The Artistry of… Django Reinhardt

You know that first science experiment fun where you put just a drop or two of food colouring in water and watch as it slowly takes over the clear liquid and changes its colour? Do you remember that? Like a lens, the colour takes over the water and changes it. It is still very much water, but coloured, it takes on a whole new presence.

I think of the influence on music by people of African heritages and others as kind of like that drop. A drop of culture. It colours and adds an essence to the mix, again like a lens. The music that was or the cultural art form that was, is the water, but now with a whole new presence. It is played with essence.

The music of the Romani people has effected this same kind of cultural alchemy — like adding that drop or two of colour to a clear liquid, changing it, but still holding the essence of the original. Django, truly a mononymous name like Plato, Bach, Tecumseh, Biko, Mandela and Malcolm, is a name that all by itself is so very much that powerful cultural elixir. That ingredient that can change a much larger whole.

The music of his Romani-French heritage is rich in texture, style, definition and impact on the world of jazz, of music and of musicians. Like a culture woven tightly and proud of its boundary free existence, the music of Django Reinhardt, Belgian-born Romani-French, is everyone’s at once. Powerful and gentle, touching and accessible, it is beauty as it should be. Beauty on a very welcoming human scale.

The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.