Berkeley Folk and Traditional Artists Supported by Hewlett Foundation Grants



Iranian-born singer Mahsa Vahdat, who performs at Zellerbach Hall with the Kronos Quartet on December 2, is one of many Berkeley residents to receive a large Hewlett Foundation grant for traditional artists. Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

After a brutally parched year, Berkeley looks a lot greener after the historic weekend downpour. The city’s traditional arts scene is also receiving a significant infusion of green, according to an announcement Tuesday from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The latest wave of orders from the Menlo Park-based foundation provide 10 artists with at least $ 50,000 each to develop ambitious new works in traditional art forms.

Almost half of the musicians and choreographers have deep ties to Berkeley, including jazz and blues singer Faye Carol, Iranian-born singer / songwriter Mahsa Vahdat and Afro-Cuban choreographer Susana Arenas Pedroso, all of whom are residents of Berkeley. While Ghanaian-American choreographer and master drummer CK Ladzekpo lives in Richmond, he is the longtime director of the African music program at UC Berkeley (and co-artistic director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival).

Susana Arenas Pedroso. Credit: Brooke Anderson

Each artist is associated with a cultural institution and non-profit organization in the Bay Area, and in Ladzekpo’s case, it is the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, where it is part of the faculty for many years.

Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, a source of African-American musical knowledge, partners with Art + Soul Oakland to create “Blues, Baroque, and Bars: From the Streets to the Symphony”. Set to premiere in 2022 at the revival of Oakland Art + Soul Festival, it is a one-night sequel featuring a jazz piano trio, string quartet and rapper. By reinventing the traditional blues repertoire, Carol provides a soundtrack for a definitive American narrative retracing the journey of black peoples from the transatlantic slave trade to the plantations of the southern United States to the Great Migration.

Vahdat, the famous Iranian-born singer and songwriter, works in collaboration with Freight & Salvage on a one-night song cycle that blends classical and contemporary Persian poetry. Scheduled to premiere in late 2024 over two nights, “Woven Verses: Poetic Resistance and Resilience” is a multimedia production rooted in classical and regional Persian music forms, which involve extensive ornamentation.

“I still work with contemporary and classical Persian poetry, but in this project it’s a deep dialogue and I really want them to meet in a very interwoven form,” said Vahdat, who performs on December 2. with Kronos Quartet at Zellerbach Hall in a concert presented by Cal Performances.

The commission offers another opportunity to develop new material with her husband, Atabak Elyasi, composer, arranger and master of the Persian setar. His arrangements will include a small ensemble composed mainly of traditional instruments from Iran and the Middle East. Vahdat envisions a dialogue between the past and the present represented by her and her sister, singer Marjan Vahdat, with whom she has collaborated since their teenage years.

“One of us can be a voice from the past and a contemporary voice, and sometimes our roles change,” she said.

Vahdat seeks texts from writers who have defined Persian culture for centuries, including Hafez, Rumi and Omar Khayyam, “poets with whom I have been very involved all my life,” she says. “It gives me the opportunity to touch them from another point of view.” Among the 20th century poets she plans to use include Sohrab Sepehri (“His approach is very simple and deep, and I haven’t worked much with his poetry before,” she says) and Forugh Farrokhzad (“also an incredible filmmaker ”).

Launched in 2017 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Hewlett Foundation, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, worth $ 8 million over five years, represents a major commitment to artistic expression and the public’s commitment to the arts in the bay area. Other commission recipients this year include Cambodian dancer / choreographer and cultural bearer Charya Burt, who lives in Windsor, and Santa Rosa-based Native American artist L. Frank Manriquez, originally from the San Diego, Tongva, area. Acjachemen and Raramuri. tribes.

The singers are well represented, with Richmond-based Tibetan opera musician, dancer and singer Tsering Wangmo and seventh-generation North Indian Nautanki opera performer, writer and director Devendra Sharma, professor at the State of Fresno. To complete the list, Marcia Treidler, master and teacher of American capoeira based in San Francisco, and the composer of El Cerrito and traditional Vietnamese master artist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, whose Blood Moon Orchestra presents the world premiere of his Chants de force 4 December at Zellerbach Hall (a production that features Mahsa Vahdat, rapper DemOne and breakdancer Tunji).

Applications for the next and final round of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, supporting media arts, will open later this year. More information can be found on the Hewlett Foundation website.


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