the Mountain Music project A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya
Tim O’Brien, Tara Linhardt, Danny Knicely, Abigail Washburn, Tony Trischka, Buddhiman Gandharba, Jagat B. Gandharba and many more…..
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Globalization has a lot to answer for. Walking in downtown Vancouver the other day, I could have bought Mexican sushi or Ukrainian/Pakistani Perogie pakoras to munch on while watching Korean break-dancers spin to South American hip hop music. If you live anywhere near a big city, I’m sure you’ve encountered lots of expressions of strange cultural hybrids and you cold provide better examples of your own. It makes the times we live in very interesting; we have more access to distinct cultures than has ever been possible in the past, yet at the same time, these ancient, distinct cultures are breaking down, to blend or disappear within the vortex of the emerging monoculture.
It’s become a cliché to point out that the Internet and online worlds have sped this integration/disintegration to such an extent that it’s all but impossible to keep up with the change that is unfolding around us. Nowhere has this blending been more obvious than in the area of popular music. It began rather slowly with 19th century imperialism, the birth of the new world and the cultures that new immigrants and slaves brought with them. The emergence of country music, the blues and jazz as distinct North American art forms that grew out of African and European realities were the first examples of what would come to be called world music, though they weren’t recognized as such at the time. It wasn’t until the fifties when black jazz artists toured Europe, blues musicians found respect in England, and artists from India like Ravi Shankar found tiny but dedicated audiences in North America that this cross-fertilization began to draw attention. The seventies saw the emergence of Bob Marley who, as the first third world artist to gain global popularity, changed music forever and encouraged record labels to seek audiences for their African, Cuban, South American artists outside of their native regions.
Until the mid-eighties, the world community music was small and comprised mainly of musicologists, ex-patriates and activists. That changed to some degree when Peter Gabriel and The Talking Heads began to incorporate world music elements into their albums, but widespread interest wasn’t really seen until Paul Simon released ‘Graceland’ in 1986. Since then there have been literally thousands of cross-cultural musical collaborations recorded and released, but truthfully, you can count on the fingers of one hand the recordings of this kind that really work and aren’t based on more than an intellectual conceit, or held together by a single commonality that doesn’t necessarily translate into good music. Fortunately, and against all odds, ‘the mountain music project’ is an unexpectedly wonderful and exciting musical collaboration. After listening to the CD dozens of times through in the last month or so, it still holds up and becomes more interesting each time I hear it.
Essentially, the CD explores the common musical routes and styles shared by string traditions in the Appalachians and the Himalayas. The project began when Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely, two musicians from Virginia visited Nepal in 2006 in search of Himalayan string players from the fabled Gandharba musical clan. The resulting CD and upcoming film of the same name, chronicles the pair’s journey from America to Nepal where they located and convinced members of the Gandharba family to record a set of American and Nepali folk tunes in a studio in Kathmandu. Linhardt and Knicely returned home and invited some bluegrass greats into the studio to jam along with the tape they captured in the Himalayan region. Using recordings from both sessions, the pair blended and mixed a series of string based tunes from each of the mountain cultures to create a CD that is not only musically fascinating, but a heck of a good time to listen to.
It’s beautiful to hear how tracks like the Nepali folk tune, ‘Honira Salala’ can slip seamlessly into ‘My Home is Across the Blue Ridge Mountains’ before jumping back into a Himalayan jig and tying it all together with a spirited version of ‘Little Liza Jane.’ From beginning to end, this CD offers a lively, joyful, rough and tumble journey through the heart of two of the world’s most revered and mysterious mountain regions. Truly worth owning and setting on ‘repeat.’
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com