Lebanese American writer, performer, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99 presented a work-in-progress sharing of a collaborative theatrical work commissioned by the Center for the Arts as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan on April 18, 2015 in the World Music Hall.
Through theatrical scenes, storytelling, and playful improvisations with the audience, this performance-in-process invited the audience to participate in an interactive exploration of how we know what we think we know, see what we don’t, view ourselves and each other, and engage in the spaces in between. Click here to view the full album on flickr. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
Coordinated by the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, this exhibition showcased photographs by regional artists that highlighted the daily lives of Muslim women in Connecticut and their contributions to society. The show explored the diversity and complexity of this community on April 14, 2015 at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center at 51 Green Street in Middletown, CT. Click here to view the full album on flickr. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
Singer-songwriter Omnia Hegazy performed on March 27, 2015, at Crowell Concert Hall. Ms. Hegazy was accompanied by drummer Max Maples, bassist Carl Limbacher, electric guitarist Coyote Anderson, and Natalia Perlaza on Arabic percussion and tabla. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Sadia Shepard ’97 presented a literary talk about narrative strategies in writing and film on March 25, 2015, at The Russell House. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
You began writing lyrics for your first EP on a trip to Egypt in 2010. What about the trip inspired you to start writing?
I tend to take a notebook with me and scribble wherever I go, and it was the summer before [Hosni] Mubarak was overthrown, so everyone was talking about politics all the time. I was staying in a youth shelter at the time and talking with other Egyptians about what was going on and writing down my observations about how women are treated, about things I felt were unfair in the culture. These are things that I grew up with in America, as well—people take their culture with them. So I started writing things down and not necessarily as an outsider because these things do exist in America too. These inequalities are not just among Egyptians but everybody.
What inspired your second EP, Judgment Day?
I wrote this song after watching a film called The Stoning of Soraya M, based [on] a true story about a woman in Iran who was stoned because her husband framed her for adultery. This actually happened in the 1980s. I was so upset by the film that I wrote a song, not so much about the film, but about what is happening to people of my faith. It was a critique about how I feel some people of my faith have taken religion and made it so evil and how it can really harm people. The song became the title track of the EP.
Judgment Day is a provocative title. What does the title mean to you?
I feel that as a Middle Eastern woman, there is a lot of judgment. We face a lot more judgment than our male counterparts. Our reputation is our biggest asset in a lot of cases. The title was about that feeling of constantly being judged. I feel like every day is judgment day for an Arab woman, a Muslim woman. Everyone else is judging what you should do, what you should say, what you should sing. That’s what I tried to address with the title and specifically with that song.
You say you might have been a journalist, had your life gone a different direction. Thinking about journalism and songwriting as two forms of storytelling, what do you think song achieves that journalism does not?
For me, writing a song can appeal to people’s emotions in a way that hard news just can’t. Often people just want to turn the news off because it’s so depressing, but with song one can elaborate behind whatever story you’re telling to make people really feel. It’s not just the facts, not just what happened. I think the reason song is so effective is that it helps creates empathy in a way that sometimes hard news just doesn’t.
What do you hope people will gain from listening to your music?
I want to make people think. I want people to have a good time, but there’s a lot of music out there that doesn’t necessarily really make people think. To be fair, I think that all music has a place. I don’t think you have to address an issue for the music to be important, like the stuff I’m writing now is more about personal things. I think that’s just as important because I think songwriting attempts to reach an understanding about the human condition. I want people to feel something when they listen to my music. Whether I’m writing about a break up or political evil, I just want them to feel something.
Do you think your songs fall into either a personal or political category, or do you think both the personal and the political are manifest in each song you write?
To me the two are intertwined. How I feel about any given issue is political, and it’s personal. I’m observing, and I recognize that there’s bias in my music. I wouldn’t see it as hard news, so much as an op-ed. It’s personal and political. One of my newer singles that just came out is very personal. It’s about street harassment, about being a woman and feeling unsafe. That is actually something political—there’s a feminist message in the song, [and] it’s talking about the place of women in society—but it’s very personal.
Who are some of your greatest musical influences?
One of the biggest is a singer from Columbia named Juanes. He’s a pop/rock singer-songwriter and a mean guitar player. He’s actually the best selling artist in Columbia, even before Shakira. But if you listen to his older stuff, he was using really catchy melodies to write really meaningful things. He has one song that is so catchy you want to bob your head to it, but then you really listen to it and realize he’s talking about landmines. He made me realize that pop music is actually a really useful vehicle to spread a message, and it doesn’t have to be esoteric or metaphorical to be political. Other than Juanes, I’m influenced by the 1960s—any of the singer-songwriters of the 1960s. Also, India.Arie. She writes some really catchy songs, but there’s a good message behind them. She has soul. I like artists with consciousness, not just political consciousness but any kind.
At Wesleyan, Ms. Hegazy will be accompanied for the first time outside of New York City by drummer Max Maples, bassist Carl Limbacher, electric guitarist Coyote Anderson, and Natalia Perlaza on Arabic percussion and tabla.
The Connecticut premiere of Tari Aceh, nine female traditional Acehnese dancers featuring songs and body percussion from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, took place on February 27, 2015, at Crowell Concert Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Members of the all-female group Tari Aceh taught Saman, a popular dance form from Indonesia that combines text, poetry, and movement, at a workshop on February 26, 2015, at Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Organized and moderated by University Professor of Music Sumarsam, the panel discussed performing art as a space for expressing Indonesia-Islam encounters, on February 25, 2015, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Members of Tari Aceh taught Saman, a popular dance form from Indonesia that combines text, poetry, and movement, at a workshop at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center in Middletown, on February 25, 2015. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to graduate student Maho Ishiguro about the Connecticut premiere of “Tari Aceh! (Dance Aceh!)” Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra, taking place on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
After many months of planning and overseas communication, the Center for the Arts is delighted to welcome to campus a group of nine female performers from Aceh, Indonesia on their first-ever tour of the United States.
Between the ages of 14 and 24, these young women study dance at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra. The dances they practice were originally performed only by men, and in some districts of Indonesia it remains forbidden for women to perform them.
The dances to be performed have been passed down from generation to generation, and contain a great deal of history and tradition. Accompanied by percussion, the performers add to each dance’s striking musicality with their own rhythmic body percussion, and the singing of both Islamic liturgical and folk texts. These dances are some of the best illustrations of the transcultural blending of Islamic and Indonesian culture.
It has been ten years since a devastating tsunami hit Aceh, killing 200,000 people. The performance of Tari Aceh! celebrates the resilience of the people of Aceh, and a new generation of young women whose performance of these traditional dances are contributing to the recovery efforts in this part of the world.
To learn more about the performing arts in Banda Aceh, click here to watch a video that Wesleyan ethnomusicology graduate student Maho Ishiguro put together while visiting Syiah Kuala University last year. She traveled there after receiving a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to study the female Saman dance in Indonesia.
While in Banda Aceh, Ms. Ishiguro had the chance to interview all of the dancers. You can get to know some of them here.
Ms. Ishiguro will join Ari Palawi, the Program Coordinator at the Syiah Kuala University’s Center for the Arts, to give a pre-performance talk on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 7:15pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
On Thursday, February 26, 2015 the dancers will lead a free dance workshop, open to all experience levels, at 6:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Click here to watch a video for a taste of what you might learn in the workshop.
Ms. Ishiguro told me a little about Saman dance, and the dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe:
“Saman dance (also known as rateb meuseukat and ratoh duek) is one of the dance forms popularly practiced in Aceh province, the northern tip of Sumatra Island, Indonesia. A number of dancers sit in a row and perform elaborative and fast movements with their hands, heads, and torsos. The dance is highly coordinated, and its complex choreography includes clapping and hitting the body with the hands, resulting in percussive sounds that add to the performance. Dancers also sing while dancing. Texts of songs entail commentaries about nature, love, relationships, politics, and society, as well as religious teachings of Islam. Islamic phrases such as la ilaha illallah (“There is no god but God,” a testimony of Islamic faith) and assalamulaikum (“Peace be upon you”) are often interwoven within the song texts. The origin of the dance form is unknown; however, it is generally understood that Saman dance was practiced historically as dhikr, a religious exercise which Muslims, especially those of Sufi traditions, employ to feel the presence and remembrance of Allah. In Aceh today, Saman dance is a proud cultural heritage. Both female and male dancers practice the form, though separately.”
“In the past decade, Saman dance has become highly popularized in Indonesia, as well as internationally, for its unique choreography and the feeling of camaraderie that the dance generates among the dancers. Most high schools in Jakarta have Saman dance teams as an afterschool extracurricular activity. Furthermore, many regional and national competitions are held, and the winning teams are sometimes sent abroad for a tour. Today, Saman dance is not only a cultural expression of Aceh; the dance has transgressed the ethnic and regional boundaries among Indonesians, as it is practiced widely by those who do not share ethnic or cultural heritages with the Acehnese. In recent years, the dance seems to be on its way towards becoming a cultural expression not just for the Acehnese but for all Indonesians. There have been a number of Saman dance groups formed by Indonesian students abroad. In such cases, Saman dance is performed as an Indonesian cultural expression. In fact, Wesleyan has had a group of students, comprised of both Indonesians and non-Indonesians, who participated in Saman dance practice on campus over the last several years.”
“The University of Syiah Kuala is one of the largest universities in Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh Province. The dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe have studied several forms of Acehnese dance since their childhood. The troupe has performed domestically and internationally. As part of the Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan program, the dancers will be in residency at Wesleyan for several days, hosting workshops and engaging in other activities with students and the Wesleyan community. One of the most exciting aspects of hosting this troupe is that the dancers are relatively close in age with our students. We hope that Wesleyan students and dancers will engage with each other at a personal level, deepening cultural understanding through informal and meaningful interactions.”