Voices in Focus: A Celebration of ‘Jaranero’ Music

Happy middle of the week! Today our perusal of New York’s ethnic and community press has yielded some thoughtful stories on art and religion, including a memoir by a rabbi’s wife turned feminist artist; a Bronx high school student’s take on the role of family and religion; dueling petitions on a controversial monument in New Jersey; and a Mexican music festival.

* The Jewish Forward recently reviewed a memoir by the feminist artist Helène Aylon, who was raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. Aylon’s life provides an interesting lens through which to understand the conflicts between feminism and traditional culture. Her work has been featured in New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art and The Jewish Museum.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Aylon married a rabbi, moved to Montreal and raised a son. By the time she was 30 she had returned to Brooklyn, and her husband had died of cancer.

Toward the end of her husband’s life, Aylon had enrolled at Brooklyn College as an art major. One of her early teachers and mentors was abstract expressionist painter Ad Reinhardt. He told Mark Rothko about her, and soon Rothko invited her to his studio. Their Jewishness, even more than their art, connected them, as they discussed Barnett Newman’s kabbalistic sculpture, “Tsim Tsum,” and Rothko’s childhood, which included attending heder in Russia. “It was a day of days,” Aylon told me recently, “a day I’ll never forget.” Three weeks after their meeting, Rothko committed suicide.

Aylon’s art confronts the paternalism of Jewish traditions with love, The Forward writes.

Aylon occupies a unique, sometimes uneasy place in the spectrums of Jewish art and feminism. She is more organic and less overtly political than other feminist artists, even as her work is more specifically Jewish and knowledgeable than that of most Jewish artists. She is not a maker of shtetl sentimentality, of wistful Shabbos scenes or reverential rebbe portraits. But her gaze is loving even when it is angry. This is what makes Aylon a compelling artist, and her memoir worth reading: Her ability to show the ways in which Judaism has controlled and confined her, as it has all Jewish women. And yet, to love it all the same.

* As part of the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative, the young writer Terrance Washington reported on his fellow teenagers’ frustrations with organized religion for the Norwood News.

With her head down and eyes closed during the temple prayers, Sally Dhanai looks like the model Hindu. But, really, what the 17-year-old Norwood resident is thinking during the evening service is: “This is long and boring.”

“Honestly, I’m not as religious as my parents,” said Sally, a senior at Bronx Leadership Academy. “When they tell me to do things related to my religion, I just do it.”

Some parents see religion as a way to protect their children, Washington reports.

“Ultimately it has to be your decision,” said Greg Faulkner, chief of staff for Brofgnx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera. “There’s a point where you need to be making your own decisions. For a lot of parents it’s a fear. They are looking for a safe haven for you.”

* The Korea Times had the latest in the ongoing saga of a controversial monument in Palisades Park, N.J., to Asian “Comfort Women” forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II — two dueling petitions to the White House.

In May, two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park, a town where more than half the population is Korean, and asked that the monument be removed, angering many Korean-Americans who accuse the Japanese of trying to deny the historical episode. A White House petition started by a Japanese resident that has yielded over 32,000 signatures asserts that “many of the original charges were false or completely fabricated.” Most of the signatures have come from Japan, The Cable reported.

Those seeking to support the monument started their own petition, but failed to meet the required number of signatures to require a response from the White House, The Korea Times reported. Under its “We the People” program, the White House responds to all petitions that muster 25,000 signatures in 30 days. Only 7,255 people had signed the pro-monument petition, The Korea Times reported, but there appeared to be plenty of support in the Korean community for other ways of commemorating the suffering of “Comfort Women.” An excerpt is translated below:

In addition to the petition, Korean communities in L.A. and New York decided to build more monuments, saying that the Japanese government and Japanese people should not conceal the historical truth.

“Only after a week of conducting fund-raising campaign for [the] comfort women monument, the donation so far is approaching $12,000,” said, Seonghoe Kim, an assistant administrator of Korean American Forum of California.

One American official has already shared her position on the matter, The Korea Times reported.

Last March, [during talks with South Korea], Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State described comfort women as ‘enforced sex slaves’ and banned the use of the phrase ‘comfort women’ on official government documents.

Jarana Beat (Cortesia via El Diario)

* Bands from Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and the Mexican state of Veracruz met at the Terraza 7 Train Café between Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, Queens for a festival celebrating Mexican jaranero music. El Diario provided a nice round-up.

One student of the genre defined it as “folkloric music from Veracruz with a mix of Spanish, African and Amerindian influences.” The event was organized by a group of New Yorkers called Jarana Beat.

Sinuhé Padilla, a Mexican and jaranero expert from Brooklyn, explained that the Arab occupation of Spain for more than 700 years actually determined the evolution of the genre’s sound… “The ‘jaraneros’ or sinners were those who didn’t play sacred music,” Padilla said, “But later they were recognized for their festive spirit and unique style.”

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