McClellan, Robedeaux & Stoner – Prayers for Life – Peyote Songs of the Native American Church (Canyon Records, 2006)
Alessandra Belloni – Tarantata – Dance of the Ancient Spider (Sounds True, 2000)
Shri Anandi Ma – Divine Bliss – Sacred Songs of Devotion from the Heart of India (Sounds True, 1997)
Peter Kater – 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (Silver Wave Records, 2006)
Thich Nhat Hanh & Sister Chan Khong – Drops of Emptiness, with the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village (Sounds True, 1997 & 2003)
“Our survival, our future is very much linked with one another. So therefore the concept of war and destroying your enemy is old fashion… out of date.”–The Dalai Lama
“My heart is cooled by drops of emptiness.”–Thich Nhat Hanh
“Hail Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Pure Light, with maternal enchanted love you nurtured your son in a golden light that you radiate from the sky.”–(text to Ave Mama e Deu from Alessandra Belloni’s Tarantata)
Over the past couple of months I have received an array of healing music CDs. Sometimes we forget that we do not need to be sucked in by the madness in the world. We do have a choice in that we can choose peace or chaos. In fact, we have a choice in how we react to current events in the world or in our personal lives. We can get hotheaded, spout violent words and get caught up in each others’ dramas or we can back off, take a few deep breaths and seek an alternative perspective outside of the collective consciousness–which for the most part, borders on hysteria.
Various healing modalities and lifestyle practices such as yoga and meditation, going for long walks and being in nature certainly can help us to gain a new perspective or see the Bigger Picture of world events. Life often seems craziest when we remove veils of illusions and finally see what has been staring us in the face, not just for years or decades, but for centuries. As long as there have been problems to solve, there has been humanity causing those problems, but you do not need to contribute more problems to the world. You could find inner peace and radiate it outwards and one of the quickest ways to experience tranquility is listening to healing music.
Some types of healing music or what I like to call “power songs” ask us to dance, while others ask us to sit in lotus position and contemplate emptiness. Still other healing music revolves around a spiritual leader such as the Dalai Lama as an example. Members of the Native American Church send their prayers out by inducing the peyote plant and singing peyote songs. While monks and nuns of diverse religious backgrounds, chant, meditate and serve humanity unconditionally. All of these practitioners no matter their background radiate peace into the world and eventually this peace will reach the consciousness of all sentient beings, but for now, you can do your part starting with your participation with healing songs.
Let’s start with a recent recording of peyote songs by the intertribal trio, McClellan, Robedeaux & Stoner. Certainly you will want to be at home in a quiet surrounding to listen to this recording. It’s jarring beats played on a Native American water drum and gourd rattle are not conducive for driving or performing any activity that involves both sides of your brain. Nor do you need to ingest peyote to listen to these songs, nor could you, since harvesting and ingesting peyote is only legal for Native Americans. And besides, you would need to know the philosophy of a peyote meeting in order to gain the powerful peace and compassion that comes from the peyote ceremony.
However, peyote songs lend themselves well for meditation or relaxation. The repetitive beat appears to slow down the thought process and can lead you to deep relaxation. I find that listening to peyote songs reduces my stress level, even if only temporarily. The earth-based spirituality behind peyote songs is certainly worth a mention since some people might feel a closer connection to the earth after listening to this recording. This of course is an added bonus since when we feel connected to the Earth Mother and her creatures, we are less likely to cause destruction and more likely to seek harmonic relationships with these entities.
“Peyote meetings resemble other Native American ceremonies in their nature imagery and cosmic symbolism of fire, water, earth and sky, (the body of the drum is the earth and the diaphragm, the sky). The meetings celebrate the unity of humankind with each other and with the earth on which we live.”
Jeff McClellan, Kyle Robedeaux and Brian Stoner take turns leading the songs. They perform peyote songs from various tribes including, Sac & Fox, Otoe, Ponca, Kiowa and Cree which should give its listeners an idea of how widespread this spiritual practice is, from Oklahoma to Canada, and certainly in the American Southwest. The vocals are hypnotic, bordering on psychedelic and accompanied by an equally psychedelic water drum.
This CD comes with extensive liner notes about the Native American church, peyote songs and biographies of each of the musicians. I find that the musicians honor and respect both the tradition and the planet. And for all the folks reading this article who wish to support indigenous cultures from around the world and earth-based spirituality might want to pick up this CD.
Well, now we are off to southern Italy for a different kind of trance experience, this one is led by the tarantula spider. Italian-American Tarantata vocalist and enchantress, Alessandra Belloni introduces her listeners to a dancing cure from the Apulia region of Italy. Without having to describe this ancient healing tradition to you, I will quote Belloni.
“…it is a wild, erotic dance trance of purification, performed mainly by women, to cure the mythical bite of the tarantula. The original name of the dance is pizzica tarantata. Pizzica literally means, ‘bite’ a reference to ‘love bite,’ that occurs when one’s subconscious mind is filled with repressed desires. The bite of love often begins at puberty and is caused by a repression of erotic desire or an experience of unrequited love, abuse or depression. A woman afflicted by this bite is called tarantata; she is caught in the web, a web of societal repression.”
This tambourine-vocal driven music healed Belloni of irregular bleeding and she was able to avoid surgery. Belloni has also taught the tambourine and dance to mental patients. Her dedication to the tradition is immense, with several productions and recordings already under her belt.
Dance of the Ancient Spider features traditional musicians, but ones that come from varying cultures so in essence Belloni has expanded the tradition to reach a global audience. She also includes songs from the Black Madonna cult, (which might have a connection to Mary Magdalene) and songs dedicated to the Brazilian deity, Yemanja.
This sensual and passionate recording offers its healing through dance and is perfect for women who cannot sit still for a meditation. The music here is gorgeous, wonderfully arranged with the power to heal sexual and other types of repression that affects women, but men can enjoy this music too and support their women friends, partners and colleagues through the healing process. Traditionally this healing dance is performed during the Summer Solstice, but this recording sends out healing vibrations for the entire year.
Indian living saint-singer Shri Anandi Ma also offers chants, in this case, devotional dhuns and bhajans to bring us closer to the Divine or God. At the age of 13, Shri Anandi Ma lost herself in the love of the Divine Mother. She spent her youth studying with Shri Dhyanyogiji, a yoga and meditation master who was nearly 100 years old at the time. He helped the singer-saint navigate through a sea of overwhelming spiritual energy.
On Divine Bliss Shri Anandi offers 8 devotional chants, performed on tambur, harmonium, bells and the traditional dholak drum. Her vocals sail upward while washing her listeners with compassion and love. The music on the recording lends itself well for meditation and dance.
To give an understanding of the purpose of this sacred music, I will quote a story from the liner notes. “There is a story from India about a doll made of salt who went in search of God. When it dove into the ocean, dissolving completely, its quest was fulfilled.” (liner notes) You can easily lose yourself in these sacred chants too. Shri Anandi Ma’s musical and spiritual gifts are greatly appreciated by me and I hope some of you also discover these gifts.
If you had only 10 questions for the Dalai Lama what would you ask? 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama is the title of a new documentary by Rick Ray. The release of the documentary coincides with the release of the soundtrack composed by Peter Kater and the Dalai Lama’s North American tour. If that isn’t enough to awaken your compassionate heart, then perhaps the list of musicians appearing on the soundtrack might entice you. The list includes Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, cellist David Darling, chanting performed by Tulku Orgyen, the reincarnation of Togden Kunzang Longdrol Rinpoche and other musicians.
The overall work is peaceful, yet melancholic with some soaring flute adding warmth to the glacial keyboard. The music would work well for meditation or as background music while working in an environment where concentration is necessary. While I am not usually drawn to new age music of this type, this particular recording has proven its worth since it arrived in my mailbox. Listening to it acts as a short cut to dissolving anger, resentment and frustration. Expect a warm feeling to spread in your heart when you listen to this soundtrack.
The Dalai Lama is quoted on the CD, “I do believe that all major world religious traditions have the same potential to create harmony, to create peace of mind.” And those of us who choose our own unique spiritual path outside of the realm of major religions, but practice tolerance to those who choose religious paths, can also bring us into the realm of peace. Some of us find God and Oneness through singing, dancing or simply being in nature. But it certainly helps all of us to hear the compassionate words of the Dalai Lama. This recording acts as a tribute to a great Peacemaker of our time and anyone can benefit from love and compassion presented here.
(And speaking of Peacemakers), I believe that Drops of Emptiness was originally released in 1997 and re-released in 2003. The Vietnamese Zen monk, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh needs little introduction in spiritual communities or among peacemakers. This recording hails from the Plum Village Monastery located in Southern France and founded by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982. While this recording must be warmly welcomed by those folks practicing Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism due to its messages of mindfulness, others seeking peace in their lives can also appreciate this collection of chants, songs and poetry performed by Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, the monks and nuns of Plum Village.
Drops of Emptiness combines a solitary soul’s journey as well as, poetry that resembles the passion of Rumi. The poem entitled Spring which was written by Tinh Thuy and sung by Brother Phap Niem offers the sensual experience that I long for. “You have come darling, the clouds are gone. The wind is silent. The sun appears and the trees are green… You have come like the breeze caressing the leaves…” Other poems that also reflect this stark beauty include, Illusions Transformed, The Virtuous Man and The Moon Never Sets. I realize that the poems here speak in Buddhist metaphors, but the poetry can be interpreted to fit into any spiritual practice that honors the earth and all sentient beings.
With 14 relaxing tracks straight from a Buddhist monastery, Drops of Emptiness lends itself to meditation and pure relaxation after another day of trying to save the earth or bring peace to all living creatures. So kick back, let go of your thoughts, your ambitions and surrender to emptiness of all things. Or you can follow along by reading the extensive and attractive liner notes which includes both Vietnamese and English text.
This ends our musical healing journey. There are numerous roads to healing and many musical avenues that lead to peace. My goal for this article was to only introduce you to a handful of power song recordings from different cultures. Even though we might not have any control over world events, we still have a choice in how we react to events. We can spin about creating more madness that radiates out to the world in the form of hysteria and drama or we can find our center through music, meditation, dance, yoga, and other spiritual practices.
It doesn’t matter so much which avenue you choose only that you become as the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh states, “peace.” Gandhi once spoke similar words, “you must become the change you want to see in the world.” No one, but you can do that for yourself. Become conscious of your words, your actions and how you spend each moment. Spend each moment as it were your last one, your last breath and think to yourself, is this the legacy you wish to leave behind? What if the words you just spoke were your last ones? I will leave you with that thought and a collection of recordings to explore in the near future.
It is as our mothers once warned us, “watch your mouth.” But also become conscious of your place in the world and the legacy you will leave behind. Choose wisely, choose peace.
Compliments of Cranky Crow Whole Music. Some of this text originally appeared on Cranky Crow Whole Music Meditation Room.
Please visit CCWM where you will find an article dedicated to the Native American Church and its songs as well as, a variety of healing music or power songs.
Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.