From Appalachia to Himalaya

by

from http://mountainmusicproject.com:

The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya follows the journey of two traditional musicians from their roots in the hills of Virginia to the mountains of rural Nepal, where they explore the extraordinary connections between Appalachian and Himalayan folk music and culture, particularly with the traditional musicians of the Gandharba caste.

The Gandharbas were once the wandering minstrels of the southern Himalayas, bringing news, storytelling, and traditional singing to the villages of rural Nepal. Their songs once helped to unite disparate kingdoms into a unified Nepal, and even in recent years Gandharba singers played a great role in Nepal’s democracy movement. Although in Hindu mythology, Gandharbas were thought to be divine angel musicians, their caste is low among the Hindu hierarchy and they have long been considered to be ‘untouchable,’ unfit to share water with people of higher castes. Adding to their troubles, their rich musical traditions are at risk of extinction as radio, television, and recorded music encroach upon rural Nepali life.

Musicians/Hosts Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely join Nepali musician Buddhiman Gandharba on a musical expedition through rural Nepal, where they discover surprising similarities between these seemingly distant cultures. In the melodies of the traditional Nepali Sarangi (fiddle) or the taste of homemade Raksi (moonshine), there’s a thread that hearkens back to Old-Time Appalachian culture and to rural communities around the world, where people are poor but proud, their music the very fabric of village life.  With lyrics telling of lost loves, murders, wayfaring travelers, and even farm animals, sung by farmers, minstrels, and shepherds, this is music meant for the porch rather than the stage.

Tara, Danny, and Buddhiman are off in search of this ‘higher lonesome sound,’ traveling to the villages of Lamjung, Palpa, Gorkha, Chitwan, and Pokhara in search of musicians who are keeping the Gandharba traditions alive. As they make their way through the strikingly beautiful mountains of Nepal, they meet rural luthiers carving their instruments from a single piece of wood, families making moonshine in homemade stills, and a handful of old men who remember the days when musicians were used to bring rain to drought-stricken areas.

The language may be different, and the mountains may be higher, but it soon becomes clear that their cultures share more than just melodies.  Along their journey, they build bridges between these two rural cultures (and in some cases actually building actual roads when the van can’t go any further). And of course, they play music as they travel, the Appalachian ballads blending seamlessly with the Nepali Chanchari songs, the rhythms, melodies, and lyrics nearly interchangeable. They meet Tikki Maya – one of the few Gandharba women who overcame great cultural taboos to perform her heartfelt songs, Mohan – a traditional healer and one of the last living players of the banjo-like Arbaj, and Hum Bahadur – who at 75 years of age, still travels the countryside singing of the injustices of the caste system, like an unsung Woody Guthrie.

When the journey brings our hosts back to big-city Kathmandu, they become aware of the Gandharbas’ more recent plight, of trying to make ends meet in a newfound culture that has now forgotten them or their role in traditional society.  They begin looking for an answer for how these traditions can find a place in modern Nepal, while reflecting on how Appalachian traditional music was able to survive the influx of radio and recorded music more than half a century ago.

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