Archive for the ‘world music’ Category

Musical worlds

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

One of the gratifying things about being a folklorist is being able to connect tradition bearers with potentially influential people, resources, and opportunities. When done well, the folklorist plays the role of being what Malcolm Gladwell called a “connector” in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Soon after meeting Sushil Gautam, a local Nepalese sarangi player who helped establish the Music Museum of Nepal, I had the good fortune to meet Darcy Kuronen, Curator of the Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts. It turns out that in this collection of over 1,100 musical instruments, there is no Nepalese sarangi. So it was with pleasure that I was able to introduce Sushil and Darcy to one another. Time will tell if something comes of their acquaintance.

The MFA’s Musical Instruments Gallery is a little gem. The intimate sized gallery is filled with musical instruments and sound samples from around the world. For the past dozen years, Darcy has programmed regular gallery talks and demonstrations, engaging in conversation with visiting musicians who bow, pluck, finger, or breathe life into the featured instruments.

Abarta_MFA

On Monday, October 6th, that musician was Joey Abarta, who, coincidentally, was one of the six master artists who was recently awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. Joey had brought two of his own Irish uilleann pipes to perform on, since the museum’s set is not in working order. And uilleann pipes are finicky instruments.

The gathered audience was treated to some beautiful playing — an air, a set of jigs, a set of reels — plus some really interesting conversation about the history of the uilleann pipes, renowned makers both historical and living, and the technical challenges of playing, which include manipulating a chanter, drones, and regulators, in addition to the bellows, which are filled by pumping one’s elbow. (Uilleann is the Irish Gaelic word for elbow.)

Darcy asked Joey to let the audience know where they might be able to hear him playing locally. Every Thursday evening, at 7:15, Joey leads an Irish music session at the Canadian American Club in Watertown. Everyone is welcome.

The Price and Promise of Leaving Home

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Sushil_competing

Old Time musician Alan Kaufman and I were in Lowell to judge the 35th Annual Banjo & Fiddle Contest on September 6th. As the audience began to gather, Alan mentioned, “There is someone I want you to meet. A man from Nepal who plays the Himalayan fiddle (a four-stringed wooden instrument played with a bow), and jaw harp. His name is Sushil Gautam.” Alan explained that he had met Sushil at the local Dunkin’ Donuts in Arlington, where Sushil works. A few weeks earlier, Alan had walked in wearing a Banjo & Fiddle contest tee-shirt and the two got to talking. This is when Alan discovered that the man who serves him his ice tea is not only a Himalayan fiddle and jaw harp player, he also helped to establish The Music Museum of Nepal and published  a book on the history, ethnic songs, and methods of playing the Nepalese sarangi.

Sushil, Alan, and I spoke briefly before the contest began. Although Sushil had brought his sarangi, he was not planning on entering the contest. I told Sushil I’d be in touch soon about interviewing him for the MCC Folk Arts & Heritage Program. He kindly gave me a copy of his paperback, Sarangee, A Guide Book. The book, in Nepalese, was published by Orbit International Education Culture Education Department in Kathmandu, Nepal. Before walking away, Sushil handed me his business card, saying  “This is the view from my parent’s home.” It was a stunning panorama of the Himalayan Mountains with a small village in the foreground.

Sushil Gautam's business card

I stared at the picture, worthy of a travel brochure. Wrapped up in that little moment was the price of leaving home. The push/pull factors of limited economic opportunities, family, farm fresh food. . . .Why would someone leave such a place of physical beauty to resettle in a country halfway round the world. Clearly, it wasn’t the job. Or was it?

We scheduled a time for me to interview Sushil at his home in Somerville, where he lives with his wife and young daughter.

On September 12, I found my way to a rental house on a narrow side street off Somerville Avenue. I rang the doorbell.  At first, there was no response. I rang again. The windows were open; orange silk curtains fluttered in the screenless windows. I rang once more. Sushil appeared with a smile on his face and welcomed me into the front room of the house. It was sparsely furnished. Around the room were reminders of home —  photocopied color prints of family members and scenes from his parents’ village in Nepal. His daughter’s stuffed toys were piled in one corner. Several musical instruments were lined up against the back wall, resting on the carpeted floor; a few more hung from the walls. Sushil showed me two sarangis, one carved out of a lighter wood, and one of a darker, denser wood. The latter had an ornate carving of an elephant on the back. “Oh, Ganesha,” I remarked.  Sushil, surprised, asked “You know of Ganesha?”

Carving of Ganesha on back of sarangi

I asked if I could record our interview. He nodded and gestured to a small side table and two plastic chairs.

Economic opportunities and the chance to better his daughter’s future motivated Sushil and his wife to emigrate. Sushil Gautam came to this country with his wife and young daughter in January of 2013. “I grew up with tourism in my village.” Although the snow-capped Himalayas loom in the distance, snow never falls in his village. “All the year it is green.” Arriving in Boston, during the deep midwinter, came as somewhat of a shock. “I experience snow by my hand and leg here in Boston for the first time.”

Sushil had been selected by lottery for a green card and the opportunity to work and stay in the United States. Like many immigrants, he and his wife have university degrees, but can only find work in the food services. For now, Sushil is happy with his job at Dunkin’ Donuts, which provides an opportunity to improve his speaking skills in English. He has aspirations of finding a job as a teacher of languages and culture in the future.

Sushil Gautam playing a Nepalese sarangee

The sarangi is a bowed chordophone, carved from solid or composite wood, rather than pieced together like a violin. It has four strings; nylon has replaced gut (sheep intestine), and a metal string is used for the highest pitched string.  The sarangi is held vertically, much like a South Indian violin, or Chinese erhu. The outer two strings are tuned to an octave; the middle two strings are tuned a 4th up from the lowest string, e.g., G, C, C, G.  In western parlance, we’d call this an open tuning, meaning that all the strings are tuned to harmonized notes.   Some sarangi are highly ornamented, with carving depicting the God Ganesha or the Buddha.

Sushil Gautam posing with Nepalese sarangee

The Gandharba, a caste of occupational musicians, consider the sarangi to be their instrument. Until fairly recently, it was possible for them to make a living in Nepal. Much like other hereditary musicians, they played a key role in society, traveling from village to village, spreading news and entertaining.

Sushil recalls their music from his childhood, “Before there was any communication, people used to come to the mountain to entertain a lot of people. And they used to collect a lot of food for them. It was the living for this musician caste, and entertainment for the farmers in the mountain.  But time changes. A lot of radios and television came and the entertainment means are changed and these people lost their job.”

Sushil holding a jaw harp

Sushil playing the jaw harp

In generations past, the Gandharba caste were considered low and experienced discrimination. Although Sushil is from a historically higher caste, he plays the Gandharba’s instrument and has worked hard to elevate the musicians’ status and preserve their traditions. Sushil feels fortunate that he got to study with a very good teacher, Khim Bahadur Gandharba, who is a well-known sarangi player. In fact, he was the first sarangi player, selected by the king, to travel outside of Nepal to perform on a royal visit to Hong Kong and China.  Today, Khim Bahadur Gandharba is nearing 80, and is no longer physically able to play.

Sushil_3instruments

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Sushil moved to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, to pursue his masters in music. Before leaving Nepal, Sushil was teaching sarangi, performing, and making recordings. He also helped establish the Music Museum of Nepal, and wrote his guide to playing the sarangi. One of his motivations is to change the hereditary system of learning sarangi in Nepal, opening the instrument up to everyone.

“When the father wanted the child to chance to learn, even in the same ethnic group, if the caste, if somebody’s father does not know how to play sarangi, even though they belong to the same caste, they have no chance to learn. Because they don’t have a teacher. And they don’t have a book. With the generation gap, now, from my book, everybody can learn sarangi. Even if their father is not a sarangi player.”

 

Six New Apprenticeships Funded by MCC

Monday, August 25th, 2014

We are delighted to announce this year’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants. The following six traditional art forms will be taught by master artists to their apprentices: Irish uilleann pipe playing, South Indian carnatic singing, sign painting and gold leaf, ornamental and architectural wood carving, North Indian Madhubani painting, and South Indian carnatic drumming.

Irish uilleann pipe playing: Joey Abarta, master artist and Caroline O’Shea, apprentice

JoeyAbarta_full____________________________________________________________________

South Indian carnatic singing: Tara Anand Bangalore, master artist and Pratik Bharadwaj, apprentice

Bangalore_Bharadwaj_main

_________________________________________________________________________

Sign painting and gold leaf: Josh Luke of Best Dressed Signs, master artist and Corinna D’Schoto, apprentice

JoshLuke_main___________________________________________________________________________

Ornamental and architectural wood carving: Dimitrios Klitsas, master artist and Spiro Klitsas, apprentice

KlitsasApprenticeship_main___________________________________________________________________________

North Indian Madhubani painting: Sunanda Sahay, master artist and Sanjana Krishna, apprentice

Sahay_apprenticeship_main___________________________________________________________________________

South Indian carnatic drumming on mridangam: Gaurishankar Chandrashankar, master artist and Kaasinath Balagurunath, apprentice

Chandrashankar_apprenticeship_main

Apprenticeships are a long-standing method by which an individual learns skills, techniques, and artistry under the guidance of a recognized master. Applicants were reviewed by a panel of experts who evaluated the artistry of the master artist, skill level of the apprentice, rarity of art form, significance of the tradition,  appropriateness of the pairing, and work plan. Grantees are expected to offer a community presentation at the end of their 9-month long apprenticeship.

To see a list of all MCC-funded apprenticeships since 2002, click here.

MCC announces Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

MCC is delighted to announce the 2014 Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts. Two artists will receive  fellowships in the amount of $10,000 and four artists will receive $500 finalist awards. For more information on MCC Artist Fellowships, look here.

ARTIST FELLOWS:

Elizabeth James Perry, Wampanoag weaving and wampum

Hand woven sash by Elizabeth James Perry

Elizabeth James Perry, (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head) is a fiber artist whose work reflects time-honored Wampanoag materials, techniques, and aesthetics. A scholar of Northeastern wampum and indigenous fiber arts, her work focuses on early contact-period Northeastern Woodlands Algonquian material culture, which features woven regalia (twining, weft weaving), natural dyes, and wampum adornment. She has been the recipient of a New England for the Arts grant (NEFA) and served as a master artist in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

Selected exhibitions include the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT; National Seashores Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham, MA; The Boston Children’s Museum, Boston, MA; Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; and Roger Williams University, Bristol RI.

Jimmy Noonan, Irish flute and tin whistle playing

Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells

Jimmy Noonan is an Irish flute and tin whistle player who grew up steeped in the traditional music of County Clare, Ireland. He learned from traditional musicians who, as he says, were “the pillars of their society, playing for weddings, funerals and political events; their importance was immense.” Dedicated to passing on the tradition, Noonan has run his own music schools in Cleveland and Boston. National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly invited Noonan to teach at Boston College, where he has been an adjunct professor in the music department since 1996. In addition, he has taught at many of the premier Irish Music Summer Schools in the country including Gaelic Roots, Catskills Irish Arts Week, and Milwaukee Irish Fest.  Selected recordings include The Maple Leaf: Irish Traditional Music from Boston and The Clare Connection.

FINALISTS:

Thomas Matsuda, Japanese Buddhist woodcarving

Thomas Matsuda at Lowell Folk Festival 2014. Photo: Greg Cook

Japanese monks inspired Thomas Matsuda to study his art in Japan. He apprenticed under one of the leading classical Buddhist sculptors in Japan, Koukei Eri. Masuda went on to develop his own distinct style, while living in a remote Japanese mountain village, where he carved more than two hundred sculptures for temples, shrines, and patrons. A decade later, Matsuda returned to the Massachusetts, where he continues to carve Buddhist sculpture and to teach. Influenced by the rough-hewn rustic style of Enku, Matsuda’s works, rendered in stone and wood, can be found displayed among leading Buddhist centers and temples.  Selected commissions include a 7-ton marble Buddha for the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Grafton, NY and Budda’s Feet for the Leverett Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA.  He has demonstrated woodcarving at several Lowell Folk Festivals.

Daphne Board, Custom shoemaking

Hand made shoes by Daphne Board

Cordwainer Daphne Board makes made-to-measure, custom built shoes and boots using wooden or plastic lasts.  She learned her cordwaining skills through an apprenticeship with a shoemaker in Nova Scotia, who himself had learned from an Italian shoemaker. Since then, she has set up own shop in Holyoke. Board is a member of the Honorable Cordwainers Company. She relies on a small community of shoe and bootmakers for advice, locating leather suppliers, and continuing to learn traditional techniques.  In addition to her stunning leather work and keen eye for color, Daphne Board is on her way to becoming a certified pedorthist, someone skilled in making orthotics and treating foot problems. “I’m interested in not only making beautiful shoes, but shoes for people who cannot wear factory made, stand-sized shoes.” Board served as a master artist in 2013 Southern New England Traditional Arts Program and was a craft artist at 2012 Lowell Folk Festival, Lowell, MA.

Vincent Crotty, European sign craft

Cumann na nGaeilge sign by Vincent Crotty

For the past 23 years, Vincent Crotty has been making hand-painted signs created using old-world techniques like wood-graining, marbleizing, freehand lettering, and pictorial designs. Traditional sign craft, a skill that has almost been obliterated by computer graphics, is an art form that has been handed down from father to son, master to apprentice, for centuries. Born in Ireland, Crotty learned his craft in his 20s, at a trade school called Fas, where his teachers had learned through the old-world guild system. Tools of the trade include sign quills and special sable hair brushes; materials include sign enamels, gold leaf, varnish, and shellac.

Crotty’s work can be found on neighborhood storefront signage throughout Boston, local churches, pubs, and on signage for Irish music festivals around the country. Selected commissions include The Irish Cultural Centre, Canton, MA; Irish Arts Week, East Durham, NY; Codman Academy, Dorchester, MA; St. Mark’s, St. Ambrose, St. Margaret’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Ann’s, Dorchester, MA; St. Ann’s, Quincy, MA.

Mal Barsamian, Armenian and Middle Eastern music

Malcolm Barsamian on saxophone

Multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Barsamian grew up in a household rich in Middle Eastern music. He comes from a family of oud players starting from his grandfather, his father, his great-uncle, and uncle. His father, Leo, had four-year-old Malcolm sitting in on dumbeg at Armenian picnics. As a youngster, Barsamian listened to old recordings of Armenian and Middle Eastern Masters, picking up the ability to improvise. Classical training enhanced his musical skills and his ability to perform Armenian and Middle Eastern music.

He has gone on to become a sought-after player of the oud and dumbeg, as well as instruments such as clarinet, guitar, and saxophone, performing in the Armenian and Greek communities for over thirty years. Barsamian is well schooled in the underlying theory of Turkish classical music, and related music of the Middle East, Armenia, and the Balkan countries. In addition to teaching, Barsamian plays regular for concerts, community events, weddings, and festivals concerts, reinvigorating and preserving the music of his Armenian heritage. Selected performances include the Armenian Festival, Watertown, MA; Armenian Festival, 2008; Birmingham, MI; Lowell Folk Festival, 2012, Lowell, MA; The St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church, Arlington, MA;Tufts University, 2010, Medford, MA; and The African Museum,2013, Detroit, MI. Barsamian recorded One Take: Armenian Dance Songs in 2005.

 

 

 

 

History of Dance in Cambodia

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Buppha Devi

Journey from 1965 Cambodia to present-day Lowell and experience the transformation of an art form, once almost lost. Our next Lowell Folklife Series takes place on November 19, 2013 at the Visitor Center at Lowell National Historical Park. We begin by screening a 1965 documentary portraying the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. At the time of filming, the ballet performed exclusively for the elite and was patronized by the queen of Cambodia.

Photo of Reamker dance

Scenes show royal dancers being trained, masks and costumes being made, rehearsals, and the indoctrination of novices into the service of dance. Among several pieces portrayed in the film is the Apsara Dance, which features a special performance by Princess Bupphadevi.

Following the screening November 19th, audience members will be treated to a live performance by members of Angkor Dance Troupe. This screening is the first in the “Evolution of Cambodian Dance Film Series” presented by Angkor Dance Troupe.

6:00 p.m.   Welcome & introduction

6:15 p.m.    Film Screening

7:45 p.m.    Live dance performance

Come join us. The event is free and open to the public.  For information about Teacher Professional Development Points, contact the Tsongas Industrial History Center: TIHC@uml.edu

Watch Live webcast of National Heritage Fellows Concert

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

We are coming up on the last week of September, which means it’s time for the annual feting of our country’s National Heritage Fellows. This year’s fellows include former Massachusett’s resident and Irish fiddler extraordinaire, Seamus Connolly.

The National Council for Traditional Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts produce a spectacular evening performance September 27th at Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus. Fortunately, for those unable to attend the concert, the event will be live streamed at arts.gov,  with an archive available following the event. Viewers can share comments and photos on
Twitter using the hashtag #NEAHeritage. You may also request copies of
the concert program by emailing heritage@arts.gov.

Latin Music & Dance Night with Alexander & his Quinteto

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Bachata, both a genre of music and a type of dance, originated in the Dominican Republic during the early parts of the last century, later spreading to other parts of Latin American and Mediterranean Europe.

In its early days, bachata was unofficially banned from radio play and concert halls by those in power. Eventually, bachata’s popularity could not be denied. Come find out why at the next Lowell Folklife Series event.

Time: Saturday February 23, 2013

7:00 p.m. dance lesson; 8:00 p.m. live music

Place:  The Counting House, 2nd Floor, Boott Cotton Mills Museum

115 John Street, Lowell, MA 01852

Learn the basics of bachata and merengue dance of the Dominican Republic with National Park Ranger Victor Medina. Then listen and dance to the music of Alexander el Cantante and his Quinteto. Born in Venezula, Alexander Faria began singing and performing as a child. He came to Boston in 1995 and has been active in the Latin music scene ever since.

Seating will be provided, however ample space will be left open for dancing.

Return of the Lowell Folklife Series

Friday, January 25th, 2013

We’re delighted to announce the 2013 Winter/Spring season of the Lowell Folklife Series. These free public events featuring craft, music, dance, & foodways traditions are presented by Lowell Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. See full schedule here.

Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles with Chef Gene Wu (watch video)
Place: Event Center @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA
Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Latin Dance Night with Alexander Faria & el Quinteto: Dance lesson @ 7:00; live music @ 8:00
Counting House @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John St., Lowell, MA
Saturday February 23, 2013 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Women’s Singing Traditions: Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Saturday March 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs with Harold A. Burnham, Erik Ronnberg, Jr., & Greg Bover

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Sunday April 21, 2013 @ 3:00 p.m.

 

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians with Balla and Sekou Kouyate on West African Balafons & Sixto “Tito” Ayala and Estefany Navarro on Puerto Rican Congas

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m.

For more information click here
Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719

Next Lowell Folklife Series features RUMBAFRICA

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

The Lowell Folklife Series  is pleased to support the headliner band, Rumbafrica at the 2012 African Festival in Lowell, MA. The festival takes place Saturday June 16, 2012 at the Sampas Pavillion along Pawtucket Boulevard. Rumbafrica is led by Congolese guitarist/singer Tshibangu Kadima. They play a rumba dance music called Soukous (derived from the French word meaning “to shake”), which originated in the 1930s. The group features a variety of African percussion and several dancers.  They will  be performing sets at 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm, and 6:00 pm.

In addition to live music and dance performances throughout the day, there will be traditional African crafts and food. Below are some photos from our visit to the festival in 2009

African Festival, Ethnic festival, 2009; African Festival of Lowell; Lowell, Massachusetts; Photography by Signe Porteshawver

Drummer in Mamadou Diop band; Ethnic festival; 2009:

Young boys in African Festival t-shirts; Ethnic festival; 2009: Lowell, Massachusetts

Woman selling African fabrics; Ethnic festival; 2009: Lowell, Masachusetts

Festival photos taken by Signe Porteshawver for the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Sophia Bilides sings Smyrneika

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Sophia Bilides. Photo by Valerie Catrow, 2009.

We have been trying to get this superb singer to the Lowell Folk Festival for many years, but she has always been away in Greece during the festival. Not only will Sophia Bilides be appearing at this summer’s folk festival, she and her trio will be performing for the Lowell Folklife Series, in an 8:00 p.m.  concert this Saturday, March 24th.

Sophia Bilides is considered the “foremost practitioner of the Greek singing style known as Smyrneika” (Boston Globe), the cabaret song tradition of the Greek Asia Minor refugees of the 1930s and ‘40s. She accompanies herself on santouri (the Greek hammered dulcimer) and zilia (finger cymbals), backed by master musicians Mal Barsamian on outi (oud) and kythara (guitar), and Mike Gregian on doumbeleki (hand drum). Although many in Lowell’s Greek community won’t need it, Bilides  provides translations and song contexts to help bring audiences into the intimate atmosphere of an Anatolian cafe-aman. Song lyrics, which are set to richly intricate melodies, Middle Eastern modes, and sensual rhythms, voice the universal themes of nostalgia for lost homelands, endurance, love in all its guises, and the celebration of life.

Consider joining us as we celebrate Women’s History Month and Greek Independence Day by attending this free concert on March 24th in the Visitor Center of Lowell National Historical Park. No reservations required.


css.php