A century ago today, jazz broke loose in Europe

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The US 369th Infantry Regiment Jazz orchestra conducted by James Reese performs for war wounded in front of the Hotel de Tunis in this photo taken in 1918 in Paris. (Signal Corps USA via AFP)
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Above, the 369th Infantry Regiment Jazz orchestra aboard the SS Stockholm heading to the US in this photo taken in February 1919. (National Archives at College Park – Stille via AFP)
Updated 12 February 2018
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A century ago today, jazz broke loose in Europe

NANTES, France: A hundred years ago in World War One, a group of American soldiers stormed Europe — not to the boom of guns, but the swinging rhythm of saxophones, drums and horns.
They came to fight in the mud against the Germans in a war approaching its end — but their arrival also marked the start of a sweeter, cultural conquest.
A hundred years ago on Monday, the 369th Infantry’s “Harlem Hellfighters Band” gave what is said to have been the first jazz concert on European soil — in the northwestern French city of Nantes.
“When the band had finished and the people were roaring with laughter, their faces wreathed in smiles, I was forced to say that this is just what France needed at this critical moment,” wrote one of the band members, Noble Sissle, in his memoirs.
On Monday Nantes launches a series of concerts, conferences and exhibitions to mark the centenary of that legendary gig.
Among the guests of honor at Monday night’s opening are three of the grandchildren of the orchestra’s leader, Lt. James Reese Europe — the black American bandleader known as the “king of jazz.”
After that night at Nantes’s Theatre Graslin, Europe would never sound the same again.
It “turned France upside down,” according to local press reports from the time.
“The ‘Jazz germ’ had hit them,” Sissle wrote, “and it seemed to find the vital spot.”
The 369th Infantry was one of the four African American regiments sent from the racially segregated US to fight under French command.
James Reese Europe “was the first African American officer to lead troops in a wartime attack,” said Matthieu Jouan, head of the “100 Years of Jazz” commemorations in Nantes.
The officer also put together the 40-strong band which included “some of the best of the time,” Jouan added.
When they were not fighting at the front, they played to entertain the troops and locals.
“People went crazy everywhere they toured to,” said Jouan.
The 369th Infantry received the Croix de Guerre French military decoration for bravery.
France also awarded the Legion d’Honneur to 171 members of the regiment for liberating the village of Sechault, where a monument to them now stands.
Lt. Europe composed one of his best-known tunes, “One Patrol in No Man’s Land,” while lying injured in hospital.
He returned from the war a hero, only to die months later in May 1919 at the age of 39 — stabbed in the neck by one of his bandmates.
The headlines in the American press read: “The king of jazz is dead,” said Jouan.
But the officer’s death coincided, he added, with the rise of three great musical stars: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet.
The jazz age had begun.


Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

Jana Ghalayini’s work at Art Dubai invited visitors to draw on their responses.
Updated 14 min 24 sec ago
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Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

  • Female-led art collective wants society to rethink the way women of color are perceived
  • Banat Collective publishes artworks in print and online and hosts events to encourage debate

DUBAI: Sara bin Safwan founded the Banat Collective in 2016 to connect with other like-minded people, championing
their art through the group’s website, banatcollective.com.
The group aims to help society to rethink the way women of color are perceived by showcasing contemporary art, poetry and other writings. The collective publishes artistic works in print and online and hosts events aimed at spreading awareness and encouraging debate.
“A lot of the artists are young and emerging and never had the chance to be either exhibited or publicized, so we interview them to offer a critical, insightful look at their work,” said Safwan, 25.


Now an assistant curator at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Safwan graduated from London’s world-famous Central Saint Martins college in 2015 with a degree in culture, criticism and curation.
It was while studying in Britain that she developed a keen interest in post-colonial theory; the Banat Collective focuses on themes relating to both womanhood and intersectionality, which is an analytic framework to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those most marginalized in society.
“The mission is not only to connect artists but open up discussions about Arab womanhood in the region, because there’s not necessarily any other place to do so. We do that through art, poetry and other writings,” Safwan said.
“I use the word ‘womanhood’ to make it a more accessible term because if I use ‘feminism,’ it’s a very politically charged word that has almost been tainted by Western ideologies. And those Western ideologies don’t necessarily fit within our context as Middle Easterners.”
“In the Middle of it All” is the collective’s debut publication. Released in 2018, the book is a 31-artist collaboration of visual art, writing and poetry. Our book is a means to help us stand out — it’s thoughtfully curated and tackles a specific issue, which is ‘coming of age’,” she says.
“It’s a notion that’s taboo in the Arab world and either unheard of or misunderstood. It was a chance for female artists to tell their own story.
“Throughout the book, we go through many topics such as puberty, identity, sexual harassment and abuse, sisterhood, motherhood, beauty standards and all these other societal expectations.”
The collective held its first exhibition as part of March’s Art Dubai fair, showcasing a short film, “Ivory Stitches & Saviors” by member Sarah Alagroobi, which she describes as an “unflinching glimpse into identity, colonialism and whitewashing.”
Says Safwan: “It’s a tribute to all women of color who have been marginalized and, all too often, erased.”
Another work by Palestinian-Canadian artist Jana Ghalayini is comprised of a 26-meter-long piece of chiffon on which visitors can draw with chalk pastels in response to questions posed by the artist including “How does your environment affect your identity?”
Safwan adds: “The themes we explored were vulnerability and community — it was a way to introduce ourselves in person because previously we only had an online presence.”
Born and raised in the UAE to Honduran and Emirati parents, Safwan is now working with Alagroobi and Ghalayini to brainstorm ideas for future projects that include a podcast series on the notion of shame. The collective is self-funded and run by volunteers.
“I hope there will be more opportunities to showcase our work and collaborate with others. This year, we will be publishing more content,” Safwan said.

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of The Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.