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- Posted on Dec 29th 2009 2:30PM by Steve Hochman
"He thought this was a good representation of his idea of India," Edgar says. "So he did an acoustic performance with young lovers in the background."
Edgar wasn't feeling that love, however.
"I just got this wave through my body," he says. "He's in the middle of the performance and I ran into the bushes and barfed my brains out."
'Music Voyager' follows Edgar -- founder and president of the world music-oriented Cumbancha Records label, home to such previous Around the World subjects as Indian star Kailash Kher, Peru's Novalima and California's Rupa and the April Fishes -- in search of new sounds and undiscovered talents, sifting the exciting from the excruciating. And one of the tag lines, as stated in a video promo for the show, is "I suffer ... so you don't have to." But this is hardly what he had in mind.
In fact, Edgar spent the next few days reassuring a very caring Shergill that it wasn't in any way the musician's fault -- and certainly not anything to do with his music. Rather, Edgar, a very experienced traveler who had spend much time in India before, had gone against his usually good instincts and had been rather indiscriminate in his consumption of food being offered at street stalls.
"It floored me," he says. "I was incapacitated. Shergill called his mother for advice. We got special remedies. He was like my doctor, got me these treatments. Luckily, I was fine the next day. 'It wasn't your song! I promise!' And they caught it all on tape. It may not be in an actual show, but it will be in a webisode."
If Edgar wants to be the Anthony Bourdain or Jeff Corwin of music, that might be a way. Those two, of course, are among those who have been traipsing the globe to engage in extreme cuisine adventures and various local activities along the way with a bit (OK, a lot in Bourdain's case) of testosteronic bravado.
"I don't know if I'd say I want to be that," says Edgar.
For one thing, he's a bit (OK, a lot) milder of manner than Bourdain. And for another, the idea of a pursuit of "extreme" music just doesn't seem to carry the same programming appeal as the gastronomic variety.
"I don't really feel it's necessary," he says. "We're hoping people will be captivated by the artists and the way we tell the stories. Doesn't have to be extreme but compelling."
Thus far they've produced six half-hour episodes -- three from the India trip and three from Jamaica, with airing set to begin in February on PBS in the US and via the Nat Geo Music & Adventure cable channel, as well as on various other outlets internationally. The team is also working on a side-trip 'Road to a Grammy' set featuring five of this year's nominees representing different traditions (one spotlights Béla Fleck, whose cross-cultural 'Throw Down Your Heart' and 'The Melody of Rhythm' collaborations are up for three awards, and they're about to shoot on in Louisiana focusing on Cajun/zydeco nominee Cedric Watson. Meanwhile, long-range planning has begun for future series, with Colombia, Paris, Spain and several African locales on the board. A tour showcasing artists featured in the show is also under discussion.
The overall approach is really just a TV-friendly version of what Edgar has been doing for years with Cumbancha and before that as an executive at Putumayo Records.
"When you're with a crew with limited time, obviously a lot of stuff is preplanned more than it might be on my own trips," he says. "We identify core artists and work on a schedule, but along the way we tried to leave room for discovering new artists and made adjustments. One that was a discovery for us was a band called East India Company, based in Delhi. It's mostly musicians from the northeast of India, near Bangladesh. They play Asami folk music, a family that grew up in the folk tradition. But they're young and cool and almost Rastafarian-type people, and teamed up with a Delhi-based producer and make funky electronic rock mixed with Asami folk music. It's got a strong reggae flavor. Even the folk music sounds like reggae. Bob Marley is a big icon in that area. We hadn't heard of them before we got there."
Jamaica also brought a revelation.
"In Jamaica, we're pretty much identified who we wanted to meet, but there was one artist named Etana," he says. "She's signed to a label and pretty big there. I had her album, so it was not a pure discovery. But I didn't like her album, thought it was cheesy. There we were at the Reggae Sunsplash festival and she came out and blew my mind. Whoever produced the album didn't have a clue. She was so soulful, great vibe, mix of things you like about reggae but was clearly cognizant of Jamaican culture. Then saw her the next night, more hard-core dancehall festival, and she got up with no band, just a DJ and was great. That wasn't planned for our show, so luckily we were able to do it."
While he'd love to sign a few artists along the way, that's secondary to getting the word out about what's going on elsewhere.
"It wasn't really intentional, but how the storytelling process worked in India and Jamaica has been focused on what is the hottest music right now," Edgar says. "What are people really into? In India, it was Bollywood stuff. In Jamaica, dancehall. Then we looked at what we really liked, and mostly that was contemporary -- roots-reggae in Jamaica and contemporary Indian bands using folk elements. In the middle segments we had more roots aspects. Went to Rajasthan in India, looked at more folk music -- that was the more National Geographic approach. In Jamaica looked at mento and ska and rock steady and also the drumming and African roots. In general, though, we want the show to have a contemporary feel to it, not like a BBC show, off being an ethnomusicologist discovering throat singers from some bizarre location. What's cool and hot and interesting in world music but also show what's behind it."
The TV part is all undiscovered territory for Edgar. At first, he was simply contacted by the producer to consult on the concept and approach.
"After a few weeks of brainstorming, he said, 'You know this stuff. This is what you do. Why don't you host?' I tried to talk him out of it. But they brought me to New York, did sort of a screen test -- I set things up, they took a camera following me. Went to my favorite restaurants, record stores, clubs, all the quirky things I knew there. I had done a lot of theater as a kid -- my dad was an actor, I was a clown and worked in the circus. That side of me was suppressed as I got into the music business. But I could let it out. They liked it and asked me to do it."
As for the suffering part, Edgar isn't too concerned -- at least the non-intestinal kind. The show is really about the good he finds and not the bad he encounters in the process. There won't be any William Hung train wrecks here and Edgar doesn't want to be a trekking Simon Cowell.
"No, we're not going to be like, 'Oh, that was really bad!'" he says. "I make comments, might say, 'That's not really my cup of tea' or 'That artist might need to work before he's ready for the international stage.' Not going to be a jerk about it. One of the artists we met in India, that we had planned on meeting, when we saw him live it was really bad. Agonizingly bad. We were laughing about it. At the same time, he had recorded a couple of excellent songs and had produced an amazing music video and was a compelling guy. But he was trying to be an American rock star and not doing a good job with it. We tried to explain that, put it in a context -- some things he'd trying are not so great, but some thing are. That's more what I mean by 'suffering so you don't have to.' Finding the good stuff and weeding out the bad stuff."