Multiculturalism Enlivens Music and Dance

The Stanford Hwimori (formerly the Stanford Samulnori), a Korean drum ensemble, is the product of three Korean American former students who desired to animate the campus and the Bay Area with Korean performing arts.  Over the years, Hwimori has expanded its repertoire, which now includes talchum (mask dance), o-buk-chum (literally the “five buk dance”), minyo (songs) and p’ungmul (folk drumming).  The term hwimori alludes to both a quick two-beat rhythm in Korean music and a political movement promoting social change.  Stanford Hwimori embraces both meanings.

Like many student arts organizations, the Stanford Hwimori is emblazoned with its own uniqueness, yet its impact can be better apprehended within a broader historical context.  While multiculturalism among student arts groups became more mainstream in recent decades, its roots can be discerned much earlier.  For example, John Rowden Davis, Chief of Student police, expresses delight following an ASSU-sponsored Kabuki Dancers Concert in 1956: “A capacity crowd…a real treat in seeing East meet West at the first concert of the Spring Quarter.”

Responding to the fervor of gender, racial, political discourse during the 1960s, multiculturalism became a prominent trend among the student arts from the late 1970s until present.  After numerous African, East Asian, Hispanic, and South Asian arts organizations diversified Stanford’s arts scene, an efflorescence of arts activity in the 1990s and 2000s championed lesser represented cultures and cross-cultural fusion.

Cardinal Calypso performs at the CoHo, 2010

In 2005, Cardinal Calypso, the university’s steelpan ensemble imported the music of Trinidad and Tobago to campus life with their performances of traditional Caribbean music, popular songs, and original compositions.  President Lauryn Isford remarks that “Cardinal Calypso is a truly unique performance group. We arrange our own music, including traditional Calypso beats, jazz, and modern covers. We perform at a range of events on campus and in the community such as art museum exhibits and awareness dinners. Most importantly, every member of the group is enthusiastic about the instruments and their music, and we have formed a tight-knit community of students and alumni since the band was founded in 2005.” Grammy-nominated Murray Low formed the Stanford Latin Jazz Ensemble in January of 2008, which he currently directs.  Abiding by the theory that “the evolution of American music is not indigenous to the United States but rather encompasses developments and influences from Africa and Latin/South America as well,” the ensemble specializes in Afro-Latin music and the syncretic flavor of North American jazz.  Eastern European Jewish dance and folk music receives particular attention with the Stanford Klezmer Band.  Members of this group provide lively dance music for Jewish weddings and perform at campus and Palo Alto community events.

Kaorihiva dancers


Dance organizations have likewise progressed with variegated splendor.  In 1998, the Stanford Steppers emerged to showcase the African American dance style known as stepping.  Stanford’s Caribbean style dance troupe, Catch a Fyah, came into being in 2006 through the initiative of students Kamila McDonald and Shakisha O’Conner.  From its inception, Catch a Fyah has emphasized the productions of “unique and vibrant performances with surprising choreography and colorful costumes, saturated with Caribbean flavor.”  When former students Jennifer Awakuni, Hoku Ching, and Kristen Wo longed for the music and dance originating from their island homes, they co-founded Kaorihiva in 2007, a dance troupe specializing in the various dances of Polynesia.  Since its foundation, Kaorihiva has performed for numerous campus events, including departmental parties, Admit Weekend, the Art Affair, the Hawai`i Club’s annual lu`au, the Stanford Powwow, and spring shows.  Moreover, a Filipino dance ensemble called Kayumanggi performs the folk dance traditions from the islands of Philippines.  Arabesque is Stanford’s first belly dancing troupe.  Its sister group, Leilan Fusion Belly Dance, blends the American Tribal Style with other variants of belly dance, including Egyptian and Cabaret, as well as dance forms as diverse as popping, hip-hop, and breakdance.

Featured image: Stanford Hwimori perform at the Graduate Community Center for Asian Nights, sponsored by Graduate School of Business students, 2012.  Photograph by Min Roh