitals, and other venues. These will be taking place all over the world, but with a focus on Washington, D.C. Meanwhile in Paris, where the Day started, singers including Denise King will be giving concerts and participating in various arts activities.

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday 24 April 2016


The 12th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, taking place April 25 to May 1 in New York, puts Mexico in the spotlight this year, with authors from the country being featured alongside an international roster of more than 150 writers and thinkers.

The decision to showcase Mexican literature was taken long before U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump made his infamous remark about Mexicans and touted his desire to build a wall between the United States and its southern neighbour.

Festival director Jakab Orsos.
(Photo by Beowulf Sheehan)
But Trump’s comment, stereotyping immigrants as “criminals”, has given impetus to the scheduled cross-cultural discussions at the festival, the only one of its kind with a human rights focus, said the festival’s director László Jakab Orsós.

“When I selected Mexico, I felt this thing in the air – it’s the gypsy in me,” said Orsós, who is from Hungary. “Then that whole narrative made it clear that this ridiculous negativity was there. After I heard it, I thought: oh yeah, now we’re going to be talking.”

Orsós said that from its start, in 2005, the festival hasn’t shied away from difficult or uncomfortable issues – whether that involved political, social or philosophical topics, and he said the public seemed to appreciate this.

“Literature can be a communal activity: after you spend time reading or writing, you come out from that room and exchange information and ideas, and that’s what we try to do with the festival … which is really a festival of ideas incorporating different genres,” he added.

Entitled “Renegotiating the Narratives”, the event will explore Mexico’s “rich culture and burning social issues through a series of events that invite audiences to rethink widely accepted narratives on topics such as national identity, the border, migration, as well as systematic corruption and free expression in today’s Mexico,” PEN said in a release.

Some of Mexico’s leading thinkers and authors will provide insights, including Carmen Boullosa, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Lydia Cacho, Yuri Herrera, Elena Poniatowska and Sabina Berman. The latter, a playwright and essayist, will be co-curator of the Mexican program alongside Orsós.

“This year’s focus on Mexico allows us to present new perspectives on some of the urgent sociopolitical issues of our time - perspectives that are often absent from mainstream cultural forums,” said Orsós.

He told SWAN that politics relegating Mexico to a “dark corner” were “hypocritical” especially when one considers that Mexican culture and history are so “amazing”.

Yudai Kamisato 
The festival will open with a reading of new and original works written for the occasion by several writers, and events will also comprise an exploration of the breadth and beauty of Mexican landscapes with literary artists; a conversation about the uncompromising role women writers play within the Mexican cultural ecology; and a “multimedia crash course” on contemporary Mexican poetry.

In addition to the Mexican focus, audiences will be treated to a "globally inspired array of conversations, readings, performances and workshops" by leading and emerging authors from around the world, according to the organizers. The line-up includes Caribbean-born novelist Jamaica Kincaid and the Peruvian-born Japanese playwright Yudai Kamisato - whose work explores the problems that immigrants face.

Overall, however, the main theme of the festival will be freedom of expression, Orsós said, as PEN is an organization that works to protect the rights of writers and artists to freely express themselves.

“The most important core value is to promote and advocate for freedom of expression,” he said. “This is why I came on board [as director six years ago] because of my background, growing up in Eastern Europe and being a former journalist.

“We all believe that without freedom, without the essential idea and concept to be able to express yourself freely … then everything becomes corrupt and twisted,” he added. “In order to straighten things up and live a fuller life, you have to have that basic right.” - A.M. / SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter @mckenzie_ale

Thursday 14 April 2016


It’s been a long time in the making, but Lost Myself, the debut jazz album by Shola Adisa-Farrar, is well worth the wait. The young Jamaican-American singer is launching the CD on April 15 from her base in Paris, and some fans got a preview when she gave a “listening party” this week at a hotel in the popular Pigalle area of the French city, famed for the Moulin Rouge cabaret. In an area rich with history, these lucky spectators got to see and hear how Adisa-Farrar incorporates her multi-cultural heritage into her music - giving a new flavour to jazz, reggae and calypso.

The cover of Shola Adisa-Farrar's debut album
Born in Oakland, California, to a Jamaican mother (writer Opal Palmer Adisa) and an African-American father, Adisa-Farrar has also lived in New York, where she earned a degree in music. She has called Paris home for a number of years now, even as she travels to perform.

For the album, she worked with the Florian Pellissier quintet, led by an accomplished Parisian pianist and composer known for the up-tempo inflections he brings to jazz.  With the 10 tracks on the album - including the joyful bonus tune “Fall in Love”, the two aimed to “blend New-York’s hard-bop aesthetics and reggae-inspired elements with modern jazz, for a fresh spin on classics and original compositions”, according to the album notes. Adisa-Farrar (Shola) tells SWAN more about this musical voyage in the interview below.

SWAN: How long did you work on the album?
SHOLA: This project has been in the making for two years. We began our collaboration June 2013 and we finished the last recording June 2015.

SWAN: Are there particular stories, personal history, behind the songs?
SHOLA: Being that this album was created over a span of two years, my inspiration and my awareness of myself as an artist evolved. From the original compositions "Flow" is the song that is probably the most meaningful to me as I wrote it as an affirmation to myself. 2014 was a very transitional year for me and so this song was/is a reminder to let go of what is not meant for me, so what is, can flow more easily into my life. 

The singer in Paris
"Evolution" and "Spirit" are mostly lyrical free styles where I sang and spoke whatever words and sounds came to mind at the moment of recording. "Evolution" speaks to my being in France, how I got here, who I have become and what I want my next passage to be.

"I Have A Dream" is really about the seasons of change and being patiently optimistic that positive change can and will occur in your life, in society, elsewhere.

The inspiration for "Blue Chords" came about as I was in the studio composing with Florian and noticed blue cable chords on his piano. Somehow this made me think of the connections between people, places and origins. This song talks about my identity as an American and as a Jamaican, using the colors of the flag to describe the country and some of the ways I feel these cultures/ identities are perceived.

"Going Nowhere" talks about the beginning of a previous relationship - the unknowingness of where it was going but ultimately feeling good in that unknown space and making the decision to go wherever it (the relationship) took me without constraints.

Adisa-Farrar with Florian Pelessier (right)
"What a Night" came about after listening to a lot of Monty Alexander, of whom I am a fan. I've long had this desire to incorporate reggae into my music and a song that my mom taught me among others when I was a child was "Linstead Market". So I thought what if I were to use the "what a night" lyric of this Jamaican folk song and flipped the meaning on its head. The original intention of that lyric was something bad: the woman didn't sell much, if any, of her products at the market and so it was a bad-money-earning night for her. But we often use "What a..." to describe something really great too; like "what a voice she has... what a meal... ", etc., so I wanted to make this song about something positive. I imagined the feeling of finally getting out of the funk of a failed relationship, deciding to go out, get dolled up and actually being attracted to someone once out and feeling confident enough to do something about it.

SWAN: How important is your background - Jamaican mom - to your music?
SHOLA: It's funny: my older cousins who recently came to visit me in Paris and who grew up in Jamaica, in Spanish Town, told me of one of their first memories of meeting me when I was a young girl in Jamaica. They said when I talked to them about what foods I liked to eat at the time, ackee n salt fish, stewed peas and rice and dumpling...they thought "ey ey aye ah who dis Yankee girl talkin bout stew peas n dumpling." It was at this moment they realized that even though I was born in California that my Jamaica-ness was very much present and evident. This is obviously due to my mother who is a griot, really, and who makes it her business to collect our family history and to infuse her children with as much family culture and Jamaican traditions as she knows and practices. So this is a part of my identity that I like to celebrate and of course music is so important to Jamaica and Jamaicans that if I can use some of the mento/ reggae/ soca / dancehall elements in my music it's a great pleasure for me to do so.

SWAN: As you perform a range of styles, how would you define yourself as a singer?
SHOLA: This album is considered a jazz album, but I say as an artist that I like to mix jazz, soul music and reggae to create music that feels good, is poetic and is honest in describing aspects of human emotion and situations: conflict and struggle, joy and angst, curiosity and discovery.

SWAN: You've travelled to several African countries and taken part in various festivals and workshops. Has this had an impact on your art?
SHOLA: Absolutely. Since October 2014 I have travelled to four different African countries because of music, and each of these countries has a distinct musical tradition and sound. Having the unique opportunity to work closely with various artists from these communities and bringing home instruments from some of these places has informed how I think about music and what and how it is communicated to various audiences. I would love to create a project with an artist from each of these places where we mix our musical traditions and put together sounds that might not so often be associated.

SWAN: You also give special tours of Paris and teach English. How do you manage to combine all this?
SHOLA: It has been quite a juggling act and sometimes a scheduling nightmare, but I managed it the best I could for 2 plus years. However, I have recently made the decision to make pursuing my artistic career as my only professional activity for the time being. Being an artist and creating art takes time and freedom from too many mental and psychological constraints, so I am taking a real chance on myself now - jumping without a net, trusting that now is the right time to go for it!

SWAN:  What are your music plans for the coming months?
SHOLA: I would like to tour within France and abroad with this album project. Simultaneously, I am beginning collaborations with different artists and producers to continue developing my sound and creating new music. © SWAN

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Wednesday 13 April 2016


The gripping Brazilian drama Mundo Cão (Dog’s World) has won the Public’s Prize at the18th annual Brazilian Film Festival in Paris, which took place April 5 - 12.

Two of the films' canine stars. 
Each year, audiences vote for what they consider the best film, and this year they choose the unlikely tale of a dogcatcher versus a sociopathic ex-cop.

Directed by Marcos Jorge, the film is set in São Paulo and tells the story of upright and amiable family man Santana, who works for the city, picking up stray animals.

But all goes desperately awry the day that he catches a huge dog and then has to contend with the wrath of the dog’s owner - a violent ex-cop - who has been informed that his "pet" has been put to sleep.

Viewers evidently felt a connection with some of the less-than-cuddly beasts shown in the flic, whose animal stars were just as compelling as the human ones (actors Lázaro Ramos, Babu Santana and Adriana Esteves). They all pulled viewers into a believable underground canine world.

Mundo Cão was one of 20 films shown at the festival, which since its start in 1998 has now screened more than 450 movies and attracted some 70,000 spectators in the French capital.

According to founder Katia Adler, the organizers this year wanted to increase the meetings between filmmakers and the public, and as a result, about 30 special guests – directors, actors and producers – were present. They introduced their films, took part in debates and helped to highlight co-productions between Brazil and France.

The festival closed with the inspiring Tudo que aprendemos juntos, Sérgio Machado’s story of a failed violinist who gives music lessons to disadvantaged children in the favela and discovers an exceptionally talented boy, whose life he manages to change.

There was, of course, live music as well, as the festival ended on a high note with the outstanding Teresa Cristina performing songs by one of Brazil’s best known samba composers, the late Cartola.

 Singer Teresa Cristina performed at the festival.

(Watch this space for full reviews of some of the films shown during the festival.)