The Cairo Genizah is a treasure trove of medieval manuscripts found inside the ancient, crumbling Ben Ezra synagogue. Reflecting 800 years of community life, the documents contain everything from prayers to children’s exercise books and business letters to the complaints of disgruntled wives. In this Essay series a group of scholars from the Genizah Research Unit navigate the archives to reveal their favourite fragments and weave a tale of the life of a multi-cultural medieval society not so different from our own.
We make documentaries, features and short packages for UK and international radio networks including BBC R3, BBC R2, BBC World Service, CBC and Scandinavian television. Recent commissions include an Essay series for BBC Radio 3 and a music documentary series for BBC Radio 2.
The Cairo Genizah is a treasure trove of manuscripts from the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo that portrays over 800 years of community life. Rediscovered in the 19th century, this vast communal paper-bin contained hundreds upon thousands of scraps of rag-paper and parchment – an unedited archive of prayers, letters, poems, magical spells, alchemical recipes, children’s exercise books, divorce deeds and pre-nuptial agreements that paints a lively and intimate picture of daily medieval life in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Episode 1: A Discovery
In this first essay, Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner of the Genizah Research Unit tells the story of the discovery of the Genizah inside the ancient and crumbling synagogue of Al-Fustat, a suburb of modern day Cairo. Featuring a legendary curse, a pair of intrepid Scottish twins, an eccentric scholar and one very generous rabbi…
Episode 2: Letters
Intercepting private letters between medieval merchants, Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Genizah Research Unit, uncovers an international trading network that united Jews, Muslims and Christians across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Episode 3: Women
Looking at marriage and divorce deeds, as well as some incredibly detailed pre-nuptial agreements, Dr Melonie Schmierer-Lee of the Genizah Research Unit reveals the fortunes of women in medieval Cairo.
Episode 4: Three Lives
Reading the private documents of the legendary philosopher Maimonides, community leader Solomon ben Judah and Indian Ocean trader Abraham ben Yiju, Dr Daniel Davies of the Genizah Research Unit sheds light on three very different lives.
Episode 5: Alchemy & Magic
In this final essay, Dr Gabriele Ferrario of the Genizah Research Unit reveals the most secretive side of the Genizah collection: the manuscripts relating to alchemy and magic.
Presenters: Esther-Miriam Wagner, Ben Outhwaite, Melonie Schmierer-Lee, Daniel Davies, Gabriele Ferrario
Produced by Michele Banal and Miranda Hinkley
BBC Radio 2 – 30 January, 6 February, 13 February 2012, 10.00pm
In the twilight of British colonial rule brass bands were the soundtrack to Empire. But as a new era of Independence dawned, the old military tunes were replaced by more distinctive, local sounds.
In World Class Brass, actor and trumpet player Colin Salmon takes listeners on a journey across four continents to trace the musical legacy of the British Empire and discover some truly unusual and uplifting brass.
The journey begins in the island nation of Malta, fiercely proud of its brass heritage, but with Maltese culture being a mix of British, Italian and North African influences, the country has marched the British brass band to surprising new places.
Next stop are the deserts of Northern India, where generations of brass musicians have played for local royalty. Nowadays, most bands find employment leading the festivities at marriages. British group Bollywood Brass Band travel to India to lend an an ‘exotic’ touch to a high-society nuptial, bringing the story of British-Indian brass full circle.
It’s hard to imagine West African music without brass and in this episode, the journey begins in Ghana, following the sound of the brass band through the Ghanaian military, the church and popular highlife music. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Nigeria, brass rang out both the melody and the rhythm in the afrobeat music of the legendary Fela Kuti.
The final episode begins in the Caribbean. Best known for carnival, Trinidad and Tobago is also the home of calypso. So it’s no surprise that British-inspired military brass found its way onto recordings by legendary calypsonians such as the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener and even the American Harry Belafonte. The Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force Band are also featured, as well as an interview with the much-loved female calypsonian, Calypso Rose.
Meanwhile across the water in New York, a band of eight brothers is moving live brass in a completely new direction with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The finale is a group of youngsters at Britain’s own Notting Hill Carnival, who mash-up vintage Caribbean sounds with everything from hip-hop to English folk, confirming that World Class Brass is alive and kicking in the UK.
Written and produced by Miranda Hinkley and Jonathan Walton. Presented by Colin Salmon. Assistant producers Michele Banal and Imani Wilson. Series producer Miranda Hinkley.
85 this year, Mikis Theodorakis is best known for the music to 1974 film Zorba the Greek, but as Miranda Hinkley discovers, there’s also a wealth of chamber music, operas and symphonies. Part of the resistance during WW2, imprisoned during the Civil War, exiled during the military dictatorship, his story mirrors that of modern Greece. And he’s responsible for a musical revolution, a uniquely Greek sound. In this 45 minute music feature Theodorakis is joined by singers Maria Farantouri and Marios Frangoulis and by violinist Georgios Demertzis, to look back on a 60-year career.
Produced and presented by Miranda Hinkley. Executive Producer Alan Hall.