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Homegrown Plus Four: The 2018 Archive Challenge Sampler Concert

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A woman plays lute and a man plays a frame drum. They are seated on chairs on a stage.
Huda Asfour and Kamyar Arsani perform on the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium, September 20, 2018. Photo by John Fenn.

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with one that fell through the cracks for a while: the 2018 Archive Challenge Sampler concert in the Coolidge Auditorium. Today is the 3rd anniversary of the concert, in fact, so I thought it might be nice to commemorate it with this blog.

The Archive Challenge Sampler concerts were a little different from the other Homegrown concerts, in that they featured several distinguished artists who dug deep into our archive and put their own creative stamp on the songs and tunes they found here. Each of the artists performed just a few songs from the archive to show what a tremendous resource it is for creative work. The artists in the 2018 concert were Maryland-based mainstays of the sea shanty scene Ship’s Company Chanteymen; eclectic drummer and electronica artist Jaimeo Brown; Arabic-Persian duo Huda Asfour and Kamyar Arsani; and bilingual folk rock band Elena & Los Fulanos. In this concert video, you will hear the music they fell in love with during their research, imbued with their own creativity and style. I am myself a member of Ship’s Company Chanteymen, and I also acted as emcee for the concert.

In the first player, watch the whole concert, which took place on September 20, 2018. The artists take as follows:  Introductions at 00:18, Ship’s Company Chanteymen at 0:04:15,  Jaimeo Brown at 0:24:15, Huda & Kamyar at 0:51:00, and Elena y los Fulanos at 1:15:00.

Before the oral history videos, here’s a few words about the history of the Archive Challenge idea. The Archive Challenge Sampler Concert was one of the fruits of AFC’s participation in the Folk Alliance International conference over more than a decade. For all that time, Jennifer Cutting and I have been attending the conference, staffing an AFC table, giving presentations about the collections, looking for artists to present in the Homegrown series, and keeping abreast of the changing music scene. In 2015, when we were celebrating the centennial of Alan Lomax’s birth, Jennifer came up with the idea of organizing a showcase which we could capture on video and place on the Library of Congress website. At the showcase, artists would perform songs collected by Alan Lomax and learned from his collections here at the Library of Congress. For subsequent Folk Alliance conferences, we expanded the idea to the “Archive Challenge,” allowing artists to mine all of our archival collections in search of great songs.  The Lomax Challenge videos are available online at this link.  Many more Archive Challenge Videos have since made it to the Library of Congress website at this link.

Four men stand on a stage singing into microphones. They are dressed in 1812 U.S. Naval uniforms.
Ship’s Company Chanteymen (l-r: Stephen Winick, Michael Bosworth, Myron Peterson, Dallas Valley), onstage in the Coolidge Auditorium, September 20, 2018. Photo by John Fenn.

As to the interview videos themselves, for the 2018 concert, the Library’s multimedia group created four separate interview videos, one with each of the groups.  In this blog, I’ll introduce each group with the bio they provided us at the time, and follow each intro with the interview video. The interviews were performed by Jennifer Cutting and John Fenn, but I do make an appearance as well, since I am a member of Ship’s Company Chanteymen.  Here we go–on to the interviews!

Ship’s Company Chanteymen is a group specializing in traditional songs from maritime communities. In the days of wooden sailing vessels, sailors sang work songs, known as chanteys, for the purpose of coordinating their actions during heavy labor. Often, they did this with the help of a chanteyman, a song specialist who traded his expertise in singing for a reduction in the hard labor of raising sails and climbing masts. Maritime communities also had other song traditions, from fishing songs to ballads of seafaring life. For 20 years, the singers of Ship’s Company Chanteymen have shared these old salts’ songs with audiences up and down the East Coast. Often dressed in 19th century naval uniforms, they perform for historical reenactments, at historic venues, on board ships large and small, and at dockside bars, maritime museums, pirate festivals, and concert venues. The Chanteymen also organize chantey sings throughout the region at which everyone is invited to sing. Many of their songs have choruses and refrains, and they encourage the audience to sing with them, even in an august auditorium like the Coolidge! The Chanteymen have two CDs and have been nominated for a WAMMIE award from the Washington Area Music Association. The Chanteymen are a program of Ship’s Company, a nonprofit organization devoted to living history and nautical education.

Jaimeo Brown (pronounced jah-mayo) began his drum career at age 16 with his father, bassist Dartanyan Brown, his mother, pianist and woodwind specialist Marcia Miget, and his drum teacher, Sly Randolph, himself a Bernard Purdie protégé from Harlem. In the last 20 years, he has worked with a range of musicians including Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Q-Tip, Carl Craig, Bobby Hutcherson, Greg Osby, Joe Locke, David Murray, and several other New York based musicians. He gained extensive experience performing and educating various audiences around the world for the US State Department. In addition to onstage work, Jaimeo contributed program material for the Oscar and Grammy award-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom and the PBS original production of Ralph Ellison’s King of the Bingo Game. When recordings of Gees Bend quilters, an isolated African American community on the Alabama river, found their way into Jaimeo’s life, they instantly became some of the most important music in his life; more “spiritual nourishment” than art. The songs of this small group of quilters became the substance of Jaimeo’s meditation, medication and inspiration. A decade later, after 14 turbulent years of New York life, Jaimeo’s own search for creative and spirtual healing lead him to experiment with weaving samples of the Gees Bend quilters, and other AFC field recordings, into his own music. In doing so, he discovered a sound that “immediately gave me a life’s worth of work” and that was to become the source of his definitive project, Transcendence.

Huda & Kamyar is the duo of Huda Asfour and Kamyar Arsani. Huda comes from a musical family and began formal training in music in Tunis at the age of 13. In 1996, she joined the National Conservatory of Music in Gaza and later, in Ramallah, she was mentored by Khaled Jubran at the Edward Said Music Conservatory. In 2002, Huda joined Al Urmawi Center for Mashriq Music. Huda also trained under the famous Qanoun player Said Rajab in Cairo, Egypt. In 2004, Huda, together with Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, co-founded Jehar band, a musical experiment which molded Arabic folk and the classical Levantine Arabic repertoire into reinterpretations that would be relatable to young Palestinians emerging from the siege of the Second Intifada. Huda is the recipient of the 2009 Production Cultural Program by Al Mawred Al Thaqafi and the 2014 music production grant from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture. Kamyar is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter born and raised in Tehran, Iran. Kamyar’s musical mission is to spread cultural awareness and unity by mixing contemporary musical trends with traditional Persian folk music. At age 7, Kamyar began daf (Persian frame drum) lessons with Master Bijan Kamkar. Kamyar also spent time playing meditative rhythms for hours at a time for Sufis. Kamyar has spent over 20 years performing and researching the daf and its roots. His second instrument is the kamancheh (Persian bowed string instrument) and he studied it with Masters Ardeshir Kamkar and Sohrab Pournazeri. Kamyar has also taught himself how to play other instruments including guitar, a variety of percussion instruments, melodica, ukulele and more. Kamyar’s songs and performances are inspired by the people of Iran and their history of struggle and protest.

Elena & Los Fulanos is a bilingual folk rock band based in Washington, DC. Since 2011, they have been creating music that ranges from twangy, heartbreak-themed folk Americana, to soothing, introspective, violin-infused Latin rock. Influenced by front-woman Elena Lacayo’s experience growing up in two cultures (Nicaraguan and American), Elena & Los Fulanos creates a world where language and tradition meld with catchy melodies and inventive chords to enhance appreciation for diversity in an increasingly multicultural world. Their debut album, Miel Venenosa, earned a Washington Area Music Association (WAMMIE) nomination for Best Latin Recording in 2014. Their second album, Volcán, (2017) has been hailed as “a bilingual folk album for the resistance” by the Washington City Paper.

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