Sunday 17 June 2018


What impact does our “footprint” - in its many forms - have on our society? This is just one of the questions that the sixth annual “State of the Community” conference in Paris will address over the next two weeks.

The meeting, organized by the Dhillon Marty Foundation, comprises a range of events aimed at highlighting civic engagement and getting people to support sustainable solutions to social problems. It was launched June 16 in France with the distribution of Empreinte Civique, a daily newspaper being published and distributed across 15 countries until June 30.

Sonia Dhillon Marty
According to Sonia Dhillon Marty, the India-born president of the foundation, only the development of critical thinking and common civic values will help humankind to deal with the future, especially in the face of seemingly unstoppable technological changes.
“Democracy needs engaged and thoughtful citizens. Our mission is to build critical thinkers who are passionately engaged to defend a fair and just society,” she said.
A former business-development professional at tech company Cisco Systems, Dhillon Marty says she is concerned about getting youth involved in discussions about sustainability, especially as regards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Her aim is to bring together artists, academics, experts from various disciplines, and young people to “investigate sustainable solutions for our interconnected world”.
In partnership with CIDJ (Centre d’Information et de Documentation de la Jeunesse) and UNESCO’s MOST program (Management of Social Transformations), the Dhillon Marty Foundation has widened its scope this year for a greater appeal to community involvement. The diverse events will bring together “social practice” art and dialogue on contemporary global issues.
Members of the Dhillon Marty team.
Each program provides an “egalitarian approach to the current social challenges and explores how a holistic solution, beneficial to everyone, can be possible”, Dhillon Marty said.
Subtitled “#ShareYourHumanity” (last year’s winning phrase from a global competition), the 2018 event features a street art performance on June 18 at a store in northern Paris. Artists will use mattresses to produce art, as a means of emphasizing that the well-being of the individual and the community go hand in hand, Dhillon Marty told SWAN.
The following day, June 19, the foundation hosts a “Garden Share” and Japanese tea ceremony, with participants exchanging views on sustainable food production. The focus here is on how each person can contribute to “seeding” quality food and life.
Other activities include a “Social Movement” dance performance and a street cleaning, or “Soji”, initiative - inspired by the Japanese practice of cleaning communal spaces. The latter will take place on June 22, at Place de la République, in Paris.
These social-practice art programs will be followed by panel debates and discussions June 26 to June 29, on topics such as inclusive community action, the economics of technology, and democracy and governance. The annual competition to select the “Phrase of the Year”, from submissions by young people around the world, will take place June 28.
A more physical activity - a run for gender justice - is scheduled to close out this year’s conference. The “#JustRunParis” event “represents the struggle for advancement in quality of life and work undertaken by courageous and tireless women to build a world of more possibilities,” Dhillon Marty said. The route will include different locations in Paris where “pioneering, trailblazing women have changed history and keep inspiring generations”, she added.
After the run, participants will come together for a “Lungar” - a picnic where everyone will prepare, serve, and enjoy food in a “bonding experience”, as in the Sikh tradition of India.
For further details on the conference program, please go to: and @dhillonmarty. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all programs.

Wednesday 13 June 2018


A few years ago, pianist and composer John Beasley was preparing for a big writing project when he began experimenting with a new kind of computer software, focusing on the music of jazz legend Thelonious Monk.
John Beasley's first tribute album to Thelonious Monk.
“I went ‘Wow! This is interesting.’ And the light bulb just went off,” Beasley said in an interview with SWAN. “I realized how open to interpretation his music was,”
What followed was a commission to write a piece for a big band, and the release in 2016 of John Beasley presents MONK’estra, vol. 1 – an album with a multicultural cast of acclaimed musicians.
“After we had performed the sets live, a friend who was a record producer said: Why don’t you record the music,” recalled Beasley, sitting in a Paris café, on a break from touring.
“I wondered how I was going to pay 15 musicians. In the end, I had to ask them to do a favor, and they accepted to take a low fee. Some said: I’ll play on your record if you play on mine,” he continued.
The project was “very much a labour of love” and the musicians and their fans have “become a community”, Beasley said. All are united in their admiration for the singular genius of jazz pianist and composer Monk, who died in 1982.
MONK'estra, vol. 1 was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and the following year Beasley followed this up with MONK'estra, vol. 2, which received a similar nomination.
The second compilation, which he again arranged and conducted, was launched in October 2017, on the 100th anniversary of Monk’s birth. It features guest appearances by trumpeter and rapper Dontae Winslow, violinist Regina Carter and singer Dianne Reeves, among others. 
John Beasley in Paris (photo: McKenzie).
This is the essence of Monk - for both long-time fans and a new generation. It boasts surprising interpretations of compositions that include “Evidence”, “Light Blue” and “Crespuscule With Nellie” (Monk’s love letter to his wife).
“I hope that people who aren’t necessarily jazz lovers will get exposed to the music,” Beasley said. “But I didn’t compose for any overriding reason. I just wrote what’s in my heart.”
Still, as an artist who has been music director for International Jazz Day Global Concerts and the Thelonious Monk Institute Tribute shows, Beasley says he doesn’t shy away from taking a personal stand on certain topics, as music has always been used to address social issues. 
“When you look at the Civil Rights movement, you had Marvin Gaye, you had Coltrane,” he said. “During the Vietnam War, you had Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and all this was played on radio. But what I hear on the radio now is music that doesn't speak to today's issues. This is not helping to provoke thought and as such doesn't advance our culture, nor is it helping to advance our humanity.
“The rhythm of the day may be changing, but there’s still a need for jazz,” he added.
Born in Louisiana, Beasley comes from a line of musicians – his grandfather was a jazz trombonist who played in dance halls during the 1920s.
“He stayed on the road until my mother was born,” Beasley told SWAN. “Then he became a school-band director, and he would teach my mom to play the instrument that he needed in the band. So, she learned to play a lot of instruments.”
The cover of MONK'estra, vol. 2.
His mother eventually became a band director and a music teacher until she retired. His father was a pianist who learned to play the bassoon in the army and later concentrated on classical music and jazz, playing for Fort Worth and Dallas symphony orchestras.
“Music was always around the house,” Beasley said.
His parents made him take piano lessons from the time he was 8 years old, he revealed, but he chose to play oboe and other instruments throughout high school. 
“Piano didn’t speak to me until later,” he said. “What happened was: I was playing guitar and drums in my teens. In one band the piano player quit, so I took over.”
He had “caught the jazz bug” early on, however, because his father “pulled him out of school” and took him to workshops where he met artists like Oliver Nelson (renowned for The Blues and the Abstract Truth). As the love of jazz took hold, Beasley dreamed of becoming a big-band director because he “wanted to be like Quincy Jones”. 
Later he would do "lots of" studio work and perform with musicians including Dianne Reeves, Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and a roster of other famous jazz musicians and vocalists. He played with Miles Davis in 1989/1990, and throughout it all, he was inspired by the music of Monk. 
During his break in Paris last November, where the interview took place, he was also working on a 10-minute symphonic piece for an international composition competition. This June, he won the Grand Prize which meant that the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performed his piece "Simplicity" in the famous "Goldener Saal" of the Wiener Musikverein; it was “inspired by the music of Thelonious Monk”.
“In jazz, we’re always riding the shoulders of our predecessors,” Beasley mused.

Upcoming performances for John Beasley and the MONK'estra band will take place in London, Beijing, LA and other cities. For more info:

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Saturday 2 June 2018


Civil rights icon Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker at “Revolution(s)”, a conference at Paris Nanterre University about the themes of revolt and rebellion in literature and other fields.
Organized by La Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES) - an academic association for those researching and teaching English language, literatures and culture - the June 7-9 meeting is expected to attract some 500 participants and include about 30 workshops at the university located just outside the French capital.
Dr. Angela Davis (photo: McKenzie)
Davis’s name was the “first that came to mind” when Nanterre was chosen as the 2018 site of the annual congress of the SAES, said Bernard Cros, the main organizer of the meeting and a lecturer in British and Commonwealth studies.
“What is not revolutionary about Angela Davis is what you have to ask,” Cros said in an interview. “Where would the world be without people like her? She put her own safety on the line. It raises questions about what it means to be politically committed. Whether you agree with all her views or not, this is something that attracts support.”
The university awarded Davis an honorary doctorate in 2014, so she is “already linked” to the institution, he added.
For the SAES, the theme of “revolution(s)” seemed the “obvious choice” for the congress, “exactly half a century after the events of the spring of 1968 in which the Nanterre campus played such a leading role,” organizers said.
Scholars will try to address questions such as: “Is the notion of revolution as a catalyst for action still relevant today? Does it still carry conviction as a plan, hope, or representation of an age? Is it still pertinent to think of it as a framework to make history or to give it meaning?”
After a recent spate of student protests, participants are hoping that the university will be fully accessible for the conference. In echoes of 1968, when nation-wide demonstrations shut down the economy, France is currently gripped by strikes involving railway employees and other workers, while students have been demonstrating against the government’s higher-education reforms that would make admittance to public universities more selective.
A sign from protestors (photo: McKenzie)
The students say the changes are contrary to the French tradition of offering all high school graduates a place at public universities and would adversely affect poorer students, who are already underrepresented on campuses. The government’s stance is that reform is necessary to deal with the current high drop-out rate and overcrowded institutions.
At Nanterre (where the 1968 student demonstrations began, with the occupation of an administrative building to protest class discrimination and other social issues), students in April and early May this year shut down the campus, placing iron barricades and other objects in front of doorways to prevent final exams taking place.
The protests have now quieted, with finals being organized through the university's digital platform and grades to be assigned. Some graduate students are in fact expected to attend the conference, but railway strikes across France are continuing.
At the congress, interdisciplinary presentations will cover a range of issues and literatures, focusing on activist writers such as CLR James of Trinidad, Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados and many others.
The conference will also pay homage to Davis, who has been a revolutionary figure for decades. A member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, she was active in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968.
Later, in 1970, guns bought in her name were used by a high-school student when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother, and left the building with hostages, including the judge.
In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed. Davis was arrested following a huge manhunt, and charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder” of the judge, although she had not been in the courtroom.
Congress organizer Dr. Bernard Cros.
She declared her innocence, and sympathisers in the United States and other countries, including France, mobilised to demand her freedom. After being incarcerated for 16 months, she was released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges in 1972.
Now Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Davis focuses on feminist studies, among other subjects.

Her speech at the SAES conference is expected to provide insight on what it takes to improve conditions for the oppressed, Cros said.
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