A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya

L to R: Musicians Rajendra Karn, Prem Raja Mahat, Danny Knicely, and Tara Linhardt celebrated the musical marriage between Nepal and Appalachia in DC on Dec. 7, 2010. (Szuhan Chen/Asia Society Washington Center)

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2010 – What do Nepal and Appalachia have in common for two Virginia bluegrass musicians, Danny Knicely and Tara Linhardt? Music—both rhythmically, in the use of the fiddle and the Nepali sarangi, and in lyrics about everyday rural life.

Knicely and Linhardt journeyed across rural Nepal for two months teaching local people Appalachian songs and recording interviews and jam session with local musicians, or Gandharbas, who were once the nomadic minstrels of Nepal but now confront the challenges of Nepali pop culture.

In Knicely and Linhardt's documentary, The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya, they explore the connections between Appalachian and Himalayan folk music and culture through the wisdom of musicians from both Nepal and Virginia. Artists featured in the film include Nashville banjo great Sammy Shelor, old-time fiddler Buddy Pendleton, and the late folklorist Mike Seeger.

The documentary was shown during a Nepali-Appalachian music event co-hosted by Asia Society Washington and Sidwell Friends School. The screening was followed by a live concert featuring Danny and Tara alongside Nepali musicians Prem Raja Mahat and Rajendra Karn. Prem Raja Mahat, who grew up listening to and singing the "rural Nepali blues" as a young boy in the hills of west central Nepal, is one of the main advocates of the revival of Nepali folk tunes and rhythms rooted in their own lush hills and valleys.  

The concert conquered more than 200 musical hearts in the auditorium. For Nepali musicians, the challenge of keeping their musical heritage alive still lies ahead. 

Reported by Szuhan Chen