Jazz festival coverage needs to be more about the music

Music fan Gene Oberto wishes critics would change their tune when it comes to the Stockholm Jazz Festival.

Jazz festival coverage needs to be more about the music

For 25 years, the Stockholm Jazz Festival has been a highlight of city’s summer season.

This year’s event brought an eclectic selection of jazz, blues, and pop music to five different stages over four days.

Sadly, however, the casual reader of the entertainment sections of the local dailies would have thought that Mary J. Blige and Patti Smith were the only artists to perform this year.

Coverage of the event was delegated to second day editions or web pages. Worst of all, the jazz artists and the “unfamiliar” artist was hardly given any space at all.

In contrast, Stockholm’s media gave next day coverage of the rock and pop festivals in Börlange and Sölvesborg with pages of reviews of the artist performances and pictures from the event.

And rather than showcase the wonderful assortment of acts, festival press coverage instead focused on many of the criticisms that have emerged about this venerated musical experience.

Admittedly, the Stockholm Jazz Festival may not be perfect.

For starters, there are those who argue that it doesn’t deserve to be called a “jazz” festival at all. But the reason for bringing in pop artists like Tower of Power or Mary J. Blige is spelled m-o-n-e-y.

Unfortunately, the festival’s finances have long been on the precipice of insolvency.

According to the Festival Manager, Bo Persson, other Nordic festivals get six times as much government contribution as the Stockholm Jazz Festival receives from its supporting sources.

As a result, it’s the big name pop acts that bring an important boost to the festival’s balance sheet.

Some like to complain that the acts brought to Stockholm are not the best musical talents available.

But if artists like Patti Smith and Van Morrison are not on someone’s “A” list, you have to wonder who are?

Others point to festivals in places like Copenhagen and Rotterdam as having higher quality and larger attendance.

You certainly can say that in comparison, the Stockholm Jazz Festival is not as big as some other European festivals.

But isn’t that part of the attraction?

Stockholm music fans get to see their favorite artists relatively up close and not as part of a throng like at other musical festivals.

And for those of us used to attending music festivals in out of the way, muddy fields, the ability to see these name attractions in the intimate and panoramic setting of Stockholm’s Djurgården is quite a treat.

Opinions about the Festival are like noses. Everyone has one.

But more than 25,000 music fans didn’t show up this year to debate whether or not the festival should be labeled jazz or pop.

Nor were they there to complain about who wasn’t playing; they were there to enjoy who was.

Of course, some media attention to the problems of the event is valid. And stories about finances and debates on artistic direction are informative to the city’s music fans.

But once the show opens its gates and the music begins, the time for complaining is over and attention should then turn to the joys of experiencing one of Stockholm’s major cultural events.

There is plenty of time to write about what is wrong or what went wrong after the shows.

After all, it is the shows themselves that are the real story, year after year. They allow music fans to experience live performances by global super stars as well as emerging local stars in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.

And isn’t that what Stockholm summers should be about?

Gene Oberto is an American-born writer living in Stockholm. He is the author of The Swedish Golf Experience.

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OPINION: Get organised or Sweden’s open society will be a distant memory

Sweden turned hostile to immigrants and asylum seekers several years ago, but continued to pretend that it was a welcoming nation. Now official politics has caught up with reality, argues David Crouch

OPINION: Get organised or Sweden's open society will be a distant memory

The agreement announced on Friday by the four parties which won Sweden’s election feels like the moment in an episode of Road Runner, where the coyote character spots there is only air beneath him.

For those unfamiliar with the classic Looney Tunes cartoon, there were often scenes in which a character called Wile E. Coyote would run off a cliff, keep running in thin air, look down, realise there was no ground beneath him, and only then fall.

Sweden turned hostile to immigrants and asylum seekers years ago, but continued to pretend that it was a liberal and welcoming nation. Now, with the suddenness of that Road Runner moment, official politics has abruptly caught up with reality. 

Late last year, outgoing Social Democrat justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson was asked in parliament if Sweden had succeeded in reducing asylum rights to the EU minimum. His answer was full of soothing words about protecting people in a troubled world, about humanitarian needs, about a sustainable and humane system. But yes, he said, Sweden’s asylum framework was now the EU minimum and the numbers were the lowest for 20 years. 

With the Tidö Agreement, those soothing words are gone, and there is no longer any pretence that Sweden will continue to take into account individual freedoms, equality or human rights for non-Swedes. The agreement is a relentless, detailed, cold-blooded statement on how this government will cut the rights of all non-Swedish citizens to the bare minimum required by EU law.  Wherever possible, it adds, migrants will be encouraged to return to wherever they came from.  

The new approach will affect every aspect of life for non-Swedes, starting with access to healthcare, housing, child support, schools, and other benefits. It is all designed to minimise the “incentives” for people to come to Sweden. The Local has parsed the document here.

In some sense this is refreshingly honest: there is no longer any need to see through fancy political rhetoric to get to the meat of what is going on.

But it is still a shock to read, for example, that Sweden will change its constitution with the aim of “limiting the rights of asylum seekers as far as is legally possible” (page 34), or that “criminals” who lack Swedish citizenship will be deported “without having been convicted of a crime” (page 19).

In many areas, the groundwork for the shift had already been laid by the outgoing government. As The Local has reported in depressing detail over recent years, life has become harder both for people coming here to work or seek asylum, and for those with non-European backgrounds who already live here.

Attitudes in Swedish society have changed more broadly. A defining feature of this year’s election campaign was that immigrants were for the first time described as a problem in themselves, with politicians of both left and right drawing a connection between immigration and crime.

The media have both reflected and reinforced this shift. As he describes in a new book, the journalist Christian Catomeris left SVT’s flagship Agenda programme because of its negative approach to immigration.

“When [leading Sweden Democrat] Björn Söder now says that public service broadcasting must change, I laugh a little, because I feel that change has already taken place, that the SD’s questions and perspectives have permeated journalism since 2015 and probably also this election,” Catomeris told the journalists’ trade union last month.

The Tidö Agreement refers over and over again to utlänningar, “foreigners”, an unpleasantly pejorative word for non-Swedes. But outgoing prime minister Magdalena Andersson had already started to use the word earlier this year in a rhetorical shift that mirrored the language used by the Sweden Democrats and prepared the ground for her later remarks about “Somalitowns” and talk of forcibly removing immigrants from problem areas.

As an immigrant myself, married to a family of immigrants, who found Sweden’s generous response to the refugee crisis of 2015 inspiring, I am saddened and dismayed by the Tidö agreement. Even if it is only continuing trends already apparent in Swedish society and politics, it both strengthens and accelerates them.

But there is also room to push back. The agreement calls for a large number of inquiries to be set up to investigate how to do all the things the new government wants to do. The word inquiry (utredning) appears in all its different forms no fewer than 182 times throughout the document.

The parties to the agreement each have a right to veto any proposal that emerges from these discussions.

This means there will be many opportunities for Swedish civil society to intervene and make its voice heard. Immigrant, expat and asylum-seeker organisations will need to organise themselves like never before if they want to defend multiculturalism and prevent Sweden’s open society from becoming a distant memory.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.