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European Jazz Conference 2017

Ian Patterson By

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Two groups were divided along the lines of Spring/Summer Festivals and Autumn/Winter Festivals. These groups offered presenters the chance to share ideas, propose co-presenting, co-commissioned work, and generally facilitate collaboration between those actively seeking to take advantage of the EJN's wide reach. With many festivals proud of their individual identity and artistic autonomy, some presenters took these sessions more as an opportunity to sell their wares, so to speak.

Other groups focused on national and regional organisations, clubs and venues. A fascinating working group entitled Protecting the Music Ecosystem addressed, in short, the issues of European funding for music in general, the complicated hoops jazz has to jump through to gain financial support, and the increasing numbers grappling to get their paws in the honey pot.

Ian Smith of the European Music Council, researcher George McKay of the University of East Anglia, and Michelle Kuijpers of North Sea Jazz Festival, delivered the message that preference is increasingly given to music that can prove its economic worth, and not just its socio-cultural capital. With jazz being niche music, the very word 'jazz' could perhaps prove a disadvantage, with jazz presenters needing to be evermore inventive in the drafting of funding proposals.

In footballing parlance it's akin to clubs competing for inclusion in the Champion's League. Membership at Europe's top footballing table secures a flood of money and mid to long-term stability. Failure to make the grade means fighting for the scraps, or even for survival.

Finally, there was the Jazz Research Group, led by Tony Whyton of Birmingham City University. Academic research provides dispassionate and incisive insights into issues surrounding jazz, its production, dissemination and presentation. From balanced historical perspectives to detailed analysis of the economy of festivals, and from new ways of thinking about the multiple meanings of jazz to George McKay's important work on disability and music [see Shakin' All Over: Popular Music And Disability], the EJN is a culturally richer, more knowledgeable and a more balanced organisation for the input of academic research.

Keynote Speech

Rokia Traoré: The Role of An Artist Aginst Misconception

Malian singer-songwriter/musician Rokia Traoré has recorded six critically acclaimed since her debut Mouneissa (Label Bleu, 1997), though since 2009 much of her energy has gone into her Foundation Passerelle, which helps train young Malian musicians for careers in music. In a fascinating keynote speech, the singer spoke of her musical career, her activism, and of the damaging legacy of colonization, which she reasoned, has stripped Africans of their identity, self-worth and culture, pushing many to seek a better life in Europe.

Traoré described how her incremental success as a professional artist came as a surprise to her. She acknowledged the support of the French Cultural Centre at the outset of her career, and even then wondered why such Malian institutions did not exist to give a helping hand to aspiring artists. This questioning planted the seeds of Traoré's future Foundation Passarelle, and with the royalties from each successive album and with the fees from touring she set about buying land on which to build a cultural centre for Malians.

Traoré almost reluctantly accepted her role model status for young Malians, describing it not so much as a choice but as a position somehow inherited. "Others understand who you are before you do."

Traoré asked what African culture and arts bring to Africans themselves. "We can say nothing, because the best of African art and culture is for abroad." Traoré emphasized that while the greatest visual artists, singers and musicians from Africa are celebrated abroad, at the same time the lack of resources in Africa means that theatres and other spaces that could potentially build a relationship between audiences and artists simply don't exist. It follows, she said, that African artists and their works are generally not known in Africa.

For this lamentable situation Traoré pointed the finger at two targets—religion and colonization. Traoré described how religion has replaced the space once occupied by culture. "Young people go to mosques because they have no cultural space, and there they are taught how to reject culture in order to be as close as possible to God." The trade-off dictated by the mosques, Traoré said, was for young people to effectively know nothing about themselves and their culture in return for knowledge of the afterlife.

The desire amongst young Malians—and Africans in general—to head to Europe for a new life, stems from the fact, Traoré said, that they are disenchanted with their leaders and their own lack of self-identity and self-worth -the legacies of colonization. "This is a lost continent. Everything we do here came from somewhere else."

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