Tear a Root from the Earth is a musical that uses both American and Afghan folk music to portray three generations of an Afghan family as they navigate the American and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan. Marina McClure collaborates with Qais Essar, Johnny Walsh, John Bair, and Jessica Batke to create a piece epic in scope yet specific to Afghanistan, but also universal in its themes about the impossible decisions facing people in war. Composers from the American and Afghan musical traditions unite to create a new musical vocabulary.
Early in the timeline of the story the compositions are traditional Afghan raags, but as foreign influences enter and crowd out local culture, the music becomes more and more Westernized until the piece is dominated by American folk, then rock ‘n roll and pop songs. Later, as the foreign armies begin to recede and Afghans reclaim agency over their lives and their country, traditional music creeps back in, albeit irrevocably changed by exposure to occupation. The show features a band composed of musicians from both musical traditions. From Afghanistan, composer Qais Essar plays the rabab, alongside the harmonium and traditional Afghan percussion. From the West, Americana band Gramophonic combines mandolin, guitar, accordion, fiddle, and drums under the direction of composer and lyricist Johnny Walsh.