Monthly Archives: April 2011

Segunda Quimbamba Folkloric Center, Inc. | Photo: Alton O'Neil

Segunda Quimbamba is a Jersey City-based drum and dance ensemble that perform the traditional music of Puerto Rico. I have had the pleasure of seeing them perform several times over the past five years. The performances are creative, wild, and exuberant. I recently caught up with Nanette Hernandez and Juan Cartagena of Segunda Quimbamba as they made final preparations for their performance at the Grove Street PATH Plaza on Friday, Sept. 10. This event is part of Grove On Grove and JC Fridays.

JCFridays is happening today throughout Jersey City. Many art studios and restaurants are participating, and art exhibit openings have been scheduled to coincide with the event. For a complete list, go to

BC: Juan and Nanette, tell us a little bit about yourselves?

SQ: We are Puerto Ricans who live in Downtown, Jersey City where we participate in numerous community-based activities. Juan was born and raised in Jersey City and Nanette was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; we have been living together in Jersey City since 1981 and have two children, Mateo and Rosa. Juan is a public interest attorney and Nanette is a marketing/pr consultant.

BC: Tell us about Segunda Quimbamba-who is in the band, how long have you been together, what type of music and dancing do you perform, and what is the origin of the name?

SQ: The original group, founded by Juan and Nanette, was called Los Pleneros de la Segunda (the Plena Players from Second Street) and began around 1989. Our children also participate in the group, Rosa both dances and drums while Mateo at times plays base for the group. We perform the drum music of Puerto Rico: Bomba and Plena – each of which is a distinct musical form with origins in West Africa. We perform the rhythms in a dance and drum ensemble and present the unique dance and drum synergies that are characteristic of this dynamic music. Our performances range the spectrum from folkloric presentations to more recent urban musical influences. Presently, we have over a dozen members nearly all of whom are second-generation Puerto Ricans, born here of parents who were born on the island. Hence our name Segunda Quimbamba (Second Quimbamba) which reflects our second-generation status, the tie to Second Street in Jersey City, and our homage to the Bomba and Plena performers who came before us. Quimbamba is a reference point in a famous poem by Luis Pales Matos describing a mythical place in Africa.

BC: Segunda Quimbamba is Jersey City’s version of the Carter Family. Mateo, your son, is also in another band. What can you tell us about it?

SQ: Mateo is a gifted musician and artist, he plays drums, guitar and bass; the group he currently performs with is called Dawn of Humans, they recently put out a record and have been touring throughout the east coast.

BC: Tell us about your upcoming performance on Friday, September 10th at Grove St. PATH Station Plaza at 6 p.m. This event is part of Groove on Grove and JC Fridays. How did the event come about, and what can the audience expect to see and hear?

SQ: Segunda Quimbamba performs regularly in local festivals and street fairs and we’ve been looking forward to participate in this venue because it provides a wonderful break from the work week for Jersey City commuters. We’re excited to present our drum rhythms on stage in both instrumental and traditional formats.

BC: Segunda Quimbamba liberates workers from the daily grind! Will commuters have an opportunity to sing and dance with you?

SQ: Absolutely, this is a great way to release the stress of our everyday lives. We often teach the chorus of the songs we are singing so they can join us and we invite them to come and dance to the drum too. Audience participation is an extension of what we do, as with many live performances, the band feeds off the energy and enthusiasm they give – this dynamic communication can alter a show into an explosive interaction – spontaneous creativity.

BC: I have had the privilege of seeing you perform numerous times. The women are beautiful, and I love the outfits-the flowing skirts, sinuous blouses, and the heeled shoes. What can you tell me about the traditional dress?

SQ: The costumes for this typical form of music and dance seen today were aesthetically developed as part of the more formal stage and film/video presentations. Visually stimulating the top skirt is used as a prop to mark and emphasize the dance movement while flirtatiously showing the underskirt (petticoat). There is a special dynamic communication involved here as the drummer closely follows the dancer’s rhythmic movements and tries to mimic the pattern with his drum beats. In the 1960’s the PR Office of Tourism and Culture pushed for this look, as the audience loved the visual effects while using it to drive tourism for Puerto Rico’s traditional folklore. One of their most popular programs designed for tourists is the Lelolei presentation seen throughout the island. While this is a very common way to present the dancers, other various garbs are used, especially by younger groups experimenting with the basic elements of this music and dance.

BC: For me, one of the great things about your performances is the interaction between the dancer and drummer. It’s playful, sexy, and celebratory. So, has Segunda Quimbamba inspired any love connections?

SQ: Funny you should ask. Last year we had a couple taking our drum and dance workshops and for the student recital we decided to have them perform a dance together (choreographed by SQ’s Tania Rodriguez, the couple are her friends). Little did anyone know that on the evening of the show, he informed Juan and I, that he had rehearsed the piece with dance moves to present an engagement ring to his girlfriend. We were in awe, it was beautiful, in the middle of the show, of the dance number, they became engaged (she was in shock!) with the audience looking on and applauding like crazy. So I guess it can happen.

BC: What can you tell me about the instruments you use?

SQ: Bomba is performed with barrel drums called “bombas,” a “maraca” and a pair of sticks called “cuas.” It has over three-hundred years of history in Puerto Rico. Plena is performed with hand-held frame drums called “panderos,” a “guiro” and occasionally conga drums. It has over 100 years of history on the island and reflects the working class idioms of people along the coast of Puerto Rico.

BC: Where have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

SQ: New Jersey mostly, but also in New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Indiana. We love venues that keep us physically close to the audience since our music is interactive and thrives on audience participation. In addition to Sept. 10th at Grove Street our biggest show will be in the Bronx on Oct. 6, 2010 at the Hostos Center for the Arts during the biennial BomPlenazo festival – the largest Bomba and Plena music festival in the country.

BC: What is an ideal audience for one of your performances, and which city and venue is the best place to perform?

SQ: Our ideal audience will have a love for live performances. It would be composed of families, from grandparents to young children, diversity of ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds with the common thread of sharing in the joy of live musical and dance performance and the understanding of the importance and need to preserve cultural and heritage traditions.

It’s difficult to pick one city or venue; we have enjoyed performing at the largest Bomba & Plena festival in the country, Bomplenazo in The Bronx. The Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick was exhilarating – both the stage layout and audience were amazing. Symphony Space in NYC was another great theater venue.

BC: Who writes your songs and choreographs your dances? What are the main themes or topics for your work? Do you think these topics will change over time?

SQ: Juan will write some of our songs but most of them come from centuries of historical development of song and rhythms that have been in Puerto Rican communities for a long time. The themes are work, identity, pride and protest on the one hand, and street life, gossip & chatter, and recent events on the other. There is a large element of history and yesteryear in our songs – but also a rich tradition of looking back to find lessons in our past to resolve the challenges of the present. Choreography is led by Nanette and others in the group but dancing in bomba, especially, is not choreographed. On the contrary, it is always spontaneous and improvised creating a challenge between the lead dancer and lead drummer.

BC: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

SQ: Our confidence has clearly grown and our commitment and joy in performing the music is evident now more than ever.

BC: What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?

SQ: Neither fame nor fortune; just joy, respect and acknowledgment that what we present resonates among our audience regardless of race, ethnicity, age or gender.

BC: Anyone can participate in a Segunda Quimbamba performance-even an Irish-Catholic former hardcore kid from the suburbs like me?

SQ: Yes, anyone can participate. Our classes attract a diverse group of students. The main goal is the desire to learn and embrace a cultural tradition different from your own and hopefully it will resonate with the history and heritage of your ancestors. The commitment to learn and share in something new through the universal language of music and dance is all that is needed. Always high energy and fun you can get the benefit of exercise, laughter and unity with Bomba & Plena.

BC: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?

SQ: Our current site is and we’re also on Facebook. Our CD “Aquí También” (Here as well), is on and on ITunes. We are also in the process of getting our website up and running this fall.

BC: Let’s discuss Jersey City a bit. You were born and raised in Jersey City. How has the neighborhood changed since you were a kid? How has the art scene changed?

SQ: There is a lot that is very good about the changes in the city with genuine people coming to our city looking for meaningful community life and struggling for the same things we all do. At the same time some changes are grating and manipulated in a way to create artificial barriers – the unstated but obvious boundary that separates life east of Marin to that west of it, for example. Along with the language that commercializes our lives. When I grew up we called it the river, now it’s the waterfront. Music and art can bridge these communities. To that end, the art scene is a welcome addition to the city and the challenge that remains is ensuring that indigenous Jersey City musical and artistic expressions are not ignored, but incorporated in this new scene.

BC: These issues were also raised in Barbara Bickart’s film. Segunda Quimbamba played a pivotal role in the project. How did your participation in the film come about, and did your participation reveal any new insights about Jersey City?

SQ: We were approached by the video artist Barbara Bickert upon the referral from the Jersey City Museum’s Sandy Martiny, at the time the curator of education. We were motivated by our mutual commitment to address and reveal an understanding of the issues of gentrification and their affect on the local residents who have lived here all their lives, often the most underserved group. We collaborated with the chorus of Bethesda Baptist Church leading to the creation of new songs and an experimental approach and presentation of Bomba & Plena with Gospel traditions – it was amazing for all of us involved – the audiences love it. Juan and I were honored to work with them, all of us willing to take the risk with this production, as we pushed our creative boundaries.

BC: In Conveyer, the designer Josef Reyes notes: “A life is a narrative and a place is a meeting point of several narratives. Consider a place to be not so much a physical environment to but a crossing point of disparate stories.” What are a few of the buried stories in downtown Jersey City, and what do they reveal about the character of our city?

SQ: Jersey City is the quintessential working class town that typifies the Northeast where industrial backyard communities supported the shining, upper class inner city. As Jersey City creates its own shining inner city it cannot forget the gritty and real working class that created it. That is where I would look first. Small businesses (auto repair shops, bodegas), bars (Rolon’s Bar and Guillo’s Bar) churches, street fairs and basketball parks and soft ball leagues, all have their own stories of a disparate past to tell.

BC: What is your favorite restaurant? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

SQ: Can’t pick just one: Sava, Skinner’s Loft, Hard Grove to name a few, Taqueria for takeout. Best juke box is Latin Lounge and Rolon’s Bar. Best coffee is La Conguita and Madame Claude’s. And the best bartender is Steve at Saigon Café.

BC: What should residents new to Jersey City know about their new home, and why?

SQ: Go west. West of Marin to know Downtown. Then go to the local bars and parks of the rest of the city to see and learn about our wonderfully diverse community. Ride a bus. Attend a street fair. Check out the art, the music. Do it all.

BC: Yes, go west. Get in the wagon train, and push through to McGinley Square, West Side and Mallory Avenue.


Segunda Quimbamba Folkloric Cente, a nonprofit center based in downtown Jersey City, currently is preparing for its fourth year of teaching dance and drum, Bomba and Plena. Registration and workshops begin on Sunday afternoons, Sept. 12, through early December.

Call the Center for more information at (201) 420-6332 or e-mail Nanette Hernandez at or visit

For the educational initiative, the group has received support from private donors, Jersey City Museum, the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, and New Jersey State Museum. SQFC is committed to providing complete access to all interested persons for all programming, both educational and performance based.

Oroginal post may be found here.


Noelle Theard | Photo by Christina Fallara

A group of artists and educators organized a series of photography workshops for children and adults a few months ago in the Caribbean. The workshops were set up in tent villages for displaced persons in earthquake-devastated Haiti. NJCU is showcasing 14 of the photographs produced in the workshop in the exhibition “FOTOKONBIT: Haiti Through Haitian Eyes.”

The public will be able to purchase images of different sizes. The proceeds from print sales will benefit FotoKonbit, the workshop participants, and two Haitian grassroots organizations: ORE and PRODEV. I recently caught up with Noelle Theard, one of the curators of the exhibition, to discuss the project, and the role that photography and arts education can play in empowering a community.

Brendan Carroll: Hi Noelle. Tell us about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

Noelle Theard: I’m one of three founding members of FotoKonbit, along with Marie Arago and Tatiana Mora Liautaud. I am a Miami-based freelance photographer, educator, and artist. I teach two courses as an adjunct professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies program at Florida International University, and I also teach photography to youth at Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

BC: What is FotoKonbit, and why is it important?

NT: FotoKonbit is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and photography initiative that partners with grassroots organizations to facilitate photography workshops with communities and create a portrait of Haiti and its diaspora through the eyes of Haitian people.

Inspired by the Creole word “konbit” which can be defined as the coming together of similar talents in an effort towards a common goal, we use our skills as photographers, educators, and artists to make a positive difference the best way we know how- through photography.

By partnering with established Haitian organizations, FotoKonbit is uniquely positioned to inspire hope through creative expression and provide Haitians with the opportunity to document their reality and share it with the largest possible audience.

"Market" | Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: How were the workshops organized, and who participated?

NT: FotoKonbit workshops take place over a period of five days. We work with film cameras first, return to Miami for processing, and take the images back to the groups we work with.

When we return, we bring digital cameras for the group members to start FotoKonbit photo clubs, where they have equipment to check out for purely artistic or commercial shoots.

For the first round in May 2010, our first group was comprised of 15 adults and in the schools we worked with 30 children. We start with the basics: what is photography, how do we use the cameras? Then we move to more conceptual questions like: what is important about your community, what are your personal interests, and finally, what do you want the world to see about Haiti?

BC: What type of cameras did you provide?

NT: We used ‘Holga’ cameras. Originally created as the “people’s camera” in 1980s China to bring photography to the masses, they are inexpensive and have a wonderfully artsy aesthetic. They use medium format film, and the images created are square.

"Tent City'' -- Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: The workshops were organized in Camp Perrin and Port-au-Prince. Why did you choose these locations?

NT: We partner with Haitian grassroots organizations whose work truly inspires us.

In Camp Perrin we had the great privilege to work with an organization called ORE that focuses on sustainable development and agriculture. ORE and its director, Mousson Pierre, are highly respected in the community, and have made incredible efforts to aid the displaced people from the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince.

Several of our adult participants were among these displaced people, and have been working to forge their lives in this small southern town. The quality of life in Camp Perrin is wonderful – fresh water, a strong agricultural tradition, and a close-knit community. Still, there is very little work, which makes it hard to resist the lure back to the destroyed capital.

In Port-au-Prince, we worked in the Peguyville neighborhood with PRODEV who is providing education to more than twenty-five tent cities across the city. They have recently opened a permanent school called “Novelle Ecole Zoranj” where FotoKonbit will be regularly teaching a photography curriculum.

The children were wonderful, excited about photographing, since most had never used a camera before. They took to it immediately, walking around the neighborhood and making photographs of the things that were important to them.

"Waterfall" | Courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: I recently oversaw a series of community-based art-making workshops for children and adults in Harlem. The children jumped in headfirst. The adults were wary-and the adolescents were much more so. How did the participants respond to the project, and what type of reactions did they have after they saw their photographs in print?

NT: The adults were much more serious in their approach – this was a serious endeavor that required intention and concentration, and the results were really stunning. For the most part, each frame was carefully composed and thought out. The kids were much more carefree, shooting a roll of film in just a few minutes! All the photographers were of course thrilled to see their work.

BC: Did you show examples of other photographers for the participants to model their pictures on? For example, Expanding the Walls, a program organized by the Studio Museum of Harlem, use the photographer James Van Der Zee as a study model to help guide novice photographs.

NT: To inspire the students we showed work from previous workshops that I have done with grassroots organizations in Miami in a project called the Galeria del Barrio. In the curriculum we are building, we will incorporate great photographers like the ones you mentioned.

"Family'' -- Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: Some people do not like to have their picture taken. How did the communities of Camp Perrin and Port-au-Prince respond to the photographers?

NT: People responded well, especially because in most cases, they knew the person behind the camera. Sometimes the photographers were denied by people who did not want to be photographed, but overall, people were very open. We talked about strategies for making portraits, and told them what we have learned as photographers ourselves: never take it personally when someone says no.

BC: The photographs produced in the workshops will be on view in the exhibition “FOTOKONBIT: Haiti Through Haitian Eyes” in the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at NJCU. How did the exhibition come about?

NT: Deborah Jack is a great photographer and professor at NJCU, and we know each other through Rosie Gordon Wallace, who is the director of the Diaspora Vibe Gallery here in Miami. She put me in touch with Midori Yoshimoto, who has done an amazing job of organizing the exhibition.

BC: Will any of the children and adults from the workshops make it over to the exhibition?

NT: The photographers will see the images in our Haiti exhibition in March, but won’t be able to travel to this exhibition in the U.S. We will document the opening with photos and video and send it to them.

"Dog'' -- Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: I visited the project’s Web site. The photographs taken in Camp Perrin and Port-au-Prince cover a range of subject matter, and convey a warmth and gentleness rarely associated with Haiti. I love the image of the dog in repose on a backyard patio. This picture is quiet, warm and unsuspecting, and reveals a sense of whimsy and mischief. What’s your favorite photograph in the series, and why? What does it reveal about Haiti, and the person who took the photograph?

NT: My favorite photograph is the market, because it looks like a Haitian painting! I also love the photograph of the man fishing in the lake, holding a bright yellow bucket, and looking right into the camera. The setting is so beautiful, and the image so subtle. The photographer, Smith Neuvieme, is a wonderfully perceptive, thoughtful, and endearing person. When we asked him to tell us about this picture, he said he wanted to show how different people work, what people do to get by. Smith is one of the people displaced by the earthquake from Port-au-Prince and is adjusting to life in Camp Perrin.

"Girl With Shower Cap'' -- Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: My other favorite photograph is the portrait of the young girl standing in a lot in front of a cinderblock wall covered in graffiti. She is about eight or nine. There is a slight bounce in her pose-one leg is in front of the other. A satchel is draped across her shoulder, and she is holding the straps in both hands-maybe she is on her way to school. Her outfit is smart: gingham shirt, skirt, white socks, and red show cap. This girl has sass, and she has both feet on the ground. I detect a small grin on her face. Does she know the photographer? Is it someone in her family?

NT: What a great reading of that photograph! Yes, she knows the photographer, it is one of her young classmates at the school in the Peguyville neighborhood.

BC: As I began to write this Q+A, I did an image search of Haiti in Google. The results were dominated by images of devastation. The audience can expect to see a radical different Haiti in the exhibition. What types of photographs did you choose, and why?

NT: We chose photographs that spoke to what life is like in Haiti, especially the day-to-day. Many of the Haitians in diaspora that have seen the photos have said that the images make them nostalgic for home. Other people who are less familiar with Haiti have been surprised by the abundance of food at the market, or the enormous waterfalls and lush vegetation. The images challenge negative representations of Haiti by simply portraying reality – that’s a pretty powerful thing!

BC: What I know of Haiti is limited to popular media. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, and has recently suffered innumerable tragedies-including a Cholera outbreak, a 7.0 earthquake, and several tropical storms. Despite these severe realities, the participants produced a series of photographs of extreme softness, poise, and beauty. As I sat writing I realized that this is one the first times I have encountered Haiti from the point of view of a Haitian. Can you speak about the importance of giving Haitians a stage to share their experience, strength, and hope?

NT: Rather than being represented by outsiders, FotoKonbit participants are using cameras to imagine the new Haiti by representing themselves, their lives, their interests, and values. Not surprisingly, the result is radically different from the stereotypical images we see of Haiti as portrayed by the media. Here, in these FotoKonbit images, we see community, family, life and all its joys and difficulties, but above all, we see dignity.

"Boys'' -- Photo courtesy of FotoKonbit

BC: Have you kept in touch with any of the participants in the workshops? And do you know what they are up to now?

NT: We have kept in touch with all of the participants. The adults in Camp Perrin have decided to start a FotoKonbit photo studio, and the students are now out of the tents and in a permanent school called Ecole Zoranj.

Original post may be found here.

If you go

WHAT: FOTOKONBIT: Haiti Through Haitian Eyes
WHEN: Through Dec. 14
WHERE: The Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery, NJCU, 2039 Kennedy Blvd. Hepburn Hall, room 323
DETAILS: Curated by Noelle Theard, Marie Arago, and Tatiana Mora-Liautaud

Related topics: haiti, jersey-city

The Kingdom has come to Astoria in the form of a soul food restaurant. Queens Comfort is its name. Eat the pulled pork on a bed of grits. Wash it down with black coffee and homemade donuts.  Make sure to bring comfy pants and slippers.

Queens Comfort is located at 40-09 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103. Phone number is (646) 597-8687.

Queens Comfort | Image: Bradley Hawks

Split Pea with Bacon. Image: Bradley Hawks

Fried Chicken Sandwick | Image: Bradley Hawks

Arugula salad with goat cheese, fig preserve, pear, and toasted walnuts | Image: Bradley Hawks

Maple Bacon Buttermilk Biscuit at Queens Comfort | Image: Bradley Hawks

Pulled pork with Stumptown BBQ sauce slaw | Image: Bradley Hawks

Mac-N-Cheese | Image: Bradley Hawks

Homemade Coffee Cake | Image: Bradley Hawks

Dounut Hole | Image: Amuse Bouche

QC Crew: Thompson, Sullivan, Contini, and D'Alessio | Image: Bradley Hawks

SURATI | Photo credit: Cassi Alexandra

Classical Indian dancing frequently tells stories about Hindu legends, and the upcoming performance tomorrow at Art House Productions by Surati for Performing Arts will be no exception.

The Jersey City-based ensemble, under the direction of choreographer Rimli Roy, will showcase the playful spirit of Holi, the Indian festival of colors.

Holi is an annual festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in March. It celebrates spring and is a time of casting aside social norms, and indulging in childlike mischief.

I recently caught up with Roy, the founder and director of Surati, to discuss this performance, classical Indian dance, the art of flirting, and the mass appeal of Bollywood and Bhangra.

BC: Hi Rimli. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Surati is celebrating Holi, the festival of colors, at Art House Productions. For people unfamiliar with the celebration, what is Holi, and why is it important?

RR: Holi is the Indian festival of colors and is one of the most popular celebrations in India. On the day of the festival, people lovingly smear color on each other as a sign of celebration. The history of this festival is deeply rooted in Indian culture and legend that highlights the victory of good over evil. Bonfires are lit to ward away the evil.

Holi is celebrated usually in the month of March. The Hindu God Krishna is supposed to have popularized the festivities that take place today on Holi – playing with colored powder and colored water. Food and drink are a part of the celebrations.

Holi is important to our community. It is a part of Indian culture and tradition. It helps to preserve and showcase Indian cultural heritage. This event will also educate the community on this festival and trace its history. Such celebrations are important to spread cultural awareness especially amongst the newer generation.

BC: Can children come to the performance?

RR: Children are an integral part of this Holi celebration and are encouraged to attend this festival. This Holi festival has been designed to be family-friendly. There are a lot of children participating in this year’s event, in the cultural program and in the art exhibition.

Children ten years and under enter for free and get free pizza at the event before 1 p.m. Students of Hamilton Park Montessori and Hudson Montessori Schools will create and display art and craft work on Holi. There are also several educational and fun activities for children at the festival.

I am narrating the story of Holi to the audience at the beginning of the cultural program. This is primarily to educate the children and community about this festival. There will also be henna tattoos for children at the festival.

BC: I have seen Surati perform the festivals of India on dozens and dozens of occasions. Your Holi-inspired performances always struck me as playful, flirtatious, and even mischievous. What role, if any, do these types of human behavior play in the celebration?

RR: Holi is a celebration of fun, frolic and playfulness. The celebration of Holi today has been popularized by the loved Hindu God Krishna who is considered to have been a mischievous prankster, flirtatious in his ways. Lord Krishna is supposed to have played with colored water and powder on Holi with his beloved Radha and her companions in legendary Vrindavan, a tradition followed even today throughout India. There are countless pictures and artwork created and recreated over time that depicts Radha and Krishna playing Holi. Holi brings the community together, where the young and old celebrate together in this joyful occasion.

BC:When I think of flirting, playfulness, and loving indulgence, I think of Valentine’s Day. Is Valentine’s Day comparable to Holi? Or is there another Western festival, celebration, or holiday that is closer in spirit?

RR: Ha! Ha! Valentine’s Day could still be compared to a celebration of the love story between Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha, but not in essence the spirit of Holi. Holi has years and years of tradition and culture in celebrating it. Its history telling the usual story of good over evil, celebrating with bonfires which have significance, smearing colors, music, dance, good food and drink are all a part of the festival. I could compare the traditions with that of Thanksgiving (from the perspective that it is an age-old tradition), but then there are similarities with the spirit of sharing and giving during Christmas and the merry-making of any joyful occasion.

SURATI | Photo credit: Cassi Alexandra

SURATI | Photo credit: Cassi Alexandra

BC:If Surati has groupies, I may be one of them. I love the dancing, music, costumes, and props. For the uninitiated, what can the audience expect to see and hear in this performance?

RR: The performance will have a wide variety of cultural display. This year we wanted to showcase other forms of dance and music from around the world (apart from Indian dance and music forms), which could pay homage to the Indian festival. I wanted the Holi celebration this year to showcase the many cultures of the world.

Surati instructors and students will be performing a variety of traditional classical, folk and contemporary Bollywood styles of dance and music. We also have special performances by students of Next Step Broadway who will be performing tap and jazz dance forms. There will be a dance performance by Karina Khalifa, who will be performing a Shamadan (Egyptian) dance fusing it with Yoga and Indian moves. Band Tantric will be performing a fusion of popular Indian and Western melodies. In fact, the Mayor of Jersey City is also supposed to sing a song at the festival!

BC: I can already hear Mayor Healy humming the opening bars of Danny Boy. Is Classical Indian music capable of handling an Irish-American crooner?

RR: Mayor Healy is not scheduled to sing with Indian musicians (though one day I’m sure we can come up with something like that.) We have band Tantric who will possibly be accompanying the Mayor if need be. The band is made of Indian and Western musicians and is a fusion band. Tantric band members will play Indian tunes from popular movies as well as some western tracks.

BC: Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, the nuts and bolts of the performance. How many dancers and musicians have you enlisted for the show?

RR: There are about seventy-five students and children participating in the cultural program and art exhibition. There are more than twenty-five professional dancers and musicians performing at this event including myself.

BC: What about the stage design and props: What’s on order?

RR: Surati is not presenting a staged production for Holi on the lines of what you have seen in the past. There will be some stage and hand props that will be used and backdrop projections instead of sets. There are some elements of surprise that I would not like to give away at this point.

BC: One of the central characteristics of Holi is brilliant colored powder (called “gulal”) that revelers throw at everyone, even the anonymous passers-by. Is Surati’s performance going to be messy?

RR: The Holi performances are not going to be messy. The performance has been designed from the perspective of cultural diversity. Though we will use some symbols and motifs of the Holi colors, the playing of Holi is scheduled to be downstairs in the open lot between 8th and 9th Streets, where only dry, safe colors or gulal will be used. Colors will only be used on those participating in the festival, and those that want to play with colors. We will have security at the event that will ensure that the playing of colors is done in a safe manner.

BC: Where do the colored powders come from?

RR: Colored powders are available here in the Indian markets that may have been imported from India or made here. Only safe colored powders will be used. We will try to restrict the usage of colored powder to what is supplied by us at the event.

BC: I’m from Jersey, Irish-Catholic. We dance, but we don’t touch. At first, I was intimidated by Indian dancing-too much exuberance, too much joy, too many bright colors. I’m a convert now. I love it. Indian dancing seems capable of embodying the entire range of human emotions-from agony to ecstasy, melancholy to glee. Can you discuss Indian dancing from a formal, aesthetic, and conceptual point of view?

RR: Indian dancing is a wide spectrum topic consisting of seven classical dance forms, hundreds of folk dance forms, several creative genres of dance forms that have evolved from the classical and folk dance forms (one such that I innovate and teach) and of course not to forget the most popular Bollywood style dance that has evolved over the years to drift away from Indian cultural forms today and adopt the more Westernized look and feel.

While traditional Indian dance forms, especially classical, takes years of formal training to master, is rooted in dramatic/dance theory and text and is a vast subject on its own with very specific guidelines, Indian folk is more a way of life and culture, bringing societies and communities together. Though some folk dance forms require a great level of skill to perform, folk dances usually have been performed as a social custom or as a mark of celebration.

Pure dance or “Nritta” as understood in classical theory, is dance in its pure form, without expression or story telling. “Nritya” on the other hand involves expressions and meaningful hand gestures. “Natya” includes drama and the story-telling aspects of dance. Many Indian dance forms have taken from this classical theory involving these interesting aspects of dance.

I think Indian dance owes its dramatization and expressions to these aspects of dance-drama theory. Even Bollywood dances that are choreographed to more traditional Indian music today use a lot of traditional dance movements, expressions and hand gestures.

BC: When Surati performs, everyone looks happy. Why is everyone happy?

RR: Indian dance is performed as a sign of joy and exuberance (unless there is a more grim or solemn dance-drama portion being enacted). Most dances are performed to signify happiness. Hence the dancers are usually smiling or showing happiness.

BC: You are a classically trained dancer. What do you think about Bollywood and basement Bhrangra? Is folk dancing a perversion or misrepresentation of classical traditions? Why or why not?

RR: I think Bollywood and Bhangra dance forms are great fun styles to be experimenting and learning Indian dance with. It is also a great way of exercising and working out today. There is a certain level of skill required to perform both these dance styles well.

Bhangra is a more popular, energetic folk dance form from the state of Punjab. Bollywood today is more a mix of hip-hop, modern, jazz, bhangra and other Indian dance forms.

However, Bollywood and Bhangra dancing cannot be compared to classical Indian dancing. It is not a misrepresentation unless Bollywood or Bhangra is addressed with the name Indian classical dance, which it is not.

BC: Indian music is fluid, adaptable. I remember the students loved your improvisational riff on hip-hop during the Festivals of India at Jersey City Museum. The performance was a revelation. Why do you think Indian dance and music is capable of incorporating such a diversity of musical genres?

RR: Thank you Brendan for your compliments and kind words about our performance!

Indian dance and music is very diverse and may be broadly classified as classical and folk. Just like the dance, Indian music and musical instruments are varied and very distinct depending on the regions they come from. Usually classical musical instruments accompany classical dance forms, folk music accompanies folk dances and the genres are very distinct in style.

Music from North India is very different from South Indian music in general. However, I think that contemporary, creative and music used in Indian films today, have taken the best from this entire spectrum of dance and music forms existent in Indian culture, thus producing sounds very attractive to the ear. This, together with the latest in sound technology has created sounds and music that have today become very popular in the global music market.

In any case, I think dance and music are of universal appeal once the language factor is eliminated, and with the wide variety existing in Indian dance and music, I think a fusion with practically any genre in World Cultures is possible.

BC: What do you think is the biggest misconception of traditional Indian music and dance?

RR: I think traditional Indian dance and music has failed to gain the level of importance and appreciation it deserves from the common folk. The potential of traditional Indian dance and music forms is huge. These forms are yet to attain visibility on a global platform, the way today Bollywood has gained importance.

I think a part of this could be achieved when something on the lines of a Broadway or Opera would be running as a regular show around the world that uses Indian traditional forms of dance and music. I believe that the magnificent and intricate costumes, sets, lights and stage that one would think of designing, to recreate possibly one of the Indian epic or legendary stories on stage featuring traditional Indian dance and music would be no less attractive than an Opera or Broadway show, if produced well.

BC: Rumor on the street is Surati is interested in showcasing Bollywood films in Jersey City. Is there any truth to this assertion?

RR: Surati would definitely be interested in partnering with other organizations to bring good Indian films to Jersey City. Not only Bollywood, but there are many very good Indian films out there which could do with more attention from viewers. It would be interesting to bring such films to Jersey City too.

BC: What would Jersey City gain attending Bollywood film festivals?

RR: Bollywood has gained great visibility in the global market especially in recent times. Many Indian films showcase our culture apart from being a mere source of entertainment. The Jersey City community could foster a greater understanding of the Indian community and culture through these films.

BC: My family was born in Jersey City. What brought you here, and how long have you lived in the city.

RR: I moved to Jersey City with my husband Jayanta in year 1999 (October) and started working as an IT professional in New York City. I also started dancing and performing along with my full time job during that time. I organized several concerts and performances during that first year where other members of my family (who are also performing artists) also participated. Though I founded Surati formally in 2002, I was already performing and teaching by that time.

BC: Where is the best place to get Indian food in Jersey City?

RR: There are several places to get good Indian food in Jersey City but the one I am going to mention is the relatively new “Spirit of Laxmi” restaurant that has recently opened on Morris Street. They are catering the food for the Holi event on March 19th and are the new talk of the town.

BC: Where is the best venue to enjoy Indian dancing?

RR: Obviously at Surati! And currently at the Holi festival. People will have a great time dancing to the live band Tantric and DJ music. Also FYI we teach Indian classical, folk and Bollywood dance classes at Surati.

BC: Any last words?

RR: I would like to thank Paul Silverman, New York Life, Spirit of Laxmi, Indus American Bank and Gotham City Orthopedics for making this possible.

I urge the people of Jersey City and beyond to come out and support this one of a kind Holi festival on March 19th. We want to make it an annual event. This is one event that will bring together culture, good food and community spirit.

If you go

WHAT: Holi Festival
WHEN: Tomorrow
WHERE: Art House Productions, 1 McWilliams Place, Jersey City
DETAILS: PART ONE: Indoors from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. tomorrow (doors open at 11 a.m.). Holi themed art exhibition by the children of Hamilton Park Montessori School and Hudson Montessori School. Dance and musical performances by students and instructors of Surati. Special guest performances. Dance performance by students of Next Step Broadway. Delicious munchies by Spirit of Laxmi. Pizza for children between noon and 1 p.m. Admission: $15 online, $20 cash at the door. Children under 10 are free.

PART TWO: Outdoors on McWilliams Place, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. tomorrow. Play holi with safe dry colors. DJ and dancing to Bollywood songs. Live Band (Tantric) and Bollywood karaoke performance. Bhangra demo. Traditional Henna tattoos for all. Full traditional Indian buffet lunch. Thandai. Admission: $25 online or $35 cash at the event. Children under 10 are free.

If you can’t get enough Holi fun, make sure to attend the Holi Parade in Jersey City on Sunday.

Original post may be found here.