The BBC's resident musical explorer Andy Kershaw has spent his career travelling the world in search of the rarest and most exotic sounds. Until now, listening to the simplest form of rock music has not really been his thing.
But in an ambitious new series that marks Kershaw's return to Radio 3, the presenter undertook a painful ordeal that saw him complete a four-hour jungle trek to the top of a remote mountain in the Solomon Islands. When he reached the summit, he found that the rock music he had come to hear was not so much punk, indie or progressive, as geological. "It was very 'Stone Age'," he said. "They were simply banging stones together. You realise that this music has remained unchanged for thousands of years."
Although Kershaw is unlikely to be recommending these mountain-based musicians for a major recording deal ("You wouldn't want to sit down and play a whole album of it"), a segment in an extraordinary project that embraces both BBC Radio and Television comprises the rare recording forms. The Radio 3 series Music Planet has been designed as an accompaniment to the television series Human Planet, which will be screened next year and will explore man's relationship with nature. Having billed Human Planet as "an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping landmark series", the BBC has much to live up to.
In the radio series, Kershaw and his fellow World Music enthusiast Lucy Duran travel to remote locations to explore the musical sounds made by the people featured in the television programmes. Kershaw, who has recovered from a nervous breakdown and family break-up that cost him two years off the airwaves, said he was "in the best physical and mental condition of his life". Earlier this month, he recorded programmes in four African countries in eight days.
But the Solomon Islands expedition was a test of his stamina. "There was no established path and we hired locals who marched ahead of us with machetes, hacking through the vegetation in a Dr Livingstone way," he said. "I thought, 'why on earth would anyone live all the way up here when there's a lovely fishing village at the bottom of the mountain?' Then we saw all these enormous marijuana plants. It was so remote there was one bloke I spoke to who didn't know that man had landed on the Moon."
In another adventure, Kershaw visited a rocket festival while recording the sounds of north-east Thailand. "Don't imagine for a second that these rocket builders are interested in building pretty patterns in the sky," he said. "This event takes place in blinding daylight and the rockets are 50 feet long." He compared the event in Yasothon to the sights and sounds of a Caribbean carnival, only with "amazing floats of mythological dragons".
Kershaw said Switzerland was "the last country in which I expected to find myself" on his musical explorations, but he even found himself warming to yodelling. "If listeners thought yodelling was valuable only as a device to evict stragglers at the end of a party, or as a sure-fire way to secure an international novelty hit in 1956, the music we recorded in the Alps will – like so much to be heard in Music Planet – shatter such preconceptions and, simultaneously, delight and exhilarate."
Indeed, much of the music featured will be vocal, including the sounds of Mongolian shamans, and a vocal contest between women in Greenland, known as a katajjaq, involving throat-singing and imitations of animal cries. Some of the programmes will be hosted by Lucy Duran. James Parkin, the producer of the series, said: "What makes Music Planet so exciting for me is that one minute, you're listening to Cambodian hip-hop, and the next, Swiss yodelling recorded in the Alps. And this is the music that people are making right now, all over the world, recorded especially for Radio 3."
ADVENTURES IN WORLD MUSIC
Kershaw oversaw a contest of "katajja", which puports to be a vocal contest between two women involving songs that involve throat singing and imitations of animal cries.
In 1988 Kershaw headed up the river Niger to NIafunke in Mali, where he departed in search of the blues guitarist Ali Farka Toure.
In an historic broadcast from North Korea in 2003, which presenter Andy Kershaw called the "last great adventure on earth", children were recorded playing a 12-string, zither-like instrument called a kayagum.
Kershaw has dispatched several broadcasts from the Switzlerland including yodelling in the Alps.
After recovering from a nervous breakdown, Kershaw also did a series of recordings from Laos, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
In addition to television, Kershaw has also done recorded radio material in the Middle East and Southern Africa.