EWC Leadership Fellows Turn to Doris Duke’s Shangri La

At the Honolulu based East-West Center, an education and research institution for public diplomacy, cooperative study, and leadership development faculty are tasked with training ambitious, emerging international leaders to create a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific community. To ensure relevance, trainings often involve a project based, service learning experience with a partnering community organization or business based in Hawaii.

In the past, partners supporting EWC experiential learning opportunities range from the Hawaii Food Bank to the US Department of State. Recently however, faculty of the EWC Leadership Certificate Program sought a case study that would help their fellows clarify and question how values and priorities can inform leader’s legacies while enhancing their cultural literacy.

The 2014 EWC Leadership Certificate Program cohort is comprised of ten fellows from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, and the Philippines. All are supported by the Asian Development Bank – Japan Scholarship Program (ADB-JSP) for graduate study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Faculty determined that the Doris Duke story embodied in Shangri La, Duke’s former residence overlooking Diamond Head, provided the ideal case study. So they turned to the staff of Shangri La for help.

Seeking to utilize Shangri La as a laboratory, EWC faculty reached out to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) who agreed to collaborate. They then tasked their Leadership Certificate Program cohort with a seemingly simple leadership challenge: fulfill Doris Duke’s legacy. However, seeking to simulate the high-pressure, short time frame conditions leaders find themselves in today, faculty challenged the cohort to complete the task in four weeks while still attending to their full-time graduate study at UH Manoa.

Fellows began by reflecting upon the leadership styles and approaches of Duke and DDFIA’s leaders as well as the organization’s position of leadership in the community. Fellows then attempted to develop expertise in Islamic art & culture through visits and discussions at Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Through in depth conversations with Carol Khewhok, Program Manager at Shangri La, fellows realized the need to build on successful past projects of DDFIA and align their ideas with the following more specific leadership challenges:

  • What educational events can DDFIA use to break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam?
  • What types of new programming can DDFIA develop that reach a diverse public while adhering to the conditional use permit for Shangri La?
  • How can DDFIA address the severe conservation needs faced by the collection given the property’s location and the open-air nature of the museum?

At the end of the four week module, EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows pitched their responses to the Shangri La Executive Director Deborah Pope and Program Manager Carol Khewhok in what faculty term a “Reality Test.” Also joining were the EWC Director of External Affairs Karen Knudsen, EWC Education Director Terance Bigalke, EWC Dean of Education Mary Hammond, EWC Director of Leadership Programs Scott Macleod, and fellows from other EWC leadership programs.

A few of the EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows innovative proposals included:

  • A DDFIA sponsored certificate program at the University of Hawaii facilitated by the East-West Center to increase understanding and break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam
  • A walk through virtual reality tour of Shangri La hosted at the DDFIA partner Honolulu Museum of Art to increase exposure without violating the limitations set by the conditional use permit
  • A natural disaster resilience plan for severe tsunamis, fires, or hurricanes that could threaten the structural integrity of the facilities housing the collection

Fellows diversity enabled them to go beyond applying knowledge gained from past professional experience in their home countries. The interdisciplinary background of the cohort, which includes Urban Planning, Law, Public Policy, and Economics, enabled them to offer unique perspectives and insights from their different fields and thus a broader range of EWC Group, Oct. 31innovative ideas.

Shangri La leaders provided helpful and meaningful feedback for the EWC Fellows work. “I really enjoyed the presentations and was impressed by the participants” commented Ms. Pope. “I was frankly excited to see Shangri La used in this very active, engaged way.”

About the Guest Author: Lance Boyd is an international leadership educator at the East-West Center. Lance’s experience in Asia includes two Fulbright Fellowships in Japan and Singapore, service as a USAID environmental education consultant for ASEAN, and an Earthwatch funded researcher on insectivorous bats in peninsular Malaysia. In Europe, Lance studied as an undergraduate in Austria, completed a MA at the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and completed a Goethe Institute funded study of the environmental movement in Germany. While working for the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science he also earned a MA in Education Foundations.

An interview with Amir ElSaffar

Amir ElSaffar in the dining room at Shangri La.
Amir ElSaffar in the dining room at Shangri La.

Doris Duke was a woman of many interests and pursuits, which ranged across cultures and included exploring art, music, and architecture. Shangri La offers events and programs that reflect the eclectic nature of Doris Duke’s taste by providing live musical and dance performances, lectures, presentations, art installations, and more, all in a very inviting and comfortable atmosphere. The artists and guests that visit Shangri La are so diverse in their fields and backgrounds that I thought it would be a good idea to get to know them a little bit better. I interviewed our most recent artist in residence, Amir ElSaffar, an award-winning trumpeter/composer.

Amir embodies the very distinctive nature of Shangri La’s performances. He is recognized for incorporating traditional Iraqi Maqam with jazz and other contemporary music—an unlikely combination. He has created his own artistic style by exploring this new musical territory. A recent recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, he is also director of a few ensembles at Columbia University, curator of Alwan for the Arts, an Arab cultural center in New York, and is working on new commissions and collaborations. As of next month, Amir will be recording a new piece from his 2013 album, Two Rivers, that will be released in the summer of next year. Below is our interview:

Maida Besic: I read that the first instrument you learned to play was the ‘ukulele, is that right?

Amir ElSaffar: Yes, the first instrument I played was ‘ukulele, a local Hawaiian instrument. My mother played ‘ukulele and flute. We had this baritone ‘uke in the house that was my grandmother’s; I learned to play on that. Eventually I went to play guitar. I played folk music, Beatles songs, and then I moved to the electric guitar and was playing rock music. This was all between the ages of nine and thirteen. That was my earliest musical education.

Your father emigrated from Iraq, but Iraqi music wasn’t a large part of your upbringing. How come?

When my dad left Iraq…in 1953, I think he was trying to leave a lot behind him and move on to living in the West and being part of society in the States…. He didn’t seem to put much effort into maintaining the connection with his Iraqi roots. So speaking the Arabic language, [Iraqi] music, and Islam were not much a part of our upbringing. He didn’t try to make an active attempt to instill that in us, but there were Iraqi families in the neighborhood that we used to have dinners with and maintain some kind of connection with.

Iraqi music is a large part of your music now. You traveled to Iraq and Europe—trips spanning five years—to learn how to play the Maqam from traditional Iraqi musicians. What inspired that trip?

It was a gradual process, wanting to connect to the music of my ancestry, music of the Arab world…. I think when I was around twenty years old or so, [my sister] played a recording of an Egyptian trumpet player. I had to listen to it three or four times before I even recognized the instrument because he was playing it in such a different way and such an authentic way [with regard] to the tradition that it didn’t even sound like a trumpet at all. I never imagined that the trumpet could work in this music. So that was when I got my first inkling to start studying, and at the time I was getting a degree in classical trumpet and studying jazz. But after graduating college I decided to start understanding more of this tradition. I went to Egypt, met with this trumpet player a couple of times—didn’t really get a lesson but just heard him play up close, and got to talk to him a little bit…. When I moved to New York, that’s when I decided to study the music in a more serious and disciplined way, as a way of having something to offer.

What is the Maqam tradition?

Maqam is a general term that describes the modal system and melodic system of the Islamic world. In Iraq, Maqam has a more specific meaning: it is a composition, and has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s very, very strict in a way, but once you learn all of the rules, you can have all kinds of freedom and variation. So when you say “Maqam,” it has a much more general meaning, and “Maqam Iraqi” is a particular genre.

And what was it about the Maqam tradition specifically that drew you to the music?

I started studying different traditions—Egyptian, Tunisian, Lebanese, Syrian—but as soon as I heard the Iraqi Maqam I was like, what is this? I had to understand. I went to Baghdad, [where] I had a couple of really good teachers. I had a good entryway. It’s very composed but improvised at the same time. There is a very blurred line between composition and improvisation that was really interesting to me. The emotional content of it was so powerful, so strong, and really spoke to me on a lot of levels. Every time, I would learn a little bit. I wanted to understand more and more, so it blossomed in that way.

You also learned the Arabic language as a result of your trips. Did learning the language help you connect with the music on a deeper level? Is that something you purposely wanted to do?

The music is primarily vocal. It really depends so much on the poetry. The Arab culture is so much enamored with poetry and the spoken word—even the Quran. The power of the Quran is just the words themselves, the sound of the word, the way the grammar is used, which is why the translations of the Quran are never really successful in translating the deeper meaning, other than just the literal sense. So definitely that was an important element, and I don’t think I could have learned Maqam without having learned the language as well. Once I started to understand the poetry, the music came to life in this other way.

What are some of the common themes in the Arabic music/poetry of Maqam?

They are mostly love songs or love poetry. There are two genres in poetry. One is the qasida, which is the classical form throughout the Arab world; the other is the called zuheiri, and it’s a seven-line form that is in dialect. The qasida is universal in the Arab-speaking world. The main subjects that find themselves in the Maqam are those that deal with love and longing and sometimes a sense of loss, but always striving for or trying to reach the beloved. It can have this very literal reading or interpretation, or there’s always this divine, Sufi [element]—a much larger longing—so that often the poems can read in two different ways.

Why did you name your most recent album Alchemy?

Alchemy had to do with introducing the microtones, these quarter tones that don’t exist in western classical music. It was taking the quarter tones and putting them into the harmonic system of western music because all of the chords of western music are based on using the twelve notes. So I was introducing these other microtones into elements of western music, and a lot of other possibilities started to open up—new chords and new harmonies. That’s where the idea started. It was less about bridging Maqam and jazz, and more about something very musical, in that sense. It also connects to my name, which means coppersmith. Copper is an alloy:, it’s always a combination of two or three different metals…so that was something else I had been thinking about as well.

What are you currently working on?

I have a new piece that I composed for Two Rivers in 2013. It was a Newport Jazz Festival commission also funded by the Doris Duke Foundation that I’m going to be recording next month for summer release and [going on tour to support]. The next big composition is called Rivers of Sound. That’s with a large ensemble, a seventeen-piece group that’s going to perform at Lincoln Center Atrium in New York, and we have some future gigs in 2015 and 2016 already planned. I’m going to spend the first three months of the year writing for that project. It’s the largest-scale work I have composed until now.

What has your experience at Shangri La been like?

It’s been incredible—the combination of environment, being in Hawai‘i, this incredible ocean view and the sun in the morning…being in a warm place in November, that goes without saying. But of course this home that Doris Duke has so tastefully and remarkably put together and getting to explore the different rooms has been incredibly inspiring. Especially when going to places like Syria and Baghdad is not possible. It’s not the same, but practicing in the Syrian and Damascus rooms has been really inspirational…. Maybe, sometime in the 1800s, there was a group playing music in this room. What was that music like? Even if it’s just my imagination, it gives me a lot of ideas and inspiration. It’s been really wonderful, and I don’t know in what sense exactly…there’s a feeling of Doris Duke’s presence. And it could be just what she left behind and how she intended for her legacy to continue, but I really have a deep sense of gratitude to her and to everybody here, the whole staff and interns. Everyone has been so lovely and wonderful.

I’m not sure if Doris Duke could have envisioned all that Shangri La has become, but I find that Shangri La, as a space for the community, accomplishes something similar to what Amir has done with his music. What on the surface appears to be odd and out of place—an estate dedicated to an Islamic art collection in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—is somehow very much at home in the Islands. Here at Shangri La, the faraway and foreign become familiar, offering visitors the opportunity to see life from a different perspective through music, art, and history. I feel a similar sense of gratitude to Doris Duke and what she has managed to create during her life, which continues to enrich the lives of so many others, from interns to artists and guests that visit from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. Showcasing how different elements can be combined, here is a video of Amir’s music.



We’d love to hear what you think. Please share any thoughts or comments below.

_MG_4252 - Copy (2)About the Guest Author: Maida Besic was an intern in Shangri La’s Programs Department during the fall 2014 semester. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology with minor in Islamic studies, and worked with the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation in supporting Unity Productions Foundation’s efforts in showcasing Islamic culture. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Hawai’i, majoring in higher education administration with a focus on international education. While at Shangri La, Maida assisted the Programs Department with evaluating programs and the visitor experience, and with conceptualizing, planning, and launching public programs.

Chefs from Taj Palace Hotel Prepare the Best of Mughal Cuisine in Honolulu

Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and his colleagues, Chefs Shanty Prasad Nautiyal and Ashok Sangale, traveled to Honolulu for a week in October to help kick off a year of public programming in celebration of the opening of the Mughal Suite at Shangri La. On October 6, the chefs shared secret recipes and preparation techniques for contemporary Mughal-themed dishes with students enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. Following that, a second demonstration and tasting session was presented to 120 members of the general public.

Chef Oberoi teaches Kapi‘olani Community College culinary arts students how to make murg khatta pyaz. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Chef Oberoi teaches Kapi‘olani Community College culinary arts students how to make murg khatta pyaz. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Hemant Oberoi is a master storyteller as well as a highly innovative award-winning chef, who is credited with bringing Indian cuisine into a world-class arena. As he deftly sautéed chicken, a variety of select Indian spices, tomatoes, and pickled onions to demonstrate the preparation of murg khatta pyaz (naga chilli chicken—see recipe below), he talked about the importance of understanding traditional cooking techniques. “You should never forget your roots, or your roots will forget you,” he cautioned. He also imparted some sage advice to his audience of fledgling chefs from the culinary institute. “Be sure to learn the basics before you attempt fusion, or you will cause confusion,” he advised. The audience laughed when he told them, “You know, India had the original Iron Chefs! In the past, the chefs used real irons to press and flatten ingredients used in cooking.” He also had a bone to pick with the export of Indian cuisine. “For many years, London was our worst enemy,” he said. “There were bad Indian restaurants on every block, and people thought that was the real Indian cuisine. Fortunately, the situation is slowly improving.”

On October 9, members of the Honolulu chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs were treated to an unforgettable meal prepared by Halekulani Executive Chef Vikram Garg, Chef Oberoi, and the Taj chefs. This event was organized to help raise awareness and funds for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. According to staff at the Halekulani, chefs Vikram and Hemant spent an entire week in the Halekulani kitchens cooking, comparing recipes, and experimenting with new dishes.

Mughal Suite opening dinner, prepared by Taj chefs and master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, October 11, 2014. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Mughal Suite opening dinner, prepared by Taj chefs and master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, October 11, 2014. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues topped off their week in Honolulu on October 11 by preparing a memorable Mughal feast for the opening celebration for Shangri La’s Mughal Suite. The Taj chefs worked with master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific to prepare and serve a truly outstanding selection of Indian dishes, including papadi chaat (chickpea dumplings with potato, yogurt, and tamarind chutney); dum ki nalli (aromatic slow-cooked lamb curry); and roasted-almond kulfi (Indian almond ice cream).

The legacy of the Taj chefs’ visit to Honolulu can be found in the events that brought master chefs, culinary experts, hotel professionals, students, and members of the general public together to celebrate their shared interest in one of the world’s great cuisines. This series of presentations by Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues was made possible by three-way co-sponsorship between Shangri La, the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College, and the Halekulani.

Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.


Chef Hemant Oberoi’s Murg Khatta Pyaz Chicken (PDF)


For the marinade
400g boneless, skinless chicken, cut into cubes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
the juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp red chilli paste (made by soaking dried, deseeded Kashmiri chillies in water and pulverising them into a fine paste in a blender) or paprika powder
1 tbsp mustard oil or any vegetable oil
1 tsp garam masala
50g Greek yogurt

For the gravy
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin
150g chopped onion
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
60g chopped tomatoes
2 tsp red chilli paste (as above) or paprika powder

For tossing
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chopped ginger and garlic (1cm piece of ginger and 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped)
1 chopped green chilli
8 pickled onions
1 tsp chaat masala
a pinch of dry fenugreek powder
2 cup of fresh chopped coriander

Rub the chicken pieces in a mix of salt, ginger and garlic paste and lemon juice, and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. Next apply the red chilli paste, mustard oil, garam masala and yogurt, and marinate for a further four hours. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Place the pieces of chicken across a deep baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove from the oven and set aside.

To make the gravy, heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds and cook until they crackle. Add the onion and sauté over a low flame until transparent and a light golden colour. Add the ginger and garlic paste, tomatoes and red chilli paste and cook for 20 minutes. Put the gravy to one side.

In a frying-pan, heat the oil and sauté the chopped garlic and ginger and green chilli. Add the gravy, cooked chicken and pickled onions and mix together. Season with salt. Garnish with the chaat masala, dry fenugreek powder and chopped coriander leaves.


Pelin Esmer in Honolulu

Although Hawai‘i, as a crossroads between the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, is a very cosmopolitan place, it is rare to find connections to Turkish culture—and visitors from Turkey are even rarer. Shangri La was pleased to host Turkish filmmaker Pelin Esmer for a five-day residency January 10–14, 2014.

Esmer arrived on January 10 from snow-bound Idaho, the previous stop on her lecture tour. She seemed shocked as she emerged from Honolulu International Airport into the blazing sunshine and warmth. She was delighted to learn that her hotel sat on the beach in Waikīkī, and was able to add a daily swim to her busy schedule.

Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Esmer’s first public presentation was on January 11—an afternoon talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker. The talk was moderated by Dr. Vilsoni Hereniko, an award-winning Fijian filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Hawai‘i. That evening, Esmer introduced a screening of her award-winning film Watchtower at the Honolulu Museum of Art and answered questions from the audience following the film.

Esmer also gave a presentation and screened film clips to students enrolled in Global Studies classes at James Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, which gave her a chance to experience O‘ahu’s more rural settings. The students enjoyed her clips and comments, and had many questions for her about how she writes the stories for her films, about how she gets her films made, and about everyday life for people in Turkey. Her presentation at Campbell High School was co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a Honolulu-based organization with a mission to promote greater awareness and understanding of international affairs and to strengthen Hawai‘i’s role in the Asia/Pacific Region.

Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In every presentation, Pelin Esmer clearly demonstrated that her stories about life, everyday problems, and the complexities of human emotions resonate with people worldwide. Those who were lucky enough to attend her events are already asking when she will return to Honolulu. Shangri La staff are grateful to Caravanserai for helping us bring such a wonderful and talented filmmaker to Hawai‘i. We hope that the transition from Honolulu to Anchorage, Esmer’s next stop, won’t be too much of a shock for her!

The View to an Expanding Horizon

The following is a guest post by Shangri La artist-in-residence Dr. Anita Vallabh.

As I sat on the lanai of the Playhouse, looking at the majesty of the ocean, its constant conversations with the shoreline, I imagined the romance of their nature. Yet each assumes a role true to itself, living its purpose. Having read Kahlil Gibran and Jalaluddin Rumi, I began to visualize the ocean as the lover seemingly seeking the beloved, somehow aware through its tireless efforts that the truth and power it seeks lie in its own depths, where silence reigns.

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

In the presence of such magnificence and enchanting beauty, how can one not be conscious of being within a space whose very description captures its ethereal beauty in the words itself? How can one not be true to oneself and create the most honest work of art? How can one not hold a mirror to one’s life? How can one not put their egoist considerations aside, consider their past mistakes and seize the present opportunity to rectify them? How far can the tears be, given the wonders and blessings of our lives? And of the many hardships and pains that taught us the most valuable lessons? How can we not infuse movements that transform everyday gestures and familiar behavior with aesthetic delight?

Going back and forth between art and life…like the resounding waves holding within their depths the silence of life………such is the enchantment of Shangri La.

Shangri La is a much-revered destination for scholars, artists and tourists. In opening its doors to research and researchers in diverse fields, they have built a body of work that enriches not only our understanding of the artifacts housed therein but also recreates the story of times bygone.

When I read Wheeler Thackston’s (scholar in residence, December 3–8, 2010) translations of verses inscribed on some of the artifacts, they suggested to me the spiritual discipline of the artists, and the aesthetic experience that allowed for such exquisite workmanship. These translations and the music of Ghulam Farid Nizami  (who performed at Shangri La in March 2012) provided me with the material for a new choreographic piece in dance. So many resources, so many opportunities made possible because of the dedication, fortitude and single-mindedness to serve the arts. To me, Shangri La represents an enduring legacy of learning.

Anita Vallabh, Vicky Holt Takamine, and Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima rehearse in the Playhouse. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Anita Vallabh, Vicky Holt Takamine, and Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima rehearse in the Playhouse. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

It is in this magical space that I was invited to perform. I am deeply humbled by this invitation to create and perform Suzani: A Weaving of Traditions along with my revered kumu, Vicky Holt Takamine, and her very creative son, Jeff Takamine. Vicky truly represents the beauty, grace and dignity of Hawaiian culture. As two artists respectful of each other’s legacies of inherited culture and tradition, we worked for ten days, weaving together, with an unwavering commitment, patterned sequences of movements—sometimes complimentary sometimes opposing—allowing the movements to communicate and flow into one another. There was only the desire to flow with the music and allow our trained bodies to seek the rhythmic patterns, sometimes following the rhythms of the music, sometimes finding the silent space between the rhythms and sometimes chanting over the music.

Each of us looked forward to the process and to the rigors of practice and more practice, and the many ideas and input from every dancer. We shared our cultures, our approaches to learning, and the unique teacher/student relationship. For me, the most memorable moment was watching Jeff choreograph to Indian/Sufi music—the shift in orientation that was required of him. His brilliant mind weaved together movements both graceful and powerful to seamlessly bring together the music and dance. Another unforgettable experience was learning to make a lei. In the short time that I had between practice sessions I tried my hand at slicing through the ti leaves. I was charmed by the aloha spirit that the dancers infused into the lei making process. Later Jeff told me that each dancer was required to make her lei with “good and happy thoughts.”

As the performance date approached, we became more relaxed and confident. The vagaries of the weather caused some anxiety, but time and again Kumu Vicky assured us that the weather Gods would bless the evening and the performance by providing us with the perfect backdrop and lighting.

She could not have been more accurate in her prediction.

Anita Vallabh, Vicky Holt Takamine, and Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima performing Suzani: A Weaving of Traditions. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Anita Vallabh, Vicky Holt Takamine, and Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima performing Suzani: A Weaving of Traditions. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Based on this experience, it is my opinion that if two artists from significantly different backgrounds communicate well with each other and practice together they can weave the various elements of their individual artistic traditions around each other. What then evolves is a seamless weave of various threads into a cogent pattern, creating a tapestry of extraordinary cohesiveness.

I take back with me wonderful memories of time shared, of wonderful and inspiring people whose generosity continues to enrich and sustain my artistic life.

Thank you forever.


Making ti leaf lei. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Making ti leaf lei. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

About the Guest Author: Dr. Anita Vallabh is a Bharatanatyam dancer,
choreographer and teacher from Chennai, India. She was trained in the classical
traditions by Smt. Shanta and Sri. V.P. Dhananjayan. She was the recipient of
the National Award for the Best Dancer (1992-1993) from the National Hindi
Academy, Calcutta, and was conferred the title of “Kala Bharati”. Vallabh
received a Ph.D. from the University of Madras in 2002 and has performed
internationally throughout Asia, Europe and the United States. She is the
Creative Director the Chennai-based Aeka Academy, a holistic performing arts
school established under the auspices of Vaels’ Group Of Institutions.

Shangri La’s Moroccan Treasures Surprise Moroccan Delegation

Governor Neil Abercrombie and Moroccan Ambassador to the U.S. Rachad Bouhlal. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)
Minister of Youth and Sport Mohamed Ouzzine and President of the Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer Region Abdelkebir Berkia. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)

From November 28 through December 2, 2012, a 70-member delegation of Moroccan diplomats, academics, musicians, artists and journalists visited Honolulu for the signing of a sister state agreement between the State of Hawai‘i and Morocco’s Greater Region of Rabat-Sale-Zenmour-Zaer. Designed to open doors to long-term collaborations in education, culture, tourism, environment and business, the agreement was commemorated with a weeklong series of Moroccan cultural, educational and economic events in Honolulu. These included a handicraft exhibition; a Forum on the Advancement of Women’s Rights, Major Political Reforms and Economic Modernization in Morocco; and the inauguration of a traditional fountain gifted by the Moroccan government to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. On December 1, Shangri La hosted a special evening reception for members of the delegation, who were surprised and delighted to encounter many fine examples of Moroccan visual culture embedded throughout the historic house.

Moroccan craftsmen making the living room’s carved and painted ceiling, c. 1937–38. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Indeed, Shangri La has deep connections to Morocco—and to Rabat in particular. In May 1937, Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell traveled to Morocco, then a French Protectorate, where they visited Marrakesh, Rabat, Fedala (now Muhammadia) and most likely Tangiers. There, they viewed the traditional Moroccan crafts of zellij tilework, carved and painted wood ceilings, carved and turned wood screens (mashrabiyya), colored-glass windows (chemmassiat), and carved plasterwork. Thousands of miles away, the construction of Shangri La was already well underway.

Their time in Morocco must have left quite an impression on the couple. Before returning to the U.S., they traveled to Antibes, where they met René Martin, proprietor of the Rabat-based firm S.A.L.A.M. René Martin. From Martin, they commissioned custom-made architectural features for the foyer, living room, central courtyard, and James Cromwell’s bedroom (known as the Moroccan Room). These features included painted and carved ceilings, a fireplace mantel, tall doors, a headboard, stucco friezes and spandrels, balustrades, wood screens, colored-glass windows, and turquoise green roof tiles of the type used in the Great Mosque in Paris. The work was carried out by Moroccan craftsmen—specialists in wood and stucco—based in Rabat and Fez. The commissioned work arrived in Honolulu in September 1938, and was installed in December 1938, just in time for the Cromwells to move in.

Left: The living room at Shangri La, with stucco friezes and spandrels and wood ceiling, doors, and screens commissioned from the Rabat-based firm S.A.L.A.M. René Martin. Right: Detail of the living room ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photos: David Franzen, 2011, 2003.)
Executive Director of Shangri La Deborah Pope and Secretary General Driss Guerraoui. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)

During the December 1 event, two Moroccan television networks filmed interviews with Shangri La’s executive director Deborah Pope in the foyer and living room, giving Moroccan television audiences a chance to enjoy the beauty of Shangri La’s holdings in situ.

The weeklong series of events uncovered more connections between Hawaiian and Moroccan cultures.  “Amazing similarities,” said Hakim Ouansafi, the festival event chairman, who was born and raised in Morocco but has lived in Hawai‘i for 15 years. “In Morocco, they call it ‘salam.’ And if you truly translate it, it is aloha. It is the sense of family, all-togetherness.” Just as Hawai‘i is the gateway to the Asia-Pacific region, Morocco is a bridge to Europe, Africa and the Arab world. When Doris Duke originally conceived Shangri La as a synthesis of Islamic and Hawaiian architectural styles and cultural influences, little did she know that 76 years later the State of Hawai‘i and Morocco would envision and eventually forge a similar cultural exchange.

Perisan music in the Playhouse by Kayhan Kalhor

Kayhan Kalhor playing the kamencheh.

On October 27, 2012, the DDFIA partnered with the Honolulu Chamber Music Series and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute to present Kayhan Kalhor, one of the great masters of the traditional music of Iran, and one of Persian music’s supreme innovators. Kalhor presented a captivating hour-long solo performance of traditional Persian kamencheh music in the Playhouse at Shangri La; it was an evening that none of those who attended will ever forget. Through his music, Kalhor evoked a soulful narrative that incorporated the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and the chirping of a flock of birds who, apparently entranced by Kalhor’s music, settled in a nearby tree for the duration of his performance.

The kamencheh, which is the precursor to the modern violin, dates back to the pre-Islamic era before the Arab conquest of 642 AD. Made from Persian walnut or mulberry wood, it has an unusual horsehair bow that can be slack or pulled taut by the musician’s fingers, evoking a broad range of sounds. Kalhor explained that this is a music of contemplation and meditation, which is linked through poetry to Sufism.

“When the Western violin was introduced into Iran at the end of the nineteenth century, a lot of people put their kamanchehs aside in favor of violins,” Kalhor said. “The violin was Western, fashionable and chic. Later, I did find kamancheh teachers, and now I am a teacher myself, helping to preserve classical Persian music as well as to create new kinds of music.”

As a three-time Grammy nominee, Kalhor has been instrumental in popularizing Persian music in the West and is a creative force in today’s music scene through his musical collaborations. He has studied the music of Iran’s many regions, Khorason and Kurdestan in particular, and has toured the world as a soloist with various ensembles and orchestras. He is co-founder of the renowned ensembles Dastan, Ghazal: Persian & Indian Improvisations and Masters of Persian Music. Kalhor has composed works for Iran’s most renowned vocalists, Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri, and has performed and recorded with Iran’s greatest instrumentalists. A frequent collaborator of Yo-Yo Ma in the Silk Road Ensemble, he has also partnered with the New York Philharmonic, the Orchestre National de Lyon, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Osvaldo Golijov.

While in Hawai‘i, Kalhor presented two additional performances with the genre-defying string quartet Brooklyn Rider at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Arts. In these performances, Kalhor demonstrated the more contemporary side of his musical talent.

Film Experts Examine Persian Culture through the Cinematic Lens

On May 19, 2012, award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Asian film scholar Dr. Wimal Dissanayake participated in a symposium at Shangri La that focused on aspects of love and devotion in Persian culture. The symposium capped off a week of related activities that included film screenings at the Honolulu Museum of Arts’ Doris Duke Theatre and a public forum at the East West Center. All the events were made possible through a major grant from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute to Asia Pacific Films and NETPAC/USA, and they were co-sponsored by the Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri La.

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; Jeannette Hereniko, founder of Asia Pacific Films; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake at the Persian film symposium at Shangri La.

Director Shahin Parhami (Nasoot, 1997; Lahoot, 1998; Jabaroot, 2003; Faces, 2007) opened the symposium with a talk entitled “The Roots of Iranian Cinematic Culture.” His lively presentation, which included clips from many classic Iranian films, examined the influences of Persian storytelling, poetry and visual culture on Iranian cinema. Parhami’s most recent documentary, Amin (2011), kicked off the Persian Nights film series at the Doris Duke Theatre.

In the next presentation, “Iranian Cinema and the Poetry of Rumi and Hafez,” Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake explored the relationship between modern Iranian cinema and traditional Persian poetry in terms of themes, style, imagery and vision. He stressed the significance of poetry in contemporary Persian culture and underscored how strongly the works of Rumi and Hafez resonate in modern Iranian cinema.

Next up was Brisbane-based film scholar and executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe. In her talk, “The Complications of Allegory and Metaphor in Iranian Cinema,” she focused on the themes of love and devotion as depicted in two very different Iranian films: Abbas Kiarostami’s My Sweet Shirin and Homayoun Asadian’s Gold and Copper. Kiarostami’s film focuses on womens’ faces and emotions as they watch a film based on the classic Persian love triangle between King Khosrow, Princess Shirin of Armenia and the sculptor Farhad. The imagery is constructed entirely though close-ups of the audience’s reaction to the movie they’re watching; the soundtrack is that of the movie being seen. In Gold and Copper a Tehran-based mullah-in-training struggles to take care of his ailing wife and their children. This moving film tells a story in a more linear way, and serves as a metaphor for other aspects of life in contemporary Iran.


In conjunction with the symposium, the Doris Duke Theatre hosted a Persian Nights film series. Audiences loved Parhami’s Amin, the opening-night film, which tells the story of a young modern nomad from the south of Iran who dedicates his life to preserving and perpetuating the music of the Iranian Qashqai people. Other films in the series included Bahram Tavakoli’s Here Without Me, an Iranian adaptation of Tennessee William’s play The Glass Menagerie; and Ali Rafi’s Agha Yousef, a film about familial love.

If you’d like to learn more about Iranian films, check out these feature films and documentaries on the topic of “Love and Devotion in Persian Culture” (with introductions filmed onsite at Shangri La by Shahin Parhami, Dr. Wimal Dissanayake and Anne Demy-Geroe), plus a host of additional Iranian film classics on AsiaPacificFilms.com.

Arabic Studies students enjoy “A Taste of Morocco”


Painted cedar ceiling (64.3) and colored glass windows (46.1.1-82) in the foyer at Shangri La, both of which were commissioned from a Moroccan workshop in 1937. Also visible is a c. 1900 Egyptian or Syrian hanging lamp (54.6.1-4) © 2003, David Franzen.

Students enrolled in an innovative Arabic language studies program at O‘ahu’s Campbell High School came to Shangri La on May 12 for A Taste of Morocco, an event co-hosted by Shangri La, OneWorldNow!  and the Pacific Asian Affairs Council. The students toured Shangri La, then enjoyed an afternoon of traditional Moroccan music, dance and food. They were especially interested in the colorful, intricately painted wooden ceilings in Shangri La’s foyer and living room, which were crafted in 1937 by artisans in Rabat, Morocco.

Adly Mirza, Arabic instructor at Campbell High School

In fact, some of the students will be traveling to Rabat this July for intensive Arabic language and leadership training.  While in Morocco, they’ll live with host families, continue their Arabic language studies, learn about Moroccan art and culture and participate in community service projects with Moroccan youth. For many of these students, the summer program will be their first experience abroad, so we were especially pleased to be able to introduce them to some of the elements of traditional Moroccan culture they’ll experience this summer.

Student speaker Nick Troup at Shangri La

Campbell High School junior Nick Troup, a two-year veteran of the Arabic Studies program, spoke at the event.  He traveled to Qatar as part of the summer program in 2011, and the experience was life-changing. “Going to Qatar totally smudged out any preconceptions I had at the time. I learned really quickly that people are pretty similar regardless of where you are in the world. There are several things that are universal—for example, music. I connected in ways I didn’t expect,” he said, reflecting on his trip.

The travel–study program is organized by OneWorldNow!, an award-winning global leadership program for underserved high school students. The Seattle-based organization expanded to O‘ahu in 2010 through a partnership with the Pacific Asian Affairs Council and support from Qatar Foundation International.  In addition to the program at Campbell High, OneWorldNow! is organizing an intensive two-week (June 17–29, 2012) Arabic language camp for high school students at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Kirstin Hayden (second from left), executive director of OneWorld Now! and Campbell High Students enrolled in the 2012 Arabic Studies program

Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange at Shangri La

On April 4–5, 2012, 22 emerging documentary filmmakers, television producers and members of the Independent Television Service (ITVS) gathered at Shangri La as part of the Diverse Muslim Voices Initiative funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts’ Building Bridges Program.

Convening participants in front of the Playhouse at Shangri La

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Musa Syeed (Valley of Saints, Bronx Princess, A Son’s Sacrifice) opened the meeting with a talk on media portrayals of Islam and Muslims in the United States today. Of Kashmiri descent, Syeed  grew up in Indiana, which made him adept at seeing cultural issues from a variety of nuanced perspectives.

Next, the emerging filmmakers got a chance to pitch their latest projects to representatives from major funding organizations—among them Orlando Bagwell, director of JustFilms media content fund at the Ford Foundation; Ryan Harrington, director of documentary programming for the Tribeca Film Institute; Leslie Fields-Cruz, vice president of operations and programs for the National Black Programming Consortium; and Sapana Sakya, public media director at the Center for Asian American Media. The experts provided valuable insight and feedback, as well as pointers about marketing, partnerships, and funding.

Here are just a few of the great projects presented at the meeting:

Heavy Metal Islam, a film by Jed Rothstein, was originally envisioned as a documentary about the heavy metal music scene in Egypt. In 2008, midway through filming, Egypt’s Arab Spring erupted and the film became a story about a revolution.

Two Children of the Red Mosque, a film by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, examines the very different lives of two children enrolled in the Red Mosque madrassa, one of Pakistan’s most notorious institutions.

Filmmaker Idris Abdul-Zahir pitching his film project Iladelph Break Boy to the panel

Five Broken Cameras, a film by Emad Burnat, chronicles five years of West Bank protests and the extreme difficulties of everyday life in Palestine through the eyes and experiences of a Palestinian photographer and his family.

Iladelph Break Boy, a film by Idris Abdul-Zahir and Usame Tunagur, follows an African-American Muslim from Philadelphia who achieves international fame as a break dancer, but then must return home and redefine his life.

Islam on the Inside, a film by Justin Mashouf, documents the experiences of three Muslim converts transitioning out of incarceration on the Southside of Chicago.

Convening participants departing Shangri La following a fruitful day of dialogue via the Mughal Garden at Shangri La

Mashouf reflected on the convening: “Coming from a television background in LA, where documentary concepts spark, fizzle, and are replaced in an instant, I often find the task of producing sincere stories about Muslims to be impossible. The Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange allowed us an opportunity to better produce these stories and to share moments of solidarity with one another as we face many of the same challenges.”