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Thanks to our Sponsors: CHEER! Seattle

image004This year Northwest Folklife is excited to have CHEER Seattle join us at the Festival as one of our Entrance Sponsors! CHEER Seattle was founded in 2014 in response to the recent nationwide popularity of adult cheerleading teams. The organization is committed to raising spirits and empowering people into action that supports health and wellness in the LGBT community and beyond.

CHEER Seattle is made up of individuals from all walks of life who come together to support charities and nonprofit organizations in the area. To learn more about what they do, how to get involved or support CHEER Seattle please visit their website or Facebook page.

Thank you CHEER Seattle for your support and dedication to our community!

Visit them on Monday May 25th at the Bagley, Founder’s Court and McCaw Entrances to find out more about what they do and how to get involved!

Folklife 2014 - Friday

Dancing at the Northwest Folklife Festival

Folklife 2014 - FridayAsk any group of people why they come to the Northwest Folklife Festival and chances are at least one of them will say, “because of the dancing.”
Since Folklife’s inception, dancers have played a big part in shaping the festival. Many long-time supporters are dancers or dance musicians. Folklife is the only community-powered festival in the nation where they can merge to enjoy a huge variety of music, lessons and participatory dance. Dancers make deep bonds on the dance floor, pulling them back from all over the country.

From Balkan to Bollywood and Swing to Salsa, Folklife offers instruction and open dancing to everyone. This year’s lineup is packed with beginning and advanced dance styles and lessons; Bollywood, Cajun/Zydeco, Country Swing, High School Swing, Scandinavian, International, East and West Coast Swing, Square and Salsa dancing, Tango, Waltz, and more.
At Warren’s Roadhouse, beginners can also learn what many dancers believe is the simplest dance style; Contra Dance. (Learn more about Contra in a previous blog post here.)

Also rooted deep in American culture and popular in Seattle, this year welcomes Hip-Hop to the stage. A street dance typically danced in crews, Hip Hop was first popularized in the 1970s on the television show Soul Train and in the films Breakin’, Beat Street, and Wild Style, followed by its studio-based version, sometimes called “new style,” and hip-hop jazz dance, “jazz-funk.”
Folklife 2014 - SundayIn addition to participatory dances, demonstrations will be drawn from numerous world cultures. Danced in authentic costumes, these will be performed mostly in the Center House Court or on the International Dance Stage.
Dancing is a wonderful way to “let go” and be completely in the moment – to fully immerse yourself in joy, movement, music and community. So, grab your best dancing shoes and give it a try! Chances are, like so many others, you’ll get hooked!

Coolout Network

Raise the Town Out!

Georgio BrownIf reggae is the heartbeat of life, blues the soul, swing the dance, and jazz the conversation, then Hip Hop, with its driving cadence and spirit, could be called the poetry. And certainly no one is more passionately devoted to giving that poetry a voice than artist/filmmaker Georgio Brown.

For over 20 years Georgio has provided a venue for budding and seasoned hip hop artists to showcase their work through the Seattle public access video series, “Coolout Network” and its online “webisodes.” Today Coolout Network can be seen on the following sites: youtube.com/coolouttv, vimeo.com/georgiobrown, and facebook.com/georgiobrown.

With candor and warmth, Georgio says, “There are a lot of talented Hip Hop artists in the Northwest who need and deserve attention. Coolout Network helps get them the exposure and inspiration they need.”

Involved in Hip Hop since its inception, native New Yorker Georgio, while still in high school, got his video production start filming shorts of rappers.

“I grew up in New York in the early stages of hip-hop,” he says. “When I came out to Seattle in 1991, I started making a series of videos which focused on Seattle’s Hip Hop scene. This grew to a program on Seattle’s public access television, “Coolout Network,” which documented what was happening here in Hip Hop – and I think, helped to inspire a lot of people’s art. I’m also an artist, so I like to give voice to other artists. ”

To this end, Georgio is dedicated to sharing the positive aspects of Hip Hop.

“Hip Hop gives people a place where they can freely express their art,” says Georgio. “Mainstream media tends to promote Hip Hop in a negative light – but I prefer to show its positive influence.”

“ It’s taken some time, but I knew what Hip Hop needed was for an artist to come along and bring positive national attention to it – and that other Hip Hop artists would then be inspired to follow their lead. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis winning four Grammy awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance in 2013 did just that. They showed other artists it can be done.”

Georgio has also brought awareness for Hip Hop to the larger Seattle community.

In recognition of his positive contribution to the Seattle community, in 2004, Georgio and “Coolout Network” received the City of Seattle Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Hip Hop. In 2009 he won local filmmaker of the year at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival with a short he shot and produced about the 206 Zulu Nation. Georgio serves on the organization’s Board of Directors, whose members King Khazm and Kitty Wu prompted Governor Jay Inslee to proclaim the month of November as Washington State Hip Hop History Month. And in November 2015, “Coolout Network” was featured at “Experience Music Project,” Seattle’s museum of contemporary popular culture.

The history of Hip Hop in the Northwest dates back to the late 1970s when high school kids from the Rainier Beach, Rainier Valley, and Central District areas in Seattle started Hip Hop dancing. Local youth clubs and high schools in south Seattle held competitive dance contests called bop-offs. In the early 1980s, soldiers at Tacoma’s military bases also spawned a hip-hop fan base.

Some of the first Hip-Hop dances in Seattle, held at public-housing recreation centers, featured the Emerald Street Boys and Anthony “Sir Mix-A-Lot” Ray. During this time, “Nasty Nes” Rodriguez also launched the Northwest’s first all-rap radio program, Fresh Tracks, and began airing self-produced tracks by Hip Hop artists. In 1985, the Northwest’s first hip-hop label, Nastymix Records, released Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Square Dance Rap.” Nastymix Records gained national attention in 1993, when Mix-A-Lot won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. Hip Hop had launched in the Northwest.

Collaborating with media and technology filmmaker/producer Scott Macklin and Hip Hop historian Mike Clark, Georgio is currently on hiatus from “Coolout Network” to work on a full-length feature documentary about the evolution of Hip Hop in the Northwest. Highlighting three decades of Seattle Hip-Hop history, segments of the documentary will be shown at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Come learn why Hip Hop has become such an enduring, grasssroots part of life in the Northwest.

Douglas Ridings performs Odissi 3

Douglas Ridings Performs Solo Odissi at the Festival

Please enjoy a few words from Douglas Ridings, Odissi dancer and teacher, performing at the 2015 Northwest Folklife Festival. Here he has shared with us the background of this unique dance form and what audiences can expect to see in his Festival performance.
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“Odissi” A classical Indian Dance that has a 2000+ plus history and was suppressed under British Imperialism and nearly lost until it was reconstructed after Indian Independence through textual research, sculptural evidence, remnants of old traditions in the Jatra (roving theaters), and the temple tradition sustained by the Maharis, temple priestesses who were married to the deity of the temple and performed dance as part of their offering. I have learned Odissi dance from Dr. Ratna Roy since 2005. Her teacher was Pankaj Charan Das, the adopted son of a Mahari and a seasoned performer in the Jatra. Combining his knowledge of temple ritual and and theatrical savvy of the Jatra, he was a primary force in the modern reconstruction of Odissi and is today acknowledged as the “Guru of Gurus”.

Douglas Ridings performs Odissi 2The piece is an invocation to Shiva in his form as Nataraj (King of the Dancers) and Yogiraj (King of the Yogis). The music I had commissioned while I was India with Dr. Ratna Roy’s help, so I was in the studio dancing with the drummer while the recording was being made. Odia music has elements of both Karnatic and Hindustani Classical Music as well as it’s own distinctive elements. The costume was custom made from an embroidered silk saree as well as filigree silver jewelry and ankle bells. Odisha is well-known not only for its dance but also its textiles, jewelry, painting and cuisine. Odissi dance itself is characterized by its capacity to blend sacredness and sensuality, its lyricism and gracefulness, and its intricate, subtle complexity and isolations.

I have performed many times at Folklife but always before with Dr. Ratna Roy and her group Urvasi. This is the first year I have been invited to dance as a soloist.

I perform regularly in India, under Dr. Roy’s guidance. When I’m there, I teach Yoga to dancers in Bhubaneswara (Rudrakshya) in exchange for dance training with them and home-cooked food!

-Douglas Ridings

YOU can learn Odissi!

Dr. Roy teaches Beginning Odissi at Velocity Dance Center on Sundays at 3 pm and Douglas Ridings assists her.

Douglas Ridings also teaches a class on Fridays at 7pm at Culture Shakti Dance.

 

EMMA LEE TOYODA

EMP’s 2015 Sound Off Winner Plays Festival

EMMA LEE TOYODACongrats Emma Lee Toyoda!

Northwest Folklife is thrilled to introduce EMP‘s 2015 Sound Off winner, Emma Lee Toyoda to this year’s Festival lineup. If you adore artists like Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens, you’ll fancy Emma’s delightful tunes that will invoke a rural aesthetic charm. This Seattle based singer-songwriter has a dainty, but rustic sound that reveals uniqueness in every song. It may be out of season for her ‘Em & Fran’s Christmas Jams’ album (look for those here!), but her melody and beats will allure year-round.

Emma is an innovative young Seattle artist and Northwest Folklife is excited to include her dazzling charm on stage at this year’s Festival. Check back for the schedule announcement in early May to find out just when Emma will appear.

SEE HER PERFORM LIVE AT EMP’S SOUND OFF!

Kukeri Parade

What Is A “Kukeri?”

KukeriKukeri is a plural for kuker which means a mummer. Mummer’s games are traditional Bulgarian rituals for fertility, regeneration and awakening of the earth, performed by unmarried men around New Year and before Lent. The kukeri reinforce the connection between the people and the land. Through their dance and stumping moves, they chase away the old, the cold and evil, and clear the path for regeneration, fertility and the warmth brought by the spring.

Traditionally, the kukeri wear costumes and scary masks made from animal furs and skins, and heavy bells on the belt to produce a loud noise.  The Kukeri Parade at the Northwest Folklife Festival is performed by men from the Bulgarian community in Seattle.

Check out the 2013 Northwest Folklife Festival parade in the video below!

 

 

 

"Forest LP" by Frida Clement.

Paperstock 2015: Pacific Northwest Poster Art

Paperstock will return to the 2015 Northwest Folklife Festival, and we’re thrilled!

PaperStock features the prints of many current and popular concert poster artists and silkscreen print artists. Art for everyone is the focus of this exhibition and Festival-goers will be able to peruse art and maybe even find their favorite new print to purchase directly from the artist! On-site screen printing demonstrations will also show attendees how prints are produced – we’re very excited.

Here’s a preview of what kind of prints you can expect to see at Paperstock 2015 – BEWARE… this is merely a preview.

Barry

By Barry Blankenship.

Frida Clements

By Frida Clements.

Mike Klay // PowerslideBy Powerslide Design Co.

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Experience Traditional West African Dance with Sohoyini in Bellevue – FREE!

Sohoyini“Sohoyini” translates literally as ‘one heart’ in the Dagbani language of the Dagomba people in Northern Ghana. Sohoyini was created in efforts to unite cultures and to celebrate our diversity through the beautiful dance and music of Africa.

On March 21, 2015, Awal Alhassan, traditional African percussionist and dancer, will bring his West African dance company Sohoyini to Crossroads Bellevue for a special, FREE performance for families and people of all ages to enjoy. To get you ready for his performance, we asked him a few questions – take a peek!

 

NWFL: How did Sohoyini African Dance form and when? 

Sohoyini was founded in 2005 by Dance Director and Choreographer Awal Alhassan when he moved to the United States from Ghana West Africa.

NWFL: What is the cultural background of your performance/art form?

Sohoyini is a pan-African collaboration of traditional arts embracing the music and dance from the countries of Ghana and Guinea, as well as other cultures from the African continent. Sohoyini means “one heart.”  We celebrate not only our roots, but the branches of our new global culture.

NWFL: What is one thing you want your community to know about your work? 

Sohoyini strives to provide a cultural experience that opens minds and hearts to the spirit of Africa. As a music and dance company, Sohoyini celebrates not only the Dagbon tradition of Ghana, but also that of all traditions and backgrounds in which we share the common belief that as human beings, we are one people. Through this we celebrate the true spirit of Africa. By singing, dancing, and making music, we make the movement towards, “one-heart, one-people.”

4918_511372923224_2880552_nNWFL: What can audiences expect to see and experience at your Crossroads performance?

A performance of celebration that will lighten your spirit and bring happiness to your heart.

NWFL: Tell us about the choreography and some of Awal’s inspirations?

Awal Alhassan is the principle choreographer of Sohoyini Dance Company. Many of the dances from Sohoyini are traditional dances from Ghana and other parts of Africa, which Awal has arranged in a modern form. Awal also has created original dances that he has choreographed for the stage, which incorporate contemporary movements influenced by pan-African traditions.

Awal Alhassan has been an ambassador of the Dagomba Traditions for as long as he can remember. Born into a traditional drumming and dancing family in Tamale, Ghana, he has spent his life devoted to the arts of his culture. In addition to his involvement in traditional ceremonies, he has also been extremely involved and passionate in helping to keep his traditions alive. He has worked with numerous performance groups throughout the world, entertaining and educating people of virtually all cultural backgrounds.

Awal has been a professional dancer since he was a young boy. Most notably, Awal was a member of the Centre for National Culture, as well as the National Dance Theatre of Ghana.

NWFL: How did you first come to be involved with Northwest Folklife?

Awal Alhassan has performed with countless groups at Northwest Folklife in the past, including his own Sohoyini Dance Company.

Save The Date!

Learn more here.

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You’re Invited! La Peña Flamenca de Seattle Performs this Saturday in Bellevue

This Saturday, Northwest Folklife and Crossroads Bellevue have programmed an incredible cultural evening with La Peña Flamenca de Seattle! We sat down with Rubina Carmona to get an inside look at all that is La Peña Flamenca and more – take a read!

La Peña Flamenca de SeattleNWFL: How did La Peña Flamenca de Seattle form and when?

RC: La Peña Flamenca de Seattle was formed in 1995 as a performance opportunity organization for the guitar, dance and singing students of my husband, Marcos Carmona and myself.

NWFL: Can you tell us a little about the cultural background of Flamenco?

RC: Flamenco music and dance come from Southern Spain, and have been developed and performed most notably by the Gypsies of that region.

NWFL: What is something you wish the greater community to know about your work?

RC: I’d like the audience to realize how international the appeal of flamenco is.  I’ll  be featuring dancers and musicians from Austria, Russia, Philippines, Chile, Argentina, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

NWFL: More specifically, what can audiences expect to see from these dancers and musicians?

RC: We will be presenting some ensemble work, with all the dancers, some short solos, and live music by guitarists and singers to accompany the dances.

NWFL: Who choreographs your work – how do you create a piece? What are your inspirations?

RC: I basically choreograph the dances, although I’m now being assisted by my advanced students.  All my students have learned to choreograph their own solo material using the materials or “vocabulary” I have taught them.  My inspiration is the music–the singing style determines the spirit and content of the dance.  I listen to examples of singing and guitar and do what the music tells me, and my students have learned to do the same.

NWFL: How did you first come to be involved with Northwest Folklife?

RC: I have been involved with Northwest Folklife since we first moved to Seattle in 1988.

NWFL: Have you heard about the 2015 Cultural Focus (“Beats, Rhymes & Rhythms: Traditional Roots – Today’s Branches”  – basically roots of hip hop) and what do you think?

RC: I have heard of this year’s cultural emphasis.  The evolution of American pop music, blues, jazz, hip-hop parallels the evolution of flamenco, tango, fado, rembetiko and other “urban blues” forms around the world.  The songs deal with very similar subject matter.

FOR MORE ON HOW TO SEE THIS INCREDIBLE SHOW – CLICK HERE.

Folklife 2014 - Friday

Programming & Marketing Internship Opportunity

Come work with us! We are looking for an enthusiastic person to come learn about Northwest Folklife, what it takes to put on a Festival that attracts a quarter million people in the span of just four days – a Festival featuring over 5,000 performers from over 60 cultural communities – and someone who is eager to support the effort. Read on for job details, and don’t be shy… share with friends so we can find a great fit.

Northwest Folklife Programming & Marketing Internship

Interning at Northwest Folklife can be the experience you need to gain a career in event planning, festival production, the music industry, nonprofit management, marketing, fundraising and a whole host of other fields. Interns at Northwest Folklife take on a significant role in executing the largest free community arts festival in the nation and learn how to increase visibility and strengthen the sustainability of a nonprofit organization.

Before you apply:

  • Housing and transportation are not provided. Prospective interns should carefully consider their financial needs as the internships are unpaid.
  • Start and end dates, hours per week, and days of the week are all negotiable based on the intern’s availability
  • All applicants must be able to commit to working Memorial Day weekend, (May 22rd – 25th, 2015) NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Academic credit for internships must be arranged by the intern with their sponsoring institution. Academic credit is up to the discretion of the intern’s college or university
  • Computer resources are limited; prospective interns with laptops are encouraged to apply

Title: Programming & Marketing Intern

Internship Length: Now – June 2015

Hours per week: 15-25

This Internship is central to the programming Northwest Folklife has to offer. This Intern plays a key role in ensuring smooth festival production from a programming standpoint.

Responsibilities

  • Work with the programming staff on Northwest Folklife’s public programs, which include organizing and scheduling specific areas of the annual Northwest Folklife Festival
  • Assist with research, telephone and face-to-face contact with representatives of different ethnic, regional and occupational communities from the Pacific Northwest
  • Complete tasks such as data entry, initiating and following up on correspondence, managing travel for out-of-state performers, scheduling performers
  • Assist in the composition of short articles for the festival program guide or for Festival publicity
  • Help manage performer information for other departments for Northwest Folklife’s use
  • Assist with creating the festival fundraising pitch schedule by working with both the programming and development departments
  • Assist Programming department during the Festival as needed

Requirements

  • Strong communication skills
  • The ability to work as part of a fast-moving team
  • The ability to work with grace under pressure
  • The ability to deal with small details and connect them to a larger whole
  • Knowledge of or experience with cultural arts in the Pacific Northwest
  • An open mind and desire to discover new kinds of music and dance
  • A working knowledge of Word, Excel, Outlook, and databases
  • Ability to work individually as well as in groups
  • A desire to obtain the skills for event production
  • Strong organizational skills
  • A healthy sense of humor

Additionally, anyone with a love of music, arts, and culture is encouraged to apply.

Identified Learning Outcomes:

  • Learn to program performances for large-scale festival production
  • Develop an understanding of event production by working with programmers, production teams, volunteer coordinators, and development teams
  • Create and compile technical requirement books and tech sheets/stage plots for stages and stage managers (an essential skill for anyone interested in a programming career)
  • Gain networking skills – make connections with artists, performers, sponsors, and production teams

To Apply:

Please attach your resume and cover letter to an email to hiring@nwfolklife.org with Programming Internship and your name in the subject line. Although we prefer electronic methods, you may also submit your resume to:

Northwest Folklife

Attn: Programming

305 Harrison St.

Seattle, WA 98109

This position is open until filled

206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 1

Northwest Folklife & 206 Zulu Take on 2015 Cultural Focus

Every year we have the esteemed privilege here at Northwest Folklife to dig in deep to a cultural community with roots here in the Pacific Northwest through our Cultural Focus program. Last year we looked at “India and Its People” and the year before that the unions with “Washington Works.” Every year it’s an eye opening and treasured experience and this year is not different.

 “Beats, Rhymes, and Rhythms: Traditional Roots in Today’s Branches” is a powerful Cultural Focus and we are honored to be connected to and working with Seattle’s powerful Hip Hop community among many – namely, for purposes of this post, 206 Zulu, the Seattle chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation. They will have a helping hand in bringing Folklife’s 2015 Cultural Focus to life this year.

206 Zulu’s focus is to utilize the artistic elements of Hip Hop and urban arts as a platform for positivity and community empowerment within youth and families. They will be celebrating their 11th Anniversary with a series of community events, February 6-8 (you can learn all about these on our Community Calendar here) and in their honor, we’re excited to share a little bit more about 206 Zulu.

206 Zulu's King Khazm206 Zulu co-founder and executive director King Khazm took some time to shed light on his organization, their mission, why the 2015 Northwest Folklife Festival’s Cultural Focus is so important, and what they’ve got planned to celebrate their 11th year. Take a read!

Hi King! Thanks for taking some time with these questions. Tell us, what is your personal relationship to Northwest Folkilfe?

The Northwest Folklife Festival has been an annual gathering spot for myself and peers since around the mid-90s when Hip Hop was first introduced to Folklife. Our organization was established in 2004 and we began a community partnership with Folklife, hosting various Hip Hop events as early as 2008.

 

206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 1What is your elevator pitch for 206 Zulu?

206 Zulu is Seattle’s Hip Hop cultural and community organization that utilizes the artistic elements of Hip Hop and urban arts as a platform for positivity and community empowerment within youth and families. 206 Zulu is also the Seattle Chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation, Hip Hop’s founding family and international community organization that has been pivotal in the inception and expansion of Hip Hop culture since the early 70s.

 

Happy 11th Anniversary! That’s big news. What does this landmark year mean to the organization and its community?

This February 6-8, 2015 we’ll be celebrating our 11th anniversary of 206 Zulu. The anniversaries are our flagship events of the year where we host a weekend full of programming that often includes music performances, workshops, panels, art showcases, local vendors and non profits, and dance competitions and showcases. Hip Hop has many artistic “elements” that it’s comprised of, however it isn’t always combined together. Our anniversaries are special because we unite the elements and bring respective communities together under one roof in the spirit of “Peace, Unity, Love & Havin’ Fun”.

206 Zulu has grown from a very small grassroots community group to an internationally esteemed non-profit organization. We are still “grassroots” in some regards and operate without any full time paid staff, however are so fortunate to have such an amazing community, and programmatically and organizationally have accomplished so much over the last decade.

 

How did 206 Zulu create its community?

206 Zulu’s membership is comprised of musicians, artists, producers, dancers, organizers, teachers, and various people in the community who either love Hip Hop or just want to be a part of something positive that is about serving the greater community. We build community through our interpersonal relationships with friends, families, peers, through our partnerships with other groups and organizations, as well as various schools, community centers, venues and spaces we connect with.

 

206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 2What do you think about Northwest Folklife’s 2015 Cultural Focus?

To see Hip Hop grow over the years and expand in new ways unimaginable has been truly remarkable. I would have never imagined a focus around roots of Hip Hop would be a Cultural Focus at Northwest Folklife. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

What would you like to see in Northwest Folklife’s Cultural Focus programming line-up?

DJ/turntablist exhibitions, live producer showcases, breakdance competitions and cyphers (open dance circles), graffiti and urban art expo, lots of music and performances, spoken word and poetry, drum circles, photography exhibitions, workshops, panel discussions, classes, but also the lineage of Hip Hop, which is just as important. (There is so much!) Funk, Soul, Blues, Reggae, Jazz, Gospel, African rhythms, Salsa, Rock, capoiera, martial arts, comic books, etc.

 

Who needs to know about this Cultural Focus and why?

Everyone – especially people who hate Hip Hop. People who hate it often don’t know the full spectrum of what it is and generally get their perspective of it through the media, which is often a complete misrepresentation of Hip Hop. Think corporate interest/market driven, commodified, materialistic, misogynistic, demonizing, ignorant, etc.

It’s completely understandable if the music of Hip Hop isn’t your cup of tea, but most people don’t see what the full spectrum of Hip Hop is, much less that it’s not just a genre of music.

 

206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 3So, what exactly do you have coming up that the Northwest Folklife community can experience?

Our anniversary is not just about celebrating the organization and its accomplishments, but celebrating our beloved community and the many communities within the community. Bringing people together in the spirit of positivity and community empowerment. Bringing generations together; honoring and preserving the past but also introducing the elders to the newest generations and seeing how Hip Hop and its elements are evolving. Children are present and become inspired while having fun with their families and other children. All of this IS the roots of Hip Hop. Hip Hop has very little to do with what you see on TV and hear on the radio. It’s much bigger than that. That’s why we do what we do and have events like these.

Aside from speaking to the roots of Hip Hop through practice, many of the workshops and panels elaborate and speak to the roots of Hip Hop directly, philosophically and historically.

 

Learn more about 206 Zulu here.

La Peña Flamenca de Seattle

What Is Flamenco?

La Peña Flamenca de SeattleFlamenco as we know it began to be recognized within Spain and internationally during the last half of the Eighteenth Century.  From there, it has followed the same trajectory as a number of other “urban blues” forms, and has become one of the most successful and prominent of those forms.  Think for a moment of American Jazz, Argentine Tango, Greek Rembetiko and Portuguese Fado, all arising from rural or urban conditions of poverty and oppression, moving to the cabaret or nightclub phase in cities, and at length overcoming the prejudices of the more privileged classes and appealing to a world-wide audience.  In the case at least of flamenco, jazz and tango, the forms have been highly developed both musically and technically and have been successfully presented on the concert stage.

In the case of flamenco, however, the roots go back thousands of years and thousands of miles.

Spain has had a vibrant musical and dance tradition since ancient times; dancers from Cadiz, playing what resemble castanets, have been pictured in Roman mosaics.  Spain was one of the Roman Empire’s most important components, but within the millennium before the Roman conquest, it had been settled by immigrant Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Jews as well as its native Iberians.  There is a strong possibility that the Spanish art of bullfighting developed from ancient Greek beliefs and ceremonies associated with the bull.  Bullfighting later became one of the important themes of flamenco singing, and members of the same family often go into each profession.

After the collapse of Rome, Spain was ruled for several centuries by the Visigoths.  Spain had become Christianized late in the Roman period, and the Visigoths, although only roughly civilized, practiced Christianity as well.  The country was invaded in 711 by a Muslim army comprising Arabs, Berbers and Moors from North Aftrica, as part of the whirlwind conquest of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern territory by the new religion of Islam.  Under the leadership of Tarik b. Ziyad, all of Spain save for a small portion of the north and west, swiftly fell into  Muslim hands.

In the eighth ninth and tenth centuries, Al-Andalus, as Muslim Spain was called, enjoyed

a remarkably enlightened and tolerant rule by the Umayyad Dynasty under the Caliphate of Cordoba.  The Spaniards refer to this period as “La Convivencia” or the time of living together.

Islam was dominant, but populous communities of both Christians and Jews were allowed to govern themselves locally.  Many Christians converted by Islam, becoming known as Mozarabes.  Culture, especially poetry and music flourished, along with agriculture and medicine.

La Peña Flamenca de Seattle 2All during this time, Christians from the north of Spain were pushing southward, trying to regain their lost territories.  By the eleventh century, they had regained sizeable portions of the north and west of the Iberian Peninsula.

Things took a further turn for the worse for the Caliphate during the eleventh century when two waves of austere Islamic fanatics, first the Almoravids and later the Almohads, invaded from their kingdoms in Northwest Africa.  These invaders found the culture of Al-Andalus decadent, and greatly damaged the culture of tolerance that the territory had previously enjoyed.  Nonetheless, it was the descendants of these invaders who were to rule the ever-shrinking Muslim Spain until their final defeat by the Christians in 1492.

As the Christians began to take back territory from the Muslims, by and large they continued to practice “convivencia” with the Mudejares (Muslims in Christian territory) and Jews, and to respect the high level of civilization of the lands and peoples newly conquered.  This began to change after the conquest of Sevilla in 1248, and in 1391 a horrendous attack against the Jews was perpetuated.  The Inquisition was officially established in Spain in 1478, and in 1492, the same year that Granada fell to the Christians, the Jews were expelled from Spain.  Some fled to the Ottoman Empire, some to North Africa, some to other parts of Europe, and some to Mexico.

The Muslim population of the Kingdom of Granada had been promised that their faith and properties would be respected, but these promises were soon retracted.  By 1502, the Muslims were forced to choose between conversion to Christianity  or exile, much like the Jews.  By 1609, after several rebellions by the Muslim population, they too were expelled.  Most returned to North Africa, where they received a mixed welcome, now being regarded as “westernized” by their new hosts.  Meanwhile, areas abandoned by the Moors became depopulated and impoverished.

But there were many Jews and Muslims who fled into the countryside and mountains, hiding and eventually intermarrying with sympathetic local people.  The Andalusian population of today shows evidence of the intermingling of European, African and Middle Eastern traits.  These people and their musical traditions became a strong component of flamenco.

Close to this calamitous time, around the 1450’s, the Gypsies, or Rom People, appeared in Spain.  We know that several hundred thousand crossed the Pyrenees, and travelled south slowly.  There are Gypsies all over Spain, but most of them seem to have settled in Andalusia.

There are some theories that another wave of Gypsies travelled across North Africa and up into Andalusia while the territory was Muslim but there is no hard evidence of this.

All researchers agree that the Rom originally came from the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent.  They were a wandering tribe, like many still in India.  They travelled to Egypt (hence the name “Gypsy”), Turkey, the Balkans, Central Europe and through France into Spain.

They have been universally persecuted, oppressed, and even enslaved all the way through their travels.  Upon arriving in Spain, they were obliged to stop their wandering and to settle, although until recently there were still itinerant Canasteros living in Spain.

La Peña Flamenca de Seattle 3 It is not surprising that once the Gypsies were established in Andalucia they would have become acquainted with the “underground” Moors and Jews, as well as disaffected and poor Christian Spaniards, and discovered their musical traditions.  Wherever the Gypsies have travelled, they have taken the native musical styles and preserved and embellished them (another example: Hungary and Romania, with heavy Gypsy populations, have a great deal of Gypsy influence in their music).

The next several centuries were extremely difficult for Spain and most of her people.  Much of her economy was weakened by the expulsions and harassment of its industrious minorities; her wealth was squandered fighting wars all over Europe, and her colonies were beginning to agitate for independence.  The plight of Spain’s poor was abysmal.

By the late eighteenth century, the music that was to become known, mostly in its “cante hondo” form, was beginning to become known.  The aristocracy was hiring Gypsy musicians for entertainment.  The occasional traveler in rural Andalusia was making note of this mournful and exotic singing style.

By the nineteenth century, flamenco had “come to town”.  Gypsy artists continued to be hired privately, as they are to this day, but by 1860 certain urban districts in and near Sevilla, Jerez and Cadiz were becoming known for their Cante styles and artists.  The age of the Cafes Cantantes had arrived.  These were “flamenco cabarets”, featuring guitarists, singers and both male and female dancers in formal performance dress.  Many of the styles we will be exploring in the next pages were developed and refined during this stage, and singers and dancers who performed during this golden age are still referred to in songs and poetry that are performed today.

A seminal event occurred in June of 1922.  The composer Manuel de Falla, with the collaboration of Federico Garcia Lorca, Joaquin Turina and Andres Segovia, along with other artists, musicians and writers organized a “concurso de cante”; a contest for singers, in the hopes of stimulating interest among the general public in this art form and encouraging new talent.

Around this time also, flamenco began to be presented on the concert stage.  Two classically trained, Argentine-born dancers of Spanish descent, La Argentina and La Argetinita, although not purely flamenco dancers, raised consciousness of the unique Spanish art form around the world.  La Argentinita staged the flamenco show “Las Calles de Cadiz” with the best artists of the times during the 1930’s.  The public’s appetite for flamenco, along with the artform’s own evolution, has grown exponentially ever since.

 

Experience local Flamenco live, Feburary 21 at Crossroads Bellevue – FREE!

Historical written by Rubina Carmona, Flamenco singer/dancer, La Peña Flamenca de Seattle