Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I’m June Simms.
On our show this week, we play some music that is climbing the popularity charts…
And tell about a holiday that honors the dead.
But first, we look in the mystery of strange lights that sometimes glow above a mountain in North Carolina.
Brown Mountain Lights
For almost one hundred years, people have looked up at the sky over a certain part of North Carolina and wondered : what is that? They see sometimes see balls of light high above them. So far there is no clear explanation of where these lights come from or what they are made of. Jim Tedder has our story.
The mystery began in September of nineteen-thirteen. A man was fishing at night in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. There was no sound, but suddenly unusual lights began to appear over Brown Mountain. The fisherman said they were red and round, like a ball. They were unlike anything he had seen before. They came back night after night.
He told some friends about what he had seen. The Charlotte Daily Observer newspaper wrote about the story. A worker for the United States Geological Survey visited the area to investigate. He decided that what the fisherman and others had seen was nothing more than lights from a train. End of story.
But the lights continued to appear. Some people said September, October, and November were the best months to see them. Nine years later, a Geological Survey team came back to the area to conduct a larger investigation. As before, they decided there was no mystery. They said witnesses were seeing train lights, camp fires, or automobile lights. In nineteen sixteen a large flood swept through the area. Electrical power was lost. Trains could not run. Roads and bridges were washed away. But the Brown Mountain lights continued to appear.
If there are unusual lights around Brown Mountain, what could they be? Throughout the southern United States, people have spoken of seeing a “Jack o Lantern” or “Will of the Wisp”, floating in the night sky. Scientists say these sightings are often balls of swamp gas. As plants die in low, wet, swampy areas, they release gas that glows.
Another theory says the lights are caused by electrically charged plasma, a type of lightning that floats like a ball. Others say quartz rocks in the ground create a “piezoelectric” effect when the earth moves. Still others suggest that the lights are reflections from far away cars and homes.
But people who love a good mystery say the Brown Mountain lights are the spirits of the Cherokee and Catawba Indians who lived in the area many years ago. Some think Unidentified Flying Objects and space aliens are involved. But when the fishing rods are cleaned and stored for the night, and the guitars, violins, and banjos are tuned, the mountain people of western North Carolina sit around the fire and sing about a ghost and those strange lights up on the mountain.
Day of the Dead
On October thirty-first, many Americans will celebrate Halloween. People dress to look like scary creatures such as monsters, witches or ghosts. Children go door to door in their neighborhoods to “trick or treat” and collect sweets. But people from Mexico and Central America do things a little differently. For them, October thirty-first marks the beginning of celebrations for “Dia de Los Muertos”, or “Day of the Dead.”
Day of the Dead takes place on November first. It is connected to the Roman Catholic “All Souls’ Day,” on November second.
Dia de Los Muertos honors the memory of loved ones who have died. But it also celebrates the continuation of life. The ancient tradition started among the native cultures of Mexico. It has its roots in an Aztec tradition of honoring and remembering the dead.
When the Spanish came to Mexico in the sixteenth century, they celebrated the Christian holiday of All Souls’ Day in which dead loved ones are also honored. Day of the Dead developed into a combination of both traditions.
People celebrate Day of the Dead on November first and second. Families visit the burial places of their loved ones and make their graves beautiful. They place orange marigold flowers and lighted candles. They bring special food and drinks and spend the night celebrating and telling stories with other members of their community.
Traditional food includes tamales and “pan de muerto,” a sweetened bread formed in the shape of a person. Friends and family exchange presents such as “calaveras," sugar candies in the form of a skeleton head. Families have special places in their homes called altars. Here they place flowers, candles and photographs of the loved one being remembered.
Many immigrants from Mexico and Central America keep Day of the Dead alive in the United States. In Los Angeles, California, there are more than ten events taking place across the city. One of them will bring people to the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It will hold a parade with traditional Aztec blessings and costumed dance performances. There will also be arts and crafts on display, including more than one hundred altars built by members of the nearby community. And, of course, there will be a lot of traditional foods to eat.
Similar events will take place in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, New York and many other states around the country.
Some very recognizable names are in the top ten of Billboard charts right now. But there are also several musicians we have never covered. This week, Mario Ritter tells us about some of these artists and plays their current hits.
Heard of K-pop? It stands for Korean pop. Right now one man is at the heart of K-pop in America. Hip-hop artist Psy was born Park Jae-sang in South Korea and grew up there. But, he travelled to America for higher education. He studied at Boston University and the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts.
Psy is enjoying critical praise right now for his song, “Gangnam Style.” But the video has caught fire. It was recently named the “most-liked” video in the history of Internet videos. It reportedly has been viewed more than five hundred million times. And hundreds of people have created their own music video versions of the song on YouTube. In fact, one of the most recent, and funniest, is a version done by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei.
“Gangnam Style” is about the culture of the Gangnam neighborhood in Seoul. The area is full of some very stylish people. They wear costly clothes, and live like the rich and famous. Psy says his song makes fun of the whole idea of such people.
British singer Ellie Goulding released “Halcyon,” her second studio album, three weeks ago. It is currently number nine on Billboard’s Top Two Hundred albums chart.
The single “Anything Could Happen” tells a dark love story but the music is upbeat. Goulding sings: I’ll give you everything you need / I’ll give you everything you need / But, I don’t think I need you.
Ben Haggarty is a rapper from Seattle, Washington. He performs under the name Macklemore.
He and producer Ryan Lewis recently released their first album. “The Heist” entered the Billboard Top Two Hundred Albums chart at number two. Not bad for a first effort. Even more noteworthy is that Macklemore and Lewis are independent. They made the album without the support of a major record producer.
Macklemore raps about weightier issues than can be found in most pop music. The single “Wings” tells about the joy a young boy can feel from a great play in basketball. It also questions the morality of materialism.
We leave you with “Wings” on the new album “The Heist” from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.