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  • Folklife Friday: Lila Downs, Jewish Fare in Azerbaijan, 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.

    Tiny Desk Concert: Lila Downs 
    At once powerful and tender, Mexican American vocalist Lila Downs is well known for her evocative performances, a mélange of sight and spectacle. But in this Tiny Desk Concert, when the metaphorical curtain is pulled back, viewers get a look at Downs’s raw talent and vocal range. “Entertaining and inspiring, she's as much a storyteller as a singer,” Felix Contreras writes. “Her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.”

    Eating with the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan
    In Gyrmyzy Gasaba, a small town in northern Azerbaijan, you’re as likely to hear “shalom” in the streets as you are “salaam.” The town, considered one of the world’s last surviving pre-Holocaust Jewish villages, is brimming with mouthwatering fare, as Caroline Eden tells Food52. “A small slick of corn oil has colored the rice a sunshine yellow,” Eden writes in her description of rice-based plov, “while a sprinkling of juicy apricots and sweet chestnuts lifts it from the doldrums, turning it into a dish for all the senses.”

    ‘Is This What the West Is Really Like?’ How It Felt to Leave China for Britain
    For writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, moving in her twenties to London from her hometown of Beijing was a study in cultural isolation. Guo, who made the move to learn filmmaking on a Chevening scholarship, reflects in this Guardian piece on the loneliness that rippled unspoken beneath the surface of her mundane interactions, from buying a cup of tea to meeting with an agent. “I had been illiterate until the age of eight,” Guo recalls, “and now, at almost 30, I was once again illiterate.”

    Keeping Alive a Haven for Yiddish Culture in Modern Romania
    Built in 1940, the State Jewish Theater in downtown Bucharest is one of few remaining Yiddish-language theaters in Europe. When Romania came under communist rule, the theater’s actors used Yiddish to circumvent the censors. “The audience had headphones on and our colleagues were translating into Romanian, but they would skip the sensitive parts,” actor Rudi Rosenfeld recalls.

    Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records (now Smithsonian Folkways), also worked to preserve Yiddish culture by releasing work by his father, author Sholem Asch, and Yiddish music

    In 'Uproot,' A DJ Traces Modern Music's Tangled Family Tree
    For Jace Clayton, a New York-based writer and musician, digital technology is setting the stage for a richer understanding of identity and place. In his book Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture, Clayton explores how children in northern Mexico are using electronic software to remix indigenous music to suit their tastes. “People all over the world now have these inexpensive digital tools,” Clayton explains, “and they're using those to express themselves musically and sort of connect with the world.”

    Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough, and to Michael Mason and Maya Potter for their contributions to this week’s digest.

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