‘Folk Arts Soul of Syracuse’ festival celebrates refugee, immigrant traditions Oct. 27
‘Folk Arts Soul of Syracuse’ festival celebrates refugee, immigrant traditions Oct. 27October 02, 2007Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
The City of Syracuse has always been a magnet for cultural diversity. Each year, about 700 new immigrants resettle in Syracuse’s city neighborhoods, yet their neighbors know little about their languages, unique cultures and arts. These new residents often have to put aside their music, dance and artistic traditions because they lack the instruments, materials and audiences that would enable them to connect their heritage with mainstream America.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Department of Anthropology, housed in both SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, will present “Folk Arts: Soul of Syracuse,” a refugee and new immigrant music and arts festival, from noon-5 p.m. at The Warehouse, 350 W. Fayette St. The free, public event is additionally sponsored by the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and the New York State Council on the Arts. The event is co-sponsored by the 2007 Syracuse Symposium, presented for the University by The College of Arts and Sciences.
For nearly a decade, Felicia “Faye” McMahon, research associate professor of anthropology, folklorist and lead organizer of the festival, has worked to improve the lives of challenged and underrepresented communities in Central New York by using art to bridge the divide between the growing population of recent immigrants in inner city neighborhoods in Syracuse and Utica and the broader Central New York community. As a folklorist working with traditional artists who are refugees from Bosnia, Burma, Congo, Liberia, Russia and Sudan, McMahon notes how song and dance and domestic arts transcend differences and offer unique opportunities to forge connections between disparate groups.
“Public performances expose audiences to unfamiliar art forms, increasing their mainstream acceptance, and fostering an understanding of different cultures,” says McMahon. “These performances also benefit new immigrants, bolstering their self-esteem, increasing family stability, building a sense of community and ultimately easing their integration into American society.”
The festival program begins at noon, with a performance by the Bosnian MAH Band. Bosnia’s unique culture combines Turkish, Arabic and Persian influences with a European Slavic heritage. Forced from their homes during a brutal war in the 1990s, many Bosnians found a new home in Central New York. The MAH Band, based in Utica, embraces both new and old forms of this cultural heritage.
Following the MAH Band performance, McMahon will deliver opening remarks at 1 p.m., followed by performances by Karen of Burma and Liberian/Congolese Youth Groups. The Karen People of Syracuse and Utica are one of several ethnicities from Burma, the largest country by geographical area in mainland Southeast Asia. The Karen People are political refugees who fled their homeland due to the ethnic cleansing policies of military dictatorship in Burma.
The Liberian/Congolese Youth Groups offer traditional dances that combine ritual and storytelling, performed by refugees from the countries of Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, both regions that were devastated by war.
From 2:30-4 p.m., DiDinga and Ahiska Turks will perform traditional dances, followed by intercultural dancing from 4-5 p.m.
The DiDinga (pictured above), from Africa’s Sudan region, have traditionally created percussion by striking large gourds cut in half or using other everyday objects. DiDingas now living in the Syracuse area will perform percussion sets and songs that stem from their earlier days in Sudan, before civil war entered their hometowns in the southern region, and before they were separated from their loved ones still living in the country.
In 1944, the Ahiska Turks were deported en masse from Meskheti — a region that was formerly part of the Soviet Union and is now a region of the Republic of Georgia — to Soviet Central Asia because Soviet leader Joseph Stalin feared their disloyalty during the conflict with Turkey. In the 1980s, the Ahiska were forced to flee again, this time from Central Asia, and 15,000 Ahiska Turks were granted resettlement by the U.S. Department of State. In an effort to preserve their cultural traditions in the folk arts and music, Ahiska Turks often perform wedding and celebration dances to the flute, drum and guitar.
In 2006 and 2007, the Department of Anthropology at SU was awarded two grants from the New York State Council on the Arts’ Folk Arts Division to provide stipends for refugee artists and to produce small-scale public programs featuring artists from Bosnia, Burma, Congo, Liberia, Russia and Sudan.
For more information, contact McMahon at 443-2200. The Syracuse Symposium is a semester-long intellectual and artistic festival, presented by SU?s College of Arts and Sciences, that celebrates interdisciplinary thinking, imagination and creation. The theme for the 2007 series is ?Justice.? For more information, visit http://symposium.syr.edu.