It's trite to talk about culture/art allowing us to break down walls, but in my experience it is so true. Books, music, movies, paintings--all of it has brought me outside of myself and my own carefully constructed ghetto of imagination. I love Bethany's perspective, because I too have had similar experiences. When you catch a glimpse of culture at it's finest, so strange and beautiful and free of appropriation. In our world, where cultures vie for survival, for power, the influence of joy cannot be understated. I am so grateful to Bethany for writing this beautiful piece on the legacy of culture.
Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam
By Bethany Bassett
When Marcus Mumford and his band of indie folk-farmers hit the scene back in 2010, I had never heard the term hipster. I didn’t know suspenders were the new rubric of cool; I just knew that their music spoke to me, that Mumford’s “newly impassioned soul” plucked the strings of my own longing for a full-volume life. I queued up Sigh No More and played it on repeat for the next six months. Chances are, you did too. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and was the third most downloaded album of 2011. Everyone, it seemed, was getting his or her British bluegrass on.
But this story isn’t about Mumford & Sons. It’s about an almost impossibly obscure group of musicians from rural India who recorded an untitled EP with them.
Image from last.fm user rahsa
They went by Dharohar Project (pronounced “Dah-RHO-har”), and the only thing I knew about them was my own disappointment. I’d been hoping for a fresh dose of the barn-dance rock I’d been cycling through my stereo—not the wailing and twanging I associated with traditional Indian music. I gave the MP3 samples a once-over, but they only confirmed what I already knew: Jaw harp just wasn’t my jam.
My perspective landed on its head, however, once I saw the video of their live performance in London:
The quality isn’t amazing, but I didn’t need HD resolution to see the joy reverberating across that stage, bounding from banjo to bhapang, rippling down from Indian bells and up the soles of British feet. Do you see it too? The way they laugh and beat their drums and move to the pulse of their collective art? Do you hear their delight? I had goose bumps within thirty seconds, wet eyes within ninety. This was no gentrified performance with cultural differences smoothed conveniently away; this was harmony at its freest, tribes and tongues and traditions rollicking together to create a new song. I couldn’t shake the impression that I was watching a six-minute preview of heaven.
Dharohar Project fascinated me. I wanted to find out more about this group who had brought so much color to my view of Kingdom-come, and as I researched, my goose bumps returned full-force. I learned that the nine Indian musicians came from different castes and religions. Some were Muslim and others Hindu. They came from social classes with barriers as thick as history, but they united to test their belief that music can overcome cultural differences. No wonder I saw heaven in their performance; Dharohar Project’s very existence is a redemption story.
I know to some extent what it’s like to break out of oppressive traditions masquerading as birthright. For the Dharohar musicians, it was the caste system; for me, it was the Quiverfull movement. Like them, I was born inside a series of walls, and learning to see the humanity of those on the other side required some hefty dismantling. I learned through that experience, though, that God is in the [re]construction business: beauty out of ashes, new songs out of olds spites, a bright and harmonious Kingdom out of discordant humanity.
Image from last.fm user rahsa
I don’t know if Dharohar Project is still together or not, but I do know that what they created together is here to stay. It’s right there in their name, in fact—what their redemption story entails for their community, their children, and those of us still facing down walls. “Dharohar,” you see, is a word that has crossed from ancient Sanskrit into modern-day Hindi, quietly defying all attempts to confine it to the past.
It means legacy.
Bethany Bassett is a fundamentalism survivor, a sedentary snowboarder, and a cappuccino junkie. She originally hails from Texas but has been adventuring in Italy with her husband and their two little girls for the last seven years. She blogs at coffeestainedclarity.com, where you’ll find out quickly that grace is her favorite thing in the world.
For all posts in the Upside-Down Art series, please click here.