Preparing a paper on “Jazz and European Cultural Studies” for the Current Issues in European Cultural Studies conference in Sweden, I came across Stuart Nicholson’s interview with Courtney Pine in the April 2011 issue of Jazzwise. As part of the interview, Pine talks about the background to his latest album Europa:
“I have always said that I am Afro, Caribbean, European, that’s who I am… To me, it means I shouldn’t feel that I can’t exploit each cultural thing and make it one, which is how I think the United Kingdom should be.”
“Europe is a lot more close than what is being proclaimed at the moment… We live on an island and it does work to say this is an isolated state, but it isn’t, there is so much cross fertilisations of ideas, concepts, identities – I dare anybody to have a DNA test and then find out they are from Holland or Sweden! This is how it is across Europe” (Pine quoted in Nicholson: 2011, 20).
Despite Pine’s enthusiasm for cross-fertilisation and trans-cultural collaboration, Nicholson’s narrative remains committed to views expressed in his book Is Jazz Dead? (Routledge, 2005), promoting well-trodden and reified concepts of nation, race and ethnicity. For example, Nicholson sidesteps Pine’s statements of hybridity and cultural diversity with the following authorial summation:
“One of the effects of globalisation in the last two decades has been the desire to express collective identity through nationalism. Just because people everywhere wear Nike trainers and drink Coke does not necessarily mean they are less fiercely concerned about their cultural identity – indeed, many are prepared to fight and die for their nation, religion, territory or culture or whatever aspect of cultural identity is perceived to be at stake.” (Nicholson: 2011, 20)
In my paper, I argue that these words fail to grasp the fluid and contested nature of identity today and question why identifying with a national culture is more important than other forms of identification. These quotes demonstrate why Rhythm Changes is important to European cultural studies, not only in examining how writers and artists actively reinforce or challenge stereotypical representations but – perhaps more importantly – by exploring why concepts of nation, race and ethnicity continue to have currency in today’s world. What are your thoughts on this?