If there’s anything we’ve learned from our work in Laos, it is that history is not a thing of the past. Rather, each step we take toward refashioning unexploded ordnance (UXO) is a constant reminder that it is in our power to choose how we respond to the events of yesterday.  

Art is one of the most powerful responses we can have, capable of eliciting new conversations and generating new ideas. It is listening and commenting, reacting and proposing, asking and answering. Art fills in the blanks when we have no words or when words aren’t quite enough — on issues large and small, national, social, personal, and economic.

Entire movements have been built or bolstered by the emotional force of art. At times, art has spoken so loud that it has been seen as a threat; there is a reason that destroying or stealing art is a tactic of war. Its dynamic power is intrinsically tied to culture, reminding us of our relations to each other and with history. In fact, ARTICLE22 founder Elizabeth Suda was inspired to turn bombs into bracelets in part because of these groundbreaking movements.





Constructivism, a movement that began in Russia following World War I, was one such inspiration. The Russian Revolution, the 1917 fall of the Romanov dynasty, and the rise of the Bolshevik party overhauled more than just a system of government: an entire society was restructured to fit the Soviet vision of a modern, proletarian-oriented world. This was not just going to be a fork in the path, but, the revolutionaries hoped, a near-reversal of direction. Almost immediately, the constructivist movement gained popularity, officially endorsed for use in national propaganda posters and, in some cases, created in conjunction with the Revolutionary government.

One might say that the constructivist art movement reflected the changes — in perceptions of class, society, and the self in relation to a whole— brought about by the newly-founded Soviet Union. This may be true, but most agree that the movement began in 1915, predating some of these seachanges. Although (as the classic phrase goes) correlation does not necessarily imply causation, constructivism was clearly ahead of its time.

Constructivist art was not just a symbol of transformation, but an act of transformation.

Artists like Alexander Rodchencko, Vladimir Tatlin, and Lyubov Popova used their work to push back against the old imperial state. They experimented with shape and form, focusing on the abstract, a stark divergence from the artistic realism of the imperial era. This abstraction made constructivism a symbol of complete modernity, newness, and the exciting unknown.

Their artwork was often colored in blacks and greys reminiscent of the industrial world they hoped to build, splashed with generous amounts of the Bolsheviks’ chosen color: red. They emphasized modernization and urbanization, prizing functionality in conjunction with form.

As arguably one of the most practical and pragmatic forms of art, architecture was a huge part of this movement. With such novelties as experimental house-communes (where individuals would live, study, and socialize together in a relatively austere fashion), constructivist architecture was grounded in minimalism, often accentuating patterned rhythms in a piece.

Constructivism seemed to make the case that the utilitarian could be beautiful in and of itself.


Hippie artists were experimental in a wholly different way from the constructivists. The artistic style of the hippie counterculture movement was nowhere near the austere functionality of the constructivist movement. But, it was equally effective and compelling. Bold colors, psychedelic patterns, and bohemian attitudes made a lasting impact on the world in ways large and small, producing tie-dyed t-shirts along with a new generation of activists.

The movement was a reaction to many things, perhaps the most obvious being the traditionalism of the 1950s. Like the Bolsheviks of the 1920s, the youth of the 1960s and 1970s wanted something new. But unlike the Bolsheviks, they sought not urban industrialization but the ideals of unchained freedom and all-embracing peace.

One of the most enduring and influential aspects of counterculture art was the music. Woodstock is a common cultural reference, and songs like Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” and John Lenon’s “Imagine” remain popular to this day. With lyrics like “imagine there’s no countries… imagine all the people/living life in peace,” “Imagine” also makes pretty clear the anti-war principle underpinning the movement, often specifically directed at the Vietnam War. Here, too, art was an explicit reaction and directed protest: on the one hand, rooted in philosophies such as “make love not war,” and, on the other hand, still very persistent in its demands.

Peace is not necessarily passive, after all.


Movements based in art do not have to be collective in order to speak volumes and create change. Individuals, like Dapper Dan, have this power, too.

Dapper Dan is now a famous designer and haberdasher, but he did not start out that way. As a young Black man in Harlem in the 1980s, he quickly learned how inaccessible the world of fashion could be when he opened Dapper Dan’s Boutique. Dapper Dan perservered: when he faced discrimination in trying to procure wholesale items, he created his own. He taught himself how to work the fabrics and furs of high-fashion, making bold “knock-off” Louis Vitton, Gucci, and Fendi pieces in his own designs.

As his business and ingenuity grew along with the world of hip-hop, he designed for the likes of LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, and Jay-Z. He also dressed several famous boxers. Dapper Dan was not only resourceful but had a voice for protest and eye for fashion that went deeper than the industry. Even after legal action threatened his business in the early 1990s, he continued to pursue his passion. And not for nothing! In 2017, Gucci acknowledged his nearly half-a-century of contributions to the world of fashion, partnering with him for a new line of men’s wear.

Art is instant, persistent, resistant, and constantly new. The power of art as protest — whether in the form of painting, architecture, sculpture, dance, music, or fashion design — is by no means merely pro-forma. It can confront, and sometimes even transform, the most-deeply entrenched societal biases because it goes deeper than words.


SOURCES Audio Valentina Kulagina. Maquette for We Are Building (Stroim). 1929 Exhibitions Engineer, Agitator, Constructor The Artist Reinvented

The Artist Reinvented

Picasso as inspiration Constructivism Constructivism





At its most basic level, art is simply a creative endeavor. Art can be functional or decorative, beautiful or utilitarian, abstract or concrete, or it can be all of these things at once. As a means to find peace in the shadow of war, art has tremendous power in its ability to mean multiple things to a variety of people. You won’t find their aluminum spoons on the walls of an art museum, but it would be a mistake to call the Lao villagers who have perfected their craft anything but artists.

In the 1970s, when Naphia villagers in Laos returned home from their wartime exile in the capital of Vientiane, making spoons out of unexploded ordnance (UXO) was a simple solution to several of their problems. In the aftermath of the Secret War, UXO was everywhere.




In addition to the bombs that destroyed Lao homes, the war had left an extraordinary number of unexploded bombs and bomb parts scattered across the Laotian landscape. UXO poses serious bodily risk to Lao villagers – it is hidden in their fields, concealed in the forests near their villages, and buried in the dirt near their homes and schools.

The creativity and strength of the Naphia villagers is even more apparent in light of the facts. Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped 2 million tons of ordnance on Lao PDR, averaging one B-52 bomb load every 8 minutes, 24/7, for 9 years. At the current rate of removal, it will take an estimated 800 years to clear all UXO. Today, the majority of UXO in Laos are cluster bombs the size of a fist or soup can. They remain buried in the ground undetonated, killing more civilians than soldiers. For decades, the United States denied engaging in a secret war in Laos (until President Barack Obama’s historic visit in 2016) and the responsibility of clearing UXO fell to the Lao government and international NGOs.

Faced with this ever-present threat, the Naphia villagers transformed the metal that menaced their lives into spoons to feed their families. Today, villagers continue to take a constructive approach to the destruction of war by recovering their livelihoods through available local resources, creating molds from wood and ash, kilns from the earth, spoons and now bracelets from aluminum war scrap metal.

From the comfort of our homes halfway across the world, the situation in Laos seems so dire that it’s hard to imagine that it could generate anything beautiful. The Lao artisans’ innovative transformation of dangerous war scrap and UXO into useful and beautiful objects helps to heal the land and its people from the lasting wounds inflicted by the United States military during the Vietnam War. Hopefully in the near future Lao citizens will be able to venture into their fields and streets without fear of losing their lives, limbs, or family members to UXO. But with each turn of this virtuous circle, the damage left by the war and its weapons becomes a less constant threat, helping Laos and its people realize a more peaceful future.



ARTICLE22.COM Peacebomb Story

Lemelshtrich Latar, Lev-er, Wind, Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts?: 100 Perspectives (book) Can art resolve conflicts, or does it live on them? Remarks of President Obama to the People of Laos




Jazz has never been passive. Call it what you will — an art form, a cultural phenomenon, a way of being — there is something about jazz that is eminently alive.

Bansky is credited with having said (or written, rather) that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And this, in a way, gets at the very heart of jazz.

From its very beginnings, it has been a music of change, of declaration, and of protest. Sustaining and ever-changing, there is a restlessness to it, and individual songs are imbued with exuberance. Or desolation. Or anger, or wonder, or any number of things. Any number of things, but not passivity. As Afro-Cuban jazz musician (and ARTICLE22 collaborator) Melvis Santa explains, “sharing my voice is telling my story and those of my ancestors. It allows me to bring tradition, culture, and community to new spaces, while healing and transforming social consciousness.”




Jazz as we know it today originated sometime between the late 1800s and early 1900s (it’s exact birthdate is debated) in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time, New Orleans was a crucible of cultures, more so than any other city in the American South, in part due to its colonial heritage and high-traffic port. The city was home to French-speaking Haitan Creoles and free Black slaves (many of West African origin), as well as German, Italian, and Irish immigrants, and often-wealthier whites of French and Spanish descent.

New Orleans was not just a meeting of cultures — it was a place with music already deep in its bones. The both deeply-personal and typically-communal nature of jazz is a testament to its origins: it owes its character to traditions going back even longer than the city of itself. Its rhythms are rooted in African drumming and Caribbean beats, which could be heard on Sundays in downtown New Orleans from the early 1700s onward. Enslaved Africans would gather on their day off, risking their enslavers' wrath, in a place then-informally called Congo Square. In Congo Square, social and spiritual celebrations found a home, along with singing, dancing, and an informal market where slaves could buy and sell homemade goods and, when the law still allowed it, raise money to buy their own freedom. In this way, it was a form of joyous celebration and of protest from the very beginning.

This tradition ended before the Civil War, but the memory of the music survived in the call-and-response-style work songs of field laborers lived on in Black Baptist churches, for example.

During Reconstruction, brass bands began to gain popularity in New Orleans, which, given the chance to dance, has never been a city to stay seated. These brass bands didn’t only play at parades and bars and brothels, they also played at funerals! After the Civil War, Mutual Aid and Benevolent Societies served, in part, to provide life insurance for their members, often Black New Orleanians who were otherwise refused the right to regular life insurance, offered at exorbitant prices. The funerals these societies paid for were not somber burial ceremonies, but a celebration of life, a finding of hope and renewal in death involving parade-like processions down the streets, with strangers and family members alike joining in, singing and dancing.

The brass bands that soon gained prominence in local dance halls started incorporating elements of improv and blues, and in the early 1910s these sounds began to meld with still other forms of popular music, adding ragtime piano and syncopation beats.

Somewhere in there, jazz was born, trumpeting its way in with the 20th century.

So what does “jazz” itself mean? Many say that, since it was originally spelled “jas,” it probably came from the slang term “jasm,” translating into modern vernacular as “umph” : zest, zeal, drive. Others scholars and musicians think it may have derived from a different colloquialism, “jass,” referring to a woman’s… ehem... bottom.

Either way, this music had gumption, and wasn’t about to stay put. It captured the nation’s attention as musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Sydney Bechet took it to New York and Chicago. Jazz soon gained popularity the world over, making it across the pond to England and France just in time for the Roaring Twenties.

Associated with the brothels in which it had been first played, jazz was seen as risqué, provocative, disreputable, and in some circles even dangerous — which is what made it all the more appealing to the youth of the time. It wasn’t quiet; it wasn’t for sitting down; and it wasn’t for fitting in.

That’s because it wasn’t about being quiet or sitting down; it was about standing up as much as it was about dancing, about speaking as much as it was about listening. And this ever-changing music still hasn’t stopped, but continues to spread the world over. Soon after making its way to Europe, jazz began to captivate South America, for example. Brazilians offered their own take on it, and bossa nova was born. Jazz is a budding genre in countries such as Laos, where Duke Ellington famously played in 1972. As it does everywhere it goes, jazz in Laos will surely be influenced in new ways, taking the form of those who play it and heed of those who hear it, filling their needs and (perhaps) exceeding their expectations.

Part of what is so captivating about the controversial, then, is how it often becomes the conversational: a method of global communication, especially for those whose voices have too long been silenced.

Whether in Congo Square, Laos, or here on the Journal, jazz shows up in unexpected places. Here at ARTICLE22, we continue to be inspired by this powerful instrument of protest and history in our Artists + Activist Collaboration with Melvis Santa, Bam Bam, and Christian McBride of the NJMIH. We hope you’ll join ARTICLE22, Legacies of War, and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem on International Jazz Day (April 30) for a digital exploration of the “Roots and Routes of Jazz,” featuring performances by Melvis Santa, Bam Bam, and Lao jazz artists.


SOURCES Songs of Protest: Evolution of Jazz Protest Music Jazz Education Louis' Education Kit The Mysterious Origins of Jazz The Changing Nature of Protest in Jazz A Sprawling Blueprint for Protest Music, Courtesy of the Jazz Duke The Intersection of Jazz and Social Protest Jazz Origins in New Orleans

Photo from How Brass Bands Became a New Orleans Tradition

Photo from Jazz (music)

Photo from About





In 1931, Duke Ellington wrote of his fellow jazz musicians: “What we could not say openly we expressed in music.” As the ‘20s tumbled into the ‘30s, jazz increasingly became a declaration of agency and dignity for Black Americans. Even its very existence was, in a way, an implicit protest and challenge to the status quo. It looked the world right in the eye and said: “What we have is beautiful, individual, personal, and precious;” it noted the pointed irony of those insisting on segregated white spaces still happily receiving, even demanding, performances by celebrated Black musicians.


Duke Ellington

An originator of big-band jazz, Duke Ellington.

A true fighter, Billie Holiday.

Charles Mingus, double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader.

The legendary performer and Civil Rights activist, Nina Simone.



But as the unabashed exuberance of the ‘20s ended and the world slid into the Great Depression and toward another World War, the element of protest in jazz became more explicit, especially in work of solo artists. In 1929, Louis Armstrong released “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue,” in which he intones “my only sin is in my skin.”

In 1943, Ellington released his Black, Brown, and Beige suite, meant to parallel Black history in America from the time of enslavement up to the January evening he first performed it at Carnegie Hall. It included such famous pieces as “Work Song” and “Come Sunday,” which, although originally an instrumental piece, was re-recorded in 1958 with famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

Just a year later, in 1959, Billie Holiday released one of the most famous songs of the early Civil Rights movement: “Strange Fruit.” In it, Holliday’s grave timbre is imbued with heartwrenching pain as the lyrics of the song graphically recount the consequences of a lynching. The song was so controversial that when she first decided to sing it, her own record label refused to produce the song, and she had to find a new one.

It likely was a dangerous time for Holiday; aside from her music and political activism, she experienced personal struggles throughout her career. But she forged ahead; she never lost sight of what she felt she needed to do, even if it meant she had to “do it scared,” in the words of ARTICLE22 collaborator, musician, and National Jazz Museum in Harlem affiliate Bam Bam.

That same year, Charles Mingus recorded “Fables of Faubus,” a reaction against Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas, who’d sent in National Guard troops to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Jazz, once more, would be neither silent nor passive. As Bam Bam points out, often, those who succeed in spurring change and transformation must be “brave enough to follow a path they believed is theirs to draw.” And here, jazz and jazz musicians didn’t just claim agency — they demanded justice in tune with Black voices throughout the Civil Rights movement.

In 1960, Max Roach wrote We Insist!, also called the “Freedom Now Suite.” The music of this album had such power, suffused with the spirit of the movement, that it was banned in apartheid South Africa. But the demands for this freedom still were not met. Just three years later, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In response, John Coltrane released “Alabama” and Nina Simone, her “Mississippi Goddam,” both expressing rage and frustration and once again crying out for justice.

Although the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed in the following two years, the work of social justice was far from achieved. In 1976, Nina Simone put into song Langston Hughes’s “Backlash Blues,” explicitly pointing out that, laws or no laws, any claim of racial equality in the United States was nothing more than a thinly veiled illusion.

“Who do you think I am?” Nina Simone asks in “Backlash Blues,” “You raise my taxes, freeze my wages/ Send my son to Vietnam// You give me second class houses/ And second class schools/ Do you think that all colored people/ Are just second class fools?”

Through all of these years, and in all of these ways, jazz was a rising up, and a calling out; a coming together and a setting apart. A declaration, a demand, a dialogue that, in some cases, went deeper than words — a comfort to the disturbed and a disruption to the comfortable.

And it still is — in revisiting the music of the Civil Rights movement, we come to realize that, if anything, its power has only grown in the decades between then and now. As jazz traveled to the four corners of the world, it became a symbol of resilience and protest in the countries where it landed.

In Laos, jazz artists mingled the new art form with traditional music, creating something uniquely their own. Lao flautist Rit Xu, who will be performing on April 30 at the International Jazz Day celebration hosted by ARTICLE22, Legacies of War, and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, connects traditional Lao music with jazz. His music bridges what might seem like two different musical forms, echoing the event’s theme: “Routes and Roots of Jazz.” In his words, “my music is a mixture of contemporary sounds inspired by a lifelong pursuit and study of music from my heritage and around the globe with the ethos of jazz as the binding trend.”

And, while some Lao musicians have explored new routes for jazz, others have found distinctive ways to return to their roots through the music. For example, Lao band Jazzanova, which will also be performing at the celebration, remakes traditional Lao music and performs it in the jazz style. As it has been throughout its history, jazz in Laos today is a catalyst for political and social change.


International Jazz Day Celebration, Hosted by The National Jazz Museum in Harlem with co-hosts, Legacies of War and ARTICLE22

Celebrating International Jazz Day on April 30, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem will feature two jazz groups from Laos, Rit Xu and Lao Jazzanova, through a pre-recorded performance and a duo performance with vocalist/pianist Melvis Santa and bassist Bam Rodriguez. This event is the first to kick off NJMH’s annual gala in June themed, “Roots and Routes of Jazz.”

Creativity through art - ranging from music design - have always been active forces in social movements. Jazz has been a catalyst for political and social change throughout its entire history. This online music event and discussion unites the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Legacies of War, and ARTICLE22 to feature the rich and diverse talents of Lao jazz musicians and engage in a discussion about art and activism.


SOURCES Songs of Protest: Evolution of Jazz Protest Music What is Jazz? Louis' Education Kit The Mysterious Origins of Jazz The Changing Nature of Protest in Jazz A Sprawling Blueprint for Protest Music, Courtesy of the Jazz Duke The Intersection of Jazz and Social Protest Jazz Origins in New Orleans

Photo of Billie Holiday from Wikipedia

Photo of Charles Mingus from The Wire

Photo of Duke Ellington from Los Angeles Times

Photo of Nina Simone from Boulder Swing Dance RIT UX GROUP Documentary, posted by International Jazz Festival Vientiane




Peace. It's a big goal.

At times when we read history or watch the news, it may seem a task too large to tackle. The goals set out in Article 22 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights are as broad as they are important.

But peace begins in you.

Even as we inch back to normality. over the past 14 months we have all encountered unprecedented, confusing, and difficult situations.

We're all traversing the same stormy sea, but each in a different boat. And even though we're in this together, we've all been finding different ways to navigate it. And it's not always easy.




So, before we go about reaching the goal of world peace, peace in our nations, communities, or even families, we must find peace with ourselves. We do, after all, make up the world.

Art is one great way to do this.


No, really! Coloring books are not just for kids. There are some for adults out there that have amazingly intricate designs (and with more simple ones)! Coloring can be a great way to relax and help feel in control.


Drawing mandalas- which are repeating circular, geometric patterns, originating from Buddhist practice- is a great way to start meditating, if you find you do better when your hands are busy. You can lose yourself in the repetition, and, in doing so, find yourself more fully.


You don't even need to choose one form of art! If listening to music is what you do to relax, it can be interesting to combine it with drawing. It doesn't have to be serious-even just doodling along will help you find focus in a no-pressure situation.


Writing is often pitched as "not for everyone" - but writing stories can be a very accessible art form that helps you feel more in touch with your thoughts without necessarily detailing them. One way is to choose three random words (adjectives and nouns are best), and write a story including all three- it's like a puzzle to fit them together!


Perhaps not quite an "art" - but a wonderful way to make peace with yourself. Whether keeping a bullet journal or free writing, journals can be incredible companions. Aside from helping you to work out what difficulties you may be feeling in your life, they help you better trust your own intuition and actions off the page.

Like creative writing, journaling can help you discover what's on your mind, whether there are questions you want to ask or questions you want to answer. Journaling can also guide you, re: your current emotions.


This can be a less-serious but more-fun way to relieve stress, as well! It can be interesting to look back on your days and see how they influence your dreams over time. Dream journaling can also help you train yourself to recall your dreams each morning (as opposed to checking email or the news, for example) - starting the day with reflection!

The bottom line is - self care!

Sometimes these things seem easier said than done. It's a busy world we live in, and it can be really hard to carve out even a moment of time to just sit and write or draw your thoughts onto the page. But - especially these days - it's important to remember take time for yourself, to check in, and to care for you.




On April 30, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem featured a jazz group from Laos, Lao Jazzanova, through a pre-recorded performance and a duo performance with vocalist/pianist Melvis Santa and bassist Bam Rodriguez, to celebrate International Jazz Day. This event was the first to kick off NJMH’s annual gala in June themed, “Roots and Routes of Jazz.”

Creativity through art - ranging from music design - have always been active forces in social movements. Jazz has been a catalyst for political and social change throughout its entire history. This online music event and discussion united National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Legacies of War, and ARTICLE22 to feature the rich and diverse talents of Lao jazz musicians and engage in a discussion about art and activism.


Follow HERE to discover more about the celebration and to view the event.



Founded in 2016 by guitarist Vangthanousone “Fruity” Bouaphanh, Lao Jazzanova is the first Lao Jazz band. Lao Jazzanova is widely known throughout Laos and the ASEAN region because of their unique blend of the jazz fusion style and traditional Lao music.

Mr. Vangthanousone has been interested in Jazz music since he was young. At that time, jazz music was not well-known in Laos and Mr. Vangthanousone was unable to find any music teachers in Vientiane who could help him learn to play the music. In the years following, he devoted countless hours to teaching himself jazz, with the assistance of many professional and experienced music instructors from neighboring countries.



After many years of studying, Mr. Vangthanousone was ready to perform in jazz music events in Laos and abroad. But first, he needed to create a band. On September 2016, Lao Jazzanova was officially formed with Mr. Vangthanousone on guitar, Mr. Somsouk “Smile” Luanglath on drums, Mr. Douangsouly Souliphanh on bass, Ms. Nouandee Rajsavong on vocals and Alita Phutsavat as band manager.

Since their founding, Lao Jazzanova has performed at events in Laos and abroad every year. Notable appearances include the International Vientiane Jazz Festival, the Oubonthani Jazz Festival (Thailand), the Chiangmai Jazz Festival (Thailand), the HuaHin Asia Jazz Festival (Thailand), and the Khon Kaen Festival (Thailand). Lao Jazzanova was also invited to perform at the International Giant Steppes of Jazz Festival in Ulaanbaator, Mongolia in August 2019. Lao Jazzanova is currently working on their debut album. It will be available by the end of this year.

Follow along here to watch Lao Jazzanova's performance at the Khon Kaen Jazz Festival.



Leading up to the International Jazz Day celebration with National Jazz Museum in Harlem and Legacies of War, we here at ARTICLE22 were connected with Jazz Festival Vientiane founder and director, Micka Perrier. Micka and our founder, Elizabeth Suda meet (virtually of course) to chat about all things jazz and Laos.

Humble and savage are two words that perfectly describe who Micka Perrier is and how he has grown the festival in Vientiane, Laos, over the past six years. In conversation with Elizabeth, Micka explains his future plans for the festival, the purpose behind the location of Vientiane, how the festival itself is panache, and ultimately, how jazz is a unique art-form that is often forgotten and unrecognized.

Listen in on Elizabeth's and Micka's intriguing interview HERE to discover more about jazz in Laos and Micka Perrier's insight on improvisation.


Duke Ellington at a reception in his honor in 1971 Argentina.




Jazz has never known borders, always showing up in unexpected places at unexpected times. Similar to a tree with its complex matrix of far-reaching roots, jazz remains grounded in its heritage even as it grows and evolves. But jazz has also taken many routes in its travels to every corner of the globe, building bridges between cultures and forging new paths on its way. That brings us to a country we might not immediately associate with jazz- Laos.

Jazz, like many great art forms, was born of contradiction, of an unfree people in a supposedly-free land. The music as we know it today originated in the experiences of formerly enslaved Africans in late-19th century New Orleans, melding musical traditions from...




...West Africa and the American South, from the Caribbean, from ragtime, and brass bands, and the work songs of farm hands. It was joy and resistance in the face of hardship and oppression, and it simmered in the South until it roared in with the 20s, unstill, expanding to Chicago, New York, Paris and London, the Soviet Union and beyond.

Jazz officially landed in Laos when Duke Ellington visited Vientiane in 1972, in the midst of the Vietnam War. Laos at the time was the target of the United States’s “secret war,” a covert CIA operation that would turn Laos into the most-bombed country, per capita, on Earth.

But, to paraphrase Wynton Marsalis, “sometimes a thing and the opposite of a thing are true at the same time.” The Secret War was just that: the United States so doggedly denied its existence that, as far as many were concerned, it never happened. But anyone alive in Laos could tell you that it certainly took place, all the attendant psychological and physical damage of war with it. And still, Ellington travelled there. He played in the midst of pain and violence, both of which jazz was already very well-acquainted with. But, as our musicians can attest to today, the joy of the music survived the storm of detonations.

Humans have this incredible ability to comprehend the non-linear, to find structure in senselessness, to accept the perplexing, to feel tens of emotions at once and experience beauty in the throes of adversity. But it's not just that we have the ability to know these contradictions. We need them, if we want to even begin to find a vocabulary that can speak to the full range of human experience. So, if jazz is to be a method of communication across cultures and generations, contradiction must be at its heart as much as it is at the heart of humanity.

Both demanding and freeing to play, jazz recognizes that life does not happen in lines on a page, and much as we may try, it can never fully be transcribed. While syncopation takes us to the spaces between, improvisation takes us beyond. Each piece played is, of course, very personal, rarely performed the same way twice. Soloists simultaneously honor history and claim the music as their own — bringing it to a place both intimately known and completely new. Yet, when musicians perform with a band or in front of an audience, the music becomes a conversation, a give and take, a route to community and deeper comprehension.

But despite, or perhaps because of, its ability to perform transcendent communication, jazz has never been solely about bringing people together. Its ability to get at raw truths, to call out and actively oppose hatred and discrimination, means that jazz has never gone unchallenged. In its early days, it was seen as risqué, provocative, and in some circles even dangerous — which is what made it all the more appealing to the youth of the time and what makes it all the more relevant, today.

Throughout its history, jazz has been the soundtrack to scores of social movements. But they are not a thing of the past. Now more than ever, as our country undertakes a much-needed reckoning with racism, the history of jazz reminds us that positive transformation begins with disruption and determination. And this is, indeed, only a beginning, for honesty is never silent, and change is never static. Rarely, is it easy. But, thankfully, jazz has never been the type to sit quietly and ask permission before speaking.

This brings us to the present. Using jazz to amplify the voices working to create beauty in our complex world, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Legacies of War and ARTICLE22 come together to build community in unexpected ways. At the nexus of art and activism, ARTICLE22 transforms Vietnam War shrapnel and scrap into jewelry; each piece helps clear some of the 80 million unexploded bombs contaminating the Laotian landscape. Like ARTICLE22, Legacies of War provides space for healing the wounds of war and creating greater hope for a peaceful future by using art, culture, education, community organizing and dialogue to increase awareness of the history of bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs. History is also at the heart of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s mission to preserve, promote and present jazz by inspiring knowledge, appreciation and the celebration of the music locally, nationally and internationally.

Whether it be by using jewelry made from shrapnel to start conversations about war and its consequences, clearing Laos of war scrap to make communities safer, or stimulating hearts and minds with the music of jazz, we have the power to shape the future because history is now. As individuals and communities, we each have the privilege and the responsibility to listen, arguably the most important part of any good conversation. To listen, not just now, but always — for jazz and its truths have a way of showing up at unexpected times and unexpected places. Who knows where we may find it?



Photo from Duke Ellington The Keys to Diplomacy



In his own words: My memories and life as a child soldier growing up in South Sudan and my lowest point where we embarked on a journey and only 16 out of 300 survived are the formative memories that have shaped my life, given me purpose and a desire to be part of a solution and to restore balance. My purpose is spreading acts of kindness, be part of a solution and contribute to restore balance and give without expecting anything in return.



"You program yourself in order to create the life you want. And it started with me. And it begins with a question, who owns your mind? Battles are fought in the mind, and they are won in the heart, and whoever owns your mind owns you and everything you create."


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Emerald embodies the heart, the energy of hope, love and the almighty life force of birth. It’s power to heal and transform is gentle, kind and abundant, with the power to sweetly revive passion. An ancient stone, it was used in many civilizations similarly believing it embodied Goddess energy. The ancient Egyptians deemed it a symbol of eternal life and Cleopatra, enamored with the stone, claimed the emerald mines for herself. Defined as a symbol of love and compassion, emeralds activate healing energy centers in the body to improve memory, intelligence, and clarity of thought. Emerald opens the heart chakra and is connected to the birth month of May.


Read more on our birthstones here.


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