Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Jazz Diplomacy for Peace Building
SAITO Yoshiomi / Associate Professor, Kyoto University

March 30, 2018
April 30 is International Jazz Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Since 2012, concerts and seminars have been held on this day around the world, primarily in that year’s global host cities.

Why UNESCO and jazz? The chief reason is that the organization—which has sought to encourage intercultural dialogue in an increasingly intolerant world, including by designating 2010 as International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures—pins its hopes on jazz as a symbol of racial integration and respect for diversity. Born in the cultural amalgam that is New Orleans, this genre of music is now looked upon as a vehicle for promoting intercultural understanding and empathy.

Japan has also been working to advance mutual understanding through jazz. Jazz is frequently taken up in programs to commemorate milestone anniversaries, for instance. When Japan and Brazil celebrated their 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2015, the Creative Jazz Ensemble Japan gave six concerts in five Brazilian cities. The outfit performed titles across genres, ranging from jazz to samba to a jazzy arrangement of the Japanese children’s song “Kutsu ga naru” (Sound of shoes).

Jazz may have its roots in America. But in the words of Irina Bokova, former director-general of UNESCO, “Born in the United States, jazz is owned by the world. . . . Jazz makes the most of the world’s diversity, effortlessly crossing borders and bringing people together.”

One of the central players in promoting transnational collaboration by Japanese and other musicians is the Japan Foundation. In the 2000s, under the banner of “creation of new music by talented Jazz musicians in Asia,” it supported the activities of a multinational group called Unit Asia, organizing concerts in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. A “swing” arises from performers listening to and respecting the sound that is being played, says one of the group members, and “music easily overcomes national borders and grows into something bigger and stronger” the moment they understand one another. If that is the case, then the Asian Youth Jazz Orchestra has also contributed to fostering cross-border understanding and solidarity; in 2015, the 28-strong group of young Japanese and Southeast Asian musicians conducted a concert tour in Japan and several Southeast Asian countries.

Moreover, jazz has lately come to play a growing role in peace building and reconstruction support. In 2016, Satoh Masahiko & NoModismo gave a concert in Nepal—part of an attempt to support the country’s recovery from a major earthquake in Kathmandu by means of a joint performance with local musicians and a music workshop in the capital city. In post-civil-war Sri Lanka, meanwhile, jam sessions were organized to instigate intercultural communication in the hope of nudging the Sinhalese and Tamils toward reconciliation.

Jazz is not the only medium being employed in initiatives like the above. But it is also true that there are many jazz musicians who are sympathetic to such causes. They can work in small units and are highly mobile, and jazz’s stress on improvisation makes it easier for them to collaborate with diverse musicians of different genres. Furthermore, audiences tend to respond well to jazz fused with local elements like folk songs and traditional instruments.

Turning back to UNESCO, “we need the spirit of jazz more than ever before” in this time of change and uncertainty, says Bokova. Freedom, diversity, dialogue, courage, understanding others, letting them speak, listening with respect, standing up for freedom in the spirit of solidarity—“all of this is the power of jazz.”

Jazz, with its ability to promote tolerance, is precisely what the world needs today.

Yoshiomi Saito is an associate professor at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

斎藤嘉臣 / 京都大学大学院准教授

2018年 3月 30日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟