When Katharine Emlen attended a village school in Kenya as an 11-year-old, she heard the different songs of her Masai, Kikuyu, and Samburu schoolmates. “They were always singing their different songs,” says Emlen, “and it was beautiful. I just became aware of a bigger world of music that has been a part of my blood ever since.”
WUOT, the Knoxville NPR station licensed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will bring together Emlen and longtime jazz host John Habel to share their love of world music in a new program, The Sounds Global Show, launching on WUOT-2 at 5 p.m. Sunday, August 23.
They will play traditional, modern, and experimental music from around the world and discuss the artists, instruments, and diverse music styles. “I’ve collected music for 30 years,” says Emlen. “Even if I couldn’t understand the language, I could always understand the emotion they were portraying—the joy and triumph and sorrow. Through sound you can communicate everything.”
That first exposure to global sounds came when Emlen’s father, a field biologist, took their family to Kenya for a year. She grew up in Ithaca, New York, and later moved to Knoxville, playing classical piano and percussion in her spare time and taking ethnomusicology courses as an anthropology major at UT. After graduating in 2002, she moved to Eugene, Oregon, where she joined a marimba ensemble and started a 10-year run hosting a world music show with the community radio station KRVM.
Emlen returned to Knoxville in 2016. Last year she recorded a sample world-music show and sent it to WUOT Music Director Todd Steed, who connected her with Habel, WUOT’s longtime jazz host, who was also interested in exposing listeners to a wider world of music. “We hit it off,” says Emlen. “We found that our music collections complemented each other.” On the program, the two will play selections from around the world, comment on the musicians and styles, and discuss them with each other.
Habel grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, in the 1960s and was electrified by Motown as well as local rock and jazz bands. “The Detroit area was a hotbed of new music,” says Habel, who earned a PhD in psychology from UT in 1988 and taught at Western Carolina University until his retirement in 2016, commuting back to Knoxville for weekends and breaks. He also taught courses in educational psychology in Jamaica and ended up founding and co-owning a music school there. He is known to WUOT listeners as the longtime host of Improvisations before his retirement from hosting in 2018 after 30 years.
“I have always had a broad interest in music,” he says. “I want to expose our listeners to new and interesting music. I’ve traveled extensively for 40 years. I’ve been to most continents, India, China, Africa, Arctic Canada, always with an ear to catching live music. I was especially interested in jazz that incorporated local folk and ethic traditions. I wanted to expand my sonic palette and that of my music programming.”
On The Sounds Global Show, Emlen and Habel look forward to playing a unique blend of global sounds, from Chinese musicians to the Ukrainian band DakhaBraka to Mongolian throat singers. “They are absolutely captivating,” says Emlen. “They are so ancient. A part of me is awakened by them.
“My goal is to have a diversity,” she adds. “We will play music from all around the planet.”
Listener-supported WUOT 91.9 FM serves listeners throughout East Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Its format includes classical and jazz music, news, and public affairs. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and streams online at wuot.org,
WUOT’s second audio channel, WUOT-2, is available on HD Radio, at wuot.org, in the WUOT mobile app, and via Smart Speaker.