Why I’m Marching in a One Man Parade in Rwanda

Many of you know by now that the Rwanda 15 Parade of One will be a four week long one man parade in Rwanda. Late this summer (2009,) I will wind through the capital Kigali and surrounding regions, making melodies and meeting Rwandans to commemorate fifteen years of peace and stability since the end of the civil war and genocide. Yes, this is what it sounds like: I’m going to Rwanda to be a street musician. Sure I’ll be a doing a couple performances at legitimate venues while I’m there, since they’ve been offered, but it’s mostly about playing on the street for me.

As I am about to embark on my most unusual gig to date, I have been asked many times to explain myself. Why am I marching in a one man parade? And why in Rwanda? I don’t feel so compelled to justify what is perceived as abnormality. On the contrary, my instinct is to simply carry on with what I do, disregarding norms. I don’t care to conform to standards, nor do I want to make some adolescent protest of them. I just want to do my thing, and often don’t even really want to be troubled to stop and explain just what that “thing” is or why I’m doing it. In fact, with the many other things I have to do to prepare for this journey, I worry that writing on matters of what’s going through my mind and trying to make it eloquent might not even be the most productive thing to do. But if you are among those brave few who are trying to take my upcoming operations in Rwanda seriously, I’m most gratefully indebted, and I hope that by writing this blog I can satisfy your curiosity. It is with your help that this voyage is possible.

The “parade” concept is really what makes the music for everyone and anyone. Even, if you are immobile, the parade can come to you. You don’t need to know it’s happening let alone purchase tickets, and all of a sudden the parade goes right by. It is the most egalitarian form of performance. Many great musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and Milford Graves, have spoken recently of the “healing” power of music, and if I am capable of using music for such purposes, I hope to bring it to everyone and not just the few who might know where and when the performance is and have the money for tickets. Coming from Brooklyn, I expect the change in the type and scope of the audience to be refreshing. Things are very fragmented here, with audiences representing social cliques and even socioeconomic demographics. Picture the drastically different ages, races, and clothing styles among audiences at the jazz club, the hip hop show, and the indie rock concert. I am glad to be in a position to transcend this fragmentation and to allow the openness and egalitarianism of the parade to influence my music. The social exclusivity surrounding the different musical circles, here in New York, serves as a sort of safety net for the music that is produced. Musicians are guaranteed a certain response in giving the audience what they expect. In my upcoming parade, there will be no such expectations from the audience, and I feel that it will be a good atmosphere to further develop my unaccompanied solo saxophone concept. Unaccompanied saxophone performance is a rare and challenging endeavor, which few have done well.

Not only do I expect the parade to have an impact in Rwanda and on my own music, though. I also think it can spark awareness and education over here in the USA, where people could probably learn a little more about Rwanda’s recent history, the descent into genocide and the successful but still fragile recovery from civil war. Which brings me to the question I am asked the most: Why did I choose Rwanda? The question seems so normal to the people who ask and yet so odd to me. The answer is that Rwanda chose me. Having grown up around survivors of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, I’ve felt some connection to Rwanda’s recent history, in particular the genocide in 1994. When I hear the stories from Rwanda, I see parallels with the stories I am told about World War II era Europe. My hope is that being around people much closer to my age who experienced a similar atrocity to that of my grandparents will help me better understand what my elders here in America went through. After all, so many of the most important stories I’ve ever heard happened before I was born in a different place and time, but there are people still experiencing similar things in my lifetime, not only in Rwanda in the nineties but in Darfur now and many other places. Without our help and our continued awareness and discussion of human rights, such atrocities will only continue.

The Rwandan recovery from genocide has been very unique and remarkable. Rwandan victims now live in the same neighborhoods as the people who murdered their families, and they are keeping the peace, for fear of the gruesome alternative. Hopefully, the Rwandan distaste for violence will continue forever.

I think Jews might have something to learn from Rwandans. Whether in the USA, Israel, or the former Soviet Union, Jews are still, just like most of the world’s inhabitants, members of societies that do not reject war. Not only Jews and Palestinians, but all Americans and people from all nations of the world, whether it is Sudan, Russia, or Iran might benefit by learning from Rwanda. And if anywhere deserves a fun parade right now, for the trauma they went through and the advancements they’ve made since, it is Rwanda. It is important for people all over the world to be having fun, because if people are having a good time, maybe they will think twice before ruining it with wars and genocide. More than anything, I want this parade to help people have a good time.

It’s no surprise that a parade of one is a lonely place to march. In a world where the dedication of one’s time and labor to being a street musician in a developing country is not commonplace and perhaps even clownish, I have surely felt my share of social alienation. I am asked many questions, and I am often even doubted and ridiculed. While I have attracted much attention and support from my family, friends, and colleagues, at the end of the day I am still marching and performing alone. Sometimes, I even wake up in the morning and am ashamed and frightened to be greeted by the mind that has conjured this crazy parade. I want to be allowed to get some rest and just carry on with my peaceful life in Brooklyn. But a task is a task, and I have to take it seriously. If I don’t march in the Rwanda 15 Parade of One, no one will. The job won’t get done, and that frightens me more than anything.


13 thoughts on “Why I’m Marching in a One Man Parade in Rwanda

  1. After reading this blog post I understand more aspects of your project. I’m looking forward to reading your posts when you are on the road in Rwanda.

  2. it’s great what you are trying to do!(you won’t know till you try,and so dare to reach your goals)it might not sound normal to some people,or many people might not understand what you are trying to do but again it does not have too! or they don’t have too!!as long as your know what you are doing!!
    music brings joy peace laughter to some people’s world so carry on and make a change,touch lives and bring joy, hope and peace, trough music.


  3. Hey Jeremy,

    I am speechless and amazed at what you are going to do. Respect and thanks for putting the petit concerns of NY jazz musicians in perspective. Good luck and have a ball! I look forward to reading about it.


    PS. will there be Soundpainting in the parade??

  4. Jeremy,
    I am very proud of you. It has always been interesting to see where your mind will take you next. Thanks for allowing me to share the “ride”.

  5. Jeremy,
    I know your family here in Delaware, and have heard your wonderful music in No Denying.
    Kudos to you for embarking on this wonderful mission.
    I applaud your efforts to bring attention to the plight of the people of Rwanda, bringing joy to them along the way.

  6. Jeremy, From one non-confirmist (retired) to another; May you continue to follow your heart and live your truth. Always embellish your creative energy and fine tune your naysayers, doubters and those who ridicule you, so that they become an intergral part of your musical composition. Thank you for including me in your passions and inspirations.

    I share these words with you, from a really incredible artist-Ntozake (“she who comes with her own things”) Shange (“who walks like a lion”):
    i live in music
    is this where you live
    i live here in music
    i live on c# street
    my friend lives on b(flat) avenue
    do you live here in music
    sound falls round me like rain on other folks
    saxophones wet my face
    cold as winter in st. louis
    hot like peppers i rub on my lips
    thinkin they was lilies
    i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips
    & a upright bass for both sides of my heart
    i walk round in a piano like somebody
    else/be walkin the earth
    i live in music
    live in it
    wash in it
    i cd even smell it
    wear sound on my fingers
    sound falls so fulla music
    ya cd make a river where yr arm is &
    hold yrself
    hold yrself in a music

  7. Hey Jeremy- I think you’ll have a great time in Africa. I personally haven’t met any Rwandans, but I’m certain that you will receive a very warm reception and that the Parade will take you in many exciting and unanticipated directions! looking forward to your updates and hope to see you before you take off

  8. We are all alone, cuz. I know what you mean. Way to be unstoppable for peace and taking a stand. I support u from afar. Be the inspiration. I would juggle right next to you if I could. (U don’t want me to try anything musical. It might start another genocide).

  9. Dear Jeremy,

    I am compelled by your journey. The voice of your heart is coming through your saxaphone emoting a truly inspirational story.
    I smiled and identified with the line:
    “Sometimes, I even wake up in the morning and am ashamed and frightened to be greeted by the mind that has conjured this crazy parade.” It’s funny how the psyche works, or the split in it – I get this too sometimes. One side of you is mere mortal, somewhat self absorbed with a need to quietly integrate….but the other side of you is visionary, propelled and supported by archetypal powers to set forth on something extraordinary and out of reach. In doing the latter, (after a fair amount of torture, confusion and suffering) one undergoes extreme spiritual and psychic growth There is no doubt which path that you are parading on. In your quest, you herald the best in us all.

    I send you all my Best…I send you the Spirit of all the Best

  10. Jeremy,
    You look great. Your fellow band members look good too and like they are a big help. Keep up the good work. Your blog is great. I look forward to reading more.

  11. Jeremy!

    I stand (actually I’m sitting as I type this) in awe of your “one man parade!” I only wish that Boots Randolph was alive so that I could tell him of your remarkable odessy. I’m sure he’d get a hoot (or a toot) out of it.

    Keep writing the blogs as I find them most interesting.

    Very BEST regards,

  12. Jeremy! Every morning I look forward to reading your blog and learning more about your great adventure. Your neverending creative energy never ceases to amaze me. Hopefully, you are finding a means of preserving lots physical energy, as you continue on your journey. Keep the bolgs coming…I am starving for more!

    With great ADMIRATION,

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