Metro, Arts, Newton

Women in World Jazz Showcases History Through Music at Newton Free Library Event

An enthusiastic audience shook maracas in a conga line, while others danced and sang along with Women in World Jazz at Druker Auditorium in the Newton Free Library on Monday night. 

“Coming together through music, and the joy of making music together, makes these performances worth it,” Tal Shalom-Kobi, the group’s leader and upright bass and accordion player, said. “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of interest, care, and good intentions.”

Women in World Jazz is an educational band that performs musical styles from around the world. The group emphasizes its mission of social justice and spreads awareness of the advocacy efforts of the artists whose compositions they choose to perform. 

They opened their set of seven songs with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Annie Lenox and Dave Stewart. Drummer Diane Gately counted the band in and the music quickly filled the auditorium and had the audience singing along. 

The group selected the works of other recognizable artists like Joan Baez and Nina Simone, but also some pieces by artists that are less well known, like Misia and Angélique Kidjo. 

The mission of educating others on social justice has informed the group’s choices on artists to include in its sets, according to Shalom-Kobi.

“When I was looking around and selecting the musicians or the groups, I selected them on people that I know are very well resonating with the same moral values that I have,” she said.


Before every song, members of the group took turns giving a brief history of the musicians and their prominent social justice efforts. Shalom-Kobi said she hoped this would paint a fuller picture of the artists as more than just musicians. 

“Let’s bring people that did all of this [music] and try to shed light on what they are doing not just musically, but also as ambassadors for change,” she said. 

Beth Munn Griffin, a longtime fan of Women in World Jazz and friend of Shalom-Kobi, said she values the emphasis on social justice. 

“What they’re doing besides being incredible musicians, is what they’re bringing to light, particularly in March, Women’s History Month,” Griffin said. “They bring to light everything that we’re working for, social justice and whatnot—I loved it.”

The performance was a welcome surprise to some audience members like Liora Newson, who said she did not know what to expect upon arriving at the event. 

“I don’t like jazz,” Newson said. “I came here and I thought, women in jazz—I have to give jazz a chance. And it wasn’t really what I thought it’s going to be, it was much better.”

The band also has a Women in World Jazz junior group, composed of high school students that perform one or two pieces along with the band. Shalom-Kobi said she values the perspective these young performers bring. 

“They are ambassadors for their generation, and trailblazers in their own right,” she said. “While, you know, a lot of attention is going to the media and everything, these young women care enough to learn about their predecessors, and the people that paved the way for them as women to be having a musical education today.”

The audience engagement makes these performances gratifying, according to Shalom-Kobi. 

“We have a number of open spots where we say, clap your hands or raise your hands, and when everybody’s doing this together, that is my favorite part,” she said. “When we engage with the audience in the same way that we had on Monday, that was a good example, it makes it worth it.”

March 26, 2023