Category: Music


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Yoruba bronze head, 12th century.

Yoruba bronze head, 12th century.

By Sharon St Joan

To read part one first, click here

Hundreds of years ago, if you had lived in a small village in central Africa, before its “discovery” by Europeans, you might have lived in a thatched roof hut that kept out the sun and the rain, with a dirt floor that was swept clean every day. From birth to death, you would have lived in a stable community of your friends and relatives, in a society where you belonged and had a place, where there was work to be done, as well as a rich tradition of art, music, and a spiritual life. If you were walking through the forest, and you felt thirsty, it would have been entirely safe to drink from the clear, sparkling waters of a stream. Although you would not have had what we would call luxury, you would have known a world of trees, sky, animals, and the early morning mist that floated over the river where the elephants gathered. You would have lived in the untouched beauty of the natural world.

If you became ill, you would have been treated with herbal remedies, their efficacy tested by being passed down through generations. If you were dying, your village would have gathered around you, singing prayers for you, as your soul left to go on its journey.

At that time, back then, there were no GMO crops or insecticide-laden foods, no miles and miles of plastic trash, no debris littering the ocean floor, no smog-choked cities, no factory farms, no miles of concrete where once there had been forests filled with wild animals, no industrial waste, no nuclear waste, no trash on the moon or in outer space. Yes, horrible things could and did happen, then as now, but it could be argued, nonetheless, that the scale of horror was much less then, than it is today.

Certainly, very bad things could take place. It would have been possible to be eaten by an animal — though a lion at that time, living in a more undisturbed habitat, might have been less likely then, than now, to attack a human. Still being eaten would not have been pleasant.

A lion in Namibia.

A lion in Namibia.

But which is worse really, to be eaten quickly by a lion in the darkness of the night, or to be eaten piecemeal over many decades by human greed, hypocrisy, mediocrity, corruption, and the soul-destroying nibbles that kill off all life and destroy the natural world?

If we look closely, with open eyes, we will be able to see quite clearly that the modern world, for most people and for most animals, for the trees, and the earth itself is suffering, on an unprecedented scale. In our climate-controlled houses and apartments, we live in a bubble, wrapped up in our technology, yet still cut off from many realities of much of the world.

The moon in the western sky, California.

The moon in the western sky, California.

Nevermind that we as a society have gone to the moon and back – is our civilization peaceful, enlightened, kind, gracious? No, it really isn’t.

We tend to resist this imperfect view of history. We cling to the view we were taught in school. After all, there is something comforting in imagining that we are at the summit of human existence and that everything has led steadily upwards, culminating in the grandeur that is us.

So, if perhaps we have realized that we are not quite as grand as we had imagined, if we have begun to suspect that we, as the human race, are all slipping and sliding inexorably downhill, in this corrupt and miserable current age, does that mean that all is hopeless? Should we give up trying to do anything meaningful? Should we just sit down under a tree, hold our head in our hands, and accept the fact that we are doomed?

Should we just forget any causes that we’re devoting our life to – any more meaningful purpose, like freeing people from oppression, saving innocent animals from suffering, or saving the forests and the earth’s wild places?

Should we just decide that everything is impossible and give up?

No, because however dark the world may be, magic and miracles are always possible because, by definition, they come from a higher level that is not bound by human limitations.

A couple of contemporary examples might help. I’m reminded of a couple of people who have not been content to stay put in the boxes the found themselves in. They are completely different from each other. Here is the first one.

Susan Boyle at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 2013

Susan Boyle at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 2013

If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth watching Susan Boyle on YouTube when she appeared in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s worth watching just to see the expressions of the judges on the show change from bored condescension to joyful astonishment. It was clear that the contestant on the stage in front of them, Susan Boyle, at that first appearance, had not the slightest idea how to present herself well, and the three judges were ready to dismiss her as a silly, ridiculous figure – until she began to sing, at which point they opened their mouths and raised their eyebrows in incredulity. Before she had finished singing, these rather jaded judges sprang to their feet, along with the entire audience, all applauding, one judge, Piers Morgan, stating that this was the greatest surprise in all his time with the show.

Her immensely powerful and profoundly expressive, beautiful voice seemed to spring from another realm that had nothing to do with her awkward appearance. Within the next nine days after the show, her videos had been viewed over 100 million times. Her debut album was a record-breaking success, and she has soared to stardom since then and is a multimillionaire many times over.

To be continued in part three…

To read part three, click here.

 

 

Top photo: “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, WaynaQhapaq at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” / Wikimedia commons / “Yoruba bronze head from the city of Ife, 12 century.”

 

Second photo: Author (photographer): Kevin Pluck / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A lion in Namibia.

 

Third photo: Author (photographer): Jessie Eastland / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Wikimedia Commons / “Western Moon setting over Mountains, High Desert, California.”

 

Fourth photo: Author (photographer): Wasforgas / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Susan Boyle singing at the Edinburgh Festival Theater, July 12, 2013.”

 

© Sharon St Joan, 2013

 

To see the video of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, click here

 

 

 

Ganesha - Sumathi Krishnan - Invitation 2013 copy

 

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By Elizabeth Doyle

 

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html)

 

This is Part Four of a four-part interview.

 

To start at the beginning with Part One, click here

 

Me: I know that there’s an interesting inspiration behind your album, “Inbetween and passing” related to a small community in South America. I read the album cover, so I’ve cheated. But for everyone else, can you tell us about that and how the tracks on the album relate to it?

 

He: The track “Gaviotas” on my album was written as a celebration of and in dedication to the people of the town of the same name in Colombia who have shown the world that it is possible to take a region and a people who have been ravaged by the violence and barbarism of the modern world, and turn them round to face the possibility of a humane, sustainable future, meeting the needs that all people everywhere have always had; bread, freedom, dignity, and social justice. They have planted millions of trees, farm organically and use wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor. The United Nations named the village a model of sustainable development. All this in an area that had all but been destroyed by logging and mining, and where many of the inhabitants had come from drug and violent gang-related conflict situations. I learnt about the place through a friend of mine, the writer Terri Windling, who lives in my village on Dartmoor. She had a visitor from the U.S. one day, Alan Weisman, who had written a book about Gaviotas, and as he described what they had done, I knew that it was important to celebrate their achievements and pass the word on that another world is possible.

 

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Me: Now, these questions are a little more dull in some ways, but I think that everyone likes to know a little basic biographical information about artists they appreciate. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started playing music?

 

He: I started piano lessons at the age of 8 by accident! My mum was struggling to survive in London on her own with two children and took advantage of a government funded place for me and my brother at two different boarding schools. After my first term, I came home and said to her, “thanks for the piano lessons!” And she said “what piano lessons?” Apparently I had been given a terms lessons that were meant for someone else! Anyway I carried on. And when I got a Beatles songbook, I found that I could read the music and play just like on the records I knew so well. That was really exciting. By the age of 14 I was playing with bands in North London, rehearsing in a room above Susan’s Music Shop in Chapel Market, at the Angel, Islington. I knew even at that stage that I wanted to play music and I wasn’t really interested in being at school, since it was only slowing my career down. At 18, I left England with a Sudanese bass player friend of mine and lived in Khartoum for a year where my real apprenticeship took place, playing every night in the Blue Nile Club with a fantastic band, “The Heavy Ducks” (!!) We also played for many weddings and functions in the desert around Khartoum, in Omdurman, and Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast.

 

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I’ve been a full time player ever since. My career as a performer has divided roughly into three phases, African music, Indian music, and Jazz. These days I’m on the road a little less, doing more writing and recording and a bit of teaching piano. I taught on the jazz degree course at Exeter University for four years, and am currently visiting jazz piano teacher at Wells Cathedral School in Somerset, and at Hampton School in Twickenham. I toured with African bands all over Europe and in East and Southern Africa. For two years I lived and worked in Paris, where there was, and still is a thriving African music scene. After studying Indian music I toured with Indian musicians and dance and theatre companies in India and Europe. When I settled in the West Country, I began playing jazz and this took me all over the UK and Europe again, with several radio and TV appearances and participation on an album “Limbic System” with the amazing saxophone player Harry Fulcher, which reached the top ten jazz albums in the UK in 2004.

 

I have had the good fortune to have grown up with one foot in England, where my father was from, and where I was born, and the other hovering over India and South East Asia, where my mother comes from. I’ve been many times to India and love being there. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time there in the future. It means that I have always had a wider perspective on the world, a chance to see things from many angles, and not get stuck in a Western-centred viewpoint.

 

 

To order the album “Inbetween and Passing” by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to http://www.cdbaby.com/

 

In the UK, click here.

 

Photos: © Dhevdhas Nair

Top photo: Ancient trees, river walk, at Chagford, a little town on the edge of Dartmoor

Second photo: Boys in a temple procession, Trivandrum, Kerala, India

Third photo: View of Dartmoor, early morning

 

 

 

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By Elizabeth Doyle

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html

To read Part One first, click here


Me: Are you a spiritual person? Does religion or spirituality play any role in your compositions?

He: Not in a formal sense. Although I have been on several Buddhist retreats from various traditions and teachers, I don’t see myself as belonging to any particular religion. If anything, the Deer Park near my home on Dartmoor, with its magnificent trees is my cathedral. Having said that, when I create music, I feel such a sense of ……how do I describe it? Love, emotion, reverence. Every time I listen back to the compositions, I get the same supercharged feelings of the importance of creating beauty in the world and it moves me very strongly. And I feel that same charge while I am working on the music. I guess you could call it a spiritual state of mind.

Me: I know that you borrow musical traditions from different parts of the globe. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what you feel some of the musical strengths of different corners of the world are?

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He: My father had an amazing music collection, from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner (not so much my cup of tea!) and Indian classical music, to the Beatles. Early on, I discovered jazz, and fell completely in love with North Indian classical music, initially ragas and folk and light classical music played on the flute. Its hard to say what moves me about music from different parts of the world. I seem to go through different phases as I pass through my own different phases of life.

When I was about 14 I found a cassette in my local library of a field recording made in the 1930s of a group of Australian Aboriginal men singing. It had a profound effect on me. Here was music that spoke of a world so utterly different from my own, yet which had universal qualities of a delicate, achingly beautiful humanity that reached across the ages and opened my eyes and ears to a timeless, eternal song of life.

Mumbai NCPA in Mumbai, taken by Tao Issaroresized

As a teenager and young man, I got into African music, mostly West African hi-life. I found it expressed so well the sheer exuberance and joy of life, and was so danceable. I played with various African bands for many years, in Europe and Africa. I was in a band called Sankomota that had a number one album in the black music charts in South Africa before the end of Apartheid. We were actually banned in the country, but our album went to number one and eventually the ban was lifted and we went to play to 25,000 people in Jabulani Stadium in Soweto. I used to love it that people danced when we played. Then I spent time studying Indian music and turned to the more contemplative, poetic side of music – music that paints pictures of stillness, beauty in nature, and the delicacies and vulnerabilities of human emotions. Next I developed skills in the language of jazz which fortuitously had the capacity to absorb and contain all the previous musical strands of my life. Within the freedom of jazz I found I could draw upon those influences from India, Africa, Europe, and South East Asia.

In today’s super connected world, we can hear music from anywhere and everywhere, all clothed in the various colours of their respective cultures, but all pointing to the same truth, that music is as essential to human beings as food, water and shelter.

To be continued…

To go to part four, click here.

To order the album Inbetween and Passing by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to  http://www.cdbaby.com/

 

In the UK, click here.

 

Top photo: © Dhevdhas Nair / Across the hill from the studio

Second photo: © Dhevdhas Nair / Street musician family in Mumbai

Third photo: © Tao Issaro / 

Dhevdhas Nair at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai

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By Elizabeth Doyle

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html)

In Part One, Dhevdhas describes a remarkable moment when he is playing with a band in the Sudan. To read Part One first, click here.

He: It was a huge open plan studio and they had just finished reading the news at the other side – and the place erupted, cameramen, technicians, newsreader, everyone started cheering and dancing, there were big smiles everywhere, and we all knew something very special was happening. Afterwards the band stumbled out somewhat dazed, to sit under a tree and recover. It was wonderful but a little unnerving too. And I knew then just what live music was capable of and I definitely wanted more! I think that is really why people go to concerts. Because every now and then, this amazing thing happens and off we all go on a journey together which is so fulfilling and nourishing, and if I can play a part in making it happen, I consider it a good night’s work.

It’s a slightly different process sitting alone in the studio, at the piano, composing, but really I think the source is same – from somewhere in the depths of a collective consciousness, stories emerge that speak to a common experience of being alive, and although the message is universal, the medium has to be culturally specific in order to be communicated. Specific in the sense of using a mutually intelligible language to share the story, in my case the musical language made up of my cultural influences, living in this place at this time in history.

Me: You play several instruments, I know, including the piano and dulcimer. Which instrument is your true love?

He: Actually, I think that the process itself is my true love, rather than any individual instrument… the way that music flows through if you open the right doors. I certainly get the same sense of freedom and abandonment when that mysterious energy takes over, whether I’m playing piano, dulcimer, or an old dustbin lid!

Me: Set the stage for me of what it looks like when you’re composing music. Are you sitting in a room by yourself with a pen and paper? Are you fooling around on your piano? Walking in the woods? Listening to an album?

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He: I’m in my studio. I have a wonderful old converted barn with views over Dartmoor, a wilderness region in the South West of England. Its full of instruments, my Bechstein grand piano, dulcimer, lots of drums and percussion, piano accordion, harmonium, oud (arabic lute), as well as all the techie stuff you need to record with.

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Usually, pieces start as improvisations on the piano. The most productive time is when I have just come in from a walk on the moors. Dartmoor has quite a varied topography; there are high bleak moors, deep wooded valleys, and rushing, pure rivers strewn with granite boulders. There is an elemental energy in the landscape that seems to translate directly into musical energy as soon as I sit down. Often, the very first thing I play contains the basic idea for a piece. I need to repeat it quickly and write it down, or record it, or I’m likely to lose it in the ongoing flow of ideas. It almost seems as if I’m taking or absorbing that wilderness energy, turning it round, and sending it back to people who live in cities so that they can at least taste a little of it through the music. I remember when I was writing the first track, mudra mix, looking out of the window across the hills, with one hand over the dulcimer, and the other over the recording button, being filled with a huge sense of fulfilment and gratitude – I suddenly realised that after so many years of working and aiming for a goal of creativity and musicianship, here I was…. in this beautiful place, letting this beautiful music come through, actually doing what I had always imagined I wanted to do.

To be continued…

To go to part three, click here.

To order the album Inbetween and Passing by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to  http://www.cdbaby.com.

In the UK, click here.  

Photos: © Dhevdhas Nair

Top photo: Dhevdhas Nair with a santoor

Second photo: View from Eaglehurst in Dartmoor, in the UK

Third photo: An ancient tree

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By Elizabeth Doyle

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html)

His music isn’t quite describable, but I would say that it’s a mixture of thoughts, translated into notes that are trickled over an emotional baseline expressed in a musical background.

It would be easy to say something like he combines classical Indian with African music and American Jazz. But really, he just makes his own music, and different traditions from around the world feed into his musical vocabulary as he goes along. That’s how it seems to me.  And what’s most important about what he does isn’t the tribute he’s paying to a particular style, but the experience he’s trying to give the listener – in that way that each of us has a message that no one else can share.

I got the chance to ask Dhevdhas some questions about his music, to give us a “musical appreciation” course on his work.  And this is what he said:

Me:  I’ve never heard arrangements like yours before. Sometimes, a new melody or a new instrument will enter the music that seems almost like a non-sequitur. And for a moment, I feel like it’s not going to work, and then it does. Do you know what I’m talking about? Is this a conscious decision? Are you intentionally layering “thoughts” on top of moods that don’t instantly seem related?

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He:  I’m aware that I sometimes put different sections up against each other which don’t have an immediate or obvious connection. I don’t stop too long to think about it – it comes out that way, and I tend to go with the order that ideas appear. I trust in the process, which sometimes doesn’t always seem to make sense at the time. I sort of hear in my head what needs to come next, I open to it, and out it comes from my fingers onto the instrument, the piano, dulcimer or percussion, accordion, or whatever.

Me: What are you usually trying to “show” us with your music? Is it something you sense that you can’t describe but want to share? Is it something you know about mentally and emotionally that you’re trying to share in a creative way? What’s driving you to want to communicate with me and everyone else through sound?

He: One of my jobs as a musician is to enable and encourage an experience of celebration, reflection and self exploration, and to accompany an audience on a journey that takes place in the realm of the inner life, but curiously is initiated by a shared external stimulus – organised sound. I suppose all forms of art and expression have this core function, the awakening of each individual to their own inner landscape which is often buried under layers of thought and the noise of our everyday minds. Music does have a way of getting through where language sometimes gets stuck. And there is a mysterious energy in there which, if you’re lucky, sometimes leaps right out into the room and transports everyone, the musicians and the audience into a rich experience.

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Quite early in my career, when I was 18 years old, I was living and working with a band in Khartoum, in the Sudan. It was a great band, the most modern, cool band in Khartoum at the time, playing a blend of American-inspired jazz funk and African dance music. One day we were setting up in the main television studios to do a live broadcast, and while still tuning and getting ready we gradually fell into a completely unrehearsed improvisation, each member joining in until the whole band was playing. And something very strange began to happen. Somehow, I knew exactly what the guitarist was going to play before he played it, so I was able to play the same chords, notes and rhythm with him. It was an uncanny kind of telepathy. I distinctly remember looking down at my hands playing the keyboard and thinking “I’m not doing this, they’re just playing themselves”, and looking up to see that everyone in the band was having the same experience. We were staring at each other with the same bewildered expression on our faces, like…what is going on here? It was exactly as if someone or something was playing through us, and our individual identities disappeared as we blended into one perfect voice. It was the best piece of music we ever did, even though we had no idea what we were playing (and of course it didn’t get recorded!)

To be continued…

To go to part two, click here.

 

To order the album Inbetween and Passing by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to http://www.cdbaby.com.

In the UK, click here.

Top photo: “Photo of a hammered dulcimer, taken in Portland OR by Dvortygirl, 7/17/05” / Wikimedia Commons / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain…”

 

Second photo: Author: Maarten van Beek (wiki@maartenvanbeek.nl) / Wikimedia Commons / “The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the author Maarten van Beek and the website http://www.maartenvanbeek.nl are properly attributed.” / “Jebel Barkal near Karima, Sudan, site of the ancient Kush capital of Napata.” 

Third photo: Author: Herby talk thyme / “Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License” / Wikimedia Commons / “View towards Sharpitor & Leather Tor down the valley of the river Meavy. The river Meavy is in the foregound. The forestry plantation is just above Burrator reservoir.”