Hello from Turkey! Bet you weren’t expecting that. Turkey is my new favourite place. I’ve explored ancient history, discovered new cultures, seen my first ever pod of dolphins and found new podcasts. It’s truly an amazing place – you must visit immediately.
One of the countless joys of podcasting is that it’s international and portable. So just because I’m not at Guardian HQ it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be getting your weekly dose of new and exciting recommendations from your Guardian podcast queen.
This week, I’m going to hand over to producer Max Sanderson to tell you about his favourite Guardian podcast from last week:
One of the joys of working in the rapidly expanding field of podcasting is seeing how it grows with each new podcast: the subjects covered, the stylistic approach and importantly, the audiences they hope to reach. That’s why this week, I’ve picked the Guardian Books podcast spinoff series, Travel folktales for kids.
The first family-oriented podcast I’ve come across (I’m sure there are many more out there), the series takes child-friendly folk tales from across the globe and creates a fully immersive audio experience. Using expert sound design and original music, the Guardian team behind the podcast breathe life into the stories of writer Paul Magrs, which are read wonderfully by Andrew Scott of BBC Sherlock fame.
The fourth instalment, The Dragon of Palma de Mallorca, reflects the moral of the terrifying tale: to never judge a dragon by its scales. Or in this case, to never judge a podcast by its target audience – it may be made for kids but it’s most certainly suitable for all ages.
Well, I couldn’t go to a Middle Eastern country and not listen to a Middle Eastern podcast, could I? To my shame, I cannot speak Arabic. In fact, I can’t speak any language apart from English and a little French (I must do better) but Ismat Abidi sent me the next best thing – Kerning Cultures.
First things first: can we address how great and clever that name is? As it states on their website:
Kerning is a process in typography: the sizing of spaces between letters in a font, so that the font can be easily read and aesthetically pleasing. We loved the metaphor of cultures kerning through our stories.
I think that’s one of the best podcast names I’ve found so far. Kerning Cultures tells stories from the Middle East that reflect the depth and richness it has to offer. The best way I can put it is that this is a This American Life for the Middle East. It’s that good. The podcast is made by Americans and the episodes are beautifully woven together, exploring the different aspects of Middle Eastern culture and the individuals that live there.
Simply put, for those of us in the west who are only shown the negative side of this enormous landmass, this is a refreshing take on the region.
Here is the beautiful review that Ismat sent me:
One of my favourite side-effects of Kerning Cultures is its aftertaste. The protagonists’ voices stick with you and the nature of their unique stories trigger afterthoughts weeks later, in a way that you’re compelled to share, with whoever will listen.
A traditional Afghan kitemaker in the US, a coffee entrepreneur in Yemen, a guitar-loving Kurdish refugee’s journey across Europe, an epic Beirut-Rotterdam love story against the backdrop of the Lebanon-Israel war. For the better part of two decades, the Middle East and its people’s stories have been overshadowed by headlines associated with violence and geopolitical tension. This podcast shifts the lamp, shining the spotlight on equally compelling stories; ones that are associated with community, instead of conflict. It has become easy to label the region with words like ‘dangerous’, ‘unstable’ and ‘conservative’. The stories in this podcast associate Arab culture with inspiration, entrepreneurship, art, pioneering and defiance. These stories break cultural barriers, question prejudices and realign perspectives about the region.
Word of mouth is powerful. Combine that with the medium of podcasts and the results can be far-reaching. Even if one person listens to an episode that sticks with them and they pass it on, the butterfly effect is a more open narrative, across the world, about Arabs and the Middle East. Through these conversations, cross-cultural bridges are built.
The team behind Kerning Cultures have the makings of a modern comic: a superhero team of e-humanitarians traveling, collecting, coordinating, editing and producing across Dunkirk, Dubai, Cairo, Bristol, Washington and Seattle – all in the name of a good story. Forget fake news, forget bad news, Kerning Cultures is good news, and we need more of it.
I’m vegetarian and a wannabe vegan, I make sure that I spend my money as ethically as possible, I take public transport (because I will never ever cycle in London – that is madness), I turn off lights, I have shallow baths, I recycle, I pretty much never want to have children (sorry Mamma Slaney) – ie I care about the environment and the impact I make on it. But I am currently just over a week into a five-week round-the-world trip, which, so far, it must be said, is ruddy excellent. I’m very aware however that this is terrible for the environment. In fact, a big reason I decided to do it now rather than later was because many of the things I’m hoping to see probably won’t be around much longer. It feels very easy to fall into a pit of despair and woe at the state of climate change. And that’s something this podcasts tackles head-on.
Kristen Lepore emailed me to tell me about Terrestrial and it absolutely blew me away. Terrestrial explores the choices we make in a world we have changed. Host Ashley Ahearn, a motorcycle-riding reporter, travels the US to bring listeners stories about people making personal choices in the face of environmental change. It’s not about “peace and love, man” – though we do need that as always – but rather the practical and realistic changes people are making, to do their part in tackling climate change. In Ashley’s words: “I’m done being earnest. It’s time to rev the throttle.”
It’s a new podcast, wonderfully produced and brilliantly executed. The second episode is a particular favourite of mine. It’s about the problem with our death industries and the different ways that people are trying to deal with the vast numbers of toxin-filled bodies, sitting in virgin cut tree boxes, under our feet. It was utterly fascinating and you should all listen to it right now.
This is what Kristen had to say:
It’s hard to not feel overwhelmed when we hear depressing news about the environment and climate change. (That feeling has a name. It’s called eco anxiety, which she explains in the first episode.) Throughout the first season, Terrestrial takes on big environmental issues in a way that feels approachable.
In episode two, Ahearn introduces us to an architect who’s suggesting we compost our bodies after we die. She takes us to a research institute in North Carolina where a dead man is being laid to rest in a pile of mulch. It sounds creepy, but as the world gets more populated and we have less and less green space, this might very well be a quandary we face. Another episode discusses whether or not we should have kids, given the trajectory of our climate. Yeah, not the easiest questions to tackle. Yet it sure is thought provoking. Ahearn never tells us what to do. She explores these personal choices from multiple perspectives with thorough reporting, irreverent wit and a bit of self-deprecating humour. She admits she and her husband are considering having kids themselves and are totally torn.
What Ahearn is doing through this podcast is building a community of people who care about the environment and genuinely want to talk about everyday solutions. Her Facebook group is proof of that. There are already plans for a second season. So she’s got plenty of room to explore how screwed we are and what exactly we’re supposed to do next.
That’s it for this week. To get in touch with your recommendations, email firstname.lastname@example.org