Dashiki Dialogues: Jazz, our democratic experiment

2014-04-28 10:00

Today marks the 20th year since we took on our experiment with democracy.

It’s an auspicious historic moment that will converge this week with the Unesco International Jazz Day on April 30.

It’s not a light coincidence, jazz is after all the most democratic of all art forms. It’s the indomitable noble sound.

It’s remarkable that as a general rule, all dictators tend to share a hatred for jazz. Consider that Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Russia’s Joseph Stalin and Spain’s Francisco Franco were decidedly anti-jazz. So I invoke it as we take stock of how far we’ve come, and also ponder how further still the road stretches ahead. Just as democracy itself, the music demands strict collaboration but also handsomely rewards individuality.

One of jazz’s most cardinal elements is improvisation and it contains an important contradictory ingredient that is also its most vital part. At one level, improvisation is supposed to be about the individual musicians contributing something created anew in the moment.

But it is also at another level a demonstration of expertise and what the musician has learnt about what has been played before him, both historically and in the song being offered. These twin ideas imply individual virtuosity is a result of the things a singular human being develops from his interaction with what others have made possible before him.

This as he brings his unique capacity to make his own statements.

But democratic participation can never be coerced – individuals must will themselves into active citizenship. Just as a player must elect to play. Hence the democratic imaginary “We, the people?...” opens the preamble to our Constitution like an open invitation, a declaration of intention to bring an ensemble of individuals under one song.

I invite everyone to observe International Jazz Day too. This year, Unesco selected Osaka, Japan, as the global host city. Jazzday.com will beam an all-star global webcast from Osaka from 11am London time. The webcast will be available on demand within four hours of the original start time on the day.

Joburg’s jazz devotees will observe the day with Three Steps Within, who will be live at The Orbit (81 De Korte Street, Braamfontein). In Cape Town, jazz heads can gather at The Crypt Restaurant (1 Wale Street), where the UCT Big Band will be holding down the fort. Get your best dashiki out and dialogue with humanity’s loftier intentions.

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