Sharing Sonic Space: Music as Home, Soul and Connector

“I hope that more people will listen to more music outside of their own little comfort zone. I think that we enrich ourselves, we are better human beings when you open up your heart to other cultures, other music, to other worlds to other points of view. Because ultimately, as I said in the very beginning, we’re all the same. We’re all humans, and we all can connect in different ways with the things that we like. But, when we see it through the eyes of a different person. Then we better ourselves. We enrich ourselves.”

Welcome to CultureMade: Heritage Enterprise in a World on the Move , an audio collaboration from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the American Anthropological Association and This Anthro Life Podcast

The above quote comes from Betto Arcos, music journalist and host of NPR’s The Cosmic Bario. Music, whether you create it or are an avid listener, pulls you in a deep sensory allure. The connection humans make with music is so deep that it can impact us physically and serve as a key point of return for our memories. As our guests from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival can attest, as much as it conjures deep feelings and memories, we learn something through the experience of music. Joining the distinct artists together in their views on music is a central theme, that music can help us overcome social difference. For Betto, this recognition is central to his desire to create music. Betto Arcos, in his own words:

“I think that’s ultimately why I do it [create music]. I feel like there is a responsibility. There is a sense of a higher reason, why I do this. But deep down it’s also because I love music. Because I’m passionate about it and I feel like we can only do better as a human race, as people, if we know about each other a little more.”

Arpan Thakur Chakraborty (middle), Rabi Das Baul (right) discuss the indwelling of god in music (Gamwell on left)

For the Baul performers of West Bengal India, the discovery entailed by music is so deep that its divine. Speaking for the Baul performers, Arpan Thakur Chakraborty says:

“In Baul, there is not a music only about philosophy or life style. They believe that God does not lay in any church, mosque, or any Temple. God lies in human body. To dive into their soul, to find the Almighty, to find the divine…” Continuing, Arpan Thakur Chakraborty says: “Actually for last hundreds of years, baul have been spreading the message of eternal love brotherhood. They don’t accept the division of any caste, creed, or any other deep divisions or social divisions. By their music, by their dance, by their everything, they want to spread the message of eternal brotherhood and to be together.”

For Arpan Thakur Chakraborty and the Baul performers, it is clear that music occupies a space of deep inward reflection that helps them better understand others in the world around them. However, the message of the music is not only inward. Music for the Baul performers can also be about spreading a needed message. Speaking to this, the Baul performer Mamoni Chitrakar reflects on the narratives of music:

“They used to paint these mythological stories, but nowadays they [have] also commissioned another kind of storytelling, more of a social message like violence against women, education for all, anti-corruption and also paint on contemporary issues. [They focus on] the big contemporary event – maybe environmental events. Maybe the social event.”

Adam speaks with Manas (Middle) and Mamoni (right)

As with myths, Mamoni Chitrakar understands music as ever-changing. A purpose of music, like a myth, is to tell stories that show the faults and shortcomings of society while offering cautionary tales and hope for a better future. Music, as a vehicle of such messages, can adapt and express change. As activist Amy Horowitz explains, to tell a story with music though does not require a formula. Amy in her own words:

“I care a lot about the fact that music just misbehaves. It does not pay attention to borders. It slips past rhizomatically, if you will, of any kind of checkpoint you want to put up. My academic work grew out of this. I was an activist who went, ‘wow, OK this is this is how music happens’ you know? And so, here’s the deal, you know what it meant to be a multiracial women’s coalition around these concerts was to bring different communities together – to figure out how to work together by doing these concerts. It could be, let’s say in Fayetteville Arkansas, a rape crisis center, a black community where a road was about to be built through their neighborhood, an environmental group that was against nukes, a lesbian group and they might really have never shared space… But, to do the nuts and bolts of pulling off an event together? How do you promote it? How do you share that space? What happens when there’s disagreement that comes up and then, in the end, there’s the concert, and people are in the hall together, and they’re going, ‘wait a minute, I thought this was my group. Who are those other people in their group too?’ And so then the music keeps going, and you’re singing together. And you’re together. It’s about the nuts and bolts of building it. Then there’s this kind of catharsis or, if you will, there’s just a sort of a musical moment at the end where everyone shared the sonic space. Not just that geographic space, not just a building, but the sonic space. I truly believe you know, watching how music crosses enemy lines in Israel Palestine, which is where I spent most of my time. [Music] may not change everything overnight but it does change the cellular matter of the people that were in that space for that moment. That ain’t nothing.

Podcasting the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The purpose of this series is to create narratives linking the diverse peoples, perspectives, and activities across the Festival from a series of micro ethnographies like those above. The open format interview style allowed participants to define in their own words the relationships between their artisanship, musical ability, or experiences and how migration and movement shape their lives. Conversations with curators and other researchers supplemented the interviews with Festival participants and helped us to identify the research involved in selecting participants and the presentation of cultural heritage for the Festival. This approach allows us to foreground a central or thematic conversation and to narrate events and activities at the Festival that listeners can paint in their minds as if they had been there to experience it.

About our Speakers

Betto Arcos is a music journalist based in Los Angeles, host of The Cosmic Barrio, a reporter for NPR, and regular reporter for PRI. You can learn more about Betto at: http://bettoarcos.com/

Or follow him on Twitter @ArcosBetto

Amy Horowitz is an activist, promoter, feminist scholar, Roadwork team putting women artists and musicians on the road, the first multiracial, multicultural coalition. You can learn more about Amy Horowitz at: https://amyhorowitz.org/

And read about RoadWork here

Arto Tunçboyacıyan is a Grammy-winning American musician of Armenian descent. An avant-garde folk artist (singer, multi-instrumentalist), he appeared on more than 200 records in Europe before arriving in the United States, where he went to work with numerous jazz legends. You can learn more about Arto at: http://www.musicofarmenia.com/artotuncboyaciyan

Arpan Thakur Chakraborty, Rabi Das Baul, Girish Khyapa and Mamoni Chitrakar are the Baul performers, mystic minstrels from the Indian state of Bengal. The Bauls are known for devotional songs that honor the divine within. You can learn more about their causes at:  www.banglanatak.com

Additionally, Mamoni Chitrakar is a traditional Indian patachitra singer and painter from West Bengal.

About Our Hosts

Adam Gamwell is the co-host and executive producer of the This Anthro Life (TAL). Adam holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University. He founded and produces narrative media out of Missing Link Studios.

Ryan Collins is the co-host and editor of This Anthro Life (TAL). Ryan holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University.

Leslie Walker is the project manager of the Public Education Initiative at the AAA. He served as a special guest host, collecting stories during the Folklife Festival the podcast series with This Anthro Life.

Contact Us

Contact Adam and Ryan at thisanthrolife -at – gmail.com or individually at adam -at- thisanthrolife.com or ryan -at- thisanthrolife.com

Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @thisanthrolife.

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This Anthro Life is an official collaborator with the American Anthropological Association, The Society for Applied Anthropology, SAPIENS, and EPIC. Be sure to check them out for more thought-provoking anthropology content.

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