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World Music Features

1 Giant Leap

By Jim Bessman
Published October 5, 2005

1 Giant Leap now joins very few moving-image projects that have tried to tackle the vast unknown of world music. The 140-minute film (plus extensive additional interactive musical and spoken DVD material) traverses more than 20 countries.

By now it’s a cliché to say that music is the universal language, even though few people have had the opportunity to experience—live—more than a smattering of the music of the world. Mixing and recording it has been equally daunting, given the logistics of moving unwieldy electronic equipment to remote locations. But thanks to the miniaturization of digital technology and the determination of a couple of visionaries comes 1 Giant Leap, a highly ambitious, high-tech attempt at demonstrating the universality of music as performed by world-class international musicians while using the interactive capabilities of the emerging DVD format.

The disc and companion theatrical release and CD soundtrack to 1 Giant Leap have been released through Palm Pictures, the music and film company operated by Chris Blackwell, the Jamaican-born impresario who also founded Island Records, home of Bob Marley and numerous other fabled reggae and world music stars.

            The program's title, of course, is derived from the immortal phrase "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" that were the first words uttered from the surface of the moon by astronaut Neil Armstrong.  1 Giant Leap may not be quite so adventurous, perhaps, but it's certainly no less far-out, at least in terms of the musical reach of most earthbound homebodies. The 140-minute film (plus extensive additional interactive musical and spoken DVD material) traverses more than 20 countries, juxtaposing the remotest villages of the developing world with the most technologically advanced cities of Europe, Asia, and North America. The result is a multicultural melange of stark contrasts and unifying characteristics, or "unity in diversity," to echo the stated goal of filmmakers Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman.

            Thus, the DVD (and soundtrack CD) features such unlikely, if not unimaginable, collaborations as Michael Stipe, the outspoken leader of America's supergroup R.E.M., and Asha Bhosle, India's legendary "Bollywood" movie soundtrack "playback" singer, who is undoubtedly known to more people worldwide than Stipe. Also, South Africa's equally legendary female vocal trio Mahotella Queens are suitably teamed with Ulali, the Native American female a cappella trio. And roots rock band Grant Lee Buffalo's frontman Grant Lee Phillips is paired with reggae star Horace Andy.

      Other artists featured on 1 Giant Leap include Arrested Development's rapper Speech,  Scotland's singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, Senegal's pop superstar Baaba Maal, and India's classical flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia.  Also included are Ghana's percussionist Mustapha Tettey Addy, vocalist Tim Booth of the British rock group James, dance/rapper Neneh Cherry, ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland, ambient pop composer Brian Eno, socially conscious funk-rapper Michael Franti, London MC Maxi Jazz, African thumb piano and kora master Pops Mohamed, new-age artist/theorist Gabrielle Roth, India's electric mandolinist U. Shrinvas, South Africa's Soweto String Quartet, ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers, turntable artist DJ Swamp, and British pop star Robbie Will