TITLE: The Women Who Kept the Songs from India to Israel: The Musical Heritage of Cochin
SPEAKER: Barbara C. Johnson, Scaria Zacharia, Smita Jassal
EVENT DATE: 04/07/2008
RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes
For centuries Jewish women along India's Malabar Coast filled songbooks with Jewish-themed music sung in Malayam at weddings, community celebrations and rituals. The subsequent influx of Jews from other nations splintered the Jews of Cochin (the present day port city of Kochi, India) and caused many to emigrate, principally to Israel. With them went a rich musical heritage that might have been lost to posterity but for the recent efforts of a team of researchers. In this program efforts to preserve the music of the Cochin region are discussed.
Speaker Biography: Barbara C. Johnson has aided the Nirit Singers with her extensive research and field work in India and Israel on the Kerala Jews and as a pioneer in recording and collecting their song. She is an expert on the importance of Cochini women's songs in understanding Jewish cultural diversity and on the role of women in traditional Kerala culture. Johnson was an associate professor of anthropology and coordinator of Jewish Studies at Ithaca College. She edited "Oh, Lovely Parrot: Jewish Women's Songs from Kerala" (2004) and co-authored "Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers" (1995) with the late Cochini song expert Ruby Daniel.
Speaker Biography: Scaria Zacharia, a key partner to the Nirit Singers, is an expert in the content and importance of Malayalam Jewish songs in the context of Kerala folk literature and culture. He was a professor and chair of Malayalam language and literature at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kalady, Kerala. He is co-author of "Karkulali-Yefifiah-Gorgeous!: Jewish Women's Songs in Malayalam with Hebrew Translations" (2005) and organized an international conference on "The Jewish Heritage of Kerala" held in India in 2006.
Speaker Biography: Smita Jassal teaches gender and development at Columbia University and cross-cultural communications at American University. She is the author of "Daughters of the Earth: Women and Land" (2001).