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  • Folklife Friday: Japan’s Magical Mountainside, the Social Power of Song, and More

    Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.

    Otherworldly Architecture in Japan’s Magical Mountainside
    “It feels not of Japan, but of elsewhere,” Hanya Yanagihara writes in this elegant piece on the mountain town of Karuizawa. The region’s rich landscapes are enlivened by its avant-garde houses—structures that reflect rather than disrupt their surroundings. “It is a town full of reminders of what architecture can do,” Yanagihara writes. “Instead of removing us from the land, it gives us a window to see the earth below—and returns us to it.”

    Harry Belafonte and the Social Power of Song
    In a review of the new anthology The Legacy of Harry Belafonte: When the Colors Come Together, Amanda Petrusich explores Belafonte’s depth and dynamism. Belafonte, who struggled to define his identity in the early 1950s, was drawn to the work of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, artists whose songs were an engine of social change. He felt anger was a necessary ingredient for such change, but only when redirected into music. “Anger can be crippling when it festers in isolation,” Petrusich writes. “Belafonte figured out how to push anger outward by bringing others close.”

    Africa’s Great Civilizations Have Been Suppressed, Gates Says
    In Africa’s Great Civilizations, a new three-part series from PBS, host Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes audiences on a journey across the continent’s great empires, expansive trade routes, and more. In this interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Gates speaks to the value of the series now more than ever. “I want these stories, the stories of Africa and its Africans, to be woven into the story of the history of the development of civilization,” Gates explains. “I want everyone, every schoolchild to understand from day one that they are a citizen of the world.”

    The Spectral Sounds of Endangered and Extinct Languages
    A new exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami is elevating endangered languages to the level of fine art. The multimedia installation series, designed by anthropologist and artist Susan Hiller, features black screens, subtitles, and reverberating green oscilloscopes that showcase the multitude of minority languages across the globe. “Sound waves actually touch our ears, so when we listen to a person talking we are literally touched by them,” Hiller says. “I wanted to facilitate direct contact, empathy, person-to-person feeling.”

    The Scholar of Indian Cuisine More of Us Should Know
    For Colleen Taylor Sen, who grew up in Toronto on a diet of Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, trying curry for the first time in her early twenties was all it took to spur a lifelong interest in Indian cuisine. Here, Mayukh Sen interviews the now 72-year-old scholar on, among other things, her dislike of the phrase “Mughal food,” her desire to explore dishes beyond well-known curries, and her favorite Indian breakfast of Mughlai parathas, or fried bread stuffed with minced meats.

    Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Mason and Betty Belanus for their contributions to this week’s digest.

    Photo by Kikuchi Dai


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