Taking '1 Giant Leap' into diverse cultures

Most people return from their foreign trips with some photographs and a few souvenirs.

British musical collaborators Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto had more ambitious plans for their six-month trip around the world.

They set out to meet their musical and literary heroes, including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, South African dance group Mahotella Queens, and US author Tom Robbins. The pair asked them to record parts for songs they had written, as well as comment on such issues as cultural diversity and spirituality.

"Our main motive for doing the whole thing was just that we wanted to have fun and we wanted to meet all our heroes," says Mr. Bridgeman during a phone interview from his home in London. "We were on a fantasy trip."

On their global journey from October 1999 to March 2000, Mr. Bridgeman and Mr. Catto created "1 Giant Leap" (Palm Pictures), a multimedia project that is part CD, part DVD. The CD, now in stores, has found early success, including a Top 10 hit in England with the song "My Culture." In the US, the CD is No. 3 on College Music Journal's New World chart.

The DVD, being released in September, features 12 music videos, along with interviews and images from 25 countries such as Senegal, South Africa, India, Thailand, New Zealand, and the United States.

Its many stars include US author Kurt Vonnegut (his first interview in 11 years), Senegalese musician Baaba Maal, progressive hip-hop artist Michael Franti, Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, and less-famous people such as Indian hardware store proprietor Linesh Shesh.

Bridgeman has produced albums for Paul McCartney and Eurythmics, and Catto is a founding member of the British dance-pop band Faithless. After working in the pop-music arena for a decade, the pair decided to act upon their interest in world music.

They created original songs that borrowed from other artists' works. In effect, they adorned their own music with "stolen" bits from other artists CDs. Then they took their idea to Chris Blackwell, head of Palm Pictures, who told them to go traveling and replace the borrowed bits with live material from those artists. Bridgeman explains that about half of the participants were on their list when they started.

But the "happy accidents" that Bridgeman frequently mentions led them to others, including Bollywood chanteuse Asha Bhosle and Maori singer Whiri Mako Black. "We just had no idea about the depth of talent that was going to become available to us," Bridgeman says.

He hopes the project will get people talking about diverse cultures. "The main thing we want to do is to get the conversation going," he says. "We are all one human family, so what is it that separates us? What is it that we argue about?"

The project is also a technological marvel. Bridgeman, Catto, and two camera persons traveled light, recording the music on laptop computers and filming live performances and interviews.

Organized into 12 chapters of 15 minutes each, the film tackles a variety of topics such as faith, money, sex, time, and unity. The title, "1 Giant Leap," comes from Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

The sometimes-frenetic music-video-style editing is deliberate. "What we're hoping is to use the popular [music-video] format to get some depth through," Bridgeman says. But in a few cases what might have been insightful interviews have been reduced to sound-bite platitudes.

One powerful juxtaposition in the chapter on confrontation shows Aboriginal free-thinker Fred Reed dancing and discussing his culture, intercut with right-wing Australian politician David Oldfield describing Aboriginal culture as lacking any relevance to the modern world.

Bridgeman sees relevance in "1 Giant Leap" as the world weighs issues of security, freedom, and cultural differences.

"We all get up in the morning; we all know what it's like to have our heart broken, and that is the kind of aspect that we really wanted to show," he says. "We are all one human family, and our shared experience is much greater than the things that actually separate us."

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