“Jazz Embodies Human Rights”: The Politics of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day

Mario Dunkel, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg:

This article explores the representation of jazz at UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, focusing in particular on the 2016 edition of the event hosted by former President Barack Obama at the White House. It locates Jazz Day in the history of US jazz diplomacy, demonstrating that the event results from strategies of the US government that emerged in the 1950s and sought to use jazz as an emblem of an American social order that was ethically superior to the Soviet Union. While Jazz Day – in the tradition of US jazz diplomacy programs – casts jazz as an embodiment of intercultural dialogue, diversity, and human rights, this article seeks to juxtapose this rhetoric with the event’s economics and politics. It argues that Jazz Day’s messages of diversity, intercultural dialogue, universal human rights, and peace, in their one-dimensional and non-intersectional form, ultimately serve to obfuscate the economic and political power interests that underlie the event. Contrary to its rhetoric, Jazz Day has so far failed to challenge the power structures that lie at the heart of a socially unequal global order built on the denial of basic human rights.

Download a .pdf of the complete article here.