by Indy Srinath, staff writer
“Let’s get the band together and go to Kyrgyzstan.”
For most this would be an unrealistic plan, but when professors Dr. Kevin Kehrberg and Dr. Jeffrey A. Keith were prompted by their good friend and fellow band member, Ron Pen, to fly to East Asia to perform with their traditional Appalachian string band, they agreed to pack their banjos and say kosh kalyng (that’s goodbye in Kyrgyz) to Warren Wilson for 10 days.
But this isn’t just a whimsical attempt to be suave jet setting musicians or to visit Borat’s hometown.
Kevin and Jeff’s band, the Red State Ramblers, were invited to Kyrgyzstan by the State Department to perform in celebration of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan’s two decades of independence. When I asked Kevin and Jeff how much they knew about Kyrgyzstan Jeff replied with a somber laugh, “Very little”, while Kevin remarked that, due to his interest in world music, he knew a bit about their music, especially music from the nearby Republic of Tuva. They both agreed, however, that Kyrgyzstan is an incredibly important country as it is a US ally and the US has used it as an airbase. “I’m excited,” chirped Jeff, “ I have no sort of nervousness, although it is a particularly sensitive time to travel to that part of the world.” He candidly added, “I won’t talk politics unless someone else brings it up.” Kevin admitted, “If we’re nervous about anything, it’s the music. Kyrgyz music has a few similarities to Appalachian music, but it is, for the most part, quite different.” Jeff then proceeded to play a sample of Kyrgyz music from his computer. The tune entitled “Kyz Oigotoor” was ambient and soothing, reminiscent of calm instrumental folk music and conjured images of snow crowned mountains and lush hills carpeted with jade foliage.
The Red State Ramblers will exhibit their skillful manner of playing traditional Appalachian music on multiple occasions during their ten-day excursion. Kevin, armed with an acoustic bass, and Jeff on the guitar and mandolin will be complemented by their other band members playing the ukulele, dulcimer, banjo, and fiddle to demonstrate American music just as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald did during the Cold War. Their trip will consist of workshops, scheduled seminars, and, of course, several collaborative performances with the Kyrgyz band, Tengir Too, one of which will be held in an opera house that is akin in prestige to the Kennedy Center.
During their absence, from January 26th to February 6th, Kevin’s class will be reading a book and taking quizzes via moodle while Jeff’s class will be engrossed in library research. Meanwhile, Kevin, Jeff, and the rest of the Red State Ramblers will be staying in the capital city of Bishkek, where they will be housed in safe, western-style inns ,unlike the 80% of locals who are nomadic and live in Yurts. Jeff mentioned that he was interested in staying in such a peaceful country that is quite contrary to its war-zone neighbors. He also confirmed that the area where they are staying is by no means dangerous. They both agreed that while this is an exciting trip for Warren Wilson, it is frustrating to have to miss four classes while they are 14000 miles away, just as the new semester is beginning. Kevin added that he hoped to be able to reflect Kyrgyz culture to his class upon his return and that it is important to build positive relations with Kyrgyzstan. When asked what they hoped to bring to Kyrgyzstan culture, Jeff replied merrily,
“Goodwill, enthusiasm, and lapel pins that say Warren Wilson College.”