Closet Contemplations

Huang Fellow Ruhama Tereda Explores Her Experience with Recording a Podcast.

“Sem ena werk,” is how my parents initiated the chase between me and the answer for traditional Ethiopian riddles in Amharic during long car rides when I was young. It translates to “wax and gold,” an allusion to the wax it takes to create a mold for gold jewelry. Although at first, only the wax is visible, patience and skill melt it away to reveal a prized gold artifact. Sem ena werk riddles are oftentimes nonsensical lines that contain a hidden message. These riddles, rich with personification were an elusive endeavor that kept me entertained for days. The subject could be anything in those stories: farm animals to furniture. At first, I repeated the lines at a normal pace and then slowed down in an attempt to fully examine the contents of the message. The riddles had been crafted for centuries, edited by each storyteller for humor, suspense, or clarity. As we sat listening to each other’s podcast, I thought back to my process working alongside my partner creating our podcast. The process of creating a humorous and informative podcast unveiled a powerful and worthwhile discovery.

A week before our podcast was due, my partner and I had no idea what we story we wanted to tell. We spent hours recording ideas in my bedroom closet sacrificing air quality for audio quality with nothing to show for it. We finally stumbled upon the idea of exploring music theory, an area in which neither of us had any prolonged exposure to. As we thought of songs we could analyze, we jokingly brought up the country-trap fusion “Old Town Road,” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. We decided to entertain the idea for a while and started researching the creation of the song. “Old Town Road” was the serendipitous creation of a producer in Amsterdam who sold his beats an aspiring rapper from Atlanta. To fully understand the music, we spent hours attempting to read the notes from online sheet music and conferring with Huang fellows with musical expertise for a quick crash course music theory. After our musical prowess proved inadequate for the task at hand, we shifted our examination to the societal environment that cultivated the success of such a multidimensional song.

We stumbled upon various videos that referenced the “black yee haw agenda,” a term given to the phenomenon of black artists like Beyonce, Solange, and Cardi B who have had a markedly country influence on some of their recent music. Their country-inspired music is part of a movement attempting to reclaim and respect the influence of black men and women who helped form aspects of what we now think of as cowboy culture. The song “Old Town Road,” synthesizes music from different genres, and illuminates a culture that hasn’t recognized the contributions of black lives by allowing the listener to ponder how such a song could come to be.

As our podcast played during our listening party, I scanned the room and saw heads craned while eyes remained fixated on inconsequential points in the distance. People choose instead to focus their energy on their auditory experience. We were consumed by our peer’s steady voices as they guided us through explorations of complex and engaging topics. We traveled through the history of cryptography, juggled the ethics of CRISPR, and examined food insecurity in our own community. Although we were listening to an edited compilation of research and audio the authentic stories sparked conversation and reflection.
Podcasts are a relatively novel instrument of communication that add new elements to the storytelling that I grew up with. Instead of relying on the imagination of the listener, podcasts have the power to integrate interviews, sound effects, and music to add a rich layer to their message. On the other hand, this new medium’s focus on the power of the voice and the ambiance that it can create unobstructed by flashy visuals is an echo of storytelling methods of the past. Despite the various areas we explored, one salient narrative emerged: new mediums melt away to reveal the old treasure of creating and sharing a story.

Ruhama Tereda, Huang Fellow ’22

Ruhama TeredaRuhama is a native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She is interested in Public Policy and Chemistry.