Gala weekend to celebrate golden anniversary of NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Amirah Ali
Amirah Ali

Amirah Ali, an NIU alumna who is now an award-winning Malaysian world pop singer and songwriter, will return to campus next month to headline a performance celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS).

The center celebrates its half-century with a slate of events in early March (times and dates listed below), including the March 2 gala dinner and a free open-to-the-public concert featuring traditional and contemporary Southeast Asian performing arts. Ali will close the concert and also perform and talk about her music in a special March 4 meet-the-artist event on campus.

A native of Kuala Lumpur, Ali earned a master’s degree in music at NIU in 2009. She is known for fusing aspects of traditional Malaysian music with elements of modern Western pop. Her debut single, “Katakanlah,” garnered two international songwriting awards, including second place in the worldwide International Songwriting Competition in 2010.

“We are thrilled to welcome back to campus Amirah Ali, who is gracious enough to fly halfway around the world to come back and sing for us,” CSEAS Director Judy Ledgerwood said. “The concert is part of an intense few days of events that will accomplish what our center has done best over the past 50 years – that is to bring Southeast Asian culture and arts to DeKalb and northern Illinois.”

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies officially was created March 5, 1963, two years after the university had successfully launched a Peace Corps training program for Malaysia volunteers.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies 50th Anniversary logoToday CSEAS is one of only seven federally funded National Resource Centers for Southeast Asian Studies. The center teaches nearly all of Southeast Asia’s major languages, and its faculty associates, past and present, are known worldwide in fields as diverse as anthropology, art history, history, language, political science, music and geography.

For the past year, a committee of CSEAS staff and associates, led by honorary co-chairs Clark Neher, political science professor emeritus, and alumnus John Brandon, now with The Asia Foundation, have planned anniversary exhibits, lectures and other events listed on CSEAS’s 2012-13 Discover Southeast Asia at NIU calendar.

The early March events fittingly bring the celebration to a crescendo.

Events include the following:

Friday, March 1: Jon Sidel, Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, will give the 50th Anniversary Spring Lecture at 4 p.m. in the Pollock Ballroom at Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. Sidel’s lecture, “Republicanism, Communism, Islam: Cosmopolitan Origins of Revolution in Southeast Asia,” is co-sponsored by the Graduate Colloquium and the Department of Political Science. Following the lecture, CSEAS alumni, faculty and students are invited to a casual-dress gathering from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the visitors center atrium.

Saturday, March 2 (day): Richard Cooler, a professor emeritus of art history, will give a morning coffee talk at the NIU Anthropology Museum and take visitors through his exhibit, “Rarely Seen Southeast Asia: Art, Artifacts, Ephemera,” currently on display through May 15. Also open during the day will be a new exhibit, “50 Years of CSEAS and the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection,” at Founders Memorial Library. The historical exhibit was created by Southeast Asia curator and CSEAS associate Hao Phan and will be on display March 1-30. (The library will host a formal opening at 4 p.m. Monday, March 4, in the Rare Book Room).

NIU Gamelan Ensemble
NIU Gamelan Ensemble

Saturday, March 2 (evening): CSEAS will host a cocktail reception and gala dinner at 5 p.m. in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium. A limited number of tickets are available for $50 each (e-mail to order). The free concert, “A Celebration of Southeast Asian Performing Arts,” will follow at 8 p.m. in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall.

Conceived and directed by assistant music professor and CSEAS associate Jui-Ching Wang, the event will feature traditional and contemporary performances, nearly all with an NIU connection, including Ali.

The performance lineup:

  • NIU music professor Gregory Beyer and the NIU Percussion Studio will begin the evening with “Five Ponds,” Beyer’s original composition for antique Burmese bronze drums.
  • The NIU Gamelan Ensemble will perform three Javanese gamelan pieces originally performed in a 1987 concert, led by music professor Kuo-Huang Han, to dedicate the new Javanese gamelan acquired by NIU in 1986.
  • The  Thai Cultural and Fine Arts Institute of Chicago, directed by NIU alumnus Chamni Sripraram, will present Thai classical and folk music.
  • Indonesian Dance of Illinois, a Chicago-based group directed by Ngurah Kertayuda and NIU political science graduate student Sagung Mirah Kertayuda, will perform “Tari Janger,” Balinese dance and gamelan music, with the NIU Gamelan Ensemble.
  • Vocalists Sarah Emily Lekberg and Andrew Voelker, both music students, will sing excerpts from the Filipino opera “Noli Me Tangere,” accompanied by music professor William Goldenberg.
  • Ali, accompanied by a group of NIU student musicians, will close out the performance. The audience is invited for dessert in the Boutell Hall lobby after the show. The March 2 events are co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Music.
Clark Neher and John Brandon
Clark Neher and John Brandon

Monday, March 4: In addition to Hao Phan’s exhibit opening at Founders Library, Ali will perform and talk about her music in a special meet-the-artist event at 8 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall.

Tuesday, March 5: CSEAS will celebrate its official anniversary date at an open house with refreshments and remembrances from 1 to 4 p.m. at the center in Pottenger House, 520 College View Court. This event has been canceled and will be rescheduled.

To learn more about CSEAS, see the center website and explore the center’s history through the years at NIU on an interactive timeline. For more information, call (815) 753-1901.

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