Imagine what our iPods might contain today if Alan Lomax had been on the Lower East Side with a tape recorder in 1900, when Italian-, Polish-, German- and Yiddish-speaking children sang their songs in our neighborhood’s streets. Most of those songs, and the stories behind them, are lost to us now, but families continue to arrive in our neighborhood from around the world, and they’re still singing. “Songs from the East Village” is the first-ever project to preserve and tell the stories of New York City’s largest immigrant population—children. Parents, teachers and kids from the East Village Community School (EVCS), a small public school on the Lower East Side, have recorded folk songs—new and old—collected from and sung by our students, and mixed into a high quality CD of beautiful, funny and poignant melodies.
These tales in music represent the extraordinarily diverse phenomenon that is the East Village: there’s Belly a Belbool, a traditional Iraqi playground chant sung by two little girls who—in a twist of political irony--couldn’t leave their Baghdad bedroom for two years because of the war raging outside; there’s Arroz con Leche, a jíibaro tune about the wedding of a country girl and a city boy, sung by four generations of Puerto Rican women and girls who exemplify the truth of rural to urban migration; there’s Snow a hauntingly sweet lyric sung by a Tibetan student who, last year, walked with his family for 20 days through Himalayan snows to escape the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet.
For more than 200 years, the patch of NYC geography known today as the East Village has been one of the planet’s most culturally complex territories. The same tenements where German, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Italian, Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants settled to become Americans are now home to people of Dominican, Ukranian, Bangladeshi, French, Malian, Indonesian, Tibetan and Yemeni decent.
The thread that ties these new East Villagers to their predecessors here, and in far away home-lands, is song—the vehicle for telling and honoring stories of journeys, of escapes, of arrivals, of pleasure and suffering, of food and love and play. “Singing songs we learned as children is an act of remembering,” says Susan McKeown, a Grammy-winning world music singer and EVCS parent who produced the album. “It's an amazing moment in time that we can make a world music record coming from our school. I’m not aware of anything ever having been done like this.”
Our school raised $5000 to record the CD but we can’t move forward without $5000 more for printing and distribution. By helping us finish our record, you will take part in preserving a piece of history and, we believe, inspiring future generations to record their own children’s songs.
- (38 days)