Jazzfest Berlin 2021: Scenes of Now

After a digital New York-Berlin edition in the first year of the pandemic, Jazzfest Berlin 2021 traces the paths of improvised music to three more cultural hubs: Cairo, São Paulo and Johannesburg. Together with local partners, the festival team has developed a diverse programme of partly pre-produced, partly live concert formats that showcase the musicality, innovative power and affinity with interdisciplinary experimentation of the respective creative music scenes as well as the specific places they occupy in between a global jazz canon and their own region’s rich musical heritage.

During several months of continuous exchange with the co-curators – Maurice Louca for Cairo, Juliano Gentile and Manoela Wright for São Paulo, and Jess White for Johannesburg – it became more and more apparent that in spite of the cultural and geographical disparity, there was a common starting point: all three of the cities are urban centres bustling with creativity in the midst of post-colonial societies, re-evaluating the complex relationship between globalisation and cultural heritage, innovation and tradition, emancipation and (re-)affirmation of multiple cultural roots. These frictions have not only contributed to shaping the characteristic sound of each of the cities’ contemporary improvised music scenes, they have also opened up specific ways of relating to issues of cultural identity and society through music, which the festival programme will pick up on in discursive formats and a Digital Guide to each local scene.

The festival is fortunate to be able to present live concerts by three renowned musicians from the featured regions who happen to be in Berlin for the festival period: Maurice Louca, Mariá Portugal and Nduduzo Makhathini. Due to the state of the pandemic varying from country to country, from a Berlin perspective most of the musical programme for these city partnerships can be experienced in the form of video works and live streams. A specially-created multiscreen environment in the Betonhalle at silent green will become the fulcrum of a hybrid, decentralised festival concept. Four screens that can be used independently, surrounding the auditorium on all sides, will function as a creative playing field for audio-visual commissions from São Paulo – including contributions by Negro Leo and Quartabê – and as digital windows onto the live events at Sognage in Johannesburg, where a richly contrasting line-up of South African musicians, such as Sibusile Xaba and Siya Makuzeni, will play in front of a live audience on Friday and Saturday night. Alternating with live performances at silent green in Berlin, the concerts from Johannesburg will be presented in the Betonhalle and vice versa through live multi-channel transmission. Contributions from Cairo include the premiere of a film project by multi-instrumentalist Nancy Mounir and a video work by Philip Rizk in co-operation with musicians from the Cairo experimental scene, including Nadah El Shazly.

Leading musical voices in the New York and Berlin avant-garde – such as Nate Wooley, Aki Takase, Susan Alcorn, Cymin Samawatie and Sylvie Courvoisier – return to the Berlin stage in a broad-ranging live programme. In addition to Sognage in Johannesburg and silent green in Berlin-Wedding, there will be live concerts with audiences at two more venues that occupy a special place in Berlin’s cultural landscape: the imposing interior of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church will be brought to life with music on three consecutive days of the festival with Nate Wooley’s “Seven Storey Mountain”, Maria Faust & Sacrum Facere’s “Organ” and an organ solo from Ståle Storløkken. And in a first ever co-operation with the Pierre Boulez Saal, the focus on the opening night – and repeatedly over the course of the festival – will be on the piano: US-American pianist Vijay Iyer will perform in a triple bill that also features Kaja Draksler and the Swedish veteran piano great Bobo Stenson.

The Jazzfest Berlin Radio Edition continues a pattern of co-operation established last year dedicated to the impressive variety of jazz in Germany. In collaboration with ARD public radio and its radio concert halls and studios, this year the festival presents five exciting projects from the broadcasting areas of the respective regional institutions: four pre-recorded concerts, as well as a live concert in Berlin at rbb's Kleiner Sendesaal.

Thanks to our media partnerships, this year you will once again be able to experience the festival as a live video stream on ARTE Concert and on our online platform Jazzfest Berlin On Demand, as well as on radio on the frequencies of local ARD radio stations and Deutschlandfunk.

Nadin Deventer
Artistic Director Jazzfest Berlin
Berlin, September 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Friday, 5 November 2021

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Sunday, 7 November 2021