Hi everyone – I want to share a little bit about my UNESCO work since it is very close to my heart.
UNESCO is an agency of the United Nations whose aim is to promote peace through international collaboration and communication. These joint efforts happen in the area of education, science and culture.
From time to time, UNESCO appoints artists who have an international presence and who are willing to lend their voices to support UNESCO’s cause. Herbie Hancock, who is for me, both a musical and personal mentor is also the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue. In fact, I was first introduced to UNESCO and the work that they do at Herbie’s induction ceremony in Paris in 2011.

International Jazz Day, celebrated on April 30th of each year was one of the first ideas created by Herbie as a UNESCO emissary. This is a day where people from different countries all around the world celebrate jazz and its ability to bridge cultural gaps. It is a day of fantastic music, talks and coming together. After only four years International Jazz Day has become one of the most recognized and important global celebrations in jazz.

In July, 2013 I also had the honor of being designated a UNESCO Artist For Peace and the official spokesperson for the UNESCO Slave Route Project. This project was launched in 1994 to raise awareness about slavery and shed light on the struggles for dignity and freedom of enslaved peoples around the world.

Being named to represent this project is not only an honor and inspiration but also something that is very close to my heart. My ancestors were slaves. What they endured is unimaginable to me.

In my live performances, many of you have heard me speak on slavery and how it has helped shape music around the world. Musical genres such as jazz, blues, soul, reggae, hip hop… all of this music has routes in Africa. This music is part of our common musical heritage. Exploring the roots of this music is the inspiration behind my current album Afrodeezia.

The song "Gorée" is on my previous album Renaissance and is the piece of music that started me on this path as a UNESCO spokesperson. I wrote "Gorée" after visiting the actual island off the coast of Senegal. Gorée had at one point served as a holding block for captured Africans before they were sent across the Atlantic into a life of slavery. It was the performance of this piece in Paris that caught the attention of  the UNESCO folks and led to my nomination.

Each time I perform the song "Gorée" I find I am flooded with the full range of emotions I felt when I initially visited the island: horror, anger, resentment, and …hope. Yes hope. Because on the other side of the story about the horrors of slavery, is also a story of a people who had the strength and resilience to overcome unimaginable cruelty, oppression, suffering… and SURVIVE. And to give the world the gift of this beautiful music that came out of slavery. It is a true testament to the power of the human spirit.

This is the message that I hope to bring to people as a spokesperson for the Slave Route Project. We need to study slavery and make sure it continues to be taught in schools around the world. We need to continue the cultural reflections on the subject of slavery and promote the intercultural dialogue. We need to acknowledge where we come from as a world community and where we’re going so we never repeat the mistakes of the past. It’s about looking fully at who we are and also at who we can be.

As a musician, performer and spokesperson for the UNESCO Slave Route Project, this is my mission.

If you would like to learn more about the UNESCO Slave Route Project and UNESCO in general, please follow the links below.