My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

Within five minutes of his arrival on April 6, 2018, my mentor, Professor Eric Charry of Wesleyan University, taught me something I did not know about interviewing musicians. Pulling up a photo of Nfamara Badjie playing bougarabou, Eric immediately notices that drum bodies are the traditional bougarabou shape, but the drum heads are not bougarabou. They are djembe, relating to the way in which the drums are tuned. Bougarabou drums are traditionally tuned by heating (putting the drums close to a fire), while the djembe is tuned with a hammer, a more viable system in the United States. I now know to ask how an instrument changes as it moves from one country to another and over time.

The difference in drums led to a discussion of the notion of ethnicity tied to a particular instrument. Is the essence of bougarabou and Jola the instrument or the rhythms and songs associated with it? Or a combination? At what point does the instrument change enough to not be bougarabou? Who gets to decide? Eric and Nfamara helped me to place the tradition of bougarabou within the Jola and within the various tribal cultures found in Gambia and Senegal. We also discussed the lineage of bougarabou musicians of which Nfamara is one of the last. Nfamara told us that some Jola believe that he is killing the culture because he is in the United States and not in the Gambia sharing and teaching the bougarabou.

Eric reminded me that I need to apply these same questions about changes in instrument or materials, across the genres and not just in music.

For information about applying for the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in Folk and Traditional Arts, please contact me at to discuss an application.

Roque Playing in Angelica, NY

Roque Playing in Angelica, NY

Roque, an American derivative of croquet, is believed to only be played in a few small towns nationwide. A manicured, well-lit clay court sits in the middle of Angelica in Allegany County, just across from the home of Jim Gallman. On summer evenings, he can watch games unfold from his porch.

The National Roque Association last published its rules in the 1950s, so the game’s complicated rules and their local adaptations are best-known by the oldest generation of players. Although he did not compete in Angelica’s annual tournament in 2016, when fieldworker Hannah Davis documented the game, Gallman had a front-row seat as an unofficial official.

Gallman proudly claims to be the Angelica’s winningest player. His brothers are in close competition, and their adult sons – who compete despite having moved away – aren’t far behind. Like other regular players, some even make their own mallets, which are shorter than croquet mallets and difficult to buy from commercial sources.

Gallman’s female family members are noticeably absent from the tournament. Roque has always been a gendered game here. Women may play casually with friends and family, Gallman explains, but they have never played as often as men. He suggests that less time spent on the court has resulted in a less competitive approach to the game. Anyone is welcome to watch, though. Visitors can see the tournament for themselves during the 50th Annual Angelica Heritage Days Festival on August 3 and 4. More information is available at

New Staff for the New Year

New Staff for the New Year

As New York Folklore embarks on new projects and programs in 2019, I am pleased to welcome two new additions to our staff. Kira Born is not new to our organization, as she (along with Chibuikem Ajulu-Okeke) designed and wrote our new website. However, Kira is transitioning in 2019 from “intern” to marketing coordinator, continuing to work with New York Folklore to bring her expertise in graphic design, digital photography and video, and media production to help New York Folklore better tell its story. Kira is a graduate of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where she majored in Communication and Information Design.

Elinor Levy also joins our staff in 2019 as New York Folklore’s New York regional coordinator for the Mentoring and Professional Development program, a partnership program with the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. Elinor will assist New York Folklore in publicizing the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in the lower Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan regions, and will be the point of contact for potential mentoring applicants in these regions. Elinor is the Folk Arts Program Manager for Arts Mid-Hudson in Poughkeepsie. She has worked as a folklorist in many locations throughout the United States, including New Jersey and Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

As we are a statewide organization, we strive to be present in communities throughout the state. We hope to see YOU in this coming year!

Stable Views

Stable Views

My introduction to the racetrack and its world of racing began in 1996, as I was asked by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, New York, to conduct an ethnographic study of the “backstretch”. I received an Archie Green Fellowship in Occupational Folklore from the Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in 2012, which allowed me to expand my research beyond New York State to include racetracks and stables in Kentucky, Florida, and Louisiana. The entire project resulted in a traveling exhibition and a book published by the University Press of Mississippi, Stable Views: Stories and Voices from the Thoroughbred Racetrack (2015).

The thoroughbred racetrack serves as a centerpiece of a unique world of work, with specialized roles and tasks, specific language and vocabulary, rituals, and a shared knowledge and history among the people who make the race meets occur. Those who work at the racetrack in its various roles make up a distinctive occupational folk group.

For my research, I sought to interview individuals in as many different occupational roles as possible, and to especially seek out individuals who had long time family involvement in thoroughbred horseracing. I interviewed those who worked directly with the horses, especially those who were part of small stables of fewer than twenty horses. A trend towards the involvement of entire families in racetrack professions permeates the entire racing world. As an Archie Green Fellow, I encountered many instances of spouses, children, and other members of a worker’s extended family working within the backstretch or in allied occupations. Such is the case with farrier Ray Amato and his family:

“I’m just shy of 80 years old and I’m still working which is very odd in this business…
After I learned and got on my own and got going and established pretty good in the industry,
my dad taught my brother Tony
Then I taught my brother Paddy.
Then I taught my son, Ray, Jr.
And I taught by nephew Chris.
And they’re all doing good too. Good horseshoers… Only in the thoroughbred industry and they turned out to be good horseshoers.” 1

-Ray Amato

Sources Cited:
McHale, Ellen. 2015. Stable Views: Stories and Voices from the Thoroughbred Racetrack.
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi

Interview with Ray Amato, Florida, 2012.

Folkways and Waterways Grant Received

Folkways and Waterways Grant Received

New York Folklore is pleased to announce the receipt of a $49,500.00 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, through the Regional Economic Development Council’s Consolidated Funding Application for 2019. Working in partnership with the Museum Association of New York, “Folkways and Waterways” examines the role of water as portrayed in and utilized by traditional arts and culture. The importance of water will be expressed through traditional arts presentations and performances and through the creation of digital media portraits by community members. This project is part of a nationwide traveling exhibition of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Museum Association of New York, that was adapted from an exhibition organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Exhibition Schedule

Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse
Opens June 29, 2019

Aurora Masonic Center (hosted at Wells College), Aurora
Opens August 17, 2019

Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, Amherst
Opens October 5, 2019

Chapman Museum, Glens Falls
Opens November 23, 2019

Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston
Opens January 11, 2020

East Hampton Historical Society, East Hampton, NY
Opens February 29, 2020

Through “Folkways and Waterways,” each exhibition venue will work with New York Folklore and their regional folklorist to augment the exhibition with local performances, presentations, and digital stories. “Folkways and Waterways” is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Wreath Making With Molyneaux Tree Farm

Wreath Making With Molyneaux Tree Farm

Busy tree growers Gene and Staci Molyneaux made time to share their knowledge with us during a wreath-making workshop at the Bundy Museum of Art and History in Binghamton on Friday, Dec. 7. Twenty participants filled the small space with limbs and trimmings and needles as the Molyneauxs guided them through the process. After clipping branches and grouping uniform sprigs into bunches, participants worked with Gene to use a special crimping machine to affix them to a wreath ring. Staci showed us how to make big, beautiful bows.

For tree growers, making wreaths is a clever way to maximize profit. Trees’ lower branches, which are usually removed before trees are sold, pile up and often go unused. Especially because growing trees requires a considerable time investment (each takes 7-10 years to mature), piles of unused branches suggest wasted resources.

Gene and Staci own Molyneaux Plantation and Tree Farm in rural Broome County, where they grow a variety of Christmas trees and blueberries. Gene’s father, Richard, or “Pa,” established the farm after returning home from fighting in World War 2. His first trees were planted in 1948. He later established the Broome County Christmas Tree Growers Association. Pa passed away in 2017 at the age of 97, but Gene and Staci have continued his legacy of conservation education.

While making their wreaths, workshop participants sampled traditional Christmas cookies. Their variety reflects Broome County’s diversity and longtime history as a destination for those immigrating to the United States.

Alfajores, prepared by Ana Luckert of The Peruvian Bakery, are Latin American sandwich cookies made with dulce de leche. Ana sells a variety of traditional Peruvian foods year-round at the the Broome County Regional Farmers Market.

Zázvorníky, prepared by Dan McLarney of Czech Pleeze, are unique Czecho-Slovak ginger cookies that must dry overnight before they are baked.

No upstate gathering is complete without an Italian cookie tray, of course! Ours was prepared by Di Rienzo Bros. Bakery, owned and operated by third-generation bakers Carmen and Anthony Di Rienzo.