Curaçao Blog no. 1: Sun, Sea and Sand – and All That Jazz

(by Beth Aggett and Walter van de Leur)

Team member Beth supporting the C (it was windy)

The first day of September saw Amsterdam-based CHIME-members Walter van de Leur and Beth Aggett travelling to the Caribbean island of Curaçao to attend the ‘tropical edition’ of Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival. Curacao is a small island of around 160,000 people, lying just off the coast of Venezuela – indeed a good 8000km away from Europe and its jazz festival scene. It is however a former Dutch colony, with a rather turbulent past: Curacao was ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in 1499, conquered by the Dutch in 1634 and even seized briefly by the British in 1812 – all the while serving as an important ‘depot’ during the transatlantic slave trade (1640s – 1860s). Although it was primarily a trading post, there were around 100 small plantations established on the island during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on which slaves lived and worked. Curacao’s central Caribbean location and free port meant it was also a stopping point for traders and travellers from all over, and it has a long history of in and out migration from the surrounding region and much further afield. The island is therefore connected to the European, African and American continents in myriad ways, resulting in a highly complex socio-cultural landscape. The locals’ mother tongue of Papiamentu, for example, displays components of Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and West African languages, and most Curacaoans are multilingual. In contrast, much of the architecture is distinctly Dutch, and there remain many tangible links to the colonial period. We noticed the Netherland’s coat of arms on government buildings, for example, and plaques commemorating visits of the Dutch royals displayed in town. Indeed it was only a few years ago that Curacao celebrated gaining independence; although the process of decolonization of Dutch Caribbean territory began in 1954, it wasn’t until 2010 that Curacao achieved full recognition as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


CNSJF Banner at the World Trade Centre premises

Also in 2010: the very first Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival (CNSJF). The country’s own charity organisation Fundashon Bon Intenshon produced this ‘sister’ event in collaboration with Mojo Concerts (owners of North Sea Jazz, who are themselves owned by the American company Live Nation). In bringing a ‘world-renowned festival brand’ to Curacao, the organisers hoped to attract a new demographic of visitors to the island – an international, wealthy, and sophisticated ‘jazz crowd’ – that would boost the country’s stagnant tourism industry. Like much of the Caribbean, Curacao’s economy is heavily dependent on tourists; its ‘sun, sea, and sand’ are the most important draw. The island’s capital of Willemstad, furthermore, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique colonial architecture – another crucial selling point. Indeed, the festival’s CNSJF website describes it as an ‘untouched paradise’ with an ‘authentic’ and ‘historic’ centre and ‘vibrant’ culture.


One of the outdoor Punda Jazz stages

During the first lustrum of Curacao’s national independence, then, this small Afro-Curacaoan/Dutch/Caribbean/Central American island has been host to one of the largest and most significant events in the European jazz festival circuit/scene. CNSJF therefore is ideally situated to study a number of CHIME-related questions, such as the relationship between the festival and (constructions of) local cultural heritage. How are the heritages of both the festival location and the history of jazz music dealt with in the production of the festival? Does the music invite engagement with the heritage location, does it ignore it, or does it reconfigure the visitor’s relationship to place? In what ways can the presence of CNSJF act as a lens to interrogate concepts of cultural identity? Furthermore, how does the festival help us to think about the meanings and usages of jazz today? What are the possible synergies and frictions?

Interestingly, CNSJF is preceded by a low-key free festival called Punda Jazz that is organised by the bars and restaurants in the oldest district in Willemstad. With its strictly local acts, Punda Jazz provided an interesting counterpoint to its star-laden 180-dollars-per-day bigger sister across the bay. In our next blog post we will talk about our experiences at both events.

CHIME CONFERENCE 25-28 May 2017 – Music, Festivals, Heritage


CALL FOR PAPERS – CHIME Conference, Music, Festivals, Heritage

Siena Jazz Archive, Italy. 25-28 May 2017

Keynote Speaker:  Professor Andy Bennett, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia

In a world where notions of culture are becoming increasingly fragmented, the contemporary festival has developed in response to processes of cultural pluralization, mobility and globalization, while also communicating something meaningful about identity, community, locality and belonging.—Andy Bennett et al, The Festivalization of Culture

From Woodstock to The Proms, from Burning Man to Montreux, music festivals have a transformative potential; they can help people connect with places and spaces in new ways and play a key role in identity formation. Festivals at their most utopian offer a fantastic space in which to dream and try another world into being. Equally, they offer opportunities for people to celebrate and engage with their cultural heritage and to re-connect with the past.

We invite submissions for Music, Festivals, Heritage, a four-day multi-disciplinary conference that brings together leading researchers across the arts, humanities and social sciences, as well as festival directors, producers and programmers, to explore the relationship between music festivals and cultural heritage.


We welcome contributions that address the conference title from multiple perspectives, including heritage studies, festivals and event research, media and cultural studies, musicology, sociology, cultural theory, music analysis, history, and practice-based research. Music, Festivals, Heritage also aims to feature presentations from both researchers and industry professionals.

Conference topics include but are not restricted to:

  • Established and innovative uses of heritage sites and public spaces
  • Festival sites and cultural memory
  • Transformations of place: music festivals as utopian sites
  • Questions of music genre (e.g. jazz, opera, folk, rock, classical) and the construction of heritage at festival
  • Festival as dull culture: repetition, predictability, boredom
  • The tension between the conservation and the use of heritage sites
  • Festivals and cultural tourism
  • New models of engagement between festivals and cultural heritage
  • Festivals as sites that explore the relationship between tangible, intangible and digital heritage
  • Critical perspectives from festival programmers, producers, organisers
  • The mediation and representation of (heritage and) festival
  • Festival as exclusive community; festival as marginal space
  • From carnivalesque to festivalisation: theoretical approaches and questions of festival
  • The cultural politics of festival sites

Proposals are invited for:
• Individual contributions (20 minutes) – up to 250 words.
• Themed sessions or panel discussions – 250 words per contribution plus 250 words outlining the rationale for the session.
• 75 minute sessions in innovative formats – up to 750 words outlining the form and content of the session.

Please submit proposals (including a short biography and institutional or organisational affiliation) by email in a word document attachment to:

The deadline for proposals is 1st December 2016; outcomes will be communicated to authors by 10 January 2017. All submissions will be considered by the conference committee:

  • Prof Walter van de Leur, Chair (University of Amsterdam/Conservatory of Amsterdam)
  • Prof Helene Brembeck (University of Gothenburg)
  • Prof Nicholas Gebhardt (Birmingham City University)
  • Dr Francesco Martinelli (Siena Jazz Archive)
  • Prof George McKay (University of East Anglia)
  • Professor Beth Perry (University of Sheffield)
  • Dr Loes Rusch (University of Amsterdam/BCU)
  • Prof Tony Whyton (Birmingham City University)
  • Dr Marline Lisette Wilders (University of Amsterdam/University of Groningen).

The conference forms part of the JPI Heritage Plus-funded CHIME project, a transnational research project that explores the relationship between European music festivals and cultural heritage sites. Visit for further information. Updates on the conference and information about travel and accommodation will be available on this site over the next few months.


sienaIn 1988, the Siena Jazz Foundation founded the National Center for Jazz Studies “Arrigo Polillo” with its Library and Sound Archive. The Center is virtually the only specialized facility for jazz documentation and research in Italy; its serves as a reference point countrywide for students, musicians and scholars for their work. The facility is computer-based and the online catalogues are continuously updated. The Center holds the most important specialized collection in the country; the number of data included in the catalogues and the continous growth of the collections, which include more than 25.000 sound and video carriers, more than 2.000 books and thousands of magazine issues including the only complete collection of the Musica Jazz magazine put the Center on the par with the best Jazz Archives worldwide. The latest years saw important development with internal restructuration of the spaces, and with a general update of available equipment for digitization of audio and images.

Do the hustle: revisiting Jazzaldia, San Sebastian’s jazz festival site

Tony Whyton, George McKay, Emma McKay, 12 Points Festival, San Sebastian
Tony Whyton, George McKay, Emma McKay, 12 Points Festival, San Sebastian

In summer 2016 a small number of us attended and spoke at the 12 Points Festival of European improvised music, which was held in San Sebastian. It was consciously scheduled alongside the annual city jazz festival, as part of a bumper package of summer music befitting the San Sebastian’s status as 2016 European Capital of Culture (along with Wroclaw).

We were with friends and the music was great—we’d already listened to three avant-garde acts from a box (yes) in the Victoria Eugenia Theatre as part of 12 Points Festival, and now we were in a hurry to join in and enjoy the generous free stages of the 51st Jazzaldia, San Sebastian’s impressively longstanding jazz festival.

Massive empty place, unbeachlike
Massive empty place, unbeachlike

We followed the people and the music across the river and down to the beach. It was one of those magic nights. The crowds swirled around the various stages, the live music from one stage bled creatively into that from another, there were packed beer tents where you had to shout for a drink, the rain mostly held off and there were glimpses of stars through the clouds, the sound of the waves crashing against the beach could just be made out in a lull between numbers. It was dark and packed like a rock festival, yet the lights of the city and the shade of the sea were all around in brilliant contrast.

We had a few drinks, it’s true. And the music! Someone said Marc Ribot is playing here tonight and I was like, Marc Ribot, I love Marc Ribot! And it’s free, really? In fact it was Ribot and his star Young Philadelphians band, doing the disco project, as cool as uncool can get (for those who preferred punk to soul back in the day). I mean, the bass guitarist, thumping out powerful and heavy lines, was Ornette Coleman’s bassist, Jamaaladeen Tacuma.

Kursaal, an intersection of two boxes, no way through
Kursaal, an intersection of two boxes, no way through

The night was so good that there are no photos. We all shouted possibly a little too loud for an encore, and the band came back on. Ribot sat down and alone played the guitar figure from Van McKay’s (I wish. OK, McCoy) 1975 hit ‘The hustle’. Well, we were thrilled and loved it, cheering and doing the hustle for all our worth. It was a perfect choice, for a perfect encore—funny, clever, knowing, respectful of a disco-soul-jazz tradition some of us had not given much thought to.

Fantastic memories of a special night of music, friendship, and festival. Whenever we meet now someone will burst into ‘The hustle’ and we smile, laugh, do a little dance. We were touched by the music, at the jazz festival. It was intangible, in a temporarily transformed public space for culture, a pleasure for everyone there.

A dead end, at the Kursaal
A dead end

Finding myself in San Sebastian again after the summer, I went to look at the public cultural space by the  beach where we had had our transcendent collective dance, the recent landmark Kursaal complex (opened 1999) on Zurriola beach. But where were our memories and pleasure, where was the place of our memories and pleasure? Surely not here!  We had been Kursaal Flyers in July, but by October this seemed to me a silent barren place, magnified by its own scale and emptiness.

The Kursaal complex from the outside seems a place that is designed to demand transformation, hard and hard up against the golden sand, by an influx of people, by music resounding off its walls. To me, looking for the festal trace, it dramatises the potential of transformation, alongside the difficulty of articulating the intangible. It needs a festival, to live. It really needs to do the hustle.