Wednesday 29 April 2020


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

“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:

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

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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

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Friday 10 April 2020


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:

Follow SWAN’s founder on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale