Photo of Yatrka Shah-Rais by Sheila Masson



  1. GH: How does your work on the Global Village intersect with your work at the Skirball Center? I’ve always thought of the Skirball as a Jewish center, but then I heard of all the different musicians—Persian and Afghani musicians—that perform there, and it suddenly struck me that the idea that the Skirball
    The Skirball Center
    The Skirball Center
    would be hosting these musicians makes sense, but in an unexpected way.

  2. YS-R: I’m the music programmer at the Skirball, so I organize the concerts. The Skirball is a Jewish cultural center and museum and it tries to focus on the Jewish-American experience. All the exhibits have something to do with Jewish themes: it’s either Jewish silversmiths, or the coming at the turn of the century, or needlework. Sometimes it’s cross-cultural—something from a Japanese artist, paired with something from a Jewish artist and something from a Native American artist, for example.

  3. The mission statement of the Skirball is to interpret the Jewish experience in the United States, and to celebrate the multicultural community of Los Angeles and of the United States. The Skirball has a very broad vision, and it broadens all the time. At first it was primarily Jewish. As we evolved, as we grew, it just redefined itself … or defined itself. Now it’s really, really defined itself. We try to do multicultural programming, and not only in music. We have a lot of lectures and a literature series that bring in lots of authors, not all of whom are Jewish—Walter Mosley and Richard Rodriguez. Various others have appeared. We try to keep to both missions, which means that we still have to have programming that serves the Jewish community and the mission statement for reinterpreting the Jewish experience in the United States, but it is very broad. The major theme is that we want people to feel good and to have a good experience. And to feel that they’re not left outside.

  4. In terms of music … obviously I brought my passion for world music to the Skirball. We decided that we want the Skirball to become a home for everyone. The president of the Skirball says, “I want this place to be an oasis where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their background, culture, and also their class, and age. I want children to be happy here, I want elderly people to be happy here.” There is something there for each person—for everyone. That’s why there are a lot of different types of music and cultural programs. We’ve had music from Afghanistan, from Iran. We’ve had Lebanese musician Ali Jihad Racy from UCLA at the center. We’ve had classic and traditional folk music: we’ve had Israeli musicians, musicians from Mexico, Africa, and Turkey. We’ve had Balinese music from Nyoman Wenten and his Balinese dance ensemble from Cal Arts. And it’s continuing on. We’re getting musicians from Madagascar in the summer, musicians from Mali, and a French Gypsy/Yiddish ensemble.

  5. We try to do programming thematically as well. We’ve done “Sounds of the Silk Road” where we had Chinese music. We’ve had a series that was called “American Roots” that brought in blues and gospel music. Next year we’re going to have a fiddle series called “The World on a String.” [laughs] So it’s going to be world music but from the point of view of the fiddle. There’s going to be some grassroots American music, but we’re thinking also of music from different parts of the world with different types of “violins”: Celtic, Klezmer … maybe Indian if I can afford the person that I have my eye on.


  6. GH: That’s a really interesting lens on something that we never think about—such a broad theme that we might not observe the connections because it’s so broad—that of a bowed string instrument.

  7. YS-R: They’re ubiquitous, they’re all over. There is the erhu in Chinese music, and the kemancheh in both Iran and Turkey. It’s all over, played in different ways. They have the same roots, even the Indian sarangi is a fiddle: it’s bowed and it’s really a fiddle when you think of it.

  8. Also, I have to make sure that people listening on the radio know that when I am promoting something at the Skirball that I am also involved in it. When you are on the public radio, whenever there is a conflict of interest, you definitely have to declare that. I always have to mention that. Some people don’t know that it is by the law that I have to do that. So, some people think that I’m being egotistical [laughs] … that I’m saying, “I am this! And I am that!” Believe me, I’d rather not mention that I’m involved in them, because I always think, “Oh shoot, I have to again say that this is the third concert that I’m promoting at the Skirball, and I have to say that I work at the Skirball.” But I have to, I have no choice. If I play the music of someone that I’m closely associated with I have to divulge that.

  9. GH: That’s funny that some people might get that idea. I get the impression that you are just so excited by the fact that not only are you going to play some lovely piece of music for us on the radio, but that you’re going to bring this musician Skirball to perform for us live.
    Photos of Yatrika Shah-Rais by Sheila Masson

  10. YS-R: That’s it, too! I want to say, “Not only are you going to hear them on the radio, but believe it or not, they’re coming to town!” They could be coming to play somewhere else in LA and I would be just as excited. That I will get to work with them and get to know them on a different level makes it doubly exciting. The fact that I am instrumental in bringing this person to town gives me a different level of satisfaction. But I would be just as excited if I couldn’t bring them to the Skirball and that there still was the opportunity to hear them in LA I definitely have to divulge if there is any conflict of interest.

  11. GH: It’s interesting that the Skirball is up on a hill off the 405 freeway, and on another hill just south is the Getty Museum, which promotes a different kind of community experience for Los Angeles.

  12. YS-R: It’s a different angle. I think that the Getty is mostly a museum, so it’s much more exhibit-oriented. There are public programs,

    The J. Paul Getty Museum
    The J. Paul Getty Museum
    but I don’t think that they do as much public programming as we do. We really carry a lot of the Skirball on the public programming. A lot of people, after they’ve seen an exhibit that’s been there for six months, they don’t come back just for the exhibit. They come for other experiences at the Skirball, and those programs carry the Skirball.

  13. GH: It seems that it is a “community center” in the best sense of the word.

  14. YS-R: We try to bring the arts and the community together so that it’s a forum for both—community activity in an artistic way. It’s been extremely gratifying and I am very grateful to them for trusting me. It did take trust. I was a newcomer when I went to the Skirball and the Skirball itself was new. In a way, that newness was its strength. If it had been very established I may not have had this freedom. They were open to experimentation, but it had to come with trust. And I do appreciate that fact they put that trust in me.

  15. GH: Did they have a vision of what they wanted you to do specifically, or did they say, “This is what we want to be: what do you think that you can do to make it happen?”

  16. YS-R: They had a position called Program Associate when they hired me. The position was a whole gamut of things: coordinate this and that, fundraising, publicity—everything was lumped into it. And I said, “You know, I have a passion—my passion is music.” Gradually they said, “That’s great. You have this great background in music; do all the concert programs.” As I became established there, I started doing the series and the concert programs there and became their music expert. I went to the program director and said, “I want to be called Music Programmer. I want to add that to my title because everybody knows me in the field of music and they don’t understand what Program Associate means. I really want that to be established.” And he accepted, no problem.

  17. Now I’ve changed my position at the Skirball: I used to be full-time staff and I asked them if I could work part-time only on music events from home. I’m extremely grateful to them because they have accommodated me in every sense of the word. It gives me a little bit of time to do other things, because the Skirball is a demanding place. It’s non-stop. The program department is only five or six people, that’s it. We rotate and take turns so we don’t burn out.

  18. With KPFK it takes me three hours to air a program and six hours to program it. Plus I have to listen to things all throughout the week. Plus the Skirball. Plus I have other interests in life. I realized that I was beginning to burn out. That’s why I said, “Relieve me of some of the responsibility.” I took a paycut as a result, but it was a give and take. I get to do the things that I really like—I get to be creative. I get to book the concerts, program them, envision them, and create themes for future years. I still listen to every package that is sent—I still review those and make an evaluation of whether they would be a good fit with the Skirball. Sometimes we don’t have the availability of space and budget to do everything that we would like to do. Otherwise, we would have music everyday. We have other programs, so it’s not a performing arts center—this is a cultural center with a performing arts component. We have music; we have lectures, films, exhibits, and a literary series. There has to be something for everyone.

  19. GH: What do you see in the future for yourself?

  20. YS-R: I’m still organizing things at the Skirball. Probably for another few years I will still be doing that. Let’s see if the Global Village is still on KPFK and if I’m still there. I still think that probably in the immediate future this is what’s going to happen. But as I’ve said, I have other interests in life and one of them is Hindu Vedic astrology and I am transitioning into becoming an astrologer. It will probably be in segments. [laughs] There’s the Global Village, there’s the Skirball, and there’s this other aspect of me that has nothing to do … that will be in the stars that will be in the astral plane looking into the stars. [laughs]

  21. GH: They sound very different, but I have a feeling that they all cross over for you.

  22. YS-R: I’m a Gemini ascendant and they say that Geminis have this curious mind and want to learn everything. Sometimes I don’t think that I have enough time in one day: if I could become an expert in the many things that I am interested in, I’d be a happy person. But, I just have to make choices … make choices to just have a mediocre knowledge of certain things and make the choice of getting more profound knowledge in just a few fields for lack of time. If I could live three lives in this one life, I would do it. I’m happy for what I have.

    Gordon HaramakiYatrika Shah-Rais

    Works Cited

    Attali, Jacques. Noise. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

    Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

    McClary, Susan. Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

    Walsh, Stephen. “Tavener, John (Kenneth).” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians v. 18. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980. 597–598.


1   2   3   4


“Hello Cleveland!”


Yatrika Shah-Rais

Review Essay