What happens when a downtown New York poet of the hip hop and slam persuasion discovers that the roots of spoken word go back thousands of years and span the globe? If he’s Bob Holman, he goes to track them down! He trades stories, fun, recipes, insights, jokes, songs, and poems. Along the way, he gets passionately immersed in the Endangered Language crisis — over half the world’s 6500 languages will disappear before the end of this century. Holman guides us to the bottom-line question of survival of these systems of consciousness with respect, joy, and dedication to diversity. He throws himself into the life – shares the meals, participates in the ceremonies, dances and parties. His enthusiasm infects the series’ fast-paced style – Hip, but not hipper than thou. Serious fun! Ok everybody, get ready — let’s take the road not taken, with Bob Holman. The show aired on LinkTV.


30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2012 on LINK TV.
A griot (gree-oh) is the keeper of the West African oral tradition and the tribe’s genealogy through poetic songs. Bob is invited to Gambia by his long-time friend and teacher, Papa Susso, to learn more about this musical art and see how the kora, the 21-string harp-lute is made. Bob travels up the Niger River with Papa’s son, Karamo, also a griot, in search of the spirit of the African-American Beat poet, Ted Joans, who lived a buoyant life in Timbuktu in the 70s and was Bob’s mentor. Along the way, Bob discovers the roots of hip-hop, rap, the blues — all the great American musical traditions that originated in Africa. The episode concludes with a kora-guitar jam session between Karamo and Ali Farka Toure’s son, Vieux.


30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 8, 2012 on LINK TV.
The show continues in Timbuktu where Bob gets more insight into the dusty off-station in the middle of nowhere. Bob goes to the Timbuktu Library, with volumes from the 16th Century when the city was the center of African learning. We ourselves learn how to ride a camel and how Timbuktu got its name before we venture into the Sahara and spend an afternoon listening to the hypnotic music of the Tuaregs, the nomadic “blue people,” named because their indigo-dyed clothing rubs off on their skin. Then we head south to visit the Dogons, renowned for the interplay of their culture of masks with daily life and rituals. Bob tries to get a mask ceremony to happen: he buys millet beer for the town, and we see how it is brewed. Then he has his fortune read via iconic marks in the sand that are left overnight for the pale fox to wander through and change their meanings, one of many Dogon traditions first written about by Marcel Griaule. When the village erupts into a mask ceremony, the Dogon dancing, music and masks evoke a complete cosmology of extraordinary beauty, utterly fascinating and unique.


30 minutes. RELEASE DATE: February 15, 2012 on LINK TV.
“In the Beginning was the Word,” starts this episode — but what language was it? Yiddish, which once had five daily newspapers in New York City, is now an Endangered Language. From the director of the Sholem-Aleichem House and the Yiddish storyteller, Sarat, we learn about the decline of Yiddish resulting from the rise of Hebrew as the national language of Israel. Sarat cooks us a delicious cholent, a stew combining many of the ingredients from the old countries. While in Jerusalem, we experience the musical sounds of Ladino, the Spanish Hebrew of the Sephardic Jews, which is also endangered. The poet Ronny Someck, a “true Israeli poet from Iraq,” gives Bob a tour of Jaffa and tells us about the multilingual diversity that used to exist in Israel. He suggests visiting the West Bank to hear Arabic, so Bob takes the grueling journey through the endless checkpoints and the Separation Wall to reach Ramallah. Once across the Wall we meet with some young Palestinian hip-hop poets who explain the complexities of living near the Separation Wall that dominates the landscape. In the end, Bob is left to ponder how the resurrection of Hebrew into the national language has created barriers between the many different voices and languages of the region and how the monoglot of Hebrew in a polyglot land may have effected Israel’s political thinking.


(11 minutes, HD NTSC)
Spoken-word poet BOB HOLMAN is on a search to record a Newari poet for the endangered languages cento, which will be presented at the United Nations in New York City. Pressed for time, he travels to Kathmandu and experiences the diverse languages and peoples of the mountainous country. In the midst of a national strike that shutdowns Kathmandu, he finds a young poet who reads a poem about her grandfather. Bob returns to New York City and jubilantly presents the cento at the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 

BOB HOLMAN is the founder of The Endangered Languages Poetry Project and the host of this documentary series.  He has been called a member of the “Poetry Pantheon” by the New York Times Magazine, and “Ringmaster of the Spoken Word” by New York Daily News and is the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. He won three Emmys for WNYC-TV’s Poetry Spots, received a Bessie Performance Award, and an International Public Television Awards for the PBS series The United States of Poetry. He teaches at NYU and Columbia, including “Poets Census,” where students locate poets from non-English speaking communities, and “Translating Endangered Languages.” He is currently working on “Listen UP! Endangered languages with Bob Holman,” a PBS documentary with Holman as host and David Grubin (The Buddha, The Brain, Bill Moyers) as Producer. In 2010, with linguists Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins, he founded the Endangered Language Alliance in New York.

Read the interview with Bob Holman in BOMB magazine.
Read the article “YOU CAN’T PUT A LANGUAGE IN A ZOO: Bob Holman and Endangered Languages” in the Brooklyn Rail.

Producers: Ram Devineni & Beatriz Seigner. Avi Dabach (Israel)
Editor: Ram Devineni
Camera: Beatriz Seigner, Lamont B. Steptoe & Avi Dabach
Host: Bob Holman
Produced by Rattapallax in association with Bowery Arts and Science
Executive Producer: Steven Lawrence
Re-recording Mixer: Tom Paul
Audio Post Production: Gigantic Post
Sound Editor: Michael Feuser
Assistant Sound Editor: Perry Levy
Africa Episodes Music: Papa & Karamo Susso
Title Sequence: Cathy Cook
Title Music: Peter Gordon
Additional Editing: Renata Maria
Color Grading: David Barkan
Mahmoud Darwish’s poem translated by Samuel J. Liebhaber

Nepal episode was produced in association with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. The video and the tour was made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Special thanks to Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Alison Heller, Avi Dabach, Ariane Lopez-Huici, Alexander Batkin, Jackie Sheeler, Alain Kirili, David Wojciechowski, Papa Susso Compound, Toumani Diabati, Sandra Paugam, Sekou Dolo, MC Paul Barman, Breyten Breytenbach, Dagui Dolo, Laura Corsiglia, Banning Eyre, Oumou Sangare, Jayne Cortez, Sana Sibily, Balike Sissoko Compund, Natasa Durovicova, Christopher Merrill, American Embassy in Kathmandu, Kelly Bedeian, David Broza, Itay Meirson, Nadav, Hana Amichai, Claire Montgomery & Bill Goldston.