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.
A Child of the Place: An Interview with Deepak Unnikrishnan
In his debut novel, Temporary People, Malayali writer Deepak Unnikrishnan reflects on Abu Dhabi’s ever evolving cultural landscape. “When you grow up in Abu Dhabi, you’re trained by your folks to detach yourself from the place, but then you return to it periodically,” he writes. In this interview, Unnikrishnan examines that impermanence, the neuroses borne from it, and the role of language in capturing its realities. “Ridiculous and wonderful things can happen to words, especially in Abu Dhabi,” he writes. “Part of the reason is that Abu Dhabi is a genuinely surreal place.”
The Building That Would Not Die: Chilean Colossus Proves Pure Movie Magic
“Architecture and film have had a long and complex love affair,” writes Oliver Wainwright in this review of ArchFilmFest London. The weeklong showcase of architectural films, he explains, offers a remarkable vantage point into the lives of buildings and the people who inhabit them. Focusing squarely on the GAM cultural center in Santiago, Chile, Wainwright traces the building’s long history and the effect of varying political regimes on the structure’s design. As he puts it, these films reveal “the multiple complex and intertwined lives to which a single building can play host, unpicking a layered palimpsest of hopes and dreams, plots and counterplots.”
Nigeria’s Afrobeats Music Scene Is Booming, but Profits Go to Pirates
In Lagos, Nigeria, a growing interest in West African pop music brings to light the city’s complex network of pirated songs. “We’re trying to change people’s perception about the use of music,” said Chinedu Chukwuji, chief executive of the Copyright Society of Nigeria, which is taking steps to correct the distribution system. Compounded by a weak economy, the city’s music scene presents new challenges, but these, as officials explain, are worth addressing. “Music has always been part of the fabric of Lagos,” said Richard Iweanoge, general manager of consumer marketing at MTN, one of the largest distributors of online music in Nigeria. “What has changed is the ability to monetize it.”
Complement this article with the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings playlist Songs from West Africa.
The Civilization in the Backyard
Sitting atop a pre-Incan city, Telmo Pereira’s 200-acre land in Intag, Ecuador, is more than a collection of artifacts—it’s home. In this piece, Naomi Renee Cohen explores Pereira’s relationship with the land, the treasures he discovered over the years, and his role as keeper of the historic site. “It is often the people, not the government, that serve as guardians of the past in places like Intag,” Cohen writes. This fervor extends to Pereira’s sons, Jorge and Hernando, who “see their roles as guardians as a cause, like economic justice and rainforest conservation, for which to live.”
The Story of Patel Brothers, the Biggest Indian Grocery Store in America
“It is funny to think that the existence of Patel Brothers owes itself to a matter as mundane as one man seeking relief for a deep human impulse: his hunger.” In this Food52 piece, staff writer Mayukh Sen traces the history of the Indian American grocery chain and his reluctance to accept its stores as a marker of his own cultural identity. “Here is a business venture born out of one man’s hankering for home and his family’s willingness to ease it,” Sen writes. “How comforting that they were brave enough to wield these desires openly, so that the rest of us could satisfy the hungers we don’t always realize we have.”
Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Mason for their contributions to this week’s digest.