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Music videos the old-fashioned way

Alumnus Jeronimo Nisa captures Missouri fiddlers in action


Jeronimo Nisa, MA '08, filmed a documentary on traditional music in Missouri. Photo by Jessica Becker

Although he can’t remember just how it happened, when Jeronimo Nisa was a boy growing up in Spain, against all odds, he fell in love with the sound of the banjo.

“In Spain, nobody plays the banjo. I must’ve heard it on the radio or in some movie. It just gets to me. I love it,” says Nisa, MA ’08. Ever since then, he has been interested in the traditional music of the United States.

As a student in the School of Journalism, that fascination led him to film a documentary on the traditional music scene in Missouri, which aired on Kansas City Public Television in January 2009.

Nisa’s primary medium is photojournalism — still photography — but the ability to capture sound eventually won him over.

“When I came to MU, some of first people I met were the Currey family, which plays together as the CurreyKorn bluegrass band. We became friends,” Nisa says, and he spent time photographing them. Vox, the magazine of the Columbia Missourian, published that semester-long photo project in June 2006. By then he was in the network of traditional musicians, and in winter 2007 he did multimedia projects with Boonville, Mo., musicians Dave Para and Kathy Barton.

Click to see the rest of Keeping the Tradition Alive in Little Dixie.

The time soon came to start his thesis project, and he returned again to his musician friends for inspiration. “I thought, ‘I’m really passionate about this, and I am in touch with these musicians. I’m going to do it.’ ”

His plan for the project was to take lots of still photos and supplement some of them as a multimedia presentation with audio of their music. Then his thesis supervisor, Dave Rees, MA ’81, chair of photojournalism, suggested adding a little video to the mix. “At first I didn’t want to. I had never done it before,” Nisa says. But before long he realized video was the best medium for the job. “It soon became a video project with some photos,” he says.

Nisa, now a staff photographer for The Decatur (Ala.) Daily, says the best things to come out of his work have been his friendships with the musicians. “The last night before I left Missouri in January 2007, they organized a farewell jam session for me. I played guitar, they played banjos, fiddles, whatever. We all ate cornbread and beans. It was a great party. At the end, they gave me an old banjo to learn to learn how to play.”

Nisa plans to continue telling the stories of traditional musicians. “Since I live in Alabama near Muscle Shoals, my next projects will cover traditional blues, and I’ve always wanted to do something on gospel music.” As a staffer on a daily newspaper, free time is in short supply, but Nisa says he is thinking about his next story: “I have already made some contacts.”

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