What happens when a downtown New York poet of the hip hop & slam persuasion discovers that the roots of spoken word go back thousands of years & span the globe? If He's Bob Holman, he goes On the Road to track them down!

He trades stories, fun, recipes, insights, jokes, songs, and poems. Along the way, he gets passionately immersed in the Endangered Language crisis — over half the world’s 6500 languages will disappear before the end of this century. Holman guides us to the bottom-line question of survival of these systems of consciousness with respect, joy, and dedication to diversity. He throws himself into the life – shares the meals, participates in the ceremonies, dances and parties. His enthusiasm infects the series’ fast-paced style – Hip, but not hipper than thou. Serious fun!

 

Episode 1: The Griots of West Africa

30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2012 on LINK TV.

A griot (gree-oh) is the keeper of the West African oral tradition and the tribe’s genealogy through poetic songs. Bob is invited to Gambia by his long-time friend and teacher, Papa Susso, to learn more about this musical art and see how the kora, the 21-string harp-lute is made. Bob travels up the Niger River with Papa’s son, Karamo, also a griot, in search of the spirit of the African-American Beat poet, Ted Joans, who lived a buoyant life in Timbuktu in the 70s and was Bob’s mentor. Along the way, Bob discovers the roots of hip-hop, rap, the blues — all the great American musical traditions that originated in Africa. The episode concludes with a kora-guitar jam session between Karamo and Ali Farka Toure’s son, Vieux.

 

Episode 2: Timbuktu To the Dogons

30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 8, 2012 on LINK TV.

The show continues in Timbuktu where Bob gets more insight into the dusty off-station in the middle of nowhere. Bob goes to the Timbuktu Library, with volumes from the 16th Century when the city was the center of African learning. We ourselves learn how to ride a camel and how Timbuktu got its name before we venture into the Sahara and spend an afternoon listening to the hypnotic music of the Tuaregs, the nomadic “blue people,” named because their indigo-dyed clothing rubs off on their skin. Then we head south to visit the Dogons, renowned for the interplay of their culture of masks with daily life and rituals. Bob tries to get a mask ceremony to happen: he buys millet beer for the town, and we see how it is brewed. Then he has his fortune read via iconic marks in the sand that are left overnight for the pale fox to wander through and change their meanings, one of many Dogon traditions first written about by Marcel Griaule. When the village erupts into a mask ceremony, the Dogon dancing, music and masks evoke a complete cosmology of extraordinary beauty, utterly fascinating and unique.

 

Episode 3: Israel and the West Bank

30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 15, 2012 on LINK TV.

“In the Beginning was the Word,” starts this episode — but what language was it? Yiddish, which once had five daily newspapers in New York City, is now an Endangered Language. From the director of the Sholem-Aleichem House and the Yiddish storyteller, Sarat, we learn about the decline of Yiddish resulting from the Holocaust and the rise of Hebrew as the national language of Israel. Sarat cooks us a delicious cholent, a stew combining many of the ingredients from the old countries. While in Jerusalem, we experience the musical sounds of Ladino, the Spanish Hebrew of the Sephardic Jews, which is also endangered. The poet Ronny Someck, a “true Israeli poet from Iraq,” gives Bob a tour of Jaffa and tells us about the multilingual diversity that used to exist in Israel. He suggests visiting the West Bank to hear Arabic, so Bob takes the grueling journey through the endless checkpoints and the Separation Wall to reach Ramallah. Once across the Wall we meet with some young Palestinian hip-hop poets who explain the complexities of living near the Separation Wall that dominates the landscape. In the end, Bob is left to ponder how the resurrection of Hebrew into the national language has created barriers between the many different voices and languages of the region and how the monoglot of Hebrew in a polyglot land may have effected Israel’s political thinking.