Travel Songs films the experience of music through the lens of culturally diverse countries all over the world, sharing their unique beauty and demonstrating their commonalities.
When we first met Zachary Humenik almost two years ago, we were researching organizations our Top 10 Kickstarters All About Traveling – October Edition. The series featured dozens of inspiring start-ups that use Kickstarter to fundraise their projects; projects that we believe change the world for the better, and encourage others to see what’s out there. At the time, Zachary was fundraising for his passion project, Travel Songs. The project endeavors to film the experience of music through the lens of culturally diverse countries all over the world, sharing their unique beauty and demonstrating their commonalities.
Zachary successfully funded his first trip to Peru in July 2013, and he and his small crew were off to South America to begin the series. Their very first episode, Travel Songs: Peru, will premiere December 2oth at Theater N in Wilmington, Delaware.
To celebrate chapter one and usher in the future for Travel Songs, we talked to Zachary about respect, expression, and the universality of music. More than ever, we’ve got the feeling that when it comes to fighting ignorance with love and complacency with action, Zachary is our partner in crime.
And so we begin…
How has music changed your life? Any personal moments that inspired you to pursue this project?
Zachary: Personally, music has been the only constant in my life. No matter where I am, or what I am doing, I can bring music with me and it settles me. It provides a soundtrack to certain times in my life and nostalgia for those same moments as time passes. However, the moment that inspired this project was less about music and more about people and their perception of others. I lived in Tunisia in 2011 during the unrest that followed their revolution. I enjoyed my time there thoroughly, but when I came home I found that many of the people I knew stateside had a skewed version of what my experiences there must have been like. Perhaps their misconceptions were guided by a stigmatized view of the Arab world, or maybe just a lack of interest – but either way I felt unsettled by this. I decided I wanted to create a way to share cultures of the world through a medium that would demonstrate a human connection and focus on similarities. I figured that music would be the perfect platform to use. Music is something that almost all humans (and other animals) have a relationship with. Like food, drinks, sports, etc – it’s a universal language. This was the thought process that led me to create a documentary series about music and people around the world.
What do you hope the Travel Songs project will provide for the communities you film? For all travelers?
Zachary: For the communities we film, we hope to offer many things. We always come bearing gifts: guitar tuners for musicians in places where the cost of electronics is too high, headlamps for communities that live in rural areas, the list goes on. However we also hope to create an equal exchange. The idea is not to strictly observe the culture of our hosts, but to teach them about us as well; to share with them our music and how it relates to our culture. To show them a glimpse into what life for a group of American twenty-somethings is like. We always do our best to make sure it goes both ways. With that, we try to share their story through our cameras. Many of the people we meet with could be the last of their generation to live how they do. Our world is getting smaller and homogeny through technology is slowly settling in. I feel that it’s important to share, or at the very least, document traditional ways of life that might be on the verge of extinction.
You seek to uncover commonalities in various cultures. What have you discovered so far?
Zachary: For travelers we hope to communicate a very clear message – respect. It’s easy to feel when you travel to a new place that you are on holiday, but it’s important to remember that you are in someone else’s home. Try to learn some of the language, try to understand a few things about the culture, don’t be rude when a misunderstanding occurs – these are the things that can help eliminate the existing colonial symptoms of international travel and make it beneficial for all. We have found that music is used cross culturally just as similarly as it is used differently. We have met rappers in Cusco that are influenced by Biggie Smalls and Tupac. They have a pretty ‘western’ mindset when it comes to music and how it relates to society – as a form of expression and entertainment. On the other hand, we met with Q’eros from the Andean foothills that view music strictly as an offering to the gods. To them it might sound strange to hear that in the US people make millions through the music industry, because in their view music is used to ask for a better crop yield, or perhaps to bring good health to their group. The cool thing is, even though everyone uses music differently, we find that everyone still recognizes it’s power – whichever way it is used.
What is the most fascinating instrument you’ve seen played so far?
Zachary: The most fascinating instrument I have seen played so far is the voice. Simple as it may seem, people use their voices to create such a vast array of sounds that its versatility is impressive. From Frank Sinatra to Tuvan throat singers, the voice has a wide range of sounds and it always surprises me to see new applications.
How is music passed down from generation to generation in the cultures you’ve visited? What does this say about the culture?
Zachary: As far as I have seen, music is passed down through the previous generation. Many of the people we met state that they either learned how to make / play instruments from their parents, or listened to their parents music growing up and that helped to set the stage for their musical taste. This makes sense in a society based on learned trades and skills. The unfortunate things that we saw in Peru, however, is that this tradition of passing down the knowledge of a skilled craft is slowly fading and becoming replaced by the quest for knowledge at university level or a career in business. It creates a dilemma (that) I would call an ‘endangered art form’ and echoes back to this idea of homogeny through technology. As the world shrinks, the focus of success shifts, which can influence people to abandon their lifestyle in the search for something else.
What destination is next for Travel Songs, and why?
Zachary: The next location will be the place that changed the world for the next century – Tunisia. Many people don’t realize it, but we can trace nearly everything that has happened on a geopolitical spectrum back to a fruit vendor in a town in Tunisia. Tunisia was the first to show the world the power of protest and set the stage for government in the 21st century. Having lived there, I have a deep appreciation for the culture and music, as well as a desire to dispel any wrong idea about Tunisians. Unfortunately, people living in the Arab and Muslim world are viewed through a lens that doesn’t always accurately depict them. I would like the opportunity to break down some of these stereotypes while also exploring a beautiful music culture.
Learn more about Travel Songs by watching this trailer for their Peru series!