Local folk artists passing on art of braiding and African drumming with help from grants

Woman does another person's hair, inset photo of a man

D. Faulks of Amsterdam braids hair at a Weave-In event at New York Folklore on Jay Street in Schenectady in 2022. Inset: Zorkie Nelson. (photos provided)

Amsterdam resident D. Faulks has been braiding hair for years, a skill passed down to her by her family members.

She’s now passing on to others in the city — where she says there are no salons dedicated to braiding African American hairstyles — with the help of an artist grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, with assistance from New York Folklore.

“People usually go to Schenectady, Albany, New York City,” Faulks said.

She’s regularly given tutorials to parents and kids who might not know how to braid or care for their hair at The Creative Connections Clubhouse in Amsterdam and has found that biracial children especially need the expertise.

“I volunteer to do the tutorials and do hair for biracial butterflies, [whose] mom don’t know how to do their hair,” Faulks said.

She also has a couple of young clients who routinely come to the Clubhouse to have their hair detangled, washed and conditioned.

With help from an artist grant from NYSCA, this year Faulks will give quarterly workshops on hair care and braiding, both of which can be overwhelming.

“There’s mathematics involved. There’s geometry involved,” Faulks said. “It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the mathematics of braiding.”

When planning out intricate, or even more simplistic styles, each of the different textures in one’s hair has to be considered.

“The mathematics of how many braids you have to do per cornrow is important because if not you run out of hair and you find yourself pulling hair up from the bottom to the top, then the braids are uneven, so the mathematics of braiding is very complex. The geometry of braiding is complex as well because when you’re doing designing, even when you’re doing regular, straight cornrows, the symmetry is important so it’s all about geometry,” Faulks said.

The workshops will be held at the Clubhouse and other locations around the city. Parents are invited but it’s aimed at helping young girls.

“Sometimes a teenage girl don’t want their mom doing their hair or their mom don’t understand the pain that comes with combing their hair out whereas I understand, their mom don’t have the knowledge to understand that she’s using the wrong type of comb . . . because she’s not the same race as the child,” Faulks said.

She hopes to reach anyone in the area who might need it, especially biracial kids with caucasian mothers.

“Everybody deserves to feel physically beautiful,” Faulks said.

She was one of 21 artists/organizations to receive a total of $225,000 in grant funding from NYSCA to support folk and traditional artists from the area. Faulks received an artist grant, a relatively new type that aims to directly support artists.

Drumming, music styles

Schenectady musician Zorkie Nelson also received an artist grant and is working to use the funding to ensure the styles of African drumming and music that he learned and has long been performing don’t die out.

Originally from Ghana, Nelson is a master of Ghanaian drumming and he plans to create a Pan-African Orchestra to perform around the Capital Region. He also received an apprenticeship grant and he will take on two apprentices (Elizabeth Fo Fo Niiquaye and Patience Lamptey), passing down what he learned from his parents.

“I was growing up [around] drumming and dancing and singing. Actually, my father and mother, that’s their life. Drumming and dance and singing, that’s their life they have in Africa. So I learned from them,” Nelson said.

Nelson came to the United States after fellow musician Yacub Addy invited him to play with his band Odadaa! They’ve previously played with famed jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. He’s also gone into local schools including Scotia-Glenville to perform and teach students about African music.

“I tried to teach the kids about all different styles of drumming. Here, people play kick drums, but in Africa, we have different levels of the drum because Gana is a place [where] we have different tribes,” Nelson said.

He hopes to bring fellow Ghanaian musician John Lartey Ayisi to the United States to help teach everything from flutes to xylophone to drumming.

These sorts of projects are exactly the type that New York Folklore aims to support, said Anne Rappaport Berliner, staff folklorist at NY Folklore. The application process for these grants is lengthy. However, New York Folklore, which is located on Jay Street in Schenectady, is available to support those who’d like to apply.

Rappaort Berliner urged any folk artists interested to reach out.

“We want to help them with their grant,” Rappaport Berliner said. “As part of our mission as a service and support organization for folk and traditional artists, when in particular these grants come around, we help all the artists with their grants individually. We’ll meet with them and we’ll help them plan them out. We’ll help them write them.”

Here’s a look at some of the other awardees:

Devesh Chandra, Master; Saurav Bavdekar, Apprentice. Indian Classical Music
Efthimios (Altin) Stoja Master; and Jorida Laraku, Apprentice. Greek Iconography
Tashi Sharzur, Master; Tenzin Norbu, Apprentice. Tibetan Traditional Music
Veena Chandra, Master; Vibhava Ranade and Anshu Chandra, Apprentices. Indian Classical Music

Support for Organizations
Guyana Cultural Association of New York
West Hill Refugee Welcome Center

Support for Artists
Aurelius John, Pakistani Music: Bansuri, Dholak, Dhol and Tabla
Daniel Walayat, Vocal Pakistani Music
Devesh Chandra, Indian Classical Music
Latifa Ali Muhammad: Afghan Embroidery
Ehsue Aung: Karen Dance
Pamela Badila: African Folktales & Stories
Pinya Aung: Karen Tenaku Harp
Shaman Raphael: Pakistani Music: Ghazal and Harmonium
Veena Chandra: Indian Classical Music Sitar
Zelda Hotaling: Native American Healing Arts
Chloe Harrison: Solo exhibition and public mural

 For more information visit nyfolklore.org.

Categories: Life and Arts

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