From Himalayas to Appalachia, Mountain Music Strikes Common Chords

BY Mike Melia and Elizabeth Melia  December 29, 2010 at 1:39 PM EDT

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Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely make music with a ‘Gandharba’ in Nepal. Courtesy of the Mountain Music Project

 
Geographically worlds apart, there are striking similarities between the traditional music found in both the Appalachian and the Himalayan Mountains.

Two expert bluegrass players from Virginia, Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely, recently made that connection when they traveled to Nepal. They encountered a group of musicians whose instruments looked a lot like their own fiddles and banjos, and whose songs sounded surprisingly like the tunes played back home in the states.

“It’s so strange,” Linhardt said. “They are just like our scales and sounds to the point where some of the melodies even double up.”

Called Gandharbas, these performers are considered part of the ‘untouchable’ caste.

The first time Linhardt and Nicely sat down to play with the Gandharbas, they heard a familiar riff. The Nepalese mountain musicians were picking the same melody as the old fiddle tune “Sally Anne.”

 
Listen to an interview with Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely:

“The main instrument of the Gandharba is called a sarangi, and it’s a folk fiddle that’s played upright,” said Knicely. “That’s just one of the many things that kind of makes the music sound similar.”

With no documented historical connection, the only explanation Knicely and Linhardt could think of was that these similar musical styles come from people that share similar mountain lives.

Since returning, Tara and Danny have tried to bridge the distance gap by making a full-length documentary of their time visiting and playing with the Gandharbas. The Mountain Music Project is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.

In addition, Tara and Danny recruited some of the biggest names in bluegrass, including Abigail Washburn and Tim O’Brien, as well as NPR’s banjo playing Paul Brown, to play on mixed versions of music recorded of the Gandharbas.

The world just seems smaller once you’ve heard Himalayan natives playing old bluegrass classics and Americans playing traditional Nepalese music.

 
The album has not been released yet, but you can watch the trailer to the documentary here: