Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.
This is Doug Johnson. On our program today we present a special report about a festival now taking place on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It honors the people who lived and worked along the ancient Silk Road between Europe and Asia.
Silk Road Visit
Each year, the Smithsonian Institution holds a Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. on the Mall between the Capital building and the Washington Monument. This year the festival is called “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust.”
Traders in the ancient world used the Silk Road to transport goods across Asia to Europe. They carried goods from Japan to Italy and to all of the countries in between.
World famous musician Yo-Yo Ma created the Silk Road Project to teach people about the nations and people of the Silk Road today. He joined with the Smithsonian Institution to honor the people and the countries of the Silk Road at the festival in Washington.
Yo-Yo Ma says the ancient Silk Road was very much like the modern computer communications system called the Internet. It permitted the exchange of ideas, music, food, technology and culture.
During the Silk Road Folklife Festival, visitors are meeting people from many countries and learning about their cultures. The countries include Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Russia, and the city of Venice, Italy.
Visitors can hear Chinese storytellers. They can watch men from Mongolia demonstrate their sport of wrestling. They can eat Japanese food while listening to music from Afghanistan. They can watch artists make Indian and Syrian jewelry.
Best of all, they can talk to the people who do this beautiful work -- people like Ahmet Sahin of Kutahya, Turkey. Mister Sahin makes ceramic dishes and wall hangings. He trained with his grandfather, also named Ahmet Sahin. Grandfather Ahmet Sahin is considered the greatest master of Islamic ceramics of the twentieth century. The Sahins traveled to Washington, D.C to take part in the festival. They sell their ceramics and urge people to visit Turkey.
The Silk Road Folklife Festival celebrates the living traditions of the ancient Silk Road lands. It is presenting more than three-hundred artists and crafts people, musicians and dancers from more than twenty countries. And, for the two weeks of the festival, these people of the Silk Road are sharing their many different cultures with one another and more than one-million visitors.
Food on the Silk Road
An important part of the yearly Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the food. This is especially true at the Silk Road festival. Visitors can buy foods from Japan, China, Afghanistan and Italy. And cooks from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Italy, India and Uzbekistan show how to prepare foods from their countries. Mary Tillotson tells us more about food and the Silk Road.
People along the trade paths exchanged vegetables, fruits, and spices that would influence the kinds of food they prepared. Each country on the Silk Road has its own kind of cooking, yet is linked to all the others.
Bread is one example. People eat flat bread in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and much of China. Rice has become an important part of cooking all over the world. Noodles are also found in many countries. For many years, people believed that the Italian explorer Marco Polo brought noodles, or pasta, from China to Italy in the thirteenth century.
But food history experts say that is probably not true. They say that pasta probably was created first in Iran. An Arab cook book written in the tenth century describes the first food made of pasta, and says it was invented by a Persian king. Food history experts say the Arabs probably first brought pasta and the wheat needed to make it to Italy in the ninth century.
No one knows how the Chinese learned to make pasta. But the names of some Chinese foods made of noodles are similar to those in other countries along the Silk Road. For example, “mantou” is the Chinese name for a sweet food similar to bread. In Japan, a steamed bread is called “manzu.” In Korea, pasta filled with meat is called “mandu.” In Tibet, people eat stuffed dumplings and call them “momo.” And countries of central Asia prepare a steamed filled pasta called “manti.”
Smithsonian experts say that the link among all these foods and their names is a sign of early communication among the cultures of the Silk Road. In this way, food traditions traveled along the ancient Silk Road and are still influencing cultures all over the world today.
Music of the Silk Road
Music is an important part of the cultures of people who live along the ancient trading paths that went from East Asia to Europe. It also is an important part of the Silk Road Folklife Festival. Shep O’Neal tells about some of the kinds of traditional music being played at the Festival.
Music is often said to be a bridge between cultures. This is a strong belief of the organizers of this year’s Silk Road Folklife Festival. So during the festival visitors can enjoy live performances of unusual music from many areas of the world. There are throat singers from Khakasia, Russia. The Beijing Opera. Music from the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan. Venetian folk music from Italy.
To continue this musical exchange, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has produced a two-CD set called “The Silk Road: a Musical Caravan.” It contains examples of the different kinds of music being performed at the Festival. It gives a taste of the rich musical life that exists today in the lands of the Silk Road. And it shows how musical instruments and sounds were exchanged.
This Armenian song is played on a kind of clarinet called a duduk and a kind of drum called a dhol. The song is called “Dance of Tamir Agha.”
((CUT ONE: Dance of Tamir Agha))
The Khakas live in the republic of Khakasia in southern Siberia. Their rich musical traditional includes throat singing called Khai. Here, a Khaka sings a Khai while playing a stringed instrument.
((CUT TWO: Khai))
We leave the Silk Road now with a traditional piece from the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China. It shows the influence of Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Arab and Persian music.
((CUT THREE: Chabbiyat Tazi Marghul))
This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.
This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Marilyn Christiano, Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson. Our studio engineer was Al Allerby. And our producer was Paul Thompson.