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Space on Ryder Farm, 2016

A conversation with Emily Simoness & Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan: So is Ryder Farm your mom’s side or dad’s side of the family?

Emily Simoness: My mom’s.

GR: Was she ever out here?

ES: She was born in upstate New York, but she never visited the farm until I visited the farm. So her father, my grandfather, had been here a lot but she had never visited. So it really wasn’t until…she told me tales of it when I was a kid, and one of my aunts had visited a few times, so she told me about it. Now they come and visit. My branch of the tree was sort of far flung – my grandparents moved them all to Wisconsin and they weren’t really involved – and now they’ve come back, which is cool.

GR: It’s cool that it skipped one generation in your family and has now come back. What brought you here in the first place?

ES: That’s the part I still don’t know. I had heard about it as a kid. We would get like a yearly letter from the corporation which owns the land, which is comprised of 87 family members, and I remember getting that letter and I remember hearing about it and then I honestly don’t know what made me cold call Betsey Ryder, who is my fourth cousin once removed. I called and said, “I’m Emily, I’m related to you, can I come and check out the farm?” And she was like, sure. But I don’t know what made me curious.. I was an actress, I was bored, I was curious, and the farm seemed so groovy. That’s the part that like…I don’t really believe in God, but…destiny or something. It’s weird. It was great timing. It’s very clear to me why I stayed, but why I went in the first place? I don’t know.

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a Conversation with Gina Rattan & Michelle Tse and Georgia Stitt & Deepa Purohit & Emily Simoness

Michelle Tse: What are you working on this week?

Deepa Purohit: I’m working on a piece that I worked on last year here. It’s a very personal piece in that…I met a woman ten years ago who turned eighty this year. She’s a good friend of mine, and even a better friend now after going through this process, and she’s a Sri Lankan woman who left Sri Lanka in the 1950s, when she was about eighteen. She moved to London and hopped into the jazz scene. She was a really talented singer and piano player, and she kind of, in some ways, fell into and in some ways found her way into jazz, because her father was very passionate about jazz.

MT: I already want to see this story. What’s her name?

DP: Yolande Bavan. She comes from a very specific community in Sri Lanka called the Burgher community, and they’re a very mixed race group of people – they’re a mix of Tamils and Sinhalese and Dutch and Portuguese, but there’s a very European feel to their culture. When the British were there, the Burghers were actually highly educated, they were sort of that class of people that ran a lot of different sectors. Suddenly the British left and the Sinhalese took over and a lot of them left. They moved and migrated because a lot of them were worried about their status in the country so they moved to Australia and England. Some stayed, but she ended up leaving around that time because her father said, you should go to England; there’s nothing here for you here, really.

MT: Wow.

DP: She went to England in 1954 and she just found her way into the jazz scene. She had been listening to jazz music a lot in Sri Lanka – she would tell these stories about her dad who would get these guys, these Americans, who would come to the docks in Colombo and they’d have all these jazz records. He’d go down to the docks and trade jazz records. He introduced her to Duke Ellington and all the people who were not doing Dixieland because at that time, Dixieland was really big. They were moving into bebop and stuff like Count Basie, that were really going into this complex jazz stuff so she got really into that.

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