The new and the traditional blend together during a trip to West Africa by the Bundesjazzorchester (German Jazz Orchestra) from May 8 to 31. The tour lets young German jazz musicians jam with African musicians.
The Bundesjazzorchester (German Jazz Orchestra, or "BuJazzO") celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Founded in 1988 by German jazz musician Peter Herbolzheimer, it has long been a springboard for German musicians into the jazz scene at home and beyond. The group's alumni include names like Till Brönner and Roger Cicero.
BuJazzO takes a creative approach to the genre by bringing musicians from different cultures together. A tour conducted in association with the German-Indian Year in 2011 offered a prime example. The pianist, arranger, composer and producer Mike Herting led the jazz orchestra in a series of concerts around India. When the young German BuJazzO musicians play with musicians from other countries, they call themselves the "Global Music Orchestra" - their band name for a current tour in West Africa.
In Africa, the BuJazzO plays in its Big Band formation during the more structured part of the program - complete with band leader and musical scores. Some members also play solos. The Africans accompanying the BuJazzO on this tour are not jazz musicians in the strict sense, but play in their own traditional musical styles: Djiby Diabate on the balafon, Goundo Cissokho on vocals, Ablaye Cissoko on the kora, and Pape Samory Seck on a variety of instruments.
Swing in the air
The musicians represent very different musical worlds. Nonetheless, they have much in common, says globetrotting band leader Mike Herting. Thanks to a commission from Germany's Goethe Institute, he has led musical groups through Brazil, and was also a musical ambassador at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
"Jazz emerged by melding culture from Europe and from Africa," Mike Hertig told DW. "It traveled from Europe and Africa to America, and then back to Europe from America. And we're bringing it back to Africa. We want to express this positive creative tension on stage and have fun at the same time."
The West Africa tour kicks off with a ten-day workshop in Saint Louis, Senegal, and a performance at that city's renowned jazz festival. Other stops along the concert tour include Dakar, Kaolack and Ziguinchor in Senegal, with the trip ending in the city of Bissau, in Guinea-Bissau. Just a few weeks before the tour started, Mike Hertig, who is based near Cologne, Germany, met up with Ablaye Cissoko to discuss the parameters - including musically - of the project and tour.
When playing together, it stands out that the musicians can "strike up a conversation" in music, without even uttering a word.
A 'little crazy'
Ablaye Cissoko of Senegal, who plays a self-made kora, comes from a long line of musicians who have played in traditional Senegalese style. But Cissoko isn't only interested in the traditional; he's an adventurous artist.
"I think it's important that people work together to advance something - like with this project," he said. "It's like a painting in which different colors have to go well together. This project is also a big challenge, and you have to be a little crazy to participate in it."
The tour program also seems a bit crazy at first glance. It includes compositions by Herting and by African musicans, as well as standard jazz pieces. No one knew in advance how and if it would all fit together, but Herting und Cissoko's spontaneous jazz session during their meeting indicates that it will.
And what's with the young jazz musicians of the orchestra, all between the ages of 19 and 24? Each musician may play a maximum of two years in the band, so new talent is always flowing through. But that also requires constant reorientation, and the tours bring a host of new demands.
Nonetheless, trombone player Robert Hedemann was quite excited in the lead up to his first trip to Africa: "I'm really looking forward to meeting the people there, and to get to know the roots of the music," he told DW. "It's a move away from a set program context and is an opportunity for spontaneous communication - and all that for a course of four weeks, that's a long time."
Hedemann's fellow musician and saxophone player Pascal Bartoszak already - at age 20 - has experience with making music in Africa. "I was in Senegal three years ago," he explained. "We gave workshops in conjunction with the Goethe Institute, and they got a lot of praise. It's was a really nice thing - meeting people that way. That doesn't always happen in Germany."
The German Music Council is funding the tour through West Africa, and also offers support to BuJazzO. As the world's largest umbrella organization in the area of music, the German Music Council views the development and promotion of up-and-coming musicians as essential.
DW is a media partner in the Global Music Orchestra's tour through Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, and will present impressions and sound bytes from the trip.