Tag Archives: Nepal

The Brazen Optimism of “Girl Rising”

girlrisingWe parked a few minutes before the viewing was scheduled to start and hustled towards the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, WI. Two members of the group did not yet have tickets to see the documentary Girl Rising, so they made their way to the end of the long box office line snaking around the building. In the other “line,” groups of tweens and teenaged girls pushed their way to the front with chaperons assertively pushing after them.

I had a hard time keeping my cool in the chaotic crowd, but I felt grateful at the end of the film that all those young people had watched the movie. I hoped they felt inspired as I did, possible, I think, because of the film’s bold optimism and omission of some dark details.

Richard E. Robbins’s Girl Rising succeeded aesthetically and narratively and in promoting its theme that educating girls will make the world a better place — for everyone. Girl Rising featured the stories of nine girls from nine different developing countries and (in most cases) overcoming their plights towards education.

Each of the girls shared their experiences with an author from their home country, who in turn interpreted the stories with a unique voice. These are not face-to-face interviews à la traditional documentaries, there’s reenactment, dream sequences, and animation on top of the lovely narratives.

Artistic shots captured the details of the landscapes each girl called home and the lines and details of their faces. (Alert: Spoilers ahead.)

Ruksana’s family in Kolkata, India manages to stay in the city to send three girls to school even though they live in a makeshift house on the pavement. She is a budding artist whose father bares the expense to buy her art supplies. The footage of her story is overlain with fantastical animations of a blue monkey and flowers that reflect the art in her notebook.

The stories feature obstacles that the girls overcome to attend school, and throughout the entire film we see poetry, song, art, and even physics embraced by the girls as survival tactics. My favorite character, Senna of La Rinconada, Peru, turns to poetry after the death of her father, and begins to write her own. Her father named her after the title character in the television show “Xena: Warrior Princess.

Bravery and fortitude also run through the various stories of the nine featured girls. The stories of two, kept anonymous through name changes and actress portrayals, demonstrated strength but touched on the tough themes of rape, youth marriage, and early motherhood. Yasmin’s story in which she defends herself against assault is told via animation, where she takes on a superhero persona. We see Amina as a neglected girl child, who gives birth when she is still a child herself.

The stories of these girls ends with an almost brazen optimism that I bought into, because I became wrapped up in the story. And yet, as I left the theatre, I felt sad for all the stories of Yasmin and Amina that ended with a flourish of hope but unconcluded stories.

The Girl Rising website offers a follow-up to each of the girls, and Yasmin’s and Amina’s next steps cast a shadow on the hopeful sheen of the movie: “…despite our partner NGOs efforts to enroll [13-year-old] Yasmin in literacy classes, Yasmin’s mother considered a marriage proposal to be a more secure investment in her daughter’s future,” reads the website.

This video was well crafted to uplift (as evidenced in the title, Girl Rising). It also conveys the remaining problems for girls throughout the world, albeit with a glossy, optimistic over layer. It ended with a call to mobilize, and I hoped the young girls in the audience got the message: appreciate your education, it’s a right we all deserve but don’t all have access to.

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Nepal and Ghana: As You’ve Never Heard Them Before

Late on Friday after the last shows of the night, two musicians, tired from their performance and recent travels, postponed their respective dinners to sit down with me and discuss their musical styles and philosophies. I interviewed two artists (and three organizers) with the Madison World Festival on September 16 for a radio and a print story. Through this process the quality of the music and the accessibility of the performers blew me away. Rapper Blitz the Ambassador and the percussionist in the contemporary, Nepali folk group Kutumba shared comments on their respective musical styles and missions. Blitz grew up inGhana, lives in New York City, and incorporates the cultures and musics of those locales into his own fusion style of world/funk/rap/afro beat. The group Kutumba from Nepal boasts a name synonymous with community strength and unity, and that philosophy comes through in their music as it came through in our interview.

My first interview of the night included Pavit Maharjan from Kutumba and the group’s tour director Shisir Khanal. Pavit explained the process of the group’s formation: they joined together to create a contemporary music of Nepal with local instruments, and consequently began preserving the diverse musical traditions of various ethnic groups through the country. The band members have thus learned and incorporated music from a variety of outlets, including traditional Nepalese, classical European, classical Indian, heavy metal, and jazz music. Shisir and Pavit told me of the difficulties traveling around Nepal (i.e. 30 hours to cover less than 400 miles), yet they toured the country twice. After these tours, Kutumba can boast a huge following of young and old Nepalese. Shisir said it best: “I’ve seen in Nepal, thousands and thousands of young people come to Kutumba’s concerts who are the biggest fans of rap and pop. But here Kutumba comes with traditional instruments and they say ‘wow, I’m Nepali, and I’m proud.’”

Blitz expressed a similar desire to capture young people’s attention from the allure of pop music. He’s happy to play festivals and universities to more “privileged” audiences in Europe and the US, but as he explained, “My direct audience, that I want to influence the most, it’s these young adults coming up, who really have no options – or perceivably have no options, think they have no options. [These young people] come from harder backgrounds and are influenced highly by pop culture. This means there’s often a lot of garbage being consumed. Because pop culture is pop culture … it’s not there to inform, it’s not there for critical thinking.” Blitz’s music captivates through his fusion hip hop: his lyrics are insightful and the music is dance-able. He reaches out to young people in New York and in Ghana, and his music has the aesthetic appeal and strong message to touch young and old, privileged and underprivileged.

Since my interviews, I have purchased and enjoyed albums by each performer. It’s obvious on these albums that Blitz, Pavit and their bands have mastered their art, creating unique sounds with substantial messages behind them. I tend to enjoy music more when I understand where it’s coming from. These artists don’t just share their legacy with you, they take you on a journey.

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