Former S.F. man spans the globe for rhythmic adventures

During a journey to India last year, Jacob Edgar ate goat brain, learned how to play cricket and listened to a lot of local music.

But he wasn’t there solely to soak up the local culture.

The former San Francisco resident was also capturing the initial hours of footage for his new series, “Music Voyager,” which recently has launched on various PBS stations around the country. The first six episodes, covering India and Jamaica, will air locally on the KQED Life channel on March 23 and 24.

Edgar’s concept for the show is to expose viewers to music created by various peoples throughout the world while at the same time exploring the cultures that produced such music — kind of like the Travel Channel’s food travel show “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”

Edgar, 40, said he’s always been captivated by “the way Bourdain uses the prism of food as a gateway into a culture.”

“We wanted to create a show like that,” Edgar added, “something that would appeal to music fans.”

Future “Music Voyager” episodes will plunge viewers into the music cultures of Louisiana, Columbia and Paris. But Edgar also has other exotic locales on his mind, including Israel.

“The Israeli music scene is so fascinating,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I’m always so amazed by how open people are there to different kinds of instrumentation. I think it’s because there are so many immigrants, people are exposed to a lot of different cultures.”

Jacob Edgar (left) listens to the band Indian Ocean during a practice session in Rajasthan, India. photo/mike worthington

Edgar said his personal connection to music can be traced back to living with Jewish hippie parents in Noe Valley in the late 1960s. After his parents divorced when Edgar was 9, his mother, a potter, married a puppeteer and moved the family across the country to Vermont.

His mother and stepfather’s extensive record collection, in addition to their non-mainstream professions, fueled Edgar’s interest in the counterculture art world. He dabbled in music a bit —the trumpet in elementary school, a salsa band a few years later — but left it behind for academics.

After earning a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA in the mid-’90s, he returned to the Bay Area and began working for world-music label Putumayo, which was based in Berkeley at the time (it has since moved to New York).

“Music Voyager” came together when Edgar’s own world-music label, Cumbancha, began working with a production company to develop a TV show about international music. Cumbancha is operated out of Vermont, where Edgar now lives.

During a brainstorming session, one of the producers said Edgar should take a stab at hosting the program since he knew the international music scene so well.

“They gave me a screen test with a camera just following me around all day demonstrating my favorite things in the New York music scene,” Edgar explained. “I riffed on local bands and improvised — and they ended up asking me to host.”

So off he went to Mumbai, where he met musicians such as Kailash Kher and Sona, then stopped by the desert city of Rajasthan for gypsy music concerts. Eventually he made it to New Delhi, where he hung out with India’s answer to the Grateful Dead, a band called Indian Ocean.

After his Indian excursion, Edgar filmed in Jamaica then spent some time back in states for episodes that feature Grammy-winning artists such as Jewish banjoist Béla Fleck.

Edgar said part of his curiosity about culture is due to a secular upbringing that included bits and pieces of information from his grandparents, who were Jewish Polish immigrants.

“I visited my grandparents often and they were very religious, so it required me to learn how to appreciate people that lived differently than me,” he said. “Later, when I visited Israel, I was surprised by how moving it was for me. I felt so connected to a broader Jewish community.”

Six episodes of “Music Voyager” will air consecutively on the KQED Life channel (Comcast 189, digital 54.3) from 7-10 p.m., Tuesday, March 23.

The set will be replayed from 1-4 a.m. March 24.

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