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It was a sticky, humid day at the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, but this did not stop Puerto Rican bomba y plena musicians Viento de Agua from giving a dynamic performance that had the audience on its feet dancing.

Here is a video I made of Viento de Agua performing a plena. I did not catch the name of the song, so if anyone knows what it is, please comment. Plena is a traditional Puerto Rican style of music that we were told has its roots in the sound of a train. You can certainly here this underlying “chugging” sound in the music. Plena is one of the many caribbean styles that lends its rhythms and styles to salsa and merengue. It is characterized by the use of percussion instruments and vocal harmonies to form the rhythm and tune.

The second half of the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs July 1-9 on the National Mall. The three featured themes this year are:

  • Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture
  • Wales/Cymru

and my personal favorite…

  • Las Americas: Un Mundo Musical / Music in Latino Culture

My favorite DC event starts today. The 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival starts today and ends July 6 on the National Mall. Each year, the festival showcases three cultures and the individuals that keep their folkways alive. Traditional crafts, foodways, social and economic traditions, music, and of course, dance are demonstrated by those that practice them on a daily basis.

This year’s themes are Bhutan, NASA (how is that a culture?….I guess I’ll find out), and Texas. I’ll be particularly interested in learnining about traditional Bhutanese dance, and checking out the Tejano music and dance. The close proximity of my office to the festival all gives me the opportunity to try out the food on my lunch break.

The festival’s schedule is available here. If you are in DC or within driving distance, this is worth the trip! A number of videos are available here if you can’t make it down or want to preview the festival and each theme.

Yesterday I visited the Mekong River section of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. About the Mekong, the Smithsonian says:

The Mekong River in Southeast Asia is a giver of life; countless communities depend on it for their existence. Like these other rivers as well, the Mekong River means more than environmental and economic stability—it has taken on a cultural significance in each of the areas it touches and inspired a dazzling array of ritual, musical, and artistic expressions. The Mekong flows through regions of enormous ethnic and cultural diversity on its journey from the melting glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, in China’s Qinghai Province, to the Pacific Ocean in southern Vietnam some 3,000 miles away. Traversing Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, the river passes through steep mountain gorges, daunting rapids, and immense alluvial plains in six nations. Its watershed encompasses 85 percent of Laos and Cambodia, one-third of Thailand, and smaller parts of Vietnam, Myanmar, and China. The music of the more than 60 million people who live in the Mekong basin reflects this vast diversity.

Here is a video I took at the festival. You’ll have to forgive the quality– I am not an experienced videographer and took the footage with my digital camera. By far the most amusing part was the shadow puppetry. Because this is a dance blog, the last half of the video is a performance of the Khmer Robam Dance style.

*Keep reading and see the video after the jump*

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One of my favorite things about living in the DC area is the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. Conveniently enough, my office is just 3 blocks away from the festival, so it’s great for livening up my lunch breaks (when I can get away) and after-work time.

For the last 3 years or so, one of the themes of the Fesival has been “Nuestra Musica,” featuring Latin music and its rich and varied cultural tradition. Needless to say, that made for some looong lunch breaks for me! This year, I am branching out, as “Nuestra Musica” is no more. The three themes this year are:

  • Mekong River
  • Northern Ireland
  • Virginia

I’m looking forward to dance lessons, performances, and music, along with loads of other demonstrations of traditions from these three cultures (plus yummy food). I will report back here on my experiences.

[2007 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, runs Wednesday, June 27 through July 1, and then July 4-8. Daytime events run 11AM to 5:30PM, evening events start at 6pm. Full schedule of events is available here. ]


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