Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mountain Music Project

Here's a little story about being in the right place at the right time and randomly stumbling into something pretty cool.

Z and I were bumming around DC one day a few weeks ago, and we found ourselves in the vicinity of the headquarters of National Geographic. "Hey, why don't we go check out if there are any interesting little exhibits on display right now!?" This was not an unreasonable suggestion, as we have seen some neat programs there over the years.

Walking into the building, I was struck by just how many people were doing exactly the same thing as us. (Sidebar: Our attention was also drawn to the fact that there will soon be some terra cotta warriors at the museum.) Looking at a list of events, I quickly realized we had shown up literally five minutes before the start of the US premiere of a film entitled The Mountain Music Project. Seeing that the movie had something to do with Nepal, Z and I decided to take a chance and grabbed seats in the auditorium.

Here's a primer on the film. Two old-time, blue grass musicians from Virginia's Appalachia trekked all the way to some remote mountain villages high up in the Himalayas. As they roved from place to place, they swapped stories and played with local musicians. Along the way, both sides discovered that the themes, instruments, and cultures surrounding their respective musical traditions are remarkably similar, despite the fact that they live halfway around the world from one another. This realization had a very powerful and uplifting effect on everyone involved.

For Z and I, the seminal moment of the experience came after the movie was over, when the filmmaker came out and introduced the two Americans who were the stars of the documentary. A few songs, questions, and answers later, and Prem Raja Mahat joined the crew up on stage.

Who?

That's exactly the question Z and I were asking ourselves. As we quickly found out, Prem Raja Mahal is a Nepali musical legend, a man who has been described as the Bruce Springsteen of his country.

Now you're talking!

At one point in the brief performance, the musicians announced that they were going to play Pre Raja Mahal's greatest hit, a song that apparently everyone in Nepal knows and loves. It was fun to watch, even for the two of us who obviously are total newbies when it comes to the musical culture of Nepal. An unexpected ending to an unusual, yet in some ways totally typical, DC afternoon.

~Steve

PS: The only reason Z and I got the chance to see Prem Raja Mahal perform was because he has relocated from Nepal to Baltimore. Why would he do such a thing? As he himself has put it, "I miss Nepal, because they love me there. I miss being famous. But in my country there is fighting and death and poverty. That is why I left. Every parent in the world...wants to do well for their children. I am no different."

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