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WYPR Arts

Folk Life Takes Center Stage in the Nation's Capital

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Today we have a special Heard on the Street. That's where we go out and find people making music. We hear a dance troupe from Cambodia, Native American tribal dancers out of Virginia, and we start with Mekong River musicians from Vietnam.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. MIRIAM ISAACS (Yiddish, University of Maryland): Miriam Isaacs is my name and Yiddish is my native language. So I come from a tradition where we've been busy collecting folk stuff for, you know, about a century, a little more than a century.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. ISAACS: For each area, I've learned not only new things but new ways of seeing a region. I've be surprised by, you know, that they have, like a somebody teaching Bollywood dancing from Northern Ireland, or that in Virginia they would bring in real African musicians to look at the African-American roots, rather than just have the queen serve tea, you know? And just that whole, you know, perspective on how cultures work is really impressive.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. SOVAN TUN (President, Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc): I'm Sovan Tun. Oh, I enjoy very much. I'm from Cambodia so I understand the Cambodian tradition. They borrow our dancer also from the Cambodian temple, because at the Cambodian temple, we have our own troupe, you know. Everywhere you find - in the world, if (unintelligible) Cambodian temple, you always find the Cambodian dancers, Cambodian musicians, you know. We teach the children that's a part of the conservation of the Cambodian culture.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DONALD DUNGA: My name is Donald Dunga(ph) from Nigeria.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUNGA: I've seen an African group with the large hats on. Yeah, and the animal heads, under a kind of grotesque masks and (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUNGA: They try to recapture the images of the evil spirit that might harm them and try to use the (unintelligible), you know, they try to, you know, like (unintelligible). It's the same kind of thing we do in Nigeria too.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Mr. DUNGA: I just thought (unintelligible) one friend of mine just send them all over the world. It is very beautiful to see something here and I like it. I like the way the people, you know, kind of demonstrate the way they live. You see the log cabins, how they are (unintelligible and scratched up. I've seen how people live, you know, pretty much everything about the way they live. And I love it.

MARTIN: That were the voices of Donald Dunga of Nigeria, Sovan Tun, president of the Cambodian Society in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Miriam Isaacs, a teacher at the University of Maryland. They were all visitors to this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.