Jazz for Humanity

By Kaeleigh Ayre

Being a co-executive director of an organization is not something every 20-year-old can put on their resume, but Rayannah Kroeker can. The fourth-year University of Manitoba jazz voice student is an up-and-coming presence in the Winnipeg jazz scene. When she’s not in class or participating in world development conferences, she can often be found performing with the Retro Rhythm Review or Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. Since 2007 she has been putting her all into presenting Jazz for Humanity—an annual concert with a conscience.

Jazz for Humanity has blossomed into a multi-disciplinary event, but it began with a trip to Rwanda. Kroeker and her classmates were inspired to give back to the community they experienced there. With her friend Katrine Dilay, Kroeker helmed the inaugural Jazz for Humanity concert at Collège St. Boniface in 2007. In the years since, the event has outgrown its location not once, but twice—moving from St. Boniface to Prairie Theatre Exchange, which they sold out in 2009. This year, they’re on the Manitoba Theatre Centre mainstage.

Jazz for Humanity is partnered with Ubuntu Edmonton, a small non-profit organization that helps the widows and orphans of the 1993 Rwandan genocide. All funds raised by the organization through this event go towards helping those that reside within the small community of Kimironko to become self-sufficient. “The benefit of Ubuntu still being so small and mostly unknown is that they require very little overhead costs, and therefore most of the money we raise goes directly into the village,” says Kroeker. This is something that she is very proud of, and something she says doesn’t happen with a lot of the large-scale charities.

The evening is “drastically different than expectations,” Kroeker stresses. “We make a conscious effort to select a wide variety of repertoire. While we focus on world music, we also include elements of R&B as well as rap and hip hop. The audience comes away with a sense that it’s more world music than jazz because they don’t realize jazz sounds like that, that it actually is jazz.”

Unfortunately, she feels there is a stigma that comes with the word “jazz.” “People have an outdated view of the genre,” says Kroeker. “They expect the smooth sound of the ’20s, of dancehalls, Lindy Hop and scatting. They don’t take in to account that there’s been nearly a century of development within the genre, which is why we highly suggest even those that are wary of ‘jazz’ to come out. There is something for everyone to enjoy.”

On top of the fabulous performances to be expected from Kroeker’s sextet comprised of Will Bonness, Curtis Nowosad, Simon Christie, Shannon Kristjanson, Graham Isaak and herself, they are also showcasing several forms of dance. Performing are students from the School of Contemporary Dancers Professional Division, as well as returning guests presenting tango and a dance style from Central Africa. Steve Kirby is among the special guests, as well as other students from the UM music faculty. There will be an art auction and refreshments.

If this line-up alone doesn’t entice music fans, Kroeker hopes the desire to support a cause does. “It’s time to take action and get behind a cause. It’s important to know that all of the money goes straight into Ubuntu. We want to show adults that we care, that we can do things and create change. We’re always watching and evaluating everything around us, including government and business practices. We just ask that people come with an open mind and expecting to have a good time. It’s time to do things differently.”

Jazz for Humanity happens Friday, June 18 at the MTC Mainstage. Visit www.jazzforhumanity.org for ticket info.