Orly Olivier’s Pandora’s Box

SkirBlog_Petit Takett recipe box

Photo by Orly Olivier.

Years after her father’s passing, Orly Olivier, the artist behind Petit Takett, opened a small wooden box. This neat little box contained handwritten notes with small drawings by her father Sylvain Olivier, who had scribbled down some of his favorite recipes in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. Unlike published recipes, which carefully list all the ingredients and instructions for a dish’s preparation, these notes were cryptic, with only enough information to remind Sylvain of his favorite dishes. Finding these recipes brought back memories to Orly Olivier of large Shabbat dinners with her Sephardic father, Ashkenazi mother, and sister in Los Angeles. It reminded her of intricate smells, flavors, and colors, and joyful feelings of sharing delicious food and good company.

Olivier needed to open this box, not only for memory’s sake but also for the sake of her artistic practice: it was the spark that launched her project Petit Takett (“little Takett,” named in honor of her grandmother’s restaurant, Takett’s, in Tunisia).

The artist explains, Continue reading

Floored at the Skirball: The Severan Synagogue Mosaic Replica



As her Communications and Marketing internship comes to a close, Jenna Lomeli reflects on a defining moment during her time at the Skirball.

I don’t recall exactly what I was expecting when I went on a staff tour of the Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America exhibition earlier this summer. I’m sure I went into it hoping to learn some things about Jewish history (and given my rather sparse knowledge about the subject, there was a lot to learn). I may have even expected to connect with the latter sixteenth of the 4,000 years that the Skirball’s core exhibition covers. I definitely did not foresee being emotionally invested in a replica of an approximately 1,600-year-old mosaic on the floor of the Severan Synagogue in Hamat Tiberias, Israel. But then, who does?

The door leading to the mosaic replica at the Skirball looks like the sort of door visitors aren’t supposed to go through. I didn’t realize it led to another section of the exhibition until Museum Director Dr. Robert Kirschner opened it and led our tour group outside. After exiting the gallery, I found myself looking at a very large tile mosaic set into the ground, with mock ruins above it. A handful of times in my life I have had the happy experience of seeing a painting or sculpture and being completely swept up by it. This was not one of those times. My initial reaction was about as blasé as anyone would expect, considering I was looking at the floor. But then Dr. Kirschner, who has been with the Skirball Cultural Center since its beginning and who led the development of Visions and Values, began to explain the mosaic and its greater significance to the exhibition. Continue reading

Rosh Hashanah Recipes from Petit Takett Creator Orly Olivier

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Orly Olivier of Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb  muses upon the holiday she learned to love in Israel.

Growing up at home with my parents in Los Angeles, the High Holidays meant going to synagogue in the evening, and again the next morning, followed by a big dinner. I mostly remember the services never quite grabbing my attention the way the Tic Tacs and gum my mother provided to keep me quiet did. But I do remember those services being very important to her. It wasn’t until, at the age of sixteen, I moved to Israel that I began to fully understand the High Holidays and what kind of wonderful experience they could be.

I gained an understanding of Jewish culture by living in the land upon which it was created. My experience wasn’t particularly religious; I attended services once during the three years I lived there. But I discovered a profound personal connection to the rich traditions of the Jewish people that changed me forever.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are my favorite examples of this connection. During Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s cities are decorated with signs and banners wishing people a “sweet and happy New Year!” Decorative photos and pictures of apples, honey, and pomegranates are everywhere. People send cards and gifts, and it’s actually a much bigger deal than Hanukkah. Dinners are bountiful, with fruits and flowers everywhere. It’s a truly joyous occasion.

I have three Israeli aunties, each of whom has had three or more children. Those children now have children of their own, which means the High Holiday family dinners are often twenty or more at the table! The cooking is divided amongst my aunties, and each year they take turns hosting from house to house. The men also have their roles as sous chefs, dishwashers, and expert grocery shoppers. There’s a lot of coordination involved, Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Sep/Oct 2015

We must be certain that, as the rights of the individual are the most sacred elements of our society, we will not allow passion, vengeance, or hatred to cloud the principles of universal justice and mercy. 

These words were written in 1944 by the renowned photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams in Born Free and Equal, his volume of photographs of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans in Manzanar, California. This lamentable episode, for which the United States Congress officially apologized in 1988, has much to teach us about the essential value of civil rights, then and now.

On October 8, the Skirball opens an exhibition of Adams’s striking images, which call us to recommit ourselves to this nation’s highest democratic ideals.

Uri Herscher_SkirBlog_Ansel_Adams5_crop

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Ansel Adams (captured in the photo above). Jack Skirball, namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center, had introduced us. I found Ansel to be a thoughtful and humble person. Accustomed to capturing mountains and rivers with his lens, he said that portraying the human condition at Manzanar was a challenge for him, Continue reading

Novalima Goes Global

Photo by Mozuk Nolte.

Photo by Mozuk Nolte.

On Thursday, August 27, Novalima will hit the Skirball stage under the stars with a bang, capping off our eclectic season of Sunset Concerts with their unique style of Afro-Peruvian electro-fusion. My first “close encounter” with Novalima came in the winter of 2013. I was an intern in the Performing Arts Department at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and I was immediately struck by the band’s high energy and reverence for their Peruvian culture. Two years later, the level of excitement that I’ve built up to see them again can’t be matched.

With the recent release of their newest album, Planetario, Novalima takes their sound to new heights. The album—developed in Bogota and recorded with members of the renowned salsa band La-33, including Sidestepper, Eka Muñoz, Pernett, and La Mambanegra—draws from rich Colombian musical traditions. It also showcases global artists such as Marc de Clive Lowe (United Kingdom/New Zealand), Ojos de Brujo’s DJ Panko (Spain), and the Cuban rapper Kumar (Barcelona). These collaborations across land and sea result in some of their most exciting tracks to date. Continue reading

Peace and Harmony in Our Courtyard and around the World

As a new member of the Skirball’s Program Department, I am delighted to have joined in time for the nineteenth season of the Sunset Concerts. While each week has presented something new and exciting for me, I am especially drawn to the description of the Yuval Ron Ensemble, a group of artists who strive to create bridges between people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. This Thursday, I will have the opportunity to experience the unifying power of the ensemble’s music in person.

In anticipation of the concert, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yuval Ron. I am thrilled to share an excerpt from our conversation, which includes a sneak peek of what to expect from their Sunset Concerts performance on Thursday, August 20.

Interview has been edited for clarity.

Excerpt from our interview with Yuval Ron.

We are excited for you and your ensemble to perform “My Heart Is in the East: Mystical Music and Dance of the Hebrew Tribes” on the Sunset Concerts stage. Without giving it all away, what can audiences expect from this special new program?
Upbeat and groovy Yemenite songs, fiery Andalusian songs, and spiritual, mystical music and dance based on Kabbalistic poetry and the Hebrew letter . . . . The program will provide a rich and deep sound . . . . that one could only experience in a city such as Jerusalem, where many ancient cultures are still interwoven and impact each other as it has been for thousands of years. Continue reading

Sunset Concerts Takes a Trip to the Caribbean

Image by Richard Holder.

Image by Richard Holder.

Listening to the gently joyful, rhythmic title track of Aurelio Martinez’s latest album, Lándini, transports me to the Caribbean. Swept up in and soothed by his hypnotic music and heartfelt vocals, I actually can’t keep from moving and swaying in my office chair. The sound is driven by percussion—most prominently shakers that set the rhythm and pull me into the feeling of the music—while acoustic guitar carries the melody. It feels like a mini-vacation at my desk.

Aurelio is one of the leading advocates for and preservers of Garifuna culture, which encompasses the African and Caribbean Indian traditions of the shipwrecked slaves who intermarried with local natives on the island of St. Vincent. Speaking of the Garifuna culture, Aurelio affirms, “We’re not going to let this culture die, I know I must continue my ancestors’ legacy and find new ways to express it. Few people know about it, but I adore it, and it’s something I must share with the world.” One of the ways Aurelio does so is through the acoustic guitar—a trademark of the Garifuna rhythm and genre of music called paranda. Continue reading

Hurray for the Riff Raff Brings Folk Into the Twenty-First Century

SkirBlog_Hurray for the Riff Raff_Sunset Concerts

Photo by Sarrah Danzinger

In 2015, there’s no dearth of American folk music revivalists. Beyond the prevailing legacy acts that continue to tour (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the list goes on … ), there’s a new generation of artists for whom analog instrumentation, earnest lyrics, and the American songwriting tradition are as timely as ever. A glance at any summer music festival lineup is bound to reveal at least a handful of rising indie folk acts as well as a few bands who have conquered the charts with guitars, banjos, and fiddles in tow. Yet few of these artists feel as vital as Alynda Lee Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff. Not content to merely emulate the aesthetics of Americana music, Segarra marries folk traditions of the twentieth century with current political concerns.

Segarra was born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in the Bronx. At seventeen, she left New York and traveled the country aboard freight trains, eventually finding her way to New Orleans, where she became enamored with the city’s musical traditions. She busked on the street with a group of musicians, playing washboard and banjo for tips, before finally writing songs of her own.

Last year’s Small Town Heroes is Hurray for the Riff Raff’s fifth album and their major label debut. It’s garnered praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and NPR. On the album, the band successfully explores a multitude of American folk traditions, from the Appalachian-style of the album opener, “Blue Ridge Mountain,” to the honky tonk feel of “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright).”

“I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)”

But where many modern-day folk artists are content with merely aesthetics, Hurray for the Riff Raff is committed to using their platform for championing issues of social justice. Continue reading

A Malian Master Returns to Los Angeles

This week, the Skirball continues its nineteenth season of Sunset Concerts with Mali’s Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba, who will perform songs from their celebrated new album, Ba Power. I thought I would take this chance to break down Kouyaté’s musical lineage and show why this Thursday night the Skirball will be the best place to experience the future of Malian music.

Bassekou Kouyate with first-born son Madu, right, his wife Amy and their son Moustapha.

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba: (left to right) Moustapha Kouyaté, Bassekou Kouyaté, Amy Sacko, and Madu Kouyaté.

Since exploding onto the scene in 2007, Bassekou Kouyaté has established himself as a leading world musician, appearing at major music festivals such as Glastonbury and WOMAD in support of three critically acclaimed albums. He has played and collaborated with such esteemed musicians as Taj Mahal, Paul McCartney, and Damon Albarn. To those who have seen him perform live, Kouyaté’s extraordinary rise may come as no surprise, but his career trajectory appears more unexpected on paper.

Kouyaté descends from a long line of griots, Continue reading

Looking Back at D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968)

The Skirball’s Friday Night Rock Docs series continues this summer with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1978) on July 31 and Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982) on August 21. In order to get ready for these screenings of landmark rock docs, I decided to delve a little into the history of the genre—with particular focus on D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968), which kicked off the Skirball series on Friday, June 19.

A barrage of liquid light show images choreographed to the shrill screams and pulsating rhythms of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Combination of the Two” opens Monterey Pop. In this somewhat disorienting opening sequence, Pennebaker immediately sets the documentary—depicting events at the Monterey Pop Festival, which occurred Friday, June 16–Sunday, June 18, 1967—apart from its generic predecessors. This film is not just about the counterculture; Pennebaker employs a style that represents the counterculture’s subversive values both visually and aurally.

Watch Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, perform “Combination of the Two” live at the Monterey Pop Festival. A recording of the song plays over the opening credit sequence of D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop.

Prior to the release of Monterey Pop and his 1967 Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, Pennebaker was perhaps best known for his affiliation with the Drew Associates, a group of filmmakers including Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, and David and Albert Maysles. Together, these filmmakers furthered a documentary style known as Direct Cinema, largely the product of the new lightweight camera and sound equipment developed in the 1950s. Unlike many conventional documentarians before them, champions of this new style did not use staged reenactments, voiceover narration, or extensive onscreen text to explain their subjects. Instead, they strove for objectivity and immediacy in their films, capturing events as they happened and allowing people to tell their own stories.

In many ways, Monterey Pop assumes the stylistic goals of Direct Cinema. Continue reading