Posts Tagged ‘Art’


JUNE 18, 2010, 12:00PM

Joseph Campbell’s interpretations of humanity’s various myths are popular because they ring true; he was remarkably effective in revealing their wisdom about life and even death. Coming from a very similar place (though perhaps somewhat more curatorial in her process) is Virlana Tkacz, the director of the Yara Arts Group. She has been researching ancient songs and poems from Ukraine, Mongolia, Central Asia and points further east for years, and her work with the troupe reflects her desire to re-integrate the ancient “ways of knowing,” as she puts it, into modern life.

I first caught Yara’s work in 1999 when I was assigned to review their musical play “Circle.” It blew me away with its combination of great singing, songs, inventive staging, and earthy humor. (It was also where I first met Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, who had a role in the play.) Ever since then I’ve thought more people should know about Yara, and now that I am “vlog enabled” (!) I finally can not only write about it, but bring you an interview with Virlana, and present some excerpts from Yara’s most recent production, “Scythian Stones.”
Even if you missed this last production, the good news is that Yara continues to create these intimate theatrical pieces here in NYC (and abroad, in the countries from which much of the the music and myth come) and you can catch more of them in the future. And there is more to Yara than just theater, as a visit to the Yara Arts Group website will reveal, at

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This post covers a lot of territory: electronica, performance art and hip hop!

Lim Geong was the first person I absolutely knew I wanted to interview when I went to Taiwan, because his work is right up there with the best electronica, and it always retains a strong Asian flavor. His story is unusual too, in that he started out with huge success as a pop singing star, and rejected that role to, as he says, “go from the front of the stage to behind the scenes.” He has since scored many movies, and even appeared as an actor in quite a few. To me, he’s practically a metaphor for what Taiwan has gone through: he expressed the freedom from martial law when he sang his big 1990 hit “Marching Forward” and then followed his star reaching out to the rest of Asia and the world, with music of the digital age.
On the other hand, the gentle acoustic venture “A Moving Sound” is the baby of Scott Prairie and Yun-Ya Hsieh, aka Mia. Mia studied interdisciplinary arts with Meredith Monk in the USA where she met Scott, and together they have brought the rather Western concept of performance art to the island, bringing dance, theater, music and plenty of audience participation together.
Hip-hop is of course no stranger to Taiwan, but Kou Chou Ching are the pre-eminent conscious rap band there. I first learned about them through their wonderful video “Black Heart”, a computer-generated animation based on Chinese puppet theater (still a high art in Taiwan) and flavored with both classical and traditional sounds. But the song is an indictment of amok capitalism that creates the black-hearted businessman, who in turn sends poisonous products into the marketplace. Kou Chou Ching is gradually tuning in Taiwanese youth to the need for more engagement with their world.

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Here comes my rant: These days it seems we throw the term “throat singing” around a bit loosely. It can get confusing. After all, Mongolian and Tuvan overtone singing (the technique of singing more than one note simultaneously) is called throat singing. But as far as I can hear, the Inuit singing technique does not deal with overtones. Rather, it is about vocalising on both the inhaled and exhaled breath. Yet it is referred to as throat singing. Personally I’d rather just call one overtone singing, and call the other Inuit singing (or two-way singing?).
That said, Tanya Tagaq visited us in the summer, and she was a trip, as you’ll see from our interview.

She also appears in a fantastic short film called “Tungijuq” in which she also contributes to the soundtrack. It concerns itself with the cycle of life and death from an Inuit perspective, and it is not for the squeamish…or prudish. Be on the lookout for it, as of this writing it is just about to hit the film festival circuit.

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.