Putin’s Jazz Orchestra

On June 28, a concert by the world-famous, twice GRAMMY-nominated Israeli jazz musician Avishai Cohen was scheduled to take place in Warsaw at the Jazz Around Festival. His next show in Poland was scheduled for September 3rd in Wroclaw. However, earlier in June, the musician quietly performed in Russia at the Moscow Jazz Festival. The performance wasn’t officially advertised.

The primary sponsor of the Moscow festival was the state-owned Gazprombank, which, among other activities, funds Russian propaganda and disinformation. Furthermore, the festival was patronized by the Presidential Foundation for Cultural Initiatives and the Moscow City Department of Culture.

Participation in the event, organized by Russian musician and Putin supporter Igor Butman (https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/02/13/lifestyle/pro-putin-saxophonist-igor-butman-met-with-protesters-brookline/) sparked outrage among musicians and jazz fans.

The information about Cohen’s concert in Moscow and the call to cancel his events in Poland was shared by Polish and Ukrainian musicians and activists.

Polish jazz musician Tomasz Sikora stated: “My colleague Mark Tokar, a well-known Ukrainian double bassist, instead of playing his jazz, is voluntarily serving in the Ukrainian army because Russia has attacked Ukraine, while the famous Israeli double bassist Avishai Cohen has just played in Moscow without shame or regrets for those who want Mark and other musicians fighting in the Ukrainian army to die.»

In a commentary for the Polish news outlet Nash Vybir (https://naszwybir.pl/avishai-kohen/), Sikora explained that by organizing such festivals and concerts and inviting world stars to them, the Kremlin regime continues to spread its propaganda. “Everything points to the fact that this is a systematic activity supported by the Kremlin using Igor Butin. His authority and money from Putin should encourage international jazz stars (such as Cohen) to perform in Russia to legitimize and launder Russia’s image… It is a deliberate strategy, not an accident. Russia encourages such performances and there are musicians who, out of naivety or conviction, agree to it.”

Together with another Polish activist, Dominik Gąsiorowski, Tomasz Sikora is currently working on a separate list of world-famous jazz musicians who continue to perform in Russia since 2022, calling it “Putin’s Jazz Orchestra”.

So far, thanks to concerned fans, both of Avishai Cohen’s concerts in Poland were officially canceled.

More venues on his 2024 tour consider canceling the gigs.

«Thank you for contacting us – we found out about the concert in Moscow today, and we are trying to sort out what happened – and what to do – with his management. We have a policy not to work with artists in any way representing the Russian regime,» wrote the Malmö Konserthus organizer to a message from a Ukrainian user of the X social network.

Walden festival organizer: «Thank you for your mail. We also were quite surprised by the choices that Avishai Cohen made. Surprised by the concert and his quite cynical online reaction. We decided to cancel the concert at our festival.»

«Richard Bona [Best Contemporary Jazz Album GRAMMY winner, who also recently performed at Moscow Jazz Festival 2024] – Don’t even think about showing your face in the USA. Here you will receive the same “warm welcome” as your Moscow sponsor Igor Butman, who supports Russia’s war in Ukraine and on Putin’s bloody money invited you to Satan’s ball in Moscow. (https://russianartists4war.com/2020/02/26/press-release-artists-of-war-and-aggression-make-cultural-venues-worry-about-reputational-damage-by-arts-against-aggression-2/)

Funny “Courage”

Avishai Cohen, who recently released a new single called “Courage,” has deleted his Twitter account and closed comments on Instagram after receiving widespread criticism for his decision to perform at a music festival in Moscow directly associated with Putin. During the concert in Moscow, Avishai performed his new song «I Pray For Courage» with lyrics by Leonard Cohen, hypocritically mentioning in the capital of the aggressor: «I think it fits the time we’re living, as we want to be peaceful».

True Courage

In October 2022 Russian troops killed Ukrainian Conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko for refusing to perform for occupiers in Kherson. Another example out of many more: Artur Snitkus, a queer Ukrainian artist, musician, and stylist, was killed in combat on the front near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in June 2024. (https://theartnewspaper.com/2024/06/14/artur-snitkus-artist-musician-killed-combat-ukraine). In tributes, friends, and colleagues described him as an “icon of the Ukrainian queer underground” and “a holy man”.

It is worth noting that Russian culture is not so innocent. Many Russian artists and cultural figures support the unprovoked genocidal war in Ukraine. Back In March 2014, more than five hundred of them (511, to be exact) signed a collective letter (https://russianartists4war.com/letter/) in support of President Putin’s order to use the military against Ukraine. As a result of that order, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

On June 24 2024 the European Council adopted a 14th package of economic and individual restrictive measures dealing a further blow to Putin’s regime and those who perpetuate his illegal, unprovoked, and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine. The package includes sanctions against an additional 116 individuals including cultural figures (like pop singers Gagarina and Shaman, and movie actor Okhlobystin).

The controversy surrounding Avishai Cohen’s performance in Moscow has sparked significant backlash. The incident highlights the broader issue of artists legitimizing oppressive regimes through their performances. As the global community continues to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the involvement of cultural figures remains a sensitive and impactful matter. Those who take part in such events become a convenient tool in the hands of human-hating authoritarian regimes and therefore have no right to perform in the free world.

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