Asian Pacific Heritage Month celebration

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

March 6, 2012


A young woman stands perfectly still, arms tilted inwards, the pink fan clutched in her hand fluttering faintly.

Suddenly she jumps forward on beat with the traditional guitar plucking in the background. The fan flies open, revealing a long, rose-colored trail of fabric flowing from its curved folds. As the woman dances about the stage, striking traditional Chinese poses, the crowd responds with cheers, calling her name. This is Asian Pacific Asian Heritage Month at Brandeis.

APAHM is always a fun time on campus, full of colorful cultural events and engaging speakers. This year’s APAHM is particularly significant, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the Brandeis Asian American Student Association, which sponsors APAHM, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Intercultural Center. BAASA co-presidents Stephanie Lee ’13 and Vicky Lee ’13, event coordinator Karen Hu ’12 and treasurer Adam Chow ’12 began the opening performance by praising all 23 members of the executive board for their hard work in creating this year’s events.


All three of Rooftop Pursuit’s members share the surname Lee.

The ceremony took place on Saturday night in Levin Ballroom. The theme, “Making Our Mark,” underscores BAASA’s emphasis this year on modern Asian accomplishments. Two musical groups that have gained popularity on YouTube, Ben Clement and Rooftop Pursuit, performed. Clement, who opened the show, is currently studying music at Biola University in California. He created a calm peaceful atmosphere with his romantic songs and acoustic guitar, accompanied by a band member playing rhythms on a wooden box. Clement, who considers himself a “hopeless romantic” told the crowd that many of his songs were written about previous relationships, eliciting awws from the audience. Though many of his original songs had a singer-songwriter, John Mayer-type sound, it was his last number, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” that was most popular with the audience. Though Clement didn’t quite have the vocal ability to make the song as strong as it could have been, the song’s message of social change was clearly appreciated.

After Clement’s performance, Ayan Sanyal ’14 came on stage to sing Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” a nod to “kids who grew up in the ’90s.” Then the newest student group under the BAASA umbrella, the Taiwanese Student Association, begins its performance with a loud, striking drum solo by Aaron Yang ’14. As the drum was rolled off stage eight female dancers took their places, standing like posed statues in traditional Taiwanese dress. One by one they moved to the front of the stage, demonstrating cultural fan, ribbon, handkerchief, sword, martial arts, umbrella and peacock dances. While each performer moved with clarity and purpose, it would have been more entertaining to see the dancers interact with one another. Instead, each demonstration ended before the next began, leaving seven dancers still as one moved.

After the formal grace of TSA’s performance, the ceremony’s mood changed abruptly as the Southeast Asian Club began their skit, “The Crystal Heart,” based on a traditional Vietnamese story. The skit, which imparts the story of a fisherman’s unrequited love for a snooty princess, was intentionally silly, and put the audience in a celebratory mood leading into a song by the Korean Student Association’s band. Seven KSA members took the stage to play a Korean pop song complete with impressive trumpet solos and heartfelt singing.

Rooftop Pursuit, the other professional group to perform, opened the ceremony’s second act with several original songs and covers, including Christina Perri’s “1000 Years.” Lead singer and keyboardist Phil Lee made a few humorous remarks about the three-man outfit of Korean-Americans, saying, “Our last names are all ‘Lee.’ … We didn’t do it on purpose.” Like Clement, many of Rooftop Pursuit’s songs were about romantic love, though guitarist Paul Lee’s wailing guitar riffs added some heat to the ballads.

Dan Ding takes a break from his MC duties to perform an original piece.

Dan Ding takes a break from his MC duties to perform an original piece.

Dan Ding ’12, the ceremony’s deep-voiced announcer took a moment away from the mic to perform an original classical song called “Piano Impromptu,” inspired by a swift change in weather Ding experienced while practicing with his high school sailing team. The audience was riveted by Ding’s obvious skill, and the reverent silence was broken only by applause as he concluded his piece.

The Brandeis Chinese Cultural Connection was next to perform, as seven members showed off their dance skills, combining hip-hop moves with traditional Chinese dances as they swayed, kicked and spun to Chinese artist Show Lo’s “Show of Love.” The dancers, outfitted in red and black and decked out in sunglasses, certainly looked the part of a professional hip hop group.

Siddhi Krishna ’12, representing the South Asian Student Association brought another serious moment to the ceremony as she played a piece of Carnatic music, the classical music of South India. Krishna plucked notes and melodies on her violin, playing an ode to Lord Ganesha, Hinduism’s remover of obstacles. Krishna struck an interesting silhouette, kneeling on the stage rather than standing of sitting in a chair, as most Western musicians would have.

The APAHM opening ceremony concluded with a group number combining several popular Asian songs into one high-energy dance number called Project BAASA: PANDAmonium. The entire BAASA e-board plus other dancers were clearly having fun with the performance, which, according to the program, “shows how Asians got more than smarts. They also got SWAG.” After watching this year’s opening performance, I’d have to say I agree.

APAHM continues throughout March, including the SKINS Fashion Show on March 16 and theTemptasian 40th Anniversary Party on March 23.


Student Organizers: Sriya Srikrishnan and Jasnam Sachathep interview

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Nov. 15, 2011

This Saturday, the South Asian Students Association will put on one of Brandeis’ biggest cultural festivals of the year, MELA. JustArts spoke to two students deeply involved in the festival: SASA Co-presidents Jasnam Sachathep ’12 and Sriya Srikrishnan ’12. Sachathep and Srikrishnan are both international students of Indian descent, though Sachathep currently lives in Thailand. These passionate students explained just how they bring a night of their native traditions to campus each year.

JustArts: How does the entire MELA production come together?

Sriya Srikrishnan: We start over the summer. There are defined roles each [executive] board member takes on [for MELA], besides their normal position. We have various committees: food, decorations, charity, organizing the after-party, publicity and there are two event coordinators who are in charge of all the acts. The basic committees take care of everything. Over the summer we also begin thinking about different themes.

Jasnam Sachathep: we try to start as early as possible.

JA: How do the different performers become involved in MELA?

SS: At our general [SASA] meetings we have sign-up sheets, and anyone can sign up for the standard class dances. People can sign up to be a choreographer. There are also individual acts, so whoever wants to do it can just come up and ask us. Once we have the list of acts we send it out on the listserve so that people can sign up for what they want to do.

JS: We don’t limit it. Anyone can perform.

JA: What is this year’s theme and how did you come up with it?

JS: The theme is “Pehchaan,” which means identity. Well, that’s one of several meanings/connotations of the word.

SS: Normally the e-board members come up with different themes. The theme has to be educational but broad enough that you can do a lot with it.

JS: It also has to be conducive to the structure of the show. How can we pick an overarching theme that ties everything together?

SS: We have lots of different acts, a slideshow, etc. We want a theme that can bring everything together.

JA: How will the theme be incorporated into the show?

JS: Voice recordings add a touch of non-South Asian opinions from people who have connections to our culture.

SS: Our slideshow will definitely be based on the topic. There are some acts that specifically address identity, in the form of poetry and dance. Our decorations on the outside of Levin [Ballroom] will be images of things that people in the club think identity or South Asian means to them.

JA: How is MELA 2011 different from other years?

SS: This year, we really reached out to the faculty and staff. We asked them to do voice recordings about what South Asia and MELA means to them. We also have some new acts and more individual performances.

JA: How many countries do SASA and MELA represent?

JS: Eight: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. We try to have a dance from each country, even if students aren’t from that country. We’ve had Afghani dance and Nepali dance, though a majority of [Brandeis] students are from India and Pakistan. But we do make a mention of all the countries in the slide show. We may not have cultural dances from each country, but we try to include them.

JA: How do you feel in the days coming up to this year’s event?

JS: I feel really bittersweet because it’s senior year. You look forward to it but you don’t want it to end, because this is it, this is the last time.

SS: I’m a senior as well, so it’s really exciting and I feel the anxiousness. It usually goes by really quick, so I’ve just been trying to enjoy every moment of it. I’ve been trying to convince [Jasnam] to perform since freshman year, and now she’s finally doing it, so I’m also really looking forward to that.

JA: What do you hope the audience will get out of the performances?

JS: In the show there are performances that are the same every year, but there’s always that cultural touch that comes out to the campus. We don’t get to show our culture throughout the year, we don’t wear our traditional garb or do our dances normally. This is the one time when we’re educating and showing the community what the South Asian culture is really about.

SS: Also, with this particular team, we want people to focus during the show on their own identity and what identity really means to them. That is something we would want them to take back from MELA.

Jenin Freedom Theater

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Oct. 18, 2011

An outer wall of the Jenin Freedom Theater in

An outer wall of the Jenin Freedom Theater in the West Bank

A refugee camp isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of creative or nurturing environments. And it’s not. But the performers of the Jenin Freedom Theater, located in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, have created a space where art flourishes amid strife and squalor.

Last Tuesday evening, four performers from the Jenin Freedom Theater came to the atrium of Mandel Center for the Humanities. They had each been personally affected by the violence that they have seen as refugees living in the camp, which covers an area of two square miles and houses about 16,000 people. The performers were angry with the Israeli Army for its brutal treatment of the inhabitants of Jenin. They hoped to create positive change through their art.

Josh Perlstein ’79, one of the organizers of the event, shared his view of the goal of the Freedom Theater in a phone interview with justArts. “The goal of the theater is to use theater as a means of liberation, for Palestinians and for all people. If people could focus their fear through a process of creation, it would move people in a positive direction. They are trying to humanize the people in the theater and anyone who they interact with. If you act as a liberator, you liberate all people, not justyourself.”

The theater’s first incarnation was known as the Stone Theater. An Israeli woman named Arna Mer came to the Jenin Refugee Camp originally as the founder of the relief organization Defense of Children under Occupation. One of the Jenin actors, Mustapha, recounted the story of Mer’s first days in the camp: “Arna showed up one day, an Israeli woman in the middle of the West Bank. She just came with papers and other arts supplies and started engaging with the young children in the street. At first, people thought she was a spy. Then, a woman named Samira decided, ‘I will host this woman. She will live in my house.’ She could see that Arna was just [trying to help the children]. From that day on, everyone trusted Arna.”

Established in 1992 during the first Intifada, a guerilla war between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants, the Stone Theater was the first public theater to be built in the West Bank. The theater,  along with much of the camp, was destroyed by Israeli soldiers in 2000, during the second Intifada. Most of the theater students died in the attack.

Members of the Jenin Freedom Theater hope to provide an artistic outlet for their people’s fear and anger.

Members of the Jenin Freedom Theater hope to provide an artistic outlet for their people’s fear and anger.

Mer’s son, Juliano Mer-Khamis, rebuilt the theater in 2006 and renamed it the Jenin Freedom Theater. (Mer-Khamis was an established Israeli actor and director. In 2002, he was nominated for an Ophir Award (the Israeli version of an Oscar) for Best Actor in the film Kedma, which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.)

After the death of his mother in 1995, Mer-Khamis became personally involved in the Stone Theater’s work. After rebuilding the theater, he moved to Jenin to become more involved. The performers couldn’t speak highly enough of their mentor on Tuesday night. “Juliano was creating individual freedom in the Jenin Refugee Camp. That can be very dangerous,” said one speaker. The others agreed that they would still be “street punks” or small-time criminals if it wasn’t for Mer-Khamis. These comments were overshadowed by a depressed spirit among the Jenin representatives: Mer-Khamis was assassinated by an unknown gunman on April 4 this year. The theater community is still recovering from the shocking murder.

As part of the talk, the performers showed clips from some of their recent performances, including a retelling of Alice in Wonderland and an original production called Fragments of Palestine. These clips did not show dialogue from the plays (which are written in or translated into Arabic) but rather dances, fight scenes or scenes set to music.

“The performers chose material that fits with the theme of liberation,” Perlstein clarified. “They assigned different characters in the play that are analogous to characters from their lives. They translate or adapt various works to fit with their own experiences.”

Some of the members of the audience at the event (mostly older people from outside of Brandeis) criticized the clips for containing too much violence. One woman asked if the theater was trying to end the violence in the camp or if they were just promoting it in a different medium.

“I don’t think you understood the clips if you think we are promoting violence,” Mustapha responded. “The actors in the theater take what they see in their daily lives and put it on stage.” Another performer agreed, “Theater becomes a refugee for … the people of Jenin. It’s therapy. When people come to the theater, they see what is in their heads.”

The Jenin Freedom Theater staged their adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”

The four performers themselves have all been “saved” by the theater. One performer recalled that he was a petty criminal, stealing cars and selling drugs, but that he really wanted to be an actor. So he went to Mer-Khamis for a part in the theater. Since then, the young man has immersed his life entirely in acting. He recounted that he would go about his day and “go to parties in costume and in-character.” It became a part of his daily life.

Perlstein added his own view of the work the theater has accomplished in Jenin: “You can tell just from the people who came to speak how much the Theater has affected them. Their options were very limited. They were all headed down a negative path, and the Theater gave them options to see different ways to live their lives. In a community-based theater, it becomes inspirational. In the largest sense for the people involved but also for the audience. If they keep going the way they are they could have a huge impact on the neighborhood.”

The talk on Tuesday was part of a tour the company is doing to promote their work overseas. They will next be performing Waiting for Godot at Columbia University and will be appearing at a benefit at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York, hosted by the celebrated playwright Tony Kushner.

Hootenanny concert

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Sept. 20, 2011

Pesky J Nixon

Pesky J Nixon

Hootenanny: According to, the term means “an informal session at which folk singers and instrumentalists perform for their own enjoyment.” This is a perfect description of the concert that took place on Saturday night in the Slosberg Recital Hall, titled “Hootenanny with Pesky J. Nixon.”

The concert was headlined by the Massachusetts-based folk group Pesky J. Nixon, which is fronted by alumnus Ethan Baird ’02. The event also featured performances by Brandeis a cappella group Starving Artists and the Barbara Cassidy Band—composed of Prof. Eric Chasalow (MUS) and his wife Barbara Cassidy MA ’98.

Cassidy opened the show with an a cappella solo performance of the Irish ballad “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood,” a lilting number with a pastoral theme. Chasalow joined Cassidy at the end of the song and introduced the group, adding that they were excited for the opportunity to play with the two other featured bands. “We’re the serious part of the night,” joked the professor.

Despite this comment, the duo’s next two numbers, both originals, were much livelier and sounded more like typical folk music than the traditionals they had opened with. In between songs, Chasalow told the audience how he had recently returned to folk music after focusing on modern classical music for most of his career. He said that he had started writing folk songs as an undergrad but stopped because his lyrics were “just terrible.” However, he picked up his guitar a short time ago and tried his luck again. This time, Cassidy wrote the lyrics and Chasalow supplied the music.

This combination works well for the Barbara Cassidy Band. Chasalow is an excellent musician, and it was easy to tell that he was enjoying himself onstage. Cassidy’s lyrics are honest and fit within traditional folk themes such as lost loves and wandering souls. As Chasalow puts it, “Barbara started writing page after page of terrific lyrics that I felt really strongly about these and inspired me to write.”

 cappella group Starving Artists delivered a musically diverse set at the Hootenanny. They also performed alongside Pesky J. Nixon and Prof. Eric Chasalow.

A cappella group Starving Artists delivered a musically diverse set at the Hootenanny. They also performed alongside Pesky J. Nixon and Prof. Eric Chasalow.

Two members of Pesky J. Nixon (named for Red Sox players Johnny Pesky, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon) joined Chasalow and Cassidy for their last number. Jake Bush (accordion, lead and backing vocals) and Dan Karp (percussion and backing vocals) added a rich and complex tone to this final song. In an interview with justArts, Chasalow remarked that he and his wife “were flattered to be asked [to perform]” alongside PJN.

Starving Artists followed this compilation with four songs of their own. The group appeared very excited to be part of the performance. Starving Artist’s musical director and choreographer Jordan Brown ’12 shared the group’s feelings about being part of the event: “Pesky J. Nixon has an incredible sense of musicality that transcended the line of genre, and everyone in Starving Artists, at least, was absolutely blown away by the beautiful lyricism, harmonies and songwriting that [the band] brought to every song they performed.” Each member was beaming—no easy feat to accomplish while singing.

The ensemble sang a mix of folk and pop hits, including songs by Rob Thomas and Carrie Underwood. Their final song, “Last Name,” featuring Lindsay Tsopelas ’12, was the sassy, high-energy highlight of their set.

After Starving Artists exited, PJN lead singer and guitarist Baird came onstage to introduce the band. It was quickly apparent that he is both a talker and a storyteller. He began by sharing how meaningful the University is to him. The singer was in an a cappella troupe as an undergrad, the now-defunct Spur of the Moment, and he mentioned how happy he was that PJN was able to collaborate with both Starving Artists and the Barbara Cassidy Band as part of Hootenanny.


PJN’s music is an ideal blend of vocal harmonies and skilled instrumentation. Bush’s accordion added an unexpected, lyrical tone while Karp’s percussion—several hand drums and cymbals as opposed to a full drum kit—gave the music a softer, less staccato vibe than can be achieved with drumsticks. Baird’s voice, deep and just a touch raspy, traveled from the stage to the audience and wrapped the listeners inside the songs’ stories. The music brought on a feeling that was comfortable, cozy and familiar. “Their songs are so completely natural and well-made that they quickly hook you in. They often use beautiful three-part harmonies, and their sound is also defined by the very sensitive arrangements that feature accordion and hand percussion,” said Chasalow.

Baird shared several humorous anecdotes from the band’s time together. His account of their rise to popularity was particularly memorable. PJN first learned that their music was being played on the radio about a year ago. Unfortunately, the radio station that had picked them up was located in Melbourne, Australia. From there, the song migrated up East Asia and through Russia to the West Coast of the United States until finally making its way to New England, where the band lives. Today, they have a fair amount of success on folk and country radio stations throughout the country, particularly on college radio.

The trio played several call-and-response numbers before its big finale, in which they brought Starving Artists and Chasalow back up on stage. The “hootenanny” aspect of the concert worked for these three groups, which all collaborated well together. Each of their styles enhanced the tone of the songs overall. After the performance, Brown enthused, “Everyone in Starving Artists agreed after the performance tonight that this was one of the most fun and unique gigs we’ve ever gotten to do. … If the opportunity to do something similar in the future arose, we would jump at it.”

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month concluding event

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

March 29, 2011

Poet Giles Li performed a mix of humorous and more meaningful poems about the Asian-American communityl

Poet Giles Li performed a mix of humorous and more meaningful poems about the Asian-American community.

Last Sunday marked the end of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month at Brandeis, a month-long celebration of Asian-American culture. APAHM featured many events centered around Asian-American culture, including the SKINS Fashion Show, which was hosted by Brandeis Asian-American Student Association; Southeast Asia Club’s lion dance showcase; and Bubble Tea Night. The closing ceremony, which took place in the Hassenfeld Conference Center, featured traditional food and spoken-word poetry, as well as a band made up primarily of Asian-American performers. Prof. Shilpa Davé (AMST) opened the ceremony with the introduction of Giles Li, a Boston-based poet who also founded the Boston Progress Arts Collective in 2005. BPAC is “a community of [Asian-American] artists that aims to create a supportive space and outlet for personal growth, creative expression and artistic exploration,” according to the group’s website. Li is also the Arts coordinator for the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, an organization that provides services and support to Chinese immigrants and low-income families.

In addition to Li’s volunteer work, he is also a commendable writer. The poet performed seven of his pieces, including “Crappy Christmas Poem in Seven Parts,” about the myth of Santa Claus and consumerism in American culture and “Grizzly Bear,” which analyzed humans’ fear of wildlife and our impact on nature from the perspective of the titular animal.

Between the poems, Li chatted with the audience and spoke about his life, including his feelings about growing older and being responsible for his family. He also sang a verse of his “favorite hip-hop song” (“Bring it All to Me” by Blaque feat. J.C. Chasez) and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” which made the crowd simultaneously laugh and cringe. Despite the poet’s comical antics, he also performed more serious pieces about misogyny and homophobia in the Asian-American community.

The Charlottesville, Va.-based band performed after Li. The group, which is comprised of four Asian-American and one white musician, is well known within the Asian community, according to BAASA Co-president Victoria Lee ’13. is a Christian band, but most of the group’s music–which has a soft rock, singer-songwriter vibe–sounded more radio-friendly than religious.

Keyboardist and lead singer Tim Ouyang spoke about the feelings of sadness and loss surrounding the earthquake in Japan, as well as the hardships of everyday life. The band’s song “Humanity” (also the title of the group’s first album) expresses Ouyang’s desire for hope. The singer urged crowd members to sing along with the chorus. Ouyang’s high tenor was beautiful to listen to, and the other members’ complex overlaid instrumentals melded well together to create a complex and enjoyable sound.

After’s performance, which ended with a crowd-initiated encore, traditional Asian food, made by the BAASA executive-board, was served. BAASA Co-president Stephanie Lee ’13 commented on the overall success of the month. “Attendance was definitely better than last year,” she said. “More people know about APAHM and the specific events on campus.”

Stephanie Lee added that she “enjoyed working with the different clubs and meeting people who kept coming back to different events . APAHM is not just for Asian-American students. Everyone who is interested in our culture can celebrate.”

Professors of Bluegrass show

The Professors of Bluegrass brought Americana classics to Brandeis.

Feb. 15, 2011

For most students on campus, the Super Mash Bros. concert was the big musical event of the weekend. However, two other bands also performed on Saturday night, and their sets proved to be both unique and extremely enjoyable experiences, even though no laptops were involved.The Professors of Bluegrass is a group from Yale University that performs old-time American country, gospel and bluegrass music. Originally formed in 1990, the group has gone through three incarnations thus far as university faculty came and left.

The current members are mandolin player Craig Harwood, guitarist and lead singer Sten Havumaki, banjo player Oscar Hills, fiddler and vocalist Katie Scharf, fiddler Matt Smith and bassist and founding member Peter Salovey. Originally, only members of Yale’s Psychology department played in the band, but the Professors of Bluegrass has expanded to include members from many areas of study in addition to alumni and university friends.

Bluegrass is often thought of as country music’s more hickish cousin by young people who are used to listening to electronically rendered songs or full-band accompaniments. However, the genre is really likable, particularly when experienced live. I couldn’t help but get into the spirit of the evening. The grins of the band members were contagious, and the Professors created an informal, friendly atmosphere. The whoops of delight from audience members added to the sense that everyone was there to have some fun.

However, the band members didn’t let themselves get too comfortable despite this easygoing atmosphere. Throughout the evening, I was continually impressed by how fast and deftly all six members played. Bluegrass-styled songs involve lots of finger picking, as opposed to simple strumming. This is where the “plunking” sound the genre is known for comes from. This technique, combined with the swift chord changes and the fast tempo of the songs, requires bluegrass players to be extremely adept at their instruments.

The visual spectacle of the players, their fingers moving up and down the necks of their instruments in time with the beat, was almost as engrossing as the music. All of the Professors soloed during the performance, and Harwood, Hills and Scharf were featured in nearly every song.

After the Professors of Bluegrass’ hour-long performance, Big Chimney, a Washington D.C.-based blues, country and bluegrass group, performed. Big Chimney played more contemporary songs, including Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” with a country twist.

This second band has five members: bassist Jeremy Middleton; mandolin player John Seebach; dobro player Alex Sens; guitarist Avril Smith; and fiddler Katie Scharf, who is a member of Professors of Bluegrass as well.

Big Chimney’s style was slightly calmer than that of the Professors’. The band played more ballads and folk songs and sang three-part harmonies provided by Seebach, Smith and Scharf in most of their numbers. Big Chimney also substituted a dobro for a banjo, which provided a less-twangy sound.

One of the most enthralling parts of the concert was the instruments themselves. Mandolins, fiddles, banjos and dobros are not typically used in today’s pop or rock music, though acts like Mumford and Sons and Fleet Foxes have brought folk back to many radio stations.

The dobro, or resonator guitar, was a particularly fascinating element of Big Chimney’s performance. It is louder than the average guitar and has a distinctive country and blues sound.

Shaped like a guitar, it is balanced on the player’s lap and played with the opening facing up, rather than out. The opening is covered with a circular aluminum plate, often with designs cut into it. There are also two smaller holes on either side of the neck of the guitar. Sens used metal picks attached to his first three fingers to pluck the strings and wore a metal tube over the ring finger of his other hand, which he slid up and down the neck of the guitar.

Along with its Prince number, the band also performed songs by Dolly Parton, Tom Waits and the Allman Brothers. Five of the songs can be found on Big Chimney’s self-titled EP.

After Big Chimney’s set, both bands performed several songs together. They were joined in this finale performance by Yoni Battat ’13 on the fiddle. These songs showcased how good a large bluegrass band can sound together, with multiple singers and many different stringed instruments all combining to create an energetic, down-home sound.

I found the bluegrass concert entertaining, and the musical talent of the bands far exceeds a lot of the Top 40 music I hear at a typical college party. I recommend you listen to some of these older tunes, as well as looking into contemporary folk and bluegrass bands such as Iron Horse, Della Mae, Dan Bern and Allison Krauss. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Y-Love concert


Jewish rapper Y-Love took the stage at Chum’s Hip-Hop Night.

Feb. 8, 2011

Last Saturday’s Hip-Hop Night at Cholmondeley’s featured energetic performances from three Brandeis students, as well as headliner Y-Love, a self-proclaimed “Jewish hip-hop artist” who tries to promote “positive hip-hop” through his songs.

Naveh Halperin ’12 and Shea Riester ’12, collectively known as Two Spirit Ones, emceed the event and performed two songs of their own. Halperin’s song, admittedly about students’ self-esteem issues, sounded like spoken-word poetry laid over simple synthesized beats. Riester performed a song of his own next, which criticized the obsession many of his peers have with digital media and the Internet. Both members of the duo are Jewish, and elements of their religious upbringings were apparent in their raps. While their songs were appropriate for a night featuring several Jewish artists, their performance also included perhaps the most crass lyric of the night, rapped by Riester: “I want my rhymes to ring eternal, like Anne Frank’s journal.” Not the best moment in Jewish entertainment.

After Two Spirit Ones’ short performance, Brandeis first-year and rapper Saz.É (Osaze Akerejah) took the stage. Saz.É has recorded one mixtape, Little Black Box, and is at work on a second, called Invincible Tomorrow, which he plans to release this summer. Both these recordings were made near the artist’s home in Franklin, N. J.

Saz.É was a better lyricist and performer than the previous act, mixing more complex beats with personal stories. The artist clutched the microphone with one hand and pantomimed lyrics with the other.

Saz.É started off his performance with one of his higher-intensity tracks, “War Room,” which was about taking back the music industry from acts who aren’t “real” or who aren’t truly interested in connecting with an audience. Before performing each song, he provided background information on what the track was about and what state of mind he was in when he wrote it. Most of Saz.É’s songs deal with experiences from his own life, including one about being involved in a self-professed “love square” with three women from home. This song, “Last Summer,” was his best performance of the night. Saz.É has also performed at Snow White and other events on campus.

The last performer of the night was Y-Love (real name Yitz Jordan), an Orthodox Jew from Baltimore and his DJ Diwon (Erez Safar). Y-Love performed songs off of his first album, This is Babylon, as well as his upcoming release, This is Unity. The rapper arrived at Chum’s wearing a sweater vest, skinny jeans and Timberlands, an outfit more appropriate for a Brooklyn hipster than a man whose music is compared to Matisyahu’s. But as soon as Y-Love started rapping, it was clear that religion was the main focus of his songs.

The artist rapped extremely fast, making more than a smattering of lyrics difficult to pick out. Yet the word “kosher” or and the number “613” (referring to the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, mentioned in the Torah) were mentioned in nearly every chorus. Y-Love was focused on spreading his message of spirituality: Many of his songs also included verses from Jewish texts or mentions of Jerusalem, and at one point he called the crowd of students “beautiful children of HaShem,” a Hebrew name for God.

Despite declaring his disdain for artists who rap about bling, girls and other less spiritual matters, the rapper incorporated several more conventional tracks from other hip-hop artists into his show. The DJ Khaled egoistic anthem “All I Do is Win” and Busta Rhymes’ “Arab Money” were both big crowd pleasers.

Y-Love is also an educator in the Jewish community, in addition to his musical pursuits. He has taught at yeshivas in Brooklyn and has mixed rap, graffiti and digital presentations into his more traditional classes. The artist says his goals are to “get Torah into the hearts and minds” of his listeners and that he expresses his religion through his lyrics.

Hip-Hop Night at Chum’s featured intelligent artists using their talents to promote unity and respect among their listeners. This unique type of rap certainly has a place on the Brandeis campus, where so many students are working toward these same goals.