Posts Tagged ‘folk and traditional arts’

Jack’s Wild Irish Adventure

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

So I am back at the Arts and Humanities Council after a month-long stint in Ireland, visiting family and just getting in touch with those fleeting cultural roots that can sometimes be a struggle to get in touch with. That, essentially, is what Montgomery Traditions here at AHCMC is all about. And as a preface to our upcoming segment on Irish folk arts in Montgomery County, I thought I’d share a little piece about my experiences there.

For someone interning for an organization that tries to expand one-dimensional perceptions about other countries and cultures, Ireland can be a little frustrating. Because a lot (and I mean a lot) of my experiences could have passed as travel brochures published by the Irish Bureau of Tourism (unsure if that is a real institution). Folksy landladies really do offer you tea at your bed and breakfast that looks over a verdant green countryside. Some places really do seem to have more cows than people, and possibly more pubs than cows. And those pubs, much more often than not, will have traditional Irish music sessions playing in them from as early as 4:00pm to as late as 2 in the morning.

That, though, was hands down my favorite part. Some of the best music I’ve heard in my life I stumbled upon when all I had been looking for was a place to have a pint. While sessions are certainly not impromptu, they’re not advertised or even booked ahead. While some took place on a small stage, the majority of players sat on barstools or at tables, stopping intermittently to sip at their drinks as if they were simply patrons of the bar like everyone else. The bands don’t tour or sell tickets; they don’t even have names (though one of them really liked that I kept calling everything “super baller”, an Americanism which I retrospectively feel a little ashamed of bringing overseas, even more so when they decided they’d use it as their band name). The music itself isn’t really the point; its the atmosphere that music engenders, the way it makes people feel as they listen to it, and creates a small community out of a room full of strangers. It’s a pretty excellent phenomenon, and it’s probably what I miss the most about Ireland.

But as our upcoming segment on Irish music will reveal, its not something you need to travel all the way to Ireland for. There is a thriving community of Irish musicians in Montgomery County, and you only need to go as far as McGinty’s Pub in Silver Spring to find Irish music sessions of the caliber I saw during my trip. It’s something definitely worth seeing for yourself.

Rich cultural heritage: right in our backyards

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Now that the Montgomery Traditions website is finally up and running, I’m taking a little bit of time to reflect on the process as we prepare ourselves for adding even more content from more traditional arts groups from all around Montgomery County. And as I go over the stories I worked on with John Murph over the last few months, I can’t help but be impressed with the fact that so many artists have decided to make Montgomery County their home. I don’t feel that Washington D.C. gets recognized as the arts-rich city that it is, compared to New York or Chicago; Montgomery County even less so, being a suburb of Washington. But the fact is that all of these artists have decided to make Montgomery County their home. Shizumi Manale, for example, is an internationally-recognized performing artist, and after living in Japan and becoming an award-winning performing in San Francisco, she decided make permanent residency here in Montgomery County. Other artists such as Lesole Maine and Diana Saez came to Montgomery County to take advantage of the same opportunities that have drawn in a diverse international community for years. In either case, the county’s unique international appeal has led it to become a hotbed for cultural arts that I think in many ways in unparalleled. I honestly don’t think we get enough credit!

As someone who’s young and has grown up in this county for nearly all my life, I’ve faulted MoCo for being boring, drab, etc. But I think that the abundance of artists that choose to make this county the place where they live and work is an excellent litmus test of how culturally viable and important Montgomery County is. We have created a dynamic, multi-faceted community which artists from all over the world have recognized not only as an optimal environment for conducting their own projects, but as a place worth investing in culturally. We should follow their lead and be proud of our county and the art it facilitates and produces.

Maryland Traditions Gathering

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Photo by Shane Carpenter

As a longtime resident of Montgomery County I am aware of the wealth of cultural diversity present in the area. I have enjoyed the food of cultures I know little about, listened to live music performances from countries I have never been to, and marveled at art I don’t fully understand. But at this past Thursday’s gathering and showcase of the Maryland Traditions network I was given a rare opportunity to not just experience these cultures vicariously, but to interact with the practitioners directly.

Photo by Shane Carpenter

Photo by Shane Carpenter

From the heart of Montgomery County to the edges of the state, ambassadors of Maryland’s traditional and folk culture came to schmooze and amuse. Exchange abound and spirits high, attendees were treated to an opportunity to speak directly with tradition bearers in a congenial atmosphere over a multi-cultural feast, featuring traditional Maryland crabcakes and Pit Beef BBQ as well as additional delicacies offered by local producers and vendors, including fresh corn tortillas and tacos offered by Baltimore’s Tortillaria Sinaloa. Discussions continued over a delicious dessert of locally produced ice cream by Blooms Broom Dairy and included dialogues about specific artistic disciplines, regional identity and community, and local economy.

The evening culminated in a showcase of the “Maryland Masters;” exceptional tradition bearers performing alongside apprentices that are working to keep their traditions alive. From Western traditions such as gospel performer Burton DeBusk and jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist to world traditions such as the beautiful mother-daughter pairing of Hindustani performers Samia and Irum Ahmad and the lively and complex rhythms by Persian Sufi percussionist Ali Analouei and the SAMA ensemble, the event captured the diverse offerings of the area. This included a wonderful representation of Montgomery County’s vibrant Hispanic community, which featured the fiery Colombian vellenato accordion playing of Gustavo Nieto and his apprentice Edwin Lozana as well as the beautiful interlocking melodic patterns of Robert Giron and family’s marimba playing.

Samia Ahmad, Photo by Shane Carpenter

Though seemingly disparate, the evenings events were united by the deft hands of skilled practitioners, the refined sensibilities of seasoned cooks, and the curiosities of a public hungry for culture.

Photos taken by Shane Carpenter.

Maryland Traditions Gathering and Showcase 2010

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Each year the Maryland Traditions presents a gathering and showcase featuring  recipients of the masters and apprenticeship awards.  The day is a celebration of folk and traditional artists from throughout the state and is a unique opportunity to engage with the artists, community members and colleagues all in one place.  The traditions presented encompass art forms long rooted in Maryland communities from fox hunting, musical instrument and boat building to centuries old traditions  based in diverse cultural communities throughout the state.

As director of Montgomery Traditions I’m very excited as this year’s gathering features four Montgomery County based folk and traditional arts apprenticeship pairs.  These artists from Montgomery County represent a glimpse at the wealth and breadth of folk and traditional arts practiced in our community.  The Montgomery-based artists include Colombian vallenato accordion master Gustavo Nieto and apprentice Edwin Lozano, Hindustani Classical vocalist Samia Ahmad and apprentice Irum Ahmad, Persian sufi percussionist Ali Analouei and apprentice Giti Abrishami with the Sama Ensemble and Guatemalan marimba master Robert Giron and apprentice Beverly Giron of Marimba Linda Xelaju.

There is something for everyone with a passion for folk and traditional arts from material and occupational culture to culinary traditions for the foodies. Come honor and celebrate the recipients of the ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Awards, presented annually to individuals and organizations who exemplify outstanding stewardship of Maryland’s traditions. The award is given in three categories: People, Place, and Tradition.

The event schedule includes:
3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
•    Edwin Remsberg Photo Exhibit- Masters and apprentices;
•    Maryland Masters of Material & Equestrian Arts – Live Demonstrations;
•    Economy & Community – Maryland’s Traditional Small Businesses;
•    Serving Up Traditions – Traditional Cooks Share Their Stories;
•    2010 ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Awards Ceremony and;
•    Taste of Traditions – “The Meal”
7:30 pm
•    Maryland Masters Showcase

2010 Gathering and Showcase Maryland Masters
Date:      Thursday, June 10, 2010
Time:     Gathering  – 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Showcase – 7:30 pm
Venue:  Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore 21224

Tickets for the evening performance are gratis if you register for the daytime gathering. Otherwise they are $8 ($6 for Creative Alliance members). For tickets go to Creative Alliance, Maryland Traditions or call 410-276-1651 to order.

Maryland Traditions web site

AHCMC Montgomery Traditions at the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

The AHCMC Montgomery Traditions program presented two of Montgomery County’s outstanding traditional artists at the first ever Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival on April 24th in Silver Spring.  Hindustani classical vocalist Samia Mahbub Ahmad and El Salvadoran singer and composer Lilo Gonzalez performed wonderful musical selections and framed their performances to address a range of issues relating to human rights and “unification in the midst of diversity.”  The afternoon program, presented in McGinty’s Public House to an audience of almost 90, was a picture of diversity including families and individuals from throughout Montgomery County and the District of Columbia.

Samia Mahbub Ahmad’s performance transported the audience into a liminal state with melodious raags and lyrics that addressed spiritual unity.  During her performance Samia presented the background for each song, imparting the source of the poetry, spiritual message, and musical references including the raags (melodic modes) and tala (rhythmic meter) of each piece.  After her performance Samia and her accompanist Jay Parikh and Syud Amer Ahmed fielded a range of audience questions.

(l-r) Jay Parikh - tabla, Samia Mahbub Ahmad - vocalist and harmonium, Syud Amer Ahmed – tanpura

Lilo Gonzalez’ spirited performance had the young folks dancing as he sang and spoke about the need to work for human rights and dignity for all.  It was clear from their response that some of the young folks knew Lilo’s songs from his work in area schools.  Lilo spoke candidly about the immigrant experience and the need to foster better interpersonal and community relationships. Olivia Cadaval, Folklorist and Chair, Cultural Research and Education with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage served as MC and interlocutor for Lilo’s performance. Lilo’s group included his son Lilo Gonzalez, Jr., Ramón Lopez, Ben Hall, José Lopez and Alfredo Mojica.

(l-r) Ben Hall - trombone, Jose Lopez - congas, Lilo Gonzalez - vocals and guitar, Alfredo Mojico - timbales, Ramón Gonzalez - keyboard

The event was a success due in large part to a group of wonderful and talented volunteers and in-kind contributions from the community.  I’ll close this post with a few quotes from emails I received afterwards. “I enjoyed the cultural interaction and the events very much and feel that the Creative Arts Council in Montgomery County plays a big role in promoting multi-culturalism and communal harmony.”  “Diverse in culture, ethnicity and age.  They loved it!  People were still talking and smiling about it afterward.”

Photographs courtesy of