In April 2019, director Aya Sekine was invited by the prestigious Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz to attend the International Jazz Day Global Host Celebration in Melbourne, Australia. She was asked to present her work for WLJ SG at ‘Jazz Day Around The World’ Panel discussion, along with other high-profile musicians, experts, and founders of arts and culture organizations from around the world!
Our volunteer writer Kenny Khoo interviews her to find out about her experience and main takeaways from the trip!
1. How do you think the jazz movement in Singapore is different from those in other countries?
Actually, the fellow panelists have their own struggles. Everyone suffers and yet were pushing and trying to make the best out of the resources they have. So in that sense I felt very similar. The size of the community and the depth of the work might be different but we could relate. They sound like me; it’s almost like camaraderie, you know? So it was not different but more like “Wow, I’ve found my calling”. I found a community where I belonged, people who do the work that I do. It was a great experience; I felt that I wasn’t alone.
More Similarities Than Differences
It was more of the similarities than the differences but at the same time, different countries have respective conceptions of their Jazz community. We didn’t have enough time to get to know everything about each other. For example, Brenda Sisane from South Africa mentioned apartheid and her country’s own journey throughout, Peta S’iulepa talked about division between Samoa and American Samoa, wanting to unite them through music – something very different from what Singapore experiences. But at the same time, they were trying to advocate that Jazz brings people together and how it is good for humanity. It was a very amazing, eye-opening experience to meet them.
2. Do you think that things will change with this recognition? What will be different now?
Well, the thing is, this doesn’t change anything yet. The world is still the same.
But now, it might be easier to recognise our work when you are outside of Singapore, but in Singapore, it’s still difficult.
I think the difference now is that the WLJ team feels much prouder. Because it’s not so much about the work being easier from now, rather this opportunity has given some validation to us that it is working, and we are on the right path. That people are actually watching and they respect the work we do. There is growth now. I can clearly feel that my team and anyone who has been supporting us feels that way. But the work is not going to be so different. Basically, this is more like a benchmark, something like a milestone. It lifts the happiness up.
3. Is there any thing you would like to say? A big learning point from the Melbourne trip?
Jazz community and advocacy is not only in Singapore. There are many people who are trying to play this music and learn. It’s just great to have this kind of initiative that highlights everybody. It’s about ‘let’s do something together’, not just promoting yourself. Nobody can hear one person’s voice. International Jazz Day makes things easier because we are all saying it together as a huge, international community of jazz.
Singapore Is Also An Important Part Of It
It was also a great opportunity to meet people who were organising such initiatives, from places far from Singapore but facing relatable challenges. And I found out Singapore can be a big part of it. Singaporeans don’t really meet a community that connects others on the ground level, so this whole thing about highlighting the grassroots was very special and rewarding. I really appreciated that. I really respect the organisers of International Jazz Day at UNESCO and the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. I was extremely honoured to be part of this. Thanks to this global initiative for letting us know that we are part of it and we are not alone.
4. How was it like meeting Herbie Hancock, one of your biggest jazz piano influences?
Well… that wasn’t the exact reason I was there, but it was surreal for him to celebrate my work, not the other way around!
Yeah, just really surreal. I mean, technically you can meet Herbie if you go to his show and if you know some people to hook you up, but this time I was invited by him almost, so to speak. It was so strange that I was actually there and he gave me a compliment. It’s the opposite of what it usually is. I’ve also met the people that worked for the organisation – the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and it was really such a rewarding experience that they knew about me and what I do, about We Love Jazz, about my work. They have spent time and effort to put it all together to push this initiative as strong as they can. That was quite unbelievable for me.
Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us. We look forward to many more achievements as a WLJ Community! 🙂
Courtesy to Aya Sekine and Kenny Khoo.
Photos by Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.