March 21, 2013
On September 11, 2001, Ugandan coffee farmer J.J. Keki was visiting Manhattan on a lecture tour to talk about the Abayudaya, his Jewish community in Uganda. After the terrorist attacks that day, he returned home and organized Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighbors into a fair-trade coffee cooperative, Mirembe Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”), with the belief that in a time of war and violence, people must do everything they can to spread messages of peace. Music is an essential part of Ugandan culture and coffee growers often sing about their experiences in the field, so the cooperative began composing songs that extolled the social and economic virtues of their interfaith project. Soon guitar groups and choirs of farmers around the region were singing the benefits of their collective efforts.
Jeffrey A. Summit, a music professor at Tufts university, traveled to Mbale to record the cooperative’s songs, 16 of which he has compiled on Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music & Interfaith Harmony in Uganda, out April 9 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. In the interview below, Summit discusses the messages of peace, and what the growers have to teach every coffee-drinking American.
How did this album come together?
I started working with the Abayudaya (Jewish) community in Uganda in 2000. After I finished the Smithsonian Folkways album Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda, I went back for three additional research trips that specifically concentrated on Mbale’s Delicious Peace Fair Trade cooperative. All the tracks were live field recordings in the deepest sense of the word, taken in the middle of coffee fields, or in little villages or religious buildings.
What styles of music are represented on the album?
The collection represents a range of musical styles, from women’s choirs to village guitar music to traditional Ugandan music, which uses instruments like the endingiri, a one-string tube fiddle.
What are these songs about?
In East Africa, as in much of Africa, music plays an essential role in community education. These songs are used to spread specific messages. Many of the songs teach people how to plant and process coffee. The quality of coffee very much depends on the careful way that it’s picked and harvested, so the songs stress things like “put the coffee up on a raised stand to dry so the goats won’t pee on it.” The farmers also sing about the economic benefits of fair trade to get more farmers to join them. Increasing the production power of the cooperative helps them get money to send kids to school, to buy clothes, to get medical treatment. And a third part of the message is about the benefits of interfaith cooperation. Delicious Peace is a Jewish, Muslim and Christian cooperative, and the farmers sing about how respect between these different religions brought peace and prosperity to their community.
What do you hope listeners will take away from this record?
Americans are so strongly connected to the coffee they drink in the morning, but they don’t see the human beings behind their cup of coffee. One of the things I learned again and again in the course of my research was that there’s no mechanized way to harvest good quality coffee. A coffee farmer has to walk into the fields, look at the coffee tree, discern what cherries are ripe that day, pick them, and then go through a whole complex process of sorting, pulping and drying them, in addition to transporting them many kilometers on their backs or on a bicycle to offices. I hope this music will be a way for us to experience the humanity of the people without whose labor there wouldn’t be a cup of coffee in front of us in the morning.
Also, the music rocks. Lots of people don’t listen to this kind of traditional music, so I hope the fact that the album has a compelling story around it brings people to these wonderful songs, which are really very typical to the styles of music played in this part of Uganda.
What is your personal connection to the music?
Being connected to this cooperative and understanding its farmers’ lives through these songs has given me real sense of hope that people are able to bridge differences to address very difficult issues. So many people responded to 9/11 with xenophobia or a sense of powerlessness. Yet you had these Ugandan coffee farmers coming forward to say, “our response to 9/11 is that we have to use whatever we have to teach the world to live in peace. We have coffee, so we’ll use coffee to teach peace to the world.” This tremendously creative, hopeful and empowering message has had a great impact on me.
CORRECTION 3/25/2013: Delicious Peace will be released on April 9, not March 26 as this article previously stated.
January 21, 2013
Inauguration day, it’s finally here, along with millions of visitors looking to take in some uniquely D.C.-culture. While our special presidents tour from our visitors guide app will keep you exploring in your spare-time, this post is all about the when, where and how of January 21. Plus, a few select events happening around the Smithsonian, you know, in between the whole inauguration thing.
On Inauguration Day, January 21, Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A few museums will open early—the Castle opens at 7:30 a.m., Sackler Gallery, Freer Gallery, Hirshhorn and African Art open at 8 a.m. Mall entrances on the south side will be closed. Visitors will be asked to use the Independence Ave. entrances.
The American Indian Museum and the Renwick Gallery are closed January 21.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Luce Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Lunder Conservation Center will be closed Sunday, January 20.
Most streets around the National Mall—including Independence and Constitution avenues and Jefferson and Madison drives—will be closed Monday, January 21.
The Archives, Smithsonian and Mt. Vernon Square stations will be closed Sunday, January 20 to Monday, January 21, midnight to 5:30 p.m. All other stations will open Monday, January 21 at 4 a.m.
No Parking on the National Mall after 6 p.m. on Sunday, January 20.
All museums, open to the public during designated hours, have accessible restrooms
Live broadcast of the swearing-in ceremony in Flag Hall in American History Museum, beginning at 11:30 a.m. A live broadcast will also begin at 11:30 a.m. at the African Art Museum.
Inaugural theme walk-in tours, Monday, January 21, 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the American Art Museum.
For “Super Sonic Weekend: Sounds and Songs of the American Presidency” (all day Monday), Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is streaming audio recordings related to the American presidency, from a 1757 campaign song used by George Washington in his first race for the Virginia House of Burgesses, to presidential speeches and much more.
Tour America’s Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery at 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
At the National Portrait Gallery: ”Portrait of President Barack Obama” The original artwork, a hand-finished collage by artist Shepard Fairey, from President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign is on view January 19 – 22. The work is joined by two larger-than-life tapestry portraits of the president by artist Chuck Close.
At the American Indian Museum: ”A Century Ago: They Came as Sovereign Leaders” This photo exhibition focuses on President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade and the six great chiefs who participated in the parade arriving with their own purposes in mind and representing the needs of their people.
At the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery in the American History Museum: Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963″ In 2013 the country will commemorate two events that changed the course of the nation-the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington. Standing as milestone moments in the grand sweep of American history, these achievements were the culmination of decades of struggles by individuals – both famous and unknown – who believed in the American promise that this nation was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”
May 30, 2012
Folk legend Arthel “Doc” Watson died last night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was 89 and had been ill since undergoing abdominal surgery last week. Though Watson referred to his own music as simple “country pickin’,” his transformative influence is sure to continue shaping folk music as we know it.
Watson infused the folk music revival of the 1960s with his own distinctive take on the country ballads of his native North Carolina. Blind since infancy, he started his musical training as a young child in the northwestern region of the state. According to his New York Times obituary, Watson’s father made him a banjo and promised to buy him his own guitar if the boy could teach himself a song on the banjo by the end of the day. After learning the Carter Family’s “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland,” he received his first guitar, a $12 Stella. He had dropped out of the Raleigh School for the Blind to work for his father, but soon became a local sensation at various amateur contests.
Watson’s signature was his deft, rapid-fire guitar-picking, a style that soon spread across a new generation of folk musicians. Before Watson’s influence, the guitar was mostly a back-up instrument in folk music. His virtuosity and speed on the guitar showcased the instrument’s potential and triggered a wave of guitarists attempting to match him.
“He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and finger-picking guitar performance,” said the late Smithsonian Folklife director Ralph Rinzler in the liner notes of Watson’s 1993 Smithsonian Folkways album Live Recordings 1963-1980: Off the Record Volume 2. Rinzler was the first to record Watson in the 1960s and struck up a friendship with the musician as he began to make a name for himself.
“On the road to Los Angeles, Doc made a significant commitment to share the automobile driver’s responsibility,” Rinzler recalled in the Folkways album Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, 1960-1962. “He kept me awake and attentive for 48 hours at the wheel by singing unaccompanied songs and regaling me with stories of his family and music…After that, I felt as though Doc and I had grown up together from early childhood, and the group’s repertoire substantially benefited from Doc’s remarkable memory.”
Above all, Watson is remembered for his no-frills, straightforward style that allowed the music to speak for itself. “In addition to being a warm and highly skilled stage performer, Doc Watson off-stage is truly Doc Watson on-stage,” Rinzler said in Live Recordings 1963-1980. There is no entertainment industry gloss added for the benefit of the audience. He’s simply the great human being and musician that we have all come to respect.”
April 24, 2012
This post is part of our ongoing series in which ATM invites guest bloggers from among the Smithsonian Institution’s scientists, curators, researchers and historians to write for us. The National Portrait Gallery’s cultural historian Amy Henderson last wrote about the real-life stories of American socialites who married into British nobility.
Recently, I gave a talk called “Going Gaga: Media and the Rise of Celebrity Culture,” in which I began with George Washington and ended with Lady Gaga. Outrageous? Yes, but early American culture embraced role models who evoked “character,” while later the emergence of a mass media culture shifted our focus to “personality.”
When I give talks like this, people often ask me what characterizes a role model in today’s celebrity culture? Not the notorious figures of tabloid headlines, but iconic figures people want to emulate and who somehow encapsulate “stardom”—movie stars like Gable or Hepburn, dancers like Baryshnikov, rockers like Springsteen. It is a difficult thing to explain, except that we know it when we see it. Last week, for example, I saw the New York City Ballet dance a Gershwin medley with choreography by George Balanchine, and I was transported. Gershwin’s wonderful music and Balanchine’s magical movements transmitted sheer, heart-thumping genius. No other music, nor any other choreography, could have combined to create this unique sense of something extraordinary.
Similarly, when I was growing up my parents played a lot of Louis Armstrong LPs, and even as a child, I understood that Armstrong was “special.” I certainly didn’t know about his role as a pioneering jazz figure then, but I knew I liked the sound of the ebullient personality that came through in his gravelly voice and, of course, in his astonishing trumpet-playing. They would have been overjoyed at the news of a fresh Armstrong recording being discovered and released this spring!
On January 29, 1971, Louis Armstrong played his trumpet in public for what is believed to be his last recorded performance. The occasion was the inauguration of a fellow-Louisianan, Vernon Louviere, as president of the National Press Club. Keeping with a Louisiana theme, Louviere was sworn in holding a bottle of Tabasco sauce instead of a Bible, and the dinner in the Ballroom featured such New Orleans specialties (and Armstrong favorites) as red beans and rice, and seafood gumbo. The evening’s emcee was the witty British television journalist David Frost, newly-knighted by the Queen and popular on both sides of the Atlantic for his high-on-the-radar interview programs.
Armstrong’s performance at the black-tie gala was recorded on a limited edition LP of 300 copies. The original liner notes by Ralph de Toledano explained that the 69-year-old jazz legend had been in such poor health that his doctors warned him not to play for more than ten minutes, but the crowd’s warmth and cheers stretched his performance to half an hour. De Toledano reported, “He played, he sang, he scatted.” Joined by longtime band-mates Tyree Glenn and Tommy Gwaltney, he showed no frailty as he rollicked through such favorites as “Rockin’ Chair,” “Hello, Dolly,” “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Mack the Knife,” and a never before recorded “Boy from New Orleans,” a musical autobiography that he sang to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Today, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings made this historic performance widely available. Listen to his rendition of “Hello Dolly” here.
Released as part of the Smithsonian’s 11th annual celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, “Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours” is the culmination of a multi-year collaboration involving the Press Club, Folkways, and the Louis Armstrong Foundation. Press Club executive director William McCarren explained that although his organization is known worldwide for news and history, it is also “a venue for music and the arts and a forum for entertainers of all kinds.” That “one of the world’s great entertainers found his way to our stage. . . is a pleasure to tell,” and the Club was happy to help make this “great gift to the world” available to all.
The album’s subtitle refers to how Armstrong often signed his letters—“Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours.” Nearly three dozen of his favorite Louisiana recipes are included in the recording’s liner notes, as they were in the original pressing. Now, you too can feast on such Armstrong favorites as shrimp mousse, Louisiana caviar, or Walter McIlhenny’s “Frogs a la Creole.” Where else will you find Armstrong’s version of “Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Punch” or his real-deal “Sazerac Cocktail”?
Armstrong died five months after his Press Club appearance. This newly-released 58-minute recording includes not only his historic performance, but tracks from a tribute concert that Tyree Glenn and his band performed at the Press Club shortly after Armstrong’s death, featuring such classics as “Mood Indigo” and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”
The recording will be released on CD and digital download via Folkways as well as through such retailers as iTunes and Amazon. According to D.A. Sonneborn Armstrong, the associate director of Folkways, the recording has “a wonderful live quality. Armstrong was in fine form that evening. We all wish we could’ve been there, and now we can!”
February 7, 2012
Our inquisitive readers are rising to the challenge we gave them last month. The questions are pouring in and we’re ready for more. Do you have any questions for our curators? Submit your questions here.
How much is the Hope Diamond worth? — Marjorie Mathews, Silver Spring, Maryland
That’s the most popular question we get, but we don’t really satisfy people by giving them a number. There are a number of answers, but the best one is that we honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit like Liz Taylor’s jewels being sold in December—all kinds of people guessed at what they would sell for, but everybody I know was way off. Only when those pieces were opened up to bidding at a public auction could you find out what their values were. When they were sold, then at least for that day and that night you could say, well, they were worth that much. The Hope Diamond is kind of the same way, but more so. There’s simply nothing else like it. So how do you put a value on the history, on the fact it’s been here on display for over 50 years and a few hundred million people have seen it, and on that fact it’s a rare blue diamond on top of everything else? You don’t. – Jeffrey E. Post, mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
What’s the worst impact of ocean acidification so far?- Nancy Schaefer, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The impacts of ocean acidification are really just starting to be felt, but two big reports that came out in 2011 show that it could have very serious effects on coral reefs. These studies did not measure the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather its effect of making the ocean more acidic when it dissolves in the ocean. Places where large amounts of carbon dioxide seep into the water from the sea floor provide a natural experiment and show us how ocean waters might look, say, 50 or 100 years from now. Both studies showed branching, lacy, delicate coral forms are likely to disappear, and with them that kind of three-dimensional complexity so many species depend on. Also, other species that build a stony skeleton or shell, such as oysters or mussels, are likely to be affected. This happens because acidification makes carbonate ions, which these species need for their skeletons, less abundant.
Nancy Knowlton, marine biologist
National Museum of Natural History
Art and artifacts from ancient South Pacific and Pacific Northwest tribes have similarities in form and function. Is it possible that early Hawaiians caught part of the Kuroshio Current of the North Pacific Gyre to end up along the northwest coast of America from northern California to Alaska? — April Amy Croan, Maple Valley, Washington
Those similarities have given rise to various theories, including trans-Pacific navigation, independent drifts of floating artifacts, inadvertent crossings by ships that have lost their rudders or rigging, or whales harpooned in one area that died or were captured in a distant place. Some connections are well-known, like feather garment fragments found in an archaeological site in Southeast Alaska that appear to have been brought there by whaling ships that had stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, a regular route for 19th-century whalers. Before the period of European contact, the greatest similarities are with the southwest Pacific, not Hawaii. The Kushiro current would have facilitated Asian coastal contacts with northwestern North America, but would not have helped Hawaiians. The problem of identification is one of context, form and dating. Most of the reported similarities are either out of their original context (which can’t be reconstructed), or their form is not specific enough to relate to another area’s style, or the date of creation cannot be established. To date there is no acceptable proof for South Pacific-Northwest Coast historical connections that predates the European whaling era, except for links that follow the coastal region of the North Pacific into Alaska.
William Fitzhugh, archeologist
Natural History Museum