If the Mother Monster hadn’t already done it on her own, a star could be born this way: being honored at Harvard’s 36th Annual Cultural Rhythms.
The festival, which celebrates Harvard’s diversity, returned to Sanders Theatre on Saturday with stunning student performances and a virtual appearance by Lady Gaga, who was named Artist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and the Office for the Arts.
“I’m very, very honored to be here today,” said the Grammy and Academy Award-winning musician, actor, and activist. “I believe very much in the work that you’re doing, and I feel very, very appreciative to be seen for who I am and to be honored for my heart of all things. I think that the heart is very often overlooked, but it’s the thing that can get us into trouble, but it also can keep things moving in the direction that we need it to.”
Gaga appeared in a lively, pre-taped conversation with Derrick Ochiagha ’22, Aaron Abai ’22, and Nayleth Lopez-Lopez ’23, who asked the artist about nurturing her passions, the act of unlearning as a foundation for building a global community centered in liberation and justice, and her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community. Gaga shared that the practice of unlearning is a personal process that should analyze the systems we’re raised in that are “inherently sick with white supremacy and patriarchy.”
In 2012, Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, were at Sanders Theatre to launch the Born This Way Foundation, which supports the mental health of young people through programming, youth-led conversations, and cross-sectoral partnerships. Gaga has also used her platform to be an outspoken activist and supporter of issues including LGBTQ+ rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and body image issues.
Following the discussion with students, which was filmed at Hauser Studio inside Widener Library, the Harvard Foundation honored Lady Gaga for her contributions to music, performance, fashion, mental health advocacy, and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Associate Dean of Students for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro said the foundation was grateful for Gaga’s commitment and excited to see what good trouble she got into next.
To kick off the show, Cultural Rhythms directors Mariana Haro ’23 and Leslie Arroyo ’23 welcomed the audience back for the first in-person show since the pandemic began. Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana offered opening remarks.
“This is so affirming,” he said. “Because it demonstrates that our uniqueness is our universality, that our diversity is our source of infinite possibility.”
The night’s performances “show us how each of our unique experiences, all the multitudes that make up our identity, contribute to a sense of possibility and create the hope for a better future,” Khurana added.
Student performances included a spectacular act by Bhangra, a festive musical recital by Mariachi Veritas, and an electric dance by crowd favorite Omo Naija x The Wahala Boys. LyLena D. Estabine, Athena Capo-Battaglia, and Bryant Valenzuela performed solo acts that paid homage to their roots through original songs and choreography. Harvard College Deepam, Candela Latin Dance Troupe, Kuumba Singers, and Asian American Dance Troupe also performed.
Cultural Rhythms began in 1986 to bring the Harvard community together and celebrate the vibrant cultural and ethnic diversity of the student body. Each year, an artist is honored for his or her contributions to the arts and society. Past Artist of the Year recipients includes Taraji P. Henson, Rubén Blades, Salma Hayek, Viola Davis, and Janet Mock.