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  1. The Carthy family has been at the vanguard of English folk music for decades. And they’re still leading the way.
  2. The Israeli conceptual artist Oded Hirsch lives on the periphery—both philosophically and geographically.
  3. The rapper, singer and writer, Dessa Darling found peace with heartbreak, scientifically.

Featured Artists

Dessa
Dessa

Dessa is an acclaimed singer and writer. She is known for her leadership of hip hop collective Doomtree and its associated record label, as well as for her wide-ranging solo work.

Born Margret Wander in Minneapolis in 1981, she earned a BA in philosophy at  University of Minnesota. Dessa began writing spoken word poetry in the early 2000s, initially adapting personal essays into verse. She joined Doomtree in 2005 as a rapper and lyricist, appeared on all three of the group’s studio albums, and released several solo albums on the Doomtree label.

As a writer, Dessa has published two books of poetry and contributed travel writing to New York Times Magazine and National Geographic Traveler. Her study into the neuroscience of love yielded essays in her acclaimed 2018 collection My Own Devices, and influenced her third solo album, Chime (2018), which made number 3 on the Billboard indie charts. She has also performed and toured with the Minnesota Orchestra and contributed a track to the Billboard-topping album The Hamilton Mixtape.

Oded Hirsch
Oded Hirsch

Oded Hirsch is a filmmaker and conceptual artist known for his documentary-style videos exploring group experience and participatory spectacle. He has been featured in dozens of solo and group exhibitions in Israel, England, China, and the United States.

Hirsch was born and raised on a kibbutz collective community in Israel. After his national service in military intelligence he studied photography at WIZO Academy in Haifa and the Pratt Institute in New York. His photographic series Sleep Tight draws from his military experience and his urban life, capturing a recreated army tent camp—complete with dozens of sandbags—in a fourth floor apartment.

The celebrated film 50 Blue explores other formative events of Hirsch’s life: childhood on a kibbutz and a road accident that left his father paralyzed. It shows a group hoisting a man in a wheelchair onto a platform in the middle of a lake. Other critically acclaimed works include The Circle (a film of synchronized dancing bulldozers) and Contingency Plan, which saw a team of volunteers transport five tons of soil into an art gallery.

The Carthys (Martin & Eliza Carthy)
The Carthys (Martin & Eliza Carthy)

Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy are a father-daughter duo of English folk musicians. Both Martin (in 1998) and Eliza (in 2014) have received MBEs for their services to traditional English music.

Born near London in 1941, Martin Carthy has been performing professionally as a singer and guitarist since he was 16.  His eponymous 1965 debut album featured an arrangement of the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair” that Simon & Garfunkel used for their international hit. Martin began playing with English folk group The Watersons in 1972. Eliza was born in 1975 to Martin and his wife/bandmate Norma Waterson.

Eliza first played with the family group as a 6 year old and joined her parents’ band officially in the early 1990s. Together, the family has recorded numerous albums of traditional folk. Eliza also released several successful solo albums; Red Rice (1998) and Anglicana (2003) were both nominated for the Mercury Prize. She played violin on the successful 1998 album Mermaid Avenue by Wilco and Billy Bragg.

Segments

08:56
  • Music
Dessa’s Dauntless
The rapper, singer, and writer Dessa Darling found peace with heartbreak, scientifically.
Season 5, Episode 3
Dessa’s Dauntless
09:07
  • Music
The Carthys: Non-Traditional Folk
The Carthy family has been at the vanguard of English folk for decades.
Season 5, Episode 3
The Carthys: Non-Traditional Folk
08:18
  • Art & Design
Oded Hirsch: At the Borders
The Israeli conceptual artist Oded Hirsch lives on the periphery.
Season 5, Episode 3
Oded Hirsch: At the Borders

Transcript

Welcome to Articulate, the show that explores how really creative people understand the world. On this episode of Articulate, No Frontiers. 

Tori Marchiony discovers how finding peace with love lost changed Dessa for good.

Dessa: It was a very alive part of my life even though it happened under this, sort of, rain cloud of being broken hearted and bummed. It felt like I’d found a portal to make that have meaning.

The Israeli conceptual artist Oded Hirsch lives on the periphery, both philosophically and geographically.

Oded Hirsch: They call it the Finger of Galilee because it was surrounded by borders so it’s very idyllic but it’s also sitting on a barrel of dynamite.

And, the Carthy family has been at the vanguard of English folk for decades. Today dad Martin is sure that his daughter Eliza will not hold on to the resentment that so blighted his life.

Martin Carthy: I was unhappy about it because as anybody will tell you, it’s extremely comforting and comfortable to be a victim.

That’s all ahead on Articulate.

The Carthys: Non-Traditional Folk

The Carthy family has been at the vanguard of English folk for decades. And they’re still leading the way.

(Martin and Eliza Carthy singing from “Three Blind Men and the Elephant”) 

Who went to see the elephant 

Though all of them were blind 

That each by observation 

Traditional folk music has a peculiar place in the culture. It belongs to no one and everyone. It is outside the realms of copyright as its creators are often so distant in time as to be untraceable.  

Satisfy his mind   

Together, Martin and Eliza Carthy have been key components of the engine that has driven English folk music for more than half a century. In 1998, dad Martin was awarded an MBE, one of Britain’s highest civic honors, for his contributions to English traditional music. In 2014, his daughter received the same honor for her part in the 1990s folk revival.  

(Eliza Carthy singing from “Blood on my Boots”) 

Drinking champagne with Jerry Springer  

I was young and dressed up to the nines  

The duo made their debut in 1981 when a six-year-old Eliza insisted on coming onstage at the legendary Fleetwood Folk Festival. 

Martin Carthy: And she said, “I’ll be able to come stay on stage tonight.” And I said, “honey you can’t do that yet,” “well, yes, I can,” you know. So, I said, “tell you what, you come on stage and stand next to me, and when you know the song, you just pull my knees like that and I’ll lift you up to the microphone and you can sing the song.” And she said, “all right,” and now it’s the first song and I felt this pull on my— Lifted her up, and you sang the song all the way through, absolutely word perfect, note perfect, singing harmonies and everything, absolutely wonderful.  

(Waterson Carthy singing from “Raggle Taggle Gypsy”) 

And dressed in clothes of leather  

The dirty rags around my door 

By her late teens, Eliza had officially joined the family band, Waterson Carthy. It had grown out of mother Norma Waterson’s successful family folk group, the Watersons. Their music reflected their Irish gypsy heritage which had been a fixture of British folk during the 1960s.  

(The Watersons singing from “The Bonny Ship”) 

And it’s cheer up me lads  

Let your hearts never fail  

Her father, Martin Carthy, had come to prominence in his own right with seminal English folk acts such as Dave Swarbrick, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band. When he and Norma married in 1972, he joined up with her family band.  

(Waterson Carthy singing from “Stars in my Crown”) 

I shall reach  

Their daughter would make the Waterson Carthy band a multi-generational affair.  

When through wonderful grace by my Savior I stand 

Will there be any stars in my crown? 

Martin says that making music with family has always come naturally. 

Martin Carthy: It’s always pretty straightforward, easy. Got a lot of, what we play isn’t what you’d call easy. But it’s— 

Eliza Carthy: Easy’s the wrong, yeah. 

Martin Carthy: Yeah, it’s straightforward, it’s intuitive, it’s almost automatically know where the other person is going and you wait for them to get there and then you carry on. 

AJC: You had a kind of an odd upbringing though because most kids when the grownups stay up late and start drinking and the guitars come out, the kids get sent to bed. You got dragged out of bed for that, right? 

Eliza Carthy: I did, my mom used to wake me up and bring me downstairs. She’d say, “You’ve got to come and hear this you’ve got to come and hear this.” 

Martin Carthy: And sit her on the kitchen table with her dollies, you know, you’d be sitting there taking, you’d have a little snooze, then you’d sit up and listen whoever was there, we were having a little sing-song, yeah.  

(Martin and Eliza Carthy singing from “Grand Conversation on Napoleon”) 

He caused the money for to fly wherever he did go 

Plans were arranging night and day 

This bold commander to betray 

He cries I’ll go to Moscow 

and it then will ease my woes 

If fortune shine without divine 

All the world shall me obey 

This grand conversation on Napoleon arose 

Thousands and thousands then did rise 

To conquer Moscow by surprise 

He led his men across the Alps 

Oppressed by frost and snow 

But being near the Russian land 

He then began to open his eyes 

From the outside, Martin Carthy has been a sort of musical anthropologist, rediscovering many great English folk songs, some of which gained huge popularity in the hands of other artists, including Bob Dylan.  

(Bob Dylan singing from “The Girl from North Country”) 

She once was a true love of mine  

But most notably, Simon and Garfunkel. Their rendition of Scarborough Fair appeared in the blockbuster 1967 movie, The Graduate, which is also one of the biggest selling soundtracks of all time.  

(Simon and Garfunkel singing from “Scarborough Fair”) 

She once was a true love of mine  

It never sat well with Martin Carthy that he wasn’t credited on the record. 

Martin Carthy: I was unhappy about it because it, as anybody would tell you, it’s extremely comforting and comfortable to be a victim, you know, because everybody’s sorry for you and you know, yeah what a drag. And after a while I got, I actually wrote a letter, did this blog on the web and coined this phrase, “trudge through the grudge”. I actually got fed up to the bat teeth with this trudge through the grudge, it was sad. It was sort of like in front of a mirror and said, come on. For heaven’s sake, it’s a traditional song. He owns it as much as I do. Yes he did a version of the guitar arrangement that I had, it wasn’t exact, it was a version of it. And Art Garfunkel wrote that canticle on the top and it became huge.  

(Martin Carthy singing from “Scarborough Fair”) 

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?  

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme  

Remember me to one who lives there  

For once she was a true love of mine  

Though the sound and status of traditional music in the UK has always ebbed and flowed it has for generations been an essential component of British musical identity. And it will continue to be so with, in all likelihood, a member of the Carthy family pointing the way. 

(Martin and Eliza Carthy singing from “Happiness”) 

I will follow him across the hill 

and if I can catch him I will try to bring you 

Oh yes, happiness 

And if I can catch him I will try to bring you 

All my love and happiness 

The Israeli conceptual artist Oded Hirsch is driven by a single question: What if? He has made bulldozers dance, transformed a museum using more than five tons of raw soil, even instigated communication by having people actually bury their heads in the dirt. All this in pursuit of a simple goal.  

Oded Hirsch: The motivator, I guess, is just continue being a child. Play. I play with my kids, they paint over an old mattress. And I play with welding. And then I go and I play with other things. I build a raft barrel, handmade raft. That’s my motivation. 

AJC: Just the act of making. 

Hirsch: Yeah, sounds utopian but, 

But Hirsch’s utopia lies only a few miles from two of the world’s most incendiary borders. 

Hirsch: We sit here, it’s like three kilometers or two miles from the border with Lebanon and, I don’t know, five miles from the border with Syria. We call it the Finger of Galilee because we’re surrounded by borders so it’s very idyllic, but it’s also sitting on a barrel of dynamite. 

AJC: And a very rich place to find your narratives. 

Hirsch: This is something that I think Israeli artists are gifted because you don’t really have to look hard to find issues to deal with. I think this is my work even though it’s very Israeli and talk about Israeli structure of society about kibbutz, about tension, friction between different classes and different groups in the society, but is also very, very general. This is like the wider audience can understand it and find entry points where they can connect to and understand even though sometimes people don’t see it as Israeli conflict, they see it as general conflict between human beings. 

For Hirsch, the personal and the political are tightly intertwined. He grew up on a communal settlement, a kibbutz about 45 miles away from where he lives now. And in 2010, he explored collective labor in the short film, Tochka. In it, a group of men toil over a rural construction project which turns out to be a bridge to nowhere. And then there was Hirsch’s breakout piece, 2009’s 50 Blue. 

Hirsch: When I was five years old, my dad, he was a truck driver and he had a truck accident that left him paralyzed from his chest down. It was really something that heavy influenced my childhood and I grew taller and taller and taller and taller and my dad stays the same height. And then when I grew taller, you know, the point of view, the perspective of a boy looking at his dad changed. So that what I did, you know, one day we made this crazy ritual when I hoist my dad to the top of a tower in the middle of a lake. Finally, I could stay down, as the director of the piece, and just look up and see my dad up there on a high platform and just restore the way it should be. 

Hirsch returned to the water for his 2018 piece, Safe Passage, which addresses the global immigration crisis by blurring the line between actual physical impediments and geopolitical borders. 

Hirsch: On the raft, sitting a group of wheelchair bound individuals. They get to the shore and they just stuck they just can’t get off. Sometimes you get to a barrier that for you looks very easy to cross, but for someone who has no access or just can’t, sometimes just the one step, that’s it, stop you from progress. And my work is a lot about accessibility, movement, difficulty of movement in space. The raft reflects the refugees that escaped from North Africa and it just arbitrary. I mean who said that these people can live here and those people can live there. And also, our physical boundaries are also very arbitrary, because who says that I can’t, I have a step or a ditch, I can’t go to the other side. So, it kind of reflect this tension between the arbitrariness of the body limitation and the geographical limitation. That’s what the new piece is about. 

AJC: Are you trying to change the way people see the world? Are you trying to make people think? What do you want from the audience that’s consuming your work? 

Hirsch: When I was a bit younger I was, I thought that through my art I could change things or make them a little better. I don’t see it this way anymore because I think if I would really want to change society effectively, I would try to go to be a politician or a writer. I think as an artist, the way you can change is more limited. What I do try to create in my work is create enough entry points for people to get connected to it or to sense something or to think about reality a little bit differently. I mean I don’t want to try to change reality, I try to connect with people.  

Dessa Darling is a wordsmith. Her output has ranged from creative nonfiction to spoken word poetry to hip hop. She’s released three studio albums, authored two books of poetry and an essay collection, as well as a travelogue for the New York Times. Each effort returns her to the place she feels most herself: the blank page. 

Dessa Darling: Working through even hard problems or embarrassing details, if I’m given enough time and some ink, that’s when I feel really capable. 

But despite her attachment to the page, Dessa spends a lot of time on stage bringing her cerebral poetic lyrics to life with each performance.  

(Dessa Darling singing from “Velodrome

I don’t believe my will’s quite free 

I’m half machine at least half steam 

Aquinas, call on me 

How many angels on the head of your pin? 

Half an angel per pin at best 

Add wings, add heart,  

add harp, all set  

We lean to turn in the velodrome 

All lines are curved in the velodrome 

We pitch and roll, wheels, flesh and bone 

Total control and it’s 

It’s ours alone 

We lean to turn in the velodrome 

All lines are curved in the velodrome 

We pitch and roll, wheels, flesh and bone 

Total control and it’s 

It’s ours alone 

Dessa has always been a deep thinker. She grew up Margaret Wander in South Minneapolis, a bookish yet chatty kid who nobody was surprised to see grow up to become a philosophy major. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Dessa had hoped to make her living as an essayist, but all she collected were rejection letters. 

Darling: So, then I sent out a dozen more and a dozen more, you know hundreds of submissions. After getting a lot of noes in the lit world, my roommate suggested that I try to perform one of those essays, and that was how I got into the slam world and from slam into hip hop. 

Dessa found her place in Minneapolis’s hip hop scene in the early 2000s with the indie collective Doomtree, a group celebrated for their socially conscious lyrics and raw live performances. 

Darling: And, so, I was first hanging out with them as a fan and then a friend and then eventually was asked in to the group as a musician myself. Yeah, that remains one of my proudest days was receiving that invitation to join.  

(Doomtree performing “Little Mercy)  

We’ll raise a mast and cast off 

Yeah, we’ll break some legs, we’ll mend ‘em 

And then we’ll take the casts off 

Now we’ve had our losses 

We’ve had our victories 

We’ve sat across from every victim of their misery 

That pounding in our chests 

Was just a symptom of our sympathy 

And we’ll lay ourselves to rest 

With both our winnings and our injuries 

Now we’re so hungry 

We’re so thirsty 

Doomtree fast became a chosen family for Dessa with one member in particular occupying the center of her attention. For the better part of a decade, she and fellow rapper P.O.S. dated on and off before, in 2016, breaking up for good. The decision was mutual, and both continued with Doomtree, but Dessa still had a much harder time letting go than she’d expected. 

Darling: It’s like okay, after you’ve acknowledged that this isn’t tenable and these feelings are sort of just leftover, what do you do with them? Do you, in fact, have the agency, like do you get to just turn them off, like that’s a gas range in your heart? I don’t want this love so it’s over, well I wasn’t having that experience. I didn’t want it, and I couldn’t turn it, I couldn’t snuff it out, you know. So, after a long time of trying, I ended up being interested in the neuroscience of love because I had stumbled into a TED talk that implied that there was this particular part of your brain that was active when you were in love. And I thought, well that’s counterintuitive I wouldn’t have imagined that. If I could find the love in my brain, maybe I could get it out. So, I ended up doing this kind of long investigation that involved fMRI machines and a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota and a neuro-feedback therapist to better understand where love was and if I could affect it. It took a lot of research but I think in the throes of it, that was what was exciting. I sometimes got so excited about it, I felt like I would want to throw up, like I felt nauseous that I was, yeah, it was a very alive part of my life even though it happened under this, sort of, rain cloud of being brokenhearted and bummed. It felt like I’d found a portal to make that have meaning. 

Dessa’s scientific investigations became the backbone of a pair of projects. A collection of essays called My Own Devices and a record, Chime, which was released by Doomtree’s record label in 2018. And though she doesn’t expect her work to radically alter the world, Dessa does hope it might make people think a little more deeply about how they move through it. Her song, “Fire Drills, managed to do exactly that.  

(Dessa Darling singing from “Fire Drills

You can’t be too broke to break 

As a woman always something left to take 

So, you shouldn’t try to stay too late 

Or talk to strangers 

Look too long, go too far out of range cause 

Angels can’t watch everybody all the time 

Stay close, hems low, safe inside 

That formula works if you can live it 

But it works by putting half the world off limits 

Darling: There’s a line that says, “We don’t say go out and be brave, we say be careful stay safe.” And we’re talking about sending daughters into the world. And I’ve gotten a few videos from moms and dads who said, “I’ve changed the way that I send my children off to school”, so they used to say, “Be safe, be careful” and now they say, “Go out and be brave.” And that was like, oh man, really moving. And particularly when dads did it, like the idea that a man, a grown man, would be willing to hear that song with an open heart instead of bracing maybe for a pointed finger, ‘cause I get that why you would. That men would be able to come to that song with an open heart and listen and say, “Oh, I’d like to reconsider in a small way the things I say to my daughter”, like that was huge. 

(Dessa Darling singing from “Fire Drills)  

Cause we don’t say, “Go out and be brave” 

Nah, we say, “Be careful, stay safe” 

In any given instance, that don’t hurt 

But it sinks in like stilettos in soft earth 

Like the big win is not a day without an incident 

I beg to differ with it 

I think a woman’s worth 

I think that she deserves a better line of work 

Than vigilance 

Don’t give me vigilance 

By definition you can’t make a difference  

If the big ambition  

Is simply standing sentry to your innocence 

That’s not a way to live 

That can’t be what a woman is 

That gives her nothing to aspire to 

What that is 

What that is 

Is just a life of running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

Count count, 

you can count count 

We’re running fire drills 

You can count count 

We’re running fire drills 

You can count my ribs 

We’re running fire drills 

You can count my ribs 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

We’re running fire drills 

Darling (on stage): Thank you, particularly to the men in the audience that sing that back.