We’ve posted several times about The Mountain Music Project, a documentary film which covers a musical journey of discovery from Appalachia to Nepal.
The project follows a pair of Virginia pickers, Tara Lindhart and Danny Knicely, as they travel through the mountains of Nepal seeking and finding similarities between the folk music traditions of the Appalachian and Himalayan regions.
Danny and Tara made the trip to Nepal as a personal exploration, and encountered filmmaker Jacob Penchansky by pure chance. Jacob, who describes himself as a guerrilla ethnomusicologist, has made a career of capturing traditional folk music in cultures across the globe. His work has appeared on NPR, BBC, and the Nature Conservancy podcast.
Penchansky tells the rest of the story…
“In 2002, while recording Tibetan folk musicians in Lhasa, I met Appalachian musicians Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely. Being the only foreigners in town with guitars and mandolins, we played a few tunes in their hotel room. I was introduced to their roots in old-time and bluegrass music, as well as their recent experiences of playing music with Asian folk musicians, including one group from Nepal, whose music was strikingly similar to Appalachian folk music.
A few weeks later, in a small adobe hut in a hilltop village near Gorkha, Nepal, I recorded the folk songs of Akal Bahadur Gandharba. As he played old love songs and murder ballads on his four-string sarangi, my ears perked up to something profound and authentic in his scratchy singing and playing. Something shared by rural cultures regardless of language or geographic boundaries. Or maybe just something in these melodies that reminded me of home. I was hooked.
With a bag full of recordings and photographs, we returned to the US and looked for ways to share this unique connection between the music of the Gandharba caste and Appalachian traditions. In 2006, Tara, Danny, and myself, along with the brilliant talent of Indian filmmakers Praveen Singh and Sanjeev Monga, spent 2 months traveling rural Nepal in search of this other high lonesome sound. We met some incredible musicians in Gorkha, Palpa, Pokhara, Chitwan, Lamjung, and Kathmandu; young kids, old timers, casual singers, and wandering minstrels, all with an unspoken passion for their own culture amidst abject poverty and centuries of caste discrimination.
As we traveled from village to village with our Gandharba guides, we began to look not just for music, but for ways that we could help these unlikely stewards of Nepali folklore. Through grassroots efforts, since production ended, we’ve been able to hire artists featured in this film as music teachers in Kathmandu’s orphanages, and support traditional music festivals in Nepal.
In 2008, we brought the cameras to the hills of southwest Virginia, to interview several musicians and folklorists to tell the Appalachian side of the story. Much to my surprise, these Virginia musicians and folklorists began to tell a story with many parallels to that of the Nepalis, and the themes of this film came into focus.
I feel like the more we explore folk cultures such as those in rural Nepal, the more we can see ourselves. And vice versa. It makes me incredibly happy to see Nepali audiences enjoying this film, and to see their eyes opening to the value of their own endangered culture. The friendships made during this production are deep and enduring, a quality I hope we can bring to future music documentary and preservation projects.”
Now, a full ten years later, the finished film, and a companion audio CD, are available to the public. The DVD runs just under an hour and contains the complete film that has been exhibited in theaters and screened at competitions. For the CD, Penchansky combined recordings he made in Nepal of Buddhiman Gandharba, Manoj Gayak, Ganesh Gandhari and Jagat Bahadur Gandharba with music recorded back in the US featuring Tim O’Brien, Tony Trischka, Riley Baugus, Abigail Washburn, Curtis Burch, Mark Schatz, Aaran and Matthew Olwell and Paul Brown, plus Danny Knicely and Tara Linhardt.
Full details can be found at www.mountainmusicproject.com.