Well, it’s that time again. Summertime. In most parts of India, summertime brings sunny, cloudless, yet humid weather with highs in the lower 100s and lows in the upper 80s. Yet, in spite of these unforgiving weather patterns, it also happens to be the time for one of India’s largest religious festivals, the Kuthandavar-Aravan Mela (aka Koovagam Festival), which takes place in a small town called Koovagam, located in the middle of Tamil Nadu, the southern-most state of India known for its exceptional heat. The mela (festival) is best known for its open inclusion of transgender participants. The festival annually attracts over 100,000 participants and observers, numbers that resemble, but hardly rival, the Kumbh Mela (the world’s largest religious festival which attracted about 15 million attendees in Allahabad during January and February of this year). Koovagam can be best described as a mini-Kumbh, whose participants engage in a series of rituals while visually reenacting a story in the Mahabharata, one of Hinduism’s most important texts. The following video is an interpretation of the story and account of the event from the perspective of a Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer named Taejha Singh Susheela. Highlighting the perspective of an observer, this video is one of two that illustrate and (silently) critique the participant/observer divide; My next blog entry will contain interpretations from Koovagam participants within the transgender communities. Here’s part one:
The Event for dance4life was on Saturday, March 30th! The four steps of the dance4life program were incorporated into The Event: Inspire, educate, activate, and celebrate. All youth who have been a part of the dance4life program were invited to attend which means there will be up to 1,300 students present! We worked tirelessly to make sure The Event was not only educational and engaging, but also a true celebration for the achievements of the youth in the program.
When I first came to Botswana in 2008, I felt like poetry was everywhere. You just had to reach up and pick it out of the sky to hear it. Now, after immersing myself even more into the hip-hop and poetry scenes, I see that yes, it is everywhere, but even if you don’t look for it, it will find you, hit you like a sandstorm and knock you flat.
Let me say it again. Poetry in Gaborone is everywhere. It’s in the late night cipher sessions around braai stands loaded with meat, the hip-hop stations on the radio, the open mics that seem to happen every night somewhere in the city.
While I realize focusing on poetry is somewhat a departure from the hip-hop that is my focus here, it is not such a stretch. The two creative worlds are always intermingled, but even more so in Botswana. Here, many poets are also emcees and vice versa. At poetry nights there will be at least one or two performers who will ask the DJ for a beat and spit verses in Setswana and English. Poets judge rap battles and emcees host poetry shows.
In exploring the world of poetry here and its relationship to hip-hop and society at large, I decided to focus on three poets that I have interacted with extensively. All three recently served as teachers for a series of creative arts workshops for youth in the low-income neighborhood of Old Naledi for a project I have been part of starting called Arts for Change (videos and blogposts on that initiative coming soon). Enjoy what they have to say in the video below and read on for more information on them and full performances of their poems.
If the fashion centers of the world had a baby sister, Prishtina might be it. Fashion is expression, a form of art, and people here love to play with style. Edona Reshitaj, an actress and musician, looks like she could be a duchess or a heroin from your favorite film noir – but the fact of the matter is she works hard, juggles multiple obligations and talents in order to maintain a steady life that allows her to be creative and incorporate her passions as part of her career. Edona and I were introduced to one another by Albulena Jashari from my last post. Communities here are pretty tight nit, which I love, and Reshitaj often plays in collaboration with Jashari, a testament of how supportive Kosovoans are of one another’s artforms.
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Albulena Jashari, Lena, is the first of many Albulenas (yep, that’s plural) that I’ve come across in Kosovo. We met a few days after I arrived at a local hangout called Tingle-tangle: a tiny, colorful, albeit smokey cafe with simple, vintage decor, indie music blaring, and Basquiat-like-inspired pictures on the walls, presumably done by hand, probably by a collective of people. I was a fan of Jashari’s music before I came to Kosovo and had been meaning to get in touch with her. Our meeting happened serendipitously instead, which seems to be the case more often than not here. We have been friends since. I’m not sure Lena knows this, but she’s totally a local hipster. She shops at thrift stores and loves indie fashion and music. She’s sweet, thoughtful, intelligent and all about supporting, collaborating with, and creating solidarity amongst female artists. I think this is fantastic since women are often pitted against one another as competitors in the music industry. Lena writes her own music and text with support from family and friends. This is what she had to say about her love of music, performing, and the challenges of being an indie artist in Kosovo.