Category: Worldsongs


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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.” 

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By Niamh Fodla

 

In the 1960s, a woman named Jane Roberts said that she had come in contact with a spirit or a “personality” who had begun speaking through her.  The words the entity said played a huge role in launching the entire New Age movement.  Not everyone believed.  Some people thought she was pretending. Others were concerned that she may have been contacted by something dark instead of something good.  But whatever the case, the impact was incredible.  Notions like “you create your own reality” were introduced to millions who had never heard them before.  The idea being that on a mystical level, you’re actually subconsciously creating the atmosphere and events around you by making imprints with your thoughts and feelings.  This notion in turn gave birth to loads of New Age religions, each with a different twist on that basic tenant.  That your world isn’t operating independently from you, but that you’re working together with a certain flow of energy to draw and repel people and circumstances.  No matter what you think of that idea, Jane Roberts and “Seth”, the entity, certainly deserve a place in history for inspiring so many religious thinkers.  Here they are, in a very shaky old tape: Click here.


 

Here’s Louise Hay, a famous contemporary thinker who offers a version of some of these same tenants: Click here.

 

 

Whatever you think of these ideas, I do have one suggestion if you decide to relate to them. I’ve noticed it can be hard when you consider the notion that your thoughts are causing things to happen, to resist the next time something bad happens to obsess about how you’ve caused this. But if you worry about that, it’ll actually lead you into a downward spiral that’s the opposite of what this line of thinking advises.  The idea is to send out positive vibrations – not to fret over the possibility that you could be giving out negative vibrations.  So I’d be careful of that!  Only think about how your positive thoughts may be bringing positive things.  Don’t worry about the opposite or you’ll drive yourself crazy.  Just a suggestion!

 

 

You might also find yourself playing the “Don’t think of an elephant” game, where you try so hard not to think about something horrific that you don’t want to have happen that all you do is think about it.  The best way to handle that one, I think, is to say, “I’ve decided that only my good thoughts are gonna manifest – not my bad ones. So it doesn’t matter if I have morbid thoughts. Go ahead.”  And then you stop having them as much – now that they don’t matter.  Again, just a suggestion!

 

Along those lines, here’s a nice piece of music that seems like it would help draw positive things into your life:   Click here.

 

 

Photo: Photographer: Shi Yu / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / The Moon Goddess of Chang’e

 

 

 

 

 

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By Niamh Fodla

 

Some people don’t relate to spirituality. In fact, some of my favorite people do not believe that there’s a spirit world.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  When I sit quietly and “feel”, I experience something that they don’t experience when they do the same thing.  If I didn’t experience it, then I wouldn’t believe either. It’s as simple as that.  And for that reason, I want to put an entry out there for all of the wonderful, compassionate, exciting people in the world who are interested in ideas on healing that don’t require a belief in a spirit world.

 

Here’s a discussion on what positive psychology can do to heal your life that is extremely entertaining. You’re gonna enjoy this!  Its theories are strictly psychological – and this is an exciting new branch of western psychology that focuses on the good in your life instead of the bad.  The lecture ends with practical exercises you can try that may change your life in as quickly as 21 days.  It’s worth a try!  And as I said, I think you’ll have fun watching this:

 

(And of course, if you are a spiritually-oriented person, I think you’ll like it too.  We’ve all met people with strong spirits but crazy or negative minds. And they’re usually kind of a wreck.  It’s good to tend your mind as well as your spirit, I think!)

 

So this may seem a little corny, but let’s pair that great lecture with everyone’s favorite Louis Armstrong song. He’s someone who had a lot of reason to be unhappy if he’d wanted to be. (He grew up poor-beyond-poor without either a father or a mother in the picture – as they had each abandoned the kids in turn. Born in 1901, it was a hard time to grow up African American, too.) But he thrived and was a successful musician, and stepped forward for other people. He wore a Star of David all his adult life in honor of a Jewish family who had always been kind to him. Here he is, practicing ‘positive psychology’, whether he knew it or not!   Click here.

 

Photo: Author: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. / Wikimedia Commons / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_Armstrong_restored.jpg / Louis Armstrong

 

By Elizabeth Doyle

Whirling dervishes, traditional Sufi dancers

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — Some people say that this man, with his six-octave vocal range was the best singer of all time.  Of all time!  I’m not quite ready to go that far, but he is incredible. He was a Pakistani who sang primarily Sufi songs.  Apparently, his family had a 600-year tradition of singing these songs, and Nusrat brought them all to new levels of fame, even recording soundtracks for major motion pictures. Tragically, he only lived to age 48. It was his liver or his heart or something; I’m not quite sure. But he certainly made an impact!  Click here.

 

 

 

Rock formations from Tambori, Mali

Tinariwen – If you liked the Sahara desert music from last week, here’s another band from the region. The Tuareg leader of the band comes from a refugee camp (Homelands of nomadic tribes of the Sahara have frequently been annexed by surrounding Saharan countries, which has resulted in refugee camps.) The band has a large cast of changing members, and they’ve really built their reputation through word of mouth around northern Africa. Many of the young men in the band have been soldiers, and they’ve used music to give a voice to the people of the desert. They’ve gained real international recognition for their exceptional work, they’re becoming surprisingly influential, musically speaking, and they’re definitely worth knowing about. Click here

 

Yanni

Yanni – OK, a lot of people make fun of Yanni. I think it’s the hair. Maybe the moustache. But Yanni is really talented. And Greece has every right to be as proud of him as it is! Back in Greece, Yanni taught himself how to play every instrument he knows, beginning at age six. He began writing his own music as a child. And he had no musical education of any kind. When he began making albums, he didn’t make anything that he had any reason to think would sell well. Instead, he made what he wanted to make. For a while, PBS (Public Broadcasting) was one of the only places you could see or hear his music. But he was so good, that he became famous anyway. He’s put a lot of the world’s music in the spotlight during his concerts, he’s known to be a genuine philanthropist who cares deeply about the plight of nature. In this video, he takes a moment to put the spotlight on a gentleman who can play a 3,000 year old Armenian instrument. Click here.

 

Top photo: diaz /Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. / Whirling dervishes or Darveshes, Rumi Fest 2007.

Second photo:  Timm Guenther (Timm Busshaus) / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Rock formation near Hombori, Mali

Third photo: Public domain press photo / Yanni

 


Imee Ooi

By Elizabeth Doyle

 

Imee Ooi — I like New Age music. It gets a bad reputation when people feel like it’s taking something sacred and making it palatable to people who don’t appreciate its raw form — transforming something important into something that makes lovely white noise.  But it doesn’t have to be thin.  When it’s done well, New Age music can be sacred in its own rite — a merging of ancient chants or hymns with the modern science of enhancing music’s emotional impact. It can be a joining of two powers, a holy intention and a relaxing experience, rather than the watering down of just one power.  But only when it’s done well! Here’s a Malaysian New Age composer, Imee Ooi, who I think does it very well: Click here.

 

 

Mariem Hassan

 

 

Mariem Hassan — Here’s an interesting lady. She was born and raised in the western Sahara desert — one of ten children in a nomadic family. And boy, can she sing! I love it when she does that classic Saharan call-out, with her tongue fluttering like a wing. She’s Sahawari, and has survived annexation and refugee camps, both of which she’s been very outspoken about. Women have played a strong role in her culture, and you can see that confidence and competence when she performs. The language of her songs is Hassaniyya, an Arabic dialect. And she does write them. I’ve really never seen anything quite like her before:   Click here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Kirkyard Stone, Aberlemno, Scotland

Capercaille — Speaking of annexations, this is a very popular Scottish folk band, singing a song about England’s treatment of Scotland. This band has been around since the 1980s, which is quite remarkable, because the popularity of Celtic sounds wouldn’t take off until a bit after that.  I only have one of their albums, and this is my favorite song on it.  What I like about them is not only their instrumental expertise, the singer’s likeable voice, and the fact that they are early pioneers in the genre, but also their liveliness. The fact that they’re singing about something terrible, and yet, instead of feeling weighed down by sluggish intensity, the song feels … very, very alive. It’s interesting! Click here.

 

Top photo: author:Florenus / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain / Composer Imee Ooi

 

Second photo: Author:Carlos Fernandez San Milan / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license / Mariem Hassan

 

Third photo: Original uploader was Xenarachne at en.wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / The Kirkyard Stone, Aberlemno, Angus, Scotland, UK

Kazi Nazrul Islam

By Elizabeth Doyle

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam – He was a Bangladeshi poet who believed strongly in a spiritual revolution against all oppression.  He lived in India, and was often imprisoned there, under British rule for … basically being a nuisance.  But he worked all his life for justice for other people of every race and both genders.  And he was so prolific both as a poet and as a songwriter that people will never run out of his songs to cover. Here is one, sung by Anup Jalota.  Click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf – Many people thought of her as the voice of World War II.  She had a very vagabond childhood, born in France to parents who seemed to have passed her off from one relative to the next, and even left her, according to rumor, to be raised by a brothel for a short time. Her wild street life is what got her involved in the performing arts. And sadly, it’s probably also the reason she didn’t make it to 50.  But she truly became an international superstar, and her unmistakable, vibrating voice was hugely popular among Allied troops fighting Germany during the war.  Sometimes, I have trouble hearing what endeared her so much to people (I’ve spent some time with a few of her albums, though, in hopes of “getting it”!)  But maybe you’ll hear what I can’t quite.  Certainly, her music does transport me back in time:  Click here.

 

 

 

Nina Simone

Nina Simone – This is a classic song that everybody should hear (as performed by Nina Simone) at least once. Nina Simone was an African American who often lived in Barbados, and was inspired early in life by the classical composer J.S. Bach, before using her classical music expertise to create jazz.  Though it’s haunting from the very beginning, you sort of have to get to the very end of the song to appreciate the incredible soul of her voice, and her ingenious use of melody: Click here.

 

 

 

 

Top photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1920

Second photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Edith Piaf in 1951

Third photo: Roland Godefroy / Wikimedia Commons /Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Nina Simone in 1982

By Elizabeth Doyle

Hildegard von Bingen — In the 12th century, there was a Christian mystic in Germany named Hildegard.  She was a nun with the power to heal (she was very good with herbs.) Sent to live in a convent at a very young age, to say she made the most of it is an understatement. She had religious visions all of her life, she was a writer, a scientist, and a musical composer.  She lived in an age when Christianity was very austere, and I feel that influence when I hear her music.  A certain dustiness or confinement. But I also hear her belief in her shinng visions and revelations.  It’s said that there were beams of light over her convent on the day that she died.  She was eventually declared a saint.  And what a miracle it is that after all these centuries, we still have her music!  Here it is:

 

 

 

 

Samingad — This is a Taiwanese artist who’s Puyuma, a member of one of the ethnic groups who lived in Taiwan before many Chinese joined them.  She grew up in a family that spent a lot of time teaching tribal music to children, and a lot of her music celebrates her Puyuma heritage. I love the breezy, angelic feel of her music.  And I could be wrong, but I think this video has a shot of the mysterious monolith that was built long ago by the Puyama people. (I could be mistaken about what I’m seeing, though!) But either, way it’s a gorgeous video: Click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lila Downs –Mexico has been an important hotbed of outstanding music for hundreds of years.  Combining the original music of the area with the fluttering sounds of the Spaniards, Mexican music has really captivated the world. Here’s a Mexican artist I like. Her name is Lila Downs, and her music really captures the ancient earthiness of Mexico’s moist, spiritual, rich history, while also being modern, political and celebrational: Click here.

 

 

 

 

Top photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.” / Hildegard Von Bingen receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary.

Second photo:  Torii Ryūzō / Wikimedia Commons / “This photographic image is considered to be public domain according to article 23 of old copyright law of Japan and article 2 of supplemental provision of copyright law of Japan.”  / The Moon-shape Monolith  by Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō  about 1896 

Third photo: Ivan Hernandez / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. “/ Lila Downs in Toronto Canada. 

By Elizabeth Doyle

Nneka — Nigeria has made some of the most popular music in all of Africa. They have some really excellent recording studios there, and a long history of putting out worldwide hits.  Here’s a modern rising Nigerian star that I like.  Her full name is Nneka Egbuna, and she was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and European mother.  Perhaps slightly influenced by famous Nigerian musicians like Fela Kuti, who helped establish Afrobeat, she also writes and sings songs that seem to be very much just her own thoughts, feelings and inventions. I like the honesty with which she sings. And what a sweet voice!  She’s my pick for the next international Nigerian sensation:  Click here.

D’Gary — You don’t have to be a guitar aficionado to appreciate how talented this guy is!  He hails from Madagascar, where music is as diverse as the people who live there, and he absolutely plays the guitar his very own way.  He even has an idiosyncratic way of tuning it.  He’s a descendent of the nomadic Bara tribe of Madagascar, and according to rumor, took his guitar playing to professional levels in part in order to help support his widowed mother.  I think he’s pretty spectacular. Here he is:

 

 

 

 

 

Mak Minah – Mak Minah Anggong was a traditional Malaysian singer from Kampung Peretak.  She was Temuan, and traditionally, many Temuans  believe that their people were put on this earth to guard the rainforests.  Mak Minah was herself an environmental activist who was very vocal against a damming project that forced many Temuans to leave their forests and ancestral lands. Devoted to the culture and traditions of her ancestors, she was also a heartfelt singer who was just stepping into the spotlight late in life, when sadly, she passed away rather suddenly. We do have some recordings of her singing, though.  Here she is, singing as part of the group, Akar Umbi:  Click here.

Top photo: Andreas Lederer / “Copyleft: This work of art is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it according to terms of the Free Art License.” Nneka in 23 July 2009

Second photo: Tom Turner / “Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License Wikimedia Commons.”  A busy market street in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where D’Gary was born.

Third photo: 10014derek  /  “The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.” / A picture of the view from Mt. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia