June 13, 2024

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The Jazzwerkstatt Bern was about cultural appropriation in jazz: Video, Photo

“Many male, white musicians have become scared and are wondering whether they might soon no longer be allowed to play jazz,” says Apiyo Amolo. “And maybe that’s the main reason we’re all here today, having this conversation.” The panel discussion was enlightening and pleasantly untheoretical: “No worries. No one has a problem with you playing jazz».

At this point, the event in the program has already lasted almost two hours. And he wasn’t boring or uncomfortable for a second. “I can say to all these men: don’t worry,” says Amolo. “No one has a problem with you playing jazz. You just have to acknowledge and appreciate where this music comes from. It doesn’t need more.”

The term cultural appropriation has not only been a hot topic since the aborted reggae concert in Bern’s Brasserie Lorraine last summer. It’s been like that for a long time, especially in jazz – and again and again.

Our US/EU Jazz-Blues Association Festivals 2023 with performances by international stars: Photos

That’s why the podium discussion “Decolonization & anti-racism in the Swiss jazz scene” was on the program during the Jazzwerkstatt Bern at the weekend. It took place as part of the Swiss Jazz Days, a kind of meeting place for the local jazz industry.

Too elitist? In addition to the moderator, Apiyo Amolo, Reverend Scotty Williams, a pastor and musician from Louisiana who now lives in St. Gallen, was invited. Barbara Balba Weber, head of the Music in Context department at the Bern University of the Arts, and the Bern-Togolese and musician and Afi Sika Kuzeawu.

A good hundred people came to the auditorium to listen to the input presentation and the subsequent discussion.

Apiyo Amolo, Zurich SP municipal parliamentarian, intercultural mediator and yodeler, leads the audience calmly and – with a wink – deliciously like a teacher through the podium.

“Jazz is too often viewed from a purely white point of view, especially in Europe.”

Afi Sika Kuzeawu, musician – In general, the occasion is characterized by lightness, the round is informative, enlightening and pleasantly untheoretical. Even though Reverend Scotty Williams, who gives lectures on Black American culture and racial reconciliation in addition to his pastoral work, explains the origins of jazz from the melting pot of New Orleans in detail and well-founded, very soon it is all about structural problems in the here and now.

About the fact that jazz schools and universities should also teach a better understanding of jazz history. And that the topic of appreciating sources and origins is often given too little attention in training.

The musician Afi Sika Kuzeawu, for example, thinks that jazz is too often viewed from a purely white point of view, especially in Europe. She also noticed that there were relatively few people of color in the schools. In any case, she herself was the only one in her jazz studies and often felt left out. “Jazz generally needs to be taught more from different perspectives,” she says.

Barbara Balba Weber also said that in Switzerland this music often has an academic superstructure, is defined too much by diplomas and does not live enough from real cultural exchange. Many young people are therefore denied access to jazz and perhaps to music in general. All podium participants wish for a somewhat less elitist approach.

What comes up again and again: that people of color are tired of being seen as victims and always only being a topic of conversation instead of speaking themselves. What they want is participation, representation.

As Afi Sika Kuzeawu puts it: «The contributions that Europe has made in the arts and science, for example, are recognized in the world. The great contributions made on the African continent too often still await recognition today. And that has to change.”

The great thing about this discussion is that it never becomes accusatory, never judgmental. It’s about mutual interest, about appreciation, about listening to each other and wanting to understand each other.

“We are not jazz’s gatekeepers, but custodians and representatives,” says Reverend Scotty Williams. It’s not about bans, but about honoring a legacy. “Cultural appreciation is showing respect for people and their stories, not just for the product,” says Apiyo Amolo. “All we want is a healthy exchange at eye level. And to do that, we need to lose the fear of talking about these issues. Because nobody is immune to ignorance.”

Diskutierten in Bern: Die Moderatorin und interkulturelle Mediatorin Apiyo Amolo, Reverend Scotty Williams, Pastor und Musiker, Musikerin Afi Sika Kuzeawu und die HKB-Dozentin Barbara Balba Weber (v.l.).

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