23 Teams of Master Artists and Apprentices Begin Intensive Learning Cycle
Last month, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts welcomed 23 master artist-apprentice teams to its Apprenticeship Program. Entering its ninth cycle, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program encourages the continuation of the state’s traditional arts and cultures by contracting exemplary master artists to offer intensive training to qualified apprentices. Each contract will support a period of concentrated learning for individuals who have shown a commitment to and a talent for a specific artistic tradition. Contracts of $3,000 are made with California-based master artists to cover master artist’s fees, supplies, and travel.
This year’s participants represent a wide range of geographic and artistic diversity. Artistic genres include Garifuna Wanaragua traditions, African-American hambone (body percussion), Kawaiisu basketry, traditional Kumeyaay plant use, and Uzbek doira drumming, among many others.
The Alliance’s Apprenticeship Program is supported by the Columbia Foundation, the Fresno Arts Council, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Master artist Carlos Aldama (San Leandro) will conduct an apprenticeship with Umi Vaughan (Marina) in Afrocuban Batá drumming. Both Aldama and Vaughan are omo Añá and Lukumi Santería priests. Having played since 1955 in his hometown of Havana, Aldama is a founding member of Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba and studied under its original musical director Jesus Pérez, eventually serving as musical director for fifteen years after Pérez’ death. He has worked with the National Symphony of Cuba, playwright Roberto Blanco and Karl Marx Theatre director Alex Valdez, and has played with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Lazaro Ros and Olorún, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Vaughan has been studying with Aldama for the past five years, and the apprenticeship will focus on all three drums required to play batá, songs, dances, and folktales associated with the various drum rhythms, and mechanic and ritual maintenance of the drums.
Master artist Allyson Allen (San Jacinto) will work with apprentice and niece Madison Wright (San Jacinto) in African-American quilting and dollmaking. Allen learned sewing and dollmaking from her mother and older sister since she was a girl, and developed quilting skills from her paternal grandmother. As a past master artist in the Apprenticeship Program with Wright’s older sister Krysta Wright, Allen began exposing nine year-old Madison Wright to quilting and dollmaking. Wright has since completed several dolls and a quilt top, and her apprenticeship with her aunt will focus on creating fabric yo-yos and a quilt with an original sudoku puzzle design featuring African animals.
Los Angeles-based master artist Flavio Alvarez and his grandnephew and apprentice Carlos Gonzalez will work on developing Gonzales’ dancing techniques and group leadership in the Garifuna tradition of Wanaragua, a Christmas and New Years Day practice related to the John Canoe dances of the British Caribbean. Hailing from Labagu (Livingston), Guatemala, Alvarez learned to dance from his relatives since he was a child, and now serves as Wanaragua chief amongst a group of drummers, dancers, and singers in Los Angeles who represent Garifuna traditions from Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. Los Angeles-born Gonzales learned to dance from Alvarez and other family members and during the course of the apprenticeship will be developing his dancing skills, relationship to drumming, understanding of Garifuna history, and leadership in working with younger practitioners.
Master artist Danny Rural “Slapjazz” Barber (San Diego) will conduct an apprenticeship with twelve-year old Sekani Thomas (San Diego) in hambone or patting juba, an African-American body percussion form. As a teeenager in Florida, Barber was first introduced to hambone from his cousin Todd Barber, who had learned it from their grandfather. As the son of Teye Sa Thiosanne Keepers of the Tradition African Drum and Dance Company’s founder, co-director, and percussionist Bernard Yiriba Thomas, Sekani Thomas first met Barber three years ago and has recently started to learn hambone from Barber. The apprenticeship will focus on developing informal and formal presentational skill in hambone, with an emphasis on various tempos and rhythmic patterns rooted in African and African-American tradition.
Based in Parker, Arizona, master artist Mary L. Claw, aka Weegie, is considered one of the few living Chemehuevi master basketweavers. The Kawaiisu is a sister tribe which shares similar coiled utilitarian basketry as the Chemehuevi, and has not had a living master basketmaker in approximately 70 years since Emma Williams died. In the effort to revitalize the tradition, Claw will be working with apprentices Janice Williams (Tehachapi) and Lori de León (Bakersfield) in Kawaiisu basketmaking. For over 25 years, Claw has practiced Chemehuevi basketry, having learned from her grandmother Mary Lou Brown. Claw has taught basketry at Arizona Western College, Havasu Landing on Chemehuevi Reservation, and for the California Basketweavers Association. Since 2007, with full endorsement from Kawaiisu tribal elders and leaders, Claw has taught Kawaiisu basketry at Tehachapi, where she met both Williams and de León. Williams (Kawaiisu) observed elders making baskets as a child and began learning basics in Kawaiisu basketry almost ten years ago, beginning serious study under Claw in 2007. De León (Apache/Mewuk) met and studied with Claw in 2008. The apprenticeship will focus on describing the tribal relationship and similiarities between the Kawaiisu and Chemehuevi cultures, Kawaiisu basketry techniques, and the harvesting and preparation of native plants including willow, deer grass, juncus tree root, brakenfern root, red bud, and devil’s claw.
Master artist Chitresh Das (San Rafael) will work with Rina Mehta (San Mateo/Los Angeles) in an apprenticeship in North Indian Kathak. Das has danced since 1953, training under Pandit Ram Narayan Misra for eighteen years in Kolkata, India. Arriving in the United States almost forty years ago, Das is a key proponent of Kathak in the U.S., and is the founder of the Chhandam Chitresh Das Dance Company, Chhandam Nritya Bharati in Kolkata, and the Chhandam School of Kathak Dance, which has branches throughout the Bay Area and in Los Angeles. Mehta began studying under Das over ten years ago as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, and has since served as a member of his company and has spearheaded the expansion of his school to Los Angeles. The apprenticeship will focus on Kathak as a solo form, with an emphasis technique and improvisation necessary for virtuosic Kathak performance.
Elder and master artist Jane Dumas (Lemon Grove) will conduct an apprenticeship in traditional Kumeyaay plant use with Richard Bugbee (Los Angeles). Dumas learned about plants and healing from her mother Isabel Thing, who was a kuseyaay ch’aak healer and midwife in Southern California. Dumas helped found the San Diego American Indian Health Center and has been recognized as a traditional medicine specialist and educator. Together, Dumas and Bugbee have taught Kumeyaay ethnobotany clases at Kumeyaay Community College on Sycuan Indian Reservation. As a Luiseño, Bugbee was raised in Kumeyaay land and has studied under Dumas for over 25 years, in addition to studying with other Kumeyaay elders like the late elders Tom Lucas, Clarence Brown, and Mary Sanchez. The apprenticeship will include developing a compendium of local plants and their Kumeyaay names, making an herbarium, and ongoing studies in plant identification, gathering, and propagation.
Master artist Christine Hamilton (Talmage) will conduct an apprenticeship with her niece and apprentice Melody Williams (Arcata) in Pomo Coil Basketry working with traditional materials of sedge root and willow sticks. As a young woman in Ukiah, Hamilton started to learn Pomo basketry from Elsie Allen. Williams initially learned basketry about 30 years ago from her then-octogenarian grandmother Della Campbell in Fort Bragg. After Campbell passed away and was buried with the baskets Williams made, Williams ceased basketmaking for over 25 years until she received a grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation to learn how to harvest willow and dig sedge roots, connecting her to Hamilton, who began to instruct her. Their apprenticeship will focus on gathering, preparation and weaving techniques for coil baskets and baby baskets.
Master artist and Shingon Buddhist priest Reverend Hirokazu Kosaka (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship with Ferris M. Smith (Newport Beach) in the esoteric art of Kyudo, or Japanese archery. Kosaka is a visual and multidisciplinary artist and the Artistic Director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, and head instructor of the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai. Kosaka began learning Kyudo at the age of ten from his father Ryoichi Kosaka in Wakayama, Japan, and comes from a long family lineage of archers. Smith began direct study with Kosaka three years ago at Angel’s Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, Rancho Park in Los Angeles and at Pasadena’s Japanese Cultural Institute, developing to his current level as Kyudo journeyman and establishing a relationship of Senpai-Kohai (mentor-trainee) with Kosaka. The apprenticeship will deepen Smith’s training in form, patience, and the historical pursuit and endless search for “the perfect shot.”
Master artist Abbos Kosimov (Sacramento) will work with apprentice Tara Catherine Pandeya (San Anselmo) in an apprenticeship in Uzbek doira. Hailing from Central Asia, the doira is a frame drum which was once originally played only by women during shamanic rituals, and is now considered a national art in Uzbekistan, inseperable from traditional Uzbek dance. Kosimov trained from age ten with Ustad Tuychi Inagomov, one of the few honored artists who have been officially recognized by the Uzbek head of state. Bearing the same illustrious title, Kosimov arrived to the United States in 2005 having performed alongside artists including Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, Simon Shaheen, and Hassan Hakmoun at the World Music Institute. Pandeya has studied Uzbek dance directly accompanied by doira music for a decade, studying under Berlin-based Malika Khaidarova of the Baha National Uzbek State Ensemble, and Dilafuruz Djabborova and Sagdiana Djabbarova in Brooklyn. She has been a soloist and guest choreographer with Ballet Afsaneh for the past eleven years. Kosimov’s and Pandeya’s apprenticeship will focus on doira rhythms, reinforcing the connection between Uzbek percussion and dance, and will allow Pandeya to develop proficiency in interpreting doira rhythms and understanding Uzbek music composition and improvisation.
Master artist Padma Kutty (Irvine) and apprentice Anirudh Venkatesh (Irvine) will conduct an apprenticeship in South Indian Carnatic vocal music, focusing on increasing Venkatesh’s song repertoire and developing his improvisational skills and devotional feeling, or bhakti. Hailing from Kerala, Kutty began learning Carnatic music over fifty years ago as a young child under Sri Neyyattinkara Vasudevan and subsequently with Kadakyavur Ranganatha Bhagavathar and the RLV Academy of Music. Recognized in the United States and in India for her artistry, Kutty is also sought after as a teacher offering comprehensive vocal training to a legion of students in Orange County. Kutty began working with Venkatesh eleven years ago when he was five years old.
Master artist Jyothi Lakkaraju (Cupertino) will conduct an apprenticeship in South Indian Kuchipudi with her niece and apprentice Shaalini Bommakanti (Cupertino). Having received her training in Andhara Pradesh from Sri Chinta Radhakrishna Murthy and his son Sri Adinarayana Sarma in Guntur, and subsequently from Dr. Uma Rama Rao in Hyderbad, Lakkaraju continued her studies in Kuchipudi and Bharata Natyam at Telugu University in Hyderabad. Bommakanti has studied with Lakkaraju since she was five years old in San Jose and Cupertino. Emphases in the apprenticeship include focusing on abhinaya, character dancing, and the distinctive and challenging Kuchipudi tarangam dance.
Master artist Dohee Lee (Oakland) will conduct an apprenticeship in Korean P’ungmul drumming with apprentice Kyungseok Kent Hong (Berkeley). Lee studied traditional Korean dance at the Suwon Women’s College and folk and court music at the Yongin University under the instruction of numerous masters including Maebang Lee, Sooyoung Lee, Jinsung Yang, Jiwha Ryu, Jungoo Kim, Sukgun Kil, Kwangja Kim, and Kyungwoo Baek. She is the Artistic Director of Oakland’s Korean Youth Cultural Center. Hong began p’ungmul training ten years ago and has been involved with UC Berkeley’s p’ungmul troupe EGO as well as with the Korean Youth Cultural Center. The apprenticeship will focus on techniques and various textures of several p’ungmul instruments including the janggu and the kkwaenggwari in addition to learning to play them while spinning the sangmo hat. Hong will be trained to adapt to various situations and roles within a p’ungmul ensemble context.
Master artist Somprasong Loakimpongswat (Alameda) will work with apprentice Franco Nguon (Oakland) in an apprenticeship in classical Thai ranad-ek (xylophone). Raised in Samut Songkhram, Loakimponswat’s family managed its own Thai classical music ensemble, and he studied the kong wong from his father from age seven, eventualy receiving a degree in Music Educatiuon fron Rajaphat Institute at Ban Somdej Chao Phraya. Since 1998, he has been teaching in California, and since 2000 has been a resident music instructor at the Thai Cultural Center co-located within the Wat Mongkolratanaram in Berkeley, teaching 15 different Thai classical and folk instruments. First brought to the temple by his father six years ago when he was twelve, Nguon has studied exclusively with Loakimpongswat. The apprenticeship will focus on passing on material from the ranad-ek repertoire which up until this point Loakimpongwat has been the sole performer of within the local community, in addition to learning a solo piece and developing practice on the solid hardwood black mai ranad-ek typically reserved for advanced players.
Master artist Avis Punkin (North Fork) and daughter-in-law and apprentice Julie Dick Tex (Fresno) will conduct an apprenticeship in Western Mono basketry with an emphasis on gathering and selecting proper materials, weaving and fine twine technique. As a child, Punkin learned basketweaving from her mother and her sisters Ella McSwain and Daisy McMann. Tex observed traditional basketmaking from an early age from her great aunt Annie Charley, subsequently learning basketmaking from her mother Juanita Dick, older sister Gladys McKinney, cousin Norma Turner, and Punkin.
Master artist Malik Sow (Los Angeles) will conduct an apprenticeship in Mandingo-Fulani drumming from the Mali Empire with his seventeen year-old son and apprentice Magatte Sow (Los Angeles). Both come from a line of griots and musicians. Malik received training from his uncles until he was ten, and subsequently began a career in cultural exchange amongst the Jola, Bambara, Sosey, Serrer, Wolof, and others. He directs the Futa Toro West African Dance Ensemble, which tours extensively. Magatte has already performed with musicians including Youssou N’Dour and jazz great Billy Higgins. During the course of the apprenticeship, Malik will guide Magatte through cultural teachings and some of the initiations Malik himself went through in Senegal, in addition to working with advanced drumming rhythms.
Master artist Sangeetha Swaminathan (San Ramon) will work with apprentice Prithvi Guruprasad (Fremont) in an apprenticeship in classical South Indian Carnatic vocal music. Swaminathan is descended from a line of musicians, and studied in her hometown of Chennai under her father Karur Krishnamurthy, and since 1993 with the illustrious Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan. Seventeen year-old Guruprasad began learning music from her father eleven years ago and has worked with Swaminathan for five years in addition to working with Krishnamurthy in India every year. The apprenticeship will focus on concert-level compositions essential for a full-fledged performance, as well as raga improvisations and assembling compositions.
Master artist Shreelata Suresh (San Mateo) will conduct an apprenticeship in South Indian Bharata Natyam with apprentice Ambika Gopalan (San Jose). Suresh trained with Vyjayantimala Bali, Ramaswamy Bhagavathar, Kalaimamani K. N. Dakshinamurthy Pillai, and V. Krishnamoorthi, and studied yoga at the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute. As one of Suresh’s earliest students since Suresh arrived in the Bay Aea, Gopalan has worked with Suresh since 1999 when she was six years old. Their apprenticeship will focus on nritya—Bharata Natyam’s interpretive and dramatic aspects—and will be grounded in interpreting the oeuvre of Tamil Nadu poet and freedom fighter Subramanya Bharathiar.
Master artist Tashi Dhondup Sharzur, aka Techung, (San Mateo) and his sixteen year-old daughter and apprentice Yangchen Lhamo (El Cerrito) will conduct an apprenticeship in Tibetan Yul Shae folk singing, Tho Shae light classical singing, and the damnyen (6-stringed lute). Techung learned to sing and to play the damnyen from the late Gen Lutsa while in exile in India. Techung has performed in India, the United States and Tibet as a soloist and educator, and is the co-founder of San Franicsco-based Chaksampa Tibetan Dance and Opera Company. Lhamo learned from her parents and at a summer camp sponsored by Chaksampa. During the apprenticeship, the Yul Shae singing will offer proper introduction to the damnyen, and Tho Shae singing will train Lhamo’s ability to strum and ply the damnyen while singing.
Master artist M’mah Toure (Oakland) will conduct an apprenticeship in Guinean dance with apprentice N’soroma James (Oakland). Toure began training in dance at the age of 13, and danced with Les Merveilles de Guinea and Les Ballets Africains for twenty years. She studied dance from Les Ballets Africains directors and choreographers Kemoko Sano and Yamossah Soumah. James performed professionally with Oakland-based Congolese dance company Fua Dia Congo for over a decade, and has studied Guinean dances with artists including Kemoko Sano, Youssouf Koumbassa, Mariatou Camara-Sano, Alseny Soumah, and Toure over the past seven years. Toure will emphasize proper integration of Jones’ movements, communication with drummers, and learning a wide spectrum of tradiitonal songs.
Master artist Mary Lou Valencia (San Diego) will conduct an apprenticeship in vestuario, regalia-making for Aztec Dance with members of Danza Mixcoatl and Danza Izcalli. The six apprentices are Eva Sandoval (Spring Valley), Maria Alvarado-Ruffier (National City), Marissa Quetzal Arteaga (San Diego), Maria Figueroa-Chacon (San Diego), Maria Ramos (Vista) and José Alvarez (San Diego). Valencia has been making vestuarios for over thirty years, and first learned how to make ropa tipica for Mexican and Flamenco dance from her grandmother Maria Zuniga, aunt Connie Valencia, and her mother Angela Bailey. Vestuario construction was taught to her by Florencio Yescas of Esplendor Azteca, Rosita Anaya from Familian Diaz, and Pedro Rodriguez of Xitalli. Valencia will work with the apprentices in completing vestuarios which will be worn during the 2009 Xilonen-Kosoy rite of passage in San Diego.
Master artist Fei Wang (Union City) will work with apprentice Kwan Wong (San Francisco) in a classical Chinese guqin (seven-stringed zither) apprenticeship. Wang began her studies in 1985 under Li Xianting at the Central Conservatory of Music in China at the same time she studied literature brush painting and calligraphy, forms which all enhance guqin study. She founded the North American Guqin Association in 1997, one of the first online guqin communities. Wong began his study with Wang over seven years ago and has assisted Wang in conferences, lectures, presentations and workshops in San Francsico and China. The apprenticeship will train Wong to assume the role of a guqin educator, performer and promoter and includes a comprehensive review of playing techniques, repertoire, and educational presentations.
Master artist Shaka Zulu (Oakland) will work with apprentice Latanya Tigner (Oakland) in Mukudji African stilt dance. Zulu’s father Zohar Israel founded the Free Spirit Stilt Dancers in New Orleans and taught Zulu when he was a teenager. Zulu also trained with the late Baba Kwame Ishangi in New Orleans in stilt dancing and initiation into the Elgede mask dance society. Tigner has a body of knowledge from a variey of different cultures in the African Diaspora, teaching, performing, and choreographing dance and serving as the coordinator of the Dimensions Extensions Dance Ensemble. First working with Zulu in 2008, the apprenticeship will focus on developing her skill as a stiltdancer, a tradition which originally was performed by women in West Africa. Tigner will learn techniques and stunts, and deepen her understanding of the role of stilt dancers, also known as the Nyon Kwuyo, Mukuyi, Njabi, Chakaba, and Moko Jumbi.