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The Sweetest Song: Traditional Song Genres and Their Performance in Brooklyn

Connecting over 100 Brooklyn traditional singers with their music contemporaries in a series of concerts and workshops reaching 2,000 people

The Latest Update

Blues, Ballads and Banana Boat Songs Video

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC)

Check out Brooklyn blues performer Bearether Reddy performing at our May 9th concert.

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Singing the Gods Video

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC)

Check out this video from our April 30th concert at Brooklyn College’s Woody Tanger Auditorium.

Photos from The Sweetest Song

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC)

Check out these beautiful photographs from The Sweetest Song events!

Recapping The Sweetest Song!

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC)

The Sweetest Song (TSS), a series of events highlighting the range of song traditions in Brooklyn from April – May 2014, was a great success. New Music USA’s support made a tremendous difference in our ability to present this unprecedented festival.

The Sweetest Song built on BAC’s successful track record of Folk Arts programs by exploring the role that song plays in a variety of immigrant cultures through a series of 11 free public concerts throughout Brooklyn and in Manhattan and 8 singing workshops at the Brooklyn Music School. In total, over 100 artists from a variety of backgrounds, including Caribbean, Dominican, Jewish, Palestinian, and more, participated in this unique program and nearly 1,000 audience members attended TSS events.

The Sweetest Song included the following events:

  • Brooklyn’s Sweetest Songs – Saturday, April 26, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Heights – Opening showcase featuring singers from diverse traditions, including Chinese, Crimean Tatar, Puerto Rican, and Native American traditions.
  • Encounter with Hindu Devotional Singing – Sunday April 27, Cornelia Street Café, Manhattan – Concert featuring highly-regarded Indian classic musicians accompanying world-renowned vocal innovator Falu.
  • Singing the Gods: Songs of Devotion, Praise and Invocation – Wednesday, April 30, Brooklyn College, Flatbush – Lecture and performance highlighting the role of song in the religious practices of Brazilian, Hindu, Moroccan and other cultures.
  • Young Traditionalists: Rocking Their Roots: Pete Seeger Tribute Concert – Friday, May 2, Brooklyn Music School, Fort Greene – Concert honoring American folk music legend Pete Seeger and showcasing younger singers who blend traditional and contemporary music.
  • Pakistani Encounter: Midwood’s Master Ghazal and Thumri Singers – Saturday, May 3, Royal Catering Hall, Midwood – Concert hosted by jazz drummer and tabla player Eric Alabaster and featuring renowned Pakistani ghazal singers.
  • Ballads, Blues, and Banana Boat Songs – Thursday, May 8, Jalopy Music Theatre, Red Hook – Concert celebrating the cross-cultural connections in the “sing-alongs” of different cultural traditions, including blues, Scottish ballads, and Jamaican reggae.
  • Persian and Balkan Break-Out! Brooklyn Singers Expanding Traditions – Saturday, May 10, BAMcafé, Fort Greene – Concert spotlighting the use of traditional song as a basis for contemporary, hybrid singing styles and starring Persian/American country band Vatan and Balkan musician Eva Primack and theEva Salina Band.
  • Mothersongs – Sunday, May 11, Actors Fund Art Center, Downtown Brooklyn – Celebratory Mother’s Day concert and brunch highlighting Nubian women’s songs, Yiddish lullabies, and women’s songs from Georgian and Turkish traditions.
  • Haitian Encounter: Traditional Vodou Songs Collected by Georges Vilson – Wednesday, May 14, City Lore Performance Space, Manhattan – Concert starring eminent Haitian singer and song collector Georges Vilson and his Kandelab project for notating and recording songs used in Haitian vodun ceremonies.
  • Sung Among Friends: Intimate Georgian and Yiddish Singing Traditions – Thursday, May 15, City Lore Performance Space, Manhattan – Concert presenting the informal singing traditions shared among friends and family in Eastern European culture.
  • Brooklyn Masters of Traditional Song – Saturday, May 17, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Heights – Closing concert featuring leading performers from diverse cultures, including José Ortiz (Puerto Rican bomba singing), Galeet Dardashti (Sephardic religion), and Eva Primack (Balkan).
  • Singer-to-Singer Master Classes – Tuesday evenings, May 6-27, Brooklyn Music School, Fort Greene – Series of 8 workshops taught by master singers and teachers including Jeggae Hoppie (Guyanese), Jason Poole (Hawaiian), Shobana Raghavan (Indian), and Ethel Raim (Yiddish).


Event highlights included the Singing the Gods concert at Brooklyn College, which attracted both the general public and college students studying world music with Dr. Ray Allen. The students loved the concert, and Dr. Allen remarked: “That was the most engaged I have ever seen my students towards live music.”  The event ended with a “jam session” of all of the musicians playing together and the whole audience dancing to a melody comprised of Brazilian candomblé, Caribbean spirituals, Hindu Carnatic chants, and Moroccan gnawaa beats.

Our series of Singer-to-Singer Master Classes was also a great success. Through these unique workshops, Brooklynites of varying musical abilities – from novices to professional singers to enthusiastic general audience members – were able to learn the song techniques of diverse cultures from well-respected, trained singers. For example, Ethel Raim, who led the May 27th workshops, is one the most highly-regarded Yiddish singers in New York City. During her two classes, Ms. Raim told the students about her childhood growing up on the Lower East Side in a tightknit Yiddish community. As she recalled witnessing the hybridization of her familial music with bluegrass and other more mainstream genres, she expressed her joy and pride in being able to share true Yiddish music with new audiences through The Sweetest Song. Students learned six songs in the hour-long class and concluded their time with a full group sing-along of their new repertoire. At the end of the class, attendees—and Ms. Raim–had a hard time leaving.

Likewise, singer Eva Primack, who led the May 6th and 13th workshops, is a master performer of Balkan music. Ms. Primack is already noted for introducing a younger audience into the Balkan music scene, but this class offered her the special opportunity to teach a broad audience Balkan songs. Ms. Primack taught students traditional ballads, paying great detail to the intricacies of the language and emotion expressed in the songs. The well-attended class left students amazed and grateful that the workshop was free.

Another special event was our Pakistani Encounter concert at Royal Catering Hall. The event was intimate, interactive, and provided a rich cross-cultural exchange between the general public and local residents from Pakistani backgrounds, which represented about half of the audience. Following performances from professional Pakistani singers, including popular classical Pakistani music vocalist Salamat Ali, the audience engaged in a dynamic question-and-answer session about traditional Pakistani music and culture. In a wonderful surprise, an 8 year-old child, Sabor Aziz, took the stage and played the traditional tabla, showcasing the lasting vibrancy of musical and cultural traditions within diaspora to the mixed nationality audience.

Providing such opportunities for Brooklynites of all backgrounds to share their arts traditions across cultural borders is at the core of The Sweetest Song and all of BAC Folk Arts’ programming. We are most appreciative of New Music USA’s support of this vision.


The Sweetest Song (TSS) is a series of 12 concerts and 8 singing workshops to be held in Brooklyn from April-May 2014. Over 100 artists will share culturally specific song traditions—from Hindu devotionals to Mexican mariachi—that are interwoven into daily life. But in Brooklyn’s immigrant neighborhoods, tradition also gets mashed up, leading to exciting new musical forms that, for example, combine Persian and Nashville sounds. Thus, TSS traces linkages between traditional and contemporary music, while shining a spotlight on the different roles songs play and have played in global cultures ranging from Arab to Caribbean to Jewish and more.

TSS is an unprecedented opportunity to bring new income and opportunities to over 100 traditional artists—a historically underserved population—while drawing greater attention to their critical work, both as tradition bearers and as artists. In diaspora, these dual roles lead to a hybridization of ancient song genres and musical influences that transcend cultural barriers. We expect to reach 2,000 audience members and workshop participants. Our goal is to bring together audiences both within and across cultures, giving Brooklynites a chance to connect with their own cultural heritage, as well as that of their neighbors.

Pending funding, concert highlights will include:

  • Brooklyn’s Sweetest Songs – April 26, 2014, Brooklyn Public Library – Concert exploring range of genres—e.g., sacred, celebratory, entertainment, etc.—featuring artists, such as Hou Hong Tang (Chinese opera), Akhmet Esatov (Crimean Tatar partriotic songs), Alsarah (Nubian women’s songs), and others.
  • Young Traditionalists Rocking Their Roots: Pete Seeger Tribute Concert – May 2, 2014, Brooklyn Music School – Concert honoring the legendary Pete Seeger, featuring younger singers mashing up traditional music with contemporary rhythms—featuring  Mariachi Flor de Toloache (all-women Mexican band), Anas Tabash (Palestinian), and New York Andalus Ensemble.
  • Persian and Balkan Break-out!: Expanding Traditions – May 10, 2014, BAMcafé – Concert highlighting how traditional genres expand and evolve into contemporary forms starring the bands eva salina (Balkan) and Vatan (Persian).
  • Brooklyn Masters of Traditional Song – May 17, 2014, Brooklyn Public Library – Concert featuring master folk performers, including Galeet Dardashti (Sephardic Israeli), Keith Johnston (Jamaican), Naji Youssef (Lebanese), and others.

Several concerts will be recorded for inclusion in our Online Archive, helping to preserve the work of the artists presented for future generations, and making it more accessible to musicians, scholars, and the general public.

Following all performances, audiences will have a chance to lift their voices in group singing sessions led by the performers. TSS will also offer artists and members of the public a chance to learn new forms of song through a series of eight Master Class workshops taught by traditional singers that are both masters of their craft and experienced teachers. These workshops will focus on Eastern European, Caribbean, and South Asian song traditions, and will be taught by Shobana Raghavan (Indian), Ethel Raim (Yiddish), Winston “Jeggae” Hoppie (Guyanese kweh-kweh), Jason Poole (Hawaiian hula songs), and others.

Through all of these activities, The Sweetest Song will bring together traditional singers with broad audiences, using the power of music to bridge gaps, unite cultures, and build community.

Project Media

Niloufar by Persian Country Band Vatan
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Vatan, or “homeland” in Persian, is a group of Middle Eastern-American musicians based in Brooklyn, NY. Blending the lines between Persian folk music and country, funk and rock, they revive classic tunes while building new ones. vatan.bandcamp.com

Eva Primack with Slavic Soul Party
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Led by Eva Primack, the band eva salina re-imagines songs of Balkan Romani legends, bringing a distinctive new sound to a historically male repertoire. This band offers a refreshing departure from the traditionalism that so often stops culture in its tracks, taking the music out of genre and creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sandy by Keith Johnston
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This video shows Keith Johnston performing his original song, “Sandy,” as part of BAC Folk Arts’ spring 2013 Harborlore festival. This series of 11 concerts and other events explored the role of water in traditional arts carried on in Brooklyn’s immigrant-based communities. Harborlore featured over 80 artists and scholars and was attended by almost 2,000 people. In light of the destruction left by Superstorm Sandy, Harborlore also allowed artists to reflect on the storm’s lasting impact on our city and how art can help us rebuild and recover.

Start and End Dates



Brooklyn, New York

4 updates
Last update on September 30, 2014

Project Created By

Brooklyn, New York
BROOKLYN’S CULTURAL ANCHOR Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) is the leading organization supporting and connecting Brooklyn’s arts community.  Founded in 1966, we have also been the catalyst helping the arts community grow. BAC serves artists and cultural organizations, and ensures residents of all backgrounds and ages have access to affordable arts experiences. We give grants, present arts events,…


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