IMPROVISATION AND CULTURE

Jesse Appell

The Hot Cat Club is a small bar/club hidden deep within a series of old “hutong(胡同)” alleyways not far from the Buddhist Lama Temple in Beijing. I went there to spend an hour or two at an improv workshop being held by Improv Beijing, and arrived 10 minutes before the start time to find the place deserted. I asked a tired-looking man nearby if there was a workshop tonight. “I don’t know, man,” he said. “I just came here to drink.” This inauspicious beginning to the evening proved to be a false indicator of the night to come, as Beijing time dictates that people come whenever they want to and never early. By the time eight o’clock rolled around, the tiny club was packed to the gills with improvers, mostly Chinese, and comedians of all sorts. Forty people packed into a tight circle for warmups and soon sounds were flying and bodies moving.
The energy of the improv scene in Beijing seems to me like a tsunami wave, growing stronger and broader, largely unseen, beneath seemingly still waters. When I left China last year, I knew of two troupes, an English language troupe and a bilingual one. Now, at one night’s meeting, I counted representatives from seven groups, which included all-Chinese language performance troupes, and an all female troupe. To me, the fact that new troupes are emerging, each exploring its own style of comedy, shows a real maturing of the comedy scene here. People are doing the type of improv they want to do, no longer bottlenecked by inability to access new styles or forms. The increasing diversity of the scene was summed up by a new friend I met named Zeng Cheng, who goes by the English name Caesar. “There are so many people here who want to do improv,” he said. “So there are new troupes being created all the time. We’re not all good, but we want to perform, and starting a troupe is free. This way, we all get to practice more, and we slowly get better.” [Read More…]

JAI BHIM COMRADE

Film Screening – Jai Bhim Comrade
Q&A with Indian filmmaker Anand Patwardhan

4 October, 2012, 7pm, Shapiro Campus Center Theater

India’s Dalit (oppressed) castes were abhorred as “untouchables” denied education and treated as bonded labor. In 1997, a statue of Dalit leader, B.R. Ambedkar, was desecrated with footwear in Ramabhai colony in Mumbai. As angry residents gathered, police opened fire killing 10 people. Vilas Ghogre, a leftist poet hung himself in protest.

Compelled by this tragedy, Jai Bhim Comrade, shot over 14 years, follows the resistance poetry and music of Maharastra’s Dalits. In an age of increasing bigotry and superstition, it is both a record of recent history as well as eloquent testimony to a rationalist tradition that has survived amongst the subaltern for thousands of years.

About the Filmmaker

Anand Patwardhan is a renown, award-winning Indian filmamker and Brandeis Alum ’72 (BA in Sociology). Patwardhan has been making investigative documentaries in India for over four decades on controversial issues such as corruption, caste, slum dwellers, communalism and activism. His films have often faced state censorship and the wrath of religious fundamentalists.

Co-sponsored by: IGS, PAX, COEX, Brandeis India Initiative, Sociology, SJSP, South Asian Studies, Anthropology and Sarita Bhalotra

Front Row Seats at the Trial of Charles Taylor

Esther Brandon

Writing from the Brandeis in The Hague spring semester program

On April 26, 2012 Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 criminal counts. 

Charles Taylor was the President of Liberia, 1997 to 2003. He was convicted of aiding and abetting brutal rebel movements that committed mass atrocities in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 90’s. The Trial Court found he had helped plan the capture of diamond mines and the invasion of the capital, Freetown. During the movement, over 50,000 people died, while countless others fled the country or took refuge in camps. Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

When I first laid eyes on Mr. Taylor, I was extremely surprised by his demeanor. He appeared in a blue pinstriped suit with a maroon tie. During the reading, he sat stoically, occasionally taking notes with a yellow ballpoint pen. I expected to see a man capable of great violence, a person who ordered the deaths of thousands for the sake of diamonds and personal gain. Instead, I saw a man looking a little sad, with no evil gleam in his eye as he was convicted of aiding & abetting with the planning of:

  • 5 counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, sexual slavery, other inhumane acts, and enslavement.
  • 5 counts of violations of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions: acts of terrorism, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder; outrages upon personal dignity; violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular cruel treatment; and pillage.
  • 1 count of conscripting or enlisting child soldiers under the age of 15 years.

His sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday May 30, 2012.

The Office of the Prosecutor used great innovation to prove Taylor’s connection to the crimes committed in Sierra Leone while he lived in Liberia. They referenced radio and telephone intercepts and brought in radio operators who had connected Mr. Taylor’s residence in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to the rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s head of security, bodyguards and other associates testified about arms and ammunition shipments for use by the rebel forces. Bank records proved tax payments entered into Taylor’s personal bank account that were used for the war effort. Continue reading “Front Row Seats at the Trial of Charles Taylor”

Monumentality and the Individual

Ariana Hajmiragha

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca can be seen for miles in each direction when not blocked by buildings. Built on the coast, jutting into the ocean with views of the beach from each side, the clean lines and intricate designs of the tower starkly contrast with the surrounding dingy buildings of the industrial city. I visited on a gorgeous spring day, warm enough to take off my jacket, with droves of people visiting on their Sunday off from work. Entering from the street, two flanking buildings and fountains block the sheer scope of the mosque, but after passing into the courtyard the area feels like it belongs to a time and city apart.

Finished in 1993, the mosque does not belong to the distant past, but is designed to link the past with the present in aesthetics and function. The architecture is indelibly Islamic, but reminiscent of artistic visions of the future, with sweeping lines, slight curves, and the impeccable juxtaposition of intimate spaces in the covered walkways along the perimeter with the sweeping open space of the courtyard and the monumentality of the main mosque.

Couples, families, friends, and individuals roamed the grounds, and sat along the edges with a view of the rocky coast and beach. The mosque is not only unique due to its incredible architecture, but also is one of the few mosques open in Morocco to non-Muslims, at certain appointed tour times. I was unable to take one of such tours, because I arrived just prior to the noon prayers and so the mosque was open only to practitioners. At about 12:30pm, the call to prayer rang out from the tower. Immediately people began moving from the sidelines to the enormous main gate to pray. Not all went to pray, and many remained outside in the sun, sitting, walking, and talking. Continue reading “Monumentality and the Individual”

An IGS Conversation: Creative Careers in Global Media, Arts, and Philanthropy

Wednesday, April 4

7 pm (6:30 for pizza)

Mandel Center Reading Room (3rd floor)

In a tough job market we are all wondering: what can a college graduate do with a liberal arts degree?  And yet it turns out that companies and organization like liberal arts graduates – especially those with international experience.  A broad education seems to encourage employees to make the creative leaps that drive innovation.

So for our final IGS Conversation we ask: how can studying literature, history, art, politics, and foreign languages help you to launch a career, make your mark – maybe even change the world?

Our featured guest speaker is Michelle Young—blogger, philanthropist, and new media CEO.  Ms. Young studied art history in college and has since carved out a career that blends her interests in fashion, music, urban history, art, and travel.

Ms. Young is the founder and CEO of Untapped Cities, a fast-growing global media brand with offices in New York, Paris, and San Francisco. Ms. Young blogs for The Huffington Post, and has written for The New York Times, Pitchfork, Architecture Daily, Kill Screen, NPR, Business Insider, and the International Business Times. She also works on projects with the social philanthropy division at Liquidnet Holdings, Inc., an electronic marketplace that specializes in equity securities trading.

Our panel will also include two Brandeis seniors, Sara Robinson and Bryan Flatt.  Sara, a double IGS and business major, is finishing a senior thesis on the global proliferation of Harry Potter – a project that contributes to her work as an analyst at Sandbox industries, a startup incubator in San Francisco.  Last year, at the height of Britain’s phone-hacking scandal, Bryan was helping a media law firm in London prosecute tabloid journalists.  He will talk about how experiences abroad and a double major in history and IGS are helping him pursue a career in media and entertainment.

Come join the Conversation and share ideas!  You can leverage your experiences in and out of the classroom to launch interesting, meaningful careers.

Y’en a marre (Enough is Enough)

Grace Killian

Y’en a marre or ‘Enough is enough’ are words written on walls all across the capital city of Dakar, Senegal.  But these are notjust words. Y’en a marre is a youth movement led by rappers and journalists.  As I took my hour-long walk down a main road to school every day, these words were put in context when I passed beggars and groups of lean-tos built on the side of the road.  These images would reappear in my consciousness when there was a power cut again, as there was everyday for several hours. The sight of my neighborhood darkened by a power cut was particularly striking against the backdrop of the African Renaissance Monument in the distance. This 164ft monument was meant to symbolize Africa rising from a history of oppression yet its construction was estimated at $27 million while the majority of the population constantly struggled with poverty.  The frustration towards these contradictions and life in Senegal was palpable as well.  I could see it when my host mother would sigh, “What kind of country is this?!” or when we would meet a demonstration in the streets and be forced to find a different route.

This movement and these frustrations were also coming at a critical time in Senegalese history: a highly contested election. Then president, Abdoulaye Wade, was running for a third term despite the fact that he had passed a law restricting presidents to serving only two terms earlier in his presidency. Wade also faced widespread criticism and accusations of corruption. In many ways, Y’en a marre and the people of Senegal seemed to be dissatisfied with Wade and his presidency and considered this to be the cause for most problems. The preparations of the coming election were everywhere: walls were also graffitied with names of candidates and expressions of hope for 2012 and there were nightly debates on TV discussing the legality of Wade’s bid for candidacy. Continue reading “Y’en a marre (Enough is Enough)”

Interview with IGS Faculty: Dr. Janet McIntosh

What is your current research about?

My past research was based on ethnic tensions in East Africa and my first book was on Islam and ethno-religious boundaries on the Kenya coast. My second project that is a book in progress is about White Kenyans and their peculiar dilemmas because just as they try and fit in as good Kenyan citizens in this post-colonial world, it seems like the colonial unconscious rears its head. However, when they try to be good Europeans, it turns out they have in fact been more acculturated to African life ways than they are necessarily comfortable with. So I am writing about the interesting dilemmas that they face.

How does your research speak to contemporary global issues?

There has been quite a lot of scholarly attention paid to subaltern groups particularly colonized groups. My research is a slightly unusual perspective on the post-colonial condition because I am looking at elite Whites who used to be in power and held sway across much of the globe. However, now they find themselves a foundered elite and I am wondering how they try and find a place in a world that has judged colonialism so negatively. My work speaks to the currents of liberal humanism moving across the globe and challenging old regimes, by asking what happens to the former destabilized elites. White Kenyans think of themselves as capaciously multicultural but it is their very multiculturalism that is considered a problem from the vantage point of some Kenyans who think citizenship is linked to race. So White Kenyan dilemmas and identities are intricately linked up with contemporary global questions about national identity and race and ethnicity. Continue reading “Interview with IGS Faculty: Dr. Janet McIntosh”

Improvisations: Raga in Afghanistan and North India

Intercultural Residency Series, Spring 2012

March 6-10, 2012 

Concert: Saturday, March 10, 8:00 p.m.

Pre-Concert Talk: 7:00-7:45

Speaker: Theodore Levin, Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music at Dartmouth College; Raga residency curator.

Slosberg Recital Hall

Master performers virtuosically reunite two historically kindred stringed instruments through the common language of raga and tabla. Improvisations is a group of three extremely talented men who bring to Brandeis a taste of culture that is part of not only the world music scene, but also part of the Music Unites Us program.

Homayun Sakhi is the outstanding Afghan rubab player of his generation. His performance style has been shaped by traditional Afghan and Indian music and by contemporary music from around the world. Born in Kabul into one of Afghanistan’s leading musical families, Sakhi studied rubab with his father, Ustad Ghulam Sakhi. He performs around the world is active in teaching rubab to young Afghans, both in Afghanistan and in the West.

American, Ken Zuckerman is internationally acclaimed as one of today’s finest sarod virtuosos, is also known as a master of improvisation. He completed 37 years of training under the rigorous discipline of India’s legendary sarod master, the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. He has performed with Maestro Khan in Europe, India, and the United States and with some of India’s finest tabla virtuosos.

Salar Nader, born in Germany in 1981, is one of his generation’s leading performers on the tabla. A disciple of the great tabla master Zakir Hussain, Salar Nader frequently accompanies Homayun Sakhi as well as other performers of Afghan and North Indian classical music. A resident of San Francisco, Nader recently appeared as an on-stage musician in an American theatrical adaptation of the best-selling novel The Kite Runner.

This residency is supported in partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Full Residency Schedule Here

Interview with Florence Levy Kay Fellow Beatrice De Gasquet

Editor’s note: Dr. Beatrice de Gasquet will moderate our discussion of “The Challenges of Global Migration” (this Wednesday, Feb. 15th, at 6:30 pm in the Mandel Center Reading Room).  

Next fall Dr. de Gasquet will teach A Democratic Babel? Language Politics in Contemporary Europe.  The class that will use language to explore topics in European politics such as European integration, the persistence of nationalisms, regionalism, minority rights and immigration. 

What IGS classes have you taught at Brandeis?

In the Fall I was teaching a class called ‘Behind the Veil’ about religion and ethnicity in France. The idea was to start with the law banning the veil in schools (and later banning the full veil in public space) and then talk more broadly about issues of religion, politics, race and immigration in France.  So we looked not only at Islam but also Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism in France to understand the history of religion, politics and secularism and how it intersects with the history of immigration in France. The point was to begin with a very specific issue and draw out the links with larger historical and political issues.

How do you think that these themes are relevant and useful for IGS students?

There were several things that came up especially in class discussions that are relevant for IGS students. For instance, depending on the country, the way people view the relationship between religion and politics is very different. Of course, the French view and the US view contrast quite nicely and this comparative aspect was very interesting to many students. I saw this in the presentations they did. Some talked about religion and politics in Morocco and Turkey so we had nice comparisons with other countries looking at race and immigration in different ways. There was another aspect that came up regarding the relationship between French and US politics.  French politics, on many issues, is in part a reaction to a perceived threat to national identity or independence from either the US or Europe or immigration from North Africa. So we addressed this particular connection between religion and concerns about national identity in France as opposed to other countries such as the US. Continue reading “Interview with Florence Levy Kay Fellow Beatrice De Gasquet”

The Business of Media in India

Siddharth Joshi

As an ex IGS UDR who helped launch this blog, it is with great warmth and pride that I return to this evolved platform to give you my story. After graduating in May 2011, I completed my GMAT, did the whole ‘Europe on a shoestring budget’ and went through the arduous process of finding a job. I must say that Brandeis prepared me well for all three situations by refining my academic skills, teaching me how to survive with very little money and providing me with the personal as well as professional skills and qualifications to get a real job.

Life lesson: no matter how skilled or qualified you may be, it is not easy to get a job in a place you enjoy. I was fortunately helped by The Lady (Luck for those not familiar with Pratchett’s Discworld!) and my resume landed in the hands of Rajesh Kamath; a man who single handed, launched, and took a TV channel from anonymity to number one in its genre in India in two years time. He had just been hired as the Indian CEO of an international venture, and only had a CFO working with him at that point. I was the third to join this team, due to opportune circumstances and relevant internships that I had done. I joined, and currently work in the India office of C.A. Media. Continue reading “The Business of Media in India”