Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 4: Mamak Khadem and Ensemble

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with beloved Iranian singer Mamak Khadem, accompanied by an ensemble of world-class musicians. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Mamak Khadem and Ensemble, this Thursday, August 15, at 8:00 p.m. Mamak-Khadem-179

Persian vocalist and musician Mamak Khadem is one of my favorite performers in Los Angeles. Her distinctive, passionate voice is stunning and clear—it truly opens my heart. Aside from her voice, what I love about Mamak is her versatility and her ability to connect different cultures and music traditions to create something new and unique. Throughout her career, Mamak’s work has primarily focused on reimagining Persian music and poetry and revitalizing it for the next generation of Iranians, as well as introducing new art forms to a cross-cultural audience.

Mamak-Khadem-230While she has performed several times at the Skirball—whether as a member of Axiom of Choice, as a solo artist with her own ensemble, or as a guest of another artist—each time Mamak performs she brings something new and invigorating to the stage. I’m excited that she has developed a special concert of upbeat dance music, blending Iranian, Armenian, and Greek traditions, for the Skirball’s Sunset Concert series on August 15.

Along with her soaring vocals, Mamak employs rhythmically entrancing percussion and some very cool Middle Eastern instruments in her music. My favorite is the zurna, a wind instrument that to me sounds like a magic horn. Continue reading

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Sunset Concerts Math

Sunset Concerts math - titleSunset Concerts Math - equation 1Sunset Concerts Math - equation 2Sunset Concerts Math - equation 3Thank you, Erik Shveima, for sharing your “Sunset Concerts Math” with us. We hope our SkirBlog readers come see for yourselves how these equations add up. Click here for tips on how to make Sunset Concerts a great night out! And we hope to see you tonight for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars!

Erik Shveima is a Los Angeles–based artist with a fondness for illustrated blogs, so much so that he is responsible for two: Mixed Media Daily and, most recently, Or Best Offer.

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Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 3: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with West African band Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, this Thursday, August 8, at 8:00 p.m. slras_14_by_jay_dickman-lan

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are a West African band who formed out of the ashes of war and violence during Sierra Leone’s civil war. On the band’s website, co-founder Reuben M. Koroma writes, “We try to bring out sensitive issues that are affecting the world. It is all of our responsibility that the masses are suffering. We bring our positive messages into the world so we can expect a positive change in the world. And, most importantly, bring about peace.”

Upon first hearing Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, I was impressed by their adept musicianship, and moved by their story of perseverance and the positive message of their music. They have devoted themselves deeply to causes such as stopping political violence Continue reading

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Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 2: Shye Ben-Tzur

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with acclaimed composer and musician Shye Ben-Tzur. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Shye Ben-Tzur, this Thursday, August 1, at 8:00 p.m.

Skirball_Sunset Concerts_Shye-and-band-performingAmong my music-loving, concert-going friends, we can trace our fanaticism to a handful of shared seminal moments in our youth: going to impromptu garage shows in high school, waiting in line at a venue to secure a good view of the stage, staying out late to talk to bands. Yet rarely do these moments add up to a life’s calling, much less a cultural and spiritual journey that literally takes you thousands of miles away from home—such as in the case of Shye Ben-Tzur.

Ben-Tzur’s origin story reads like a modern retelling of an ancient epic: Continue reading

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Kicking Off Sunset Concerts with The Belle Brigade!

Summertime at the Skirball means Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music! To celebrate, each week a different member of the Skirball’s Program Department will preview the upcoming performer, giving a little insight as to how and why they were perfect for this year’s series. Read about the band, view photos, watch videos … then make your way here each Thursday to see the band live and in person in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. First up: indie band The Belle Brigade, this Thursday, July 25, at 8:00 p.m.

The Belle Brigade. Photo by John Peets.

The Belle Brigade. Photo by John Peets.

I saw The Belle Brigade for the first time in April 2011, when they opened for k.d. lang at the Troubadour. I hadn’t heard of them before then, but the buzz began in the line to enter the venue. We happened to be standing next to some of their family friends who were excited to see the performance. These enthusiastic, proud friends talked up the band’s folky pop, Fleetwood Mac sound and gorgeous harmonies—reminiscent of the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. I admit to being somewhat skeptical, despite sibling bandleaders Barbara and Ethan Gruska’s impressive musical lineage: their father, Jay Gruska, is an accomplished songwriter and their grandfather is legendary composer John Williams.

Once inside, my husband and I rushed to the front—we made it to third row, center stage—to position ourselves for k.d.’s set, still more than hour away. When The Belle Brigade took the stage, I thought, “Okay, let’s see what these guys can do.” Continue reading

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A Day in the Life of a Noah’s Ark Strawberry

strawberry close-upStrawberries (not real ones, but very real-looking ones) are a hot commodity on board Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. I watch them travel all over—getting shared, hoarded, lost, or found, eventually finding a home somewhere among all the other inhabitants. I have even found them in my own pocket, and then they must endure a brief respite in my office before they are returned to the gallery.

Most strawberries, though, begin and end their day on the Ark. They wait patiently, nestled among other food. (We talk a lot on the Ark about being patient. Imagine how difficult that would be on a long journey!)

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But suddenly, one strawberry might get scooped away from the food table and into a basket with other strawberries, which gets carried across the room to a bear who awaits some strawberry snacks.hands-at-the-table

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After whetting the bear’s appetite, the strawberry then gets swept up in the palm of a toddler. This is where it stays for a while, because it’s such a natural fit in her palm and, well, she likes to eat strawberries, too.

cutefaceandpalmcombinedEventually, however, the toddler soon moves onto the next activity, and the strawberry is tossed across the floor, where it rests out of sight for a while … Continue reading

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Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

The mission of music group Rhythm Child has always been to get people of all ages up and moving. For the past six years Rhythm Child founder, Norm Jones, has been inspiring young drummers and their families to get up and move as part of the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series. If you’ve been to any of the group’s last six performances, you know that once Jones passes out his instruments and lays down a beat, the Amphitheater comes thumping to life! I’ve always loved the energy and enthusiasm of Rhythm Child, so I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this fun and feisty musical collective as they plan for their Amphitheater performance on July 21st.

How did you get started in performance?
I grew up being inspired by the performance of others (my brother’s band, choirs in church, supper club shows that my mom took me to). I watched how these singers moved the audience with style, humor, and emotion. For years I practiced at the mirror in my basement before I ever took the stage and performed for people.

What part of performing for live audiences do you enjoy the most?
I love the immediate feedback that you get from a live audience. There is an exchange of energy that is unquestionable. There is a feeling of being out there on the edge without much of a safety net and usually the audience is open and willing to go for the ride. What I hope for is that everyone walks away feeling connected and inspired.

What is the most memorable moment from your career?
I must say that performing at the White House was pretty cool. I got to have my family with me on stage for one of the greatest days of my career.

What music or artist inspires you? Continue reading

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President’s Greeting: Jul/Aug 2013

PG coverThe 2013 Sunset Concerts at the Skirball begin with a performance by folk-rock stars and Los Angeles natives The Belle Brigade. The brother-and-sister act hails from a family of great musicians, including their grandfather, the famed film composer John Williams. The duo honors the legacy of their lineage while innovating upon the sixties and seventies pop and classic Americana they grew up admiring.

As our Sunset Concerts demonstrate, music is a mighty force for preserving and shaping culture. Each summer, when my wife, Myna, and I bring our entire family together—children and grandchildren—for a reunion vacation, we sing as a family. It has become a tradition for us. Often we revisit the folk tunes that filled the airwaves when I was a young man. Although our sons came of age decades later, those timeless compositions are among their favorites to play on guitar and lead us in song. Our grandchildren are just beginning to learn the lyrics and the melodies. The music is woven into our collective, heartfelt memories.

My wife, Myna, and I dance to the irresistible rhythms of De Temps Antan at last year's Sunset Concerts. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

My wife, Myna, and I dance to the irresistible rhythms of De Temps Antan at last year’s Sunset Concerts. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

This July and August enjoy music at our Sunset Concerts, Family Amphitheater Performances, and Into the Night series. I look forward to coming together as a community and celebrating music that crosses time and place.

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Take Five with Hunter Hunted

In just a few short months since forming, Hunter Hunted has already made a big splash, including a nationally televised gig on Conan, a raucous set in front of a packed crowd at the recent Make Music Pasadena festival, and upcoming dates with Weezer and Fitz and the Tantrums. The duo, made up of Dan Chang and Michael Garner, writes songs with soaring melodies and intricate harmonies mixed with a slightly hard edge. (Their music video for “End of the World” shows them running for their lives in a post-apocalyptic landscape.)

On Friday, July 12, come watch Hunter Hunted perform in the Skirball’s outdoor courtyard during Into the Night: Secrets and Truth, a late-night celebration of the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. The night also features the band Harriet, a special art performance created by artist Gary Baseman and choreographer Sarah Elgart, and other activities.

Hunter Hunted recently took a break from recording to answer a few questions from the studio:

Continue reading

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Let Us Show You Around

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Photo by Bebe Jacobs

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Photo by Bebe Jacobs

When I began my job as a curator at the Skirball in summer 2012 I was asked to rethink the exhibition program in the Ruby Gallery, which is not only an exhibition space, but also the most communicative and communal space at the Skirball. I thought that we should find ways to work with these parameters and not against them. When I began to reflect on my own experiences at the Skirball, I remembered that I immediately felt welcome and, to my surprise, I found out that the notion of welcoming is an important part of the Skirball’s mission statement. So it seemed like a perfect first idea—to create a large piece about welcoming as seen through the eyes of insiders and outsiders. By “insiders,” I mean everyone who works here (staff, docents, volunteers) and by “outsiders,” I mean artists that weren’t familiar with the Skirball. I had already worked with Antje Schiffers and Thomas Sprenger a few times before in Germany and knew they would be a perfect fit for such an open yet specific idea. So I contacted them and asked if they could imagine developing a project about the idea of welcoming that includes all the people who work here. They were excited about the idea. Antje and Thomas spent two weeks in residency at the Skirball, interviewing the “insiders,” and then they returned home to process everything they’d learned. The final result is a smile, they said, a mural consisting of wall painting, text, and paintings on wood, now up in the Ruby Gallery through September 1. The exhibition has been up for a few months now, so I felt it was time to catch up with Antje and Thomas, and reflect on the fascinating process that led to this wonderful mural.

Let’s start by talking a bit about the process, about how this project gained shape.
Thinking about the Ruby Gallery, our first impulse was to work with its functions, not to insist on it being just an exhibition space. We knew very quickly that we wanted a big mural. And it was clear that we would include the voices of all the insiders—all the people who work here—in that mural.

welcoming-officeWe talked to people from the security department and administration as well as to Museum curators, docents, and volunteers. For that purpose we opened a ‘welcoming office,’ which most of the time was a physical office in the Museum department. But it also was a traveling office; we met the kitchen staff in the kitchen, Continue reading

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