Jazz once an anthem for the oppressed - now an international symbol of freedom, creativity, and, improvisation. That’s Jazz for you; a genre which has served as a bridge between a plethora of cultural gaps, using music to unite people of all localities.
New Orleans was a port city where people from all around the world arrived and entered the United States especially during the beginning of the 19th century. A majority of these people consisted of Africans brought to the country for slavery. Interestingly, it was one of the first places in the country where these African-American slaves were allowed to own drums. They started creating their own forms of music, different from what the others were used to. Some saw it as music that didn’t stick to the ‘fundamentals’; music produced without any knowledge of the art form. As artists gravitated towards writing about being maltreated and composed songs that exposed the life of African-Americans being exploited, musicians of other cultural heritages began to make their own ‘Jazz’. People of German, Native American, Mexican and Caribbean descents observed the technique of the pioneers of Jazz who composed their music from their African folk influences, Blues, and Church hymns.
The mixed racial interaction began to make the music richer as people contributed their cultural folk music to expand the genre to other places in America and around the world. It became a genre that let people improvise and create what they desired. The growing popularity for Jazz worldwide allowed artists such as Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to gain popularity. It was given more airplay on urban radios than any other genre, and during the alcohol probation in USA, Jazz was played in speakeasies all over the country. People could enjoy their illegal alcohol and the music became well-known throughout. Jazz slowly became a mark of a major, ubiquitous, cultural shift. It became a popular genre among countries facing totalitarian regimes allowing citizens to stand up for their rights and among women, providing them with employment and empowering them.
Though it has been morphing into something so wide, people in the 21st century still use Jazz as a language of liberation and freedom. That culture has also impacted Nepal in a myriad of ways. Though it is not a popular genre among the mass, those who do know of it, know its value. In Nepal, rather than oppression, Jazz is about self-expression. The Nepalese form of Jazz is unlike any genre - it encompasses typical Nepali folk songs, tunes, instruments and even languages we grew up hearing and lyrics that range from stories of everyday life to political satires and the unique culture we have.
Organizations and events such as the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory and Jazzmandu have been successfully promoting Jazz music in Nepal. Their efforts include organizing concerts that help bring local artists into the limelight and even host several international bands, all to popularize Jazz among Nepali citizens and promote peace amongst the national and international communities. Workshops on improvisation and basic music theory also organized by several music institutes aid in the process of popularizing Jazz music and give it a Nepali taste.
Although it traces its origin to America, the genre has impacted the whole world, including Nepal. Today, it isn’t a genre limited to simply one type of music; clearly, it morphs from era to era, one form of song to the next depending on what the musician wants. Jazz originally signified freedom of the African Americans, but in ways the music signifies freedom for everyone – freedom to explore, create, compose, improvise!
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