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Driessen's Latest Project Results From His Experiences Around The World

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN FEAT. RINA DAS BAUL, DIBAKAR DAS BAUL, BAMA CHORON DAS AND MOYNA DAS SONG, "AYE NAGARI")

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Fiddle player Casey Driessen has pretty good timing, and not only with his bow. Driessen managed to squeeze in most of his worldwide travels to collaborate with other musicians before the pandemic locked everyone down. Over nine months, he and his family made it to Spain, Ireland, Scotland, India, Japan and Finland. The result is Otherlands: A Global Music Exploration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AYE NAGARI (FEAT. RINA DAS BAUL, DIBAKAR DAS BAUL, BAMA CHORON DAS AND MOYNA DAS)")

RINA DAS BAUL: (Singing in non-English language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Casey Driessen performing with Rina and Dibakar Das Baul at their home in West Bengal, India. Besides the on-location recordings, his project includes short films and essays.

And Casey Driessen joins us now from his home in Asheville, N.C. Welcome.

CASEY DRIESSEN: Hello there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to say, this doesn't strike me right off the bat as music an American fiddle player would necessarily gravitate towards.

DRIESSEN: Yeah. I've been interested in music just across the globe for a long time. I've always really relished my international travel experiences that I've had through playing bluegrass and American folk music. And it's taken me to some different places. And those moments have always been really inspirational. And I've looked for more opportunities to get out there and play music with different people and different instruments because it always gives me new ideas. And I love making friends and having experiences across the globe, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN'S "CALUM'S ROAD / THE HUT ON STAFFIN ISLAND / DUCK RIVER (FEAT. ALAN KELLY)")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's get to a place that may seem a little bit more obvious for your instrument. That's Ireland. Tell us about your duet with the accordionist Alan Kelly. It's called "Calum's Road" Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN'S "CALUM'S ROAD / THE HUT ON STAFFIN ISLAND / DUCK RIVER (FEAT. ALAN KELLY)")

DRIESSEN: Well, that's me and Alan playing in his dining room at his house. You know, Ireland has got jam sessions happening all the time at different places, and I tried to take in as many of those as I could. And when I was around Galway, I happened to run into Alan at a number of them. And we hit it off, and we decided to keep on getting together. And we got together at his house, and we made some music together. He showed me a couple of tunes, and it reminded me of an American one. So we put that with it and came up with our own little set of music for this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How long did you spend in each country?

DRIESSEN: We spent the longest time in India, which was - well, India and Finland - two months in both of those countries. Then it varied between four to six weeks between the other ones.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And were these mostly, like, new acquaintances?

DRIESSEN: It was a mixture. You know, some were folks that I had met on previous travels. Others were friends of friends. And then some meetings, like the one with Dibakar and Rina, those were just sort of people that came into my life while I was there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even closer to home musically but further geographically, you played bluegrass in Japan. It was even in a little cabin you might find in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tell us about working with mandolin player Taro Inoue.

DRIESSEN: He's an old friend. He kind of bailed me out of a problem one time when I was supposed to go to Japan on a - happened to be an expired passport. So I couldn't go and play my gigs, so he sat in (laughter) for me, and that's kind of how we became friends. And then when I went back to Japan recently, I knew that we had to get together again and just hang out and make some music. And strangely enough, making music in Japan on this trip was probably the closest that I've felt to home because I was playing some bluegrass there with him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Again, this is called "Little Cabin Home On The Hill."

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN'S "LITTLE CABIN HOME ON THE HILL (FEAT. TARO INOUE)")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you were in Finland when you finally had to shut down your travels because of the coronavirus. You ended up in a remote cabin, right?

DRIESSEN: We did. It was our plan to go to Kaustinen, which is this little town kind of central, western Finland. And it's known for a fiddling tradition. And I had some friends there, so we already were planning to go there. And about a day and a half after we arrived to Finland, the borders closed. And so we decided to kind of wait it out as long as we could. And we stayed there for two months, and then finally decided it was - things weren't really changing, so it was probably time to go home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, but it did yield a number of songs, including "Kouon Frouva." Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN'S "KOUON FROUVA (FEAT. ESKO JARVELA)")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let me ask you this. I mean, your instrument - it lends itself to this, doesn't it? That - you know, it's portable, and also, there are string instruments all over the world.

DRIESSEN: Yeah. I'm lucky that I play something that I can put on my back, for sure. And it also is a very versatile, you know, instrument. It's very vocal-like. There's a lot of different sounds that you can get out of it. And I've even found more sounds since I've been out there traveling around with people. I think it is a - it's a good instrument to be able to take around on this. And I just feel fortunate that that's the one that I happen to play.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, obviously, what you did has a specific resonance at this time when we have all been homebound and, you know, the travel we've been doing is traveling on YouTube and just, you know, over Zoom. You traveled to six countries over nine months with all these different collaborations. You're back in North Carolina now. I'm wondering what you have sort of kept from that experience, considering the last sort of year that we've been, you know, living under lockdown.

DRIESSEN: Yeah, you know, I've actually kept in touch with everybody that I collaborated with, you know? So kind of checking in on people - you know, these are friendships that I made along this route that we took. I suppose if anything, I'm ready to go and travel again and to collaborate again and to be face-to-face with people like I know so many other folks are ready for that as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Casey Driessen - the album that came out of his travels is called "Otherlands:ONE."

Casey, thanks so much.

DRIESSEN: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASEY DRIESSEN'S "MUSICAL PRIEST / TOSS THE FEATHERS / LUCY CAMPBELL'S (FEAT. BLACKIE O'CONNELL AND CYRIL O'DONOGHUE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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