Celtic Harp Meets Indian Sitar & Plodding Elephants

Deobrat Mishra & David Michael

Himalayan Crossroad (peaceful melodies featuring sitar and Celtic Harp) (Purnima Productions & Kind Music)

There have been many reports cited about the healing elements of sitar and Celtic harp. Sitar player (from Benares), Deobrat Mishra and Washington State based multi-instrumentalist David Michael (Celtic harp and zither), put indirectly or directly musical therapy theories to the test on their recording, "Himalayan Crossroads." The exotic sound of the sitar resonates with the misty atmosphere of the Celtic harp and a listener could easily place themselves in a Celtic country or roaming near the Ganges in India.

The first track, "Fingers of Dawn" acts as an unfolding Alap where the harp and the sitar get to know one another and familiarize themselves with this unusual terrain. A micro-tonal instrument from an eastern tradition melds with instruments hailing from the west where the eight note scale (7 actual notes), rules. With so many fusion projects between eastern and western musicians around, it is too easy to take this recording for granted. But we must remember that it is the genius of the composers and a lot of mind bending that creates wholeness from two separate entities.

Not that listeners will lose themselves in such analytical thought while absorbing the heavenly tones that soar off of Himalayan Crossroad. The meditative music on this disc speaks more to the heart than to the brain. The waves of the harp and the edges of the sitar notes, wash over listeners bringing a much needed respite. The musicians describe it on the cover of their CD as, "The elements of North Indian classical music, intertwined with gentle lyrical qualities and Western chordal arrangements, offers an oasis of blissful sound…"

The second track, "Forest Path" gains more traction allowing each instrument fuller expression, although the pace is still that of a meditative Alap. The pace picks up and mirrors the Jor section of a raga. The third track, "Walk of the Elephants," composed by Deobrat, introduces tabla player, Marco Zonka, the third musician of this trio, and the person who conceived the project. In a way, Marco is the linchpin since he has collaborated with both Deobrat and David on past projects and tours (in North America), with the father and son sitar duo, Pandit Shivnath and Deobrat Mishra.

So now we hear the plodding of the elephants feet. Perhaps this is suppose to be a happy moment, but when I think of elephants, these ancient and wise creatures on the verge of extinction, I cannot help but feel melancholic. In this composition though the elephants appear gentle and slow moving as they wind their way to a destination only known by them. The music does not rush along, and the drum beats which mirror the elephants heavy footsteps, plod along with the sitar and harp representing other elements such as a breeze or a flowing stream. It is soothing in that regard.

Track 4, "Veil Dancer," also composed by Deobrat is the longest track on the CD, running at 20 minutes and 45 seconds. The beginning sets a meditative mood then Marco’s tabla beats unite with the twang of the sitar and shimmering chords of a zither or harp. I can see any of the music on this disc used for meditation, yoga or as healthy background music and a healing arts clinic. I think this music would do well in a hospital setting too because it would relax patients. (The irony of hospital is that it cannot be healing with so much stress and electromagnetic energy, not to mention grief felt by loved ones).

And the beauty of bringing instruments from different parts of the world together is that it allows minds to imagine these beautiful places. It allows the mind to wander to happier thoughts while feeling musical vibrations from other cultures or traditions. A relaxed mind is more likely to create solutions to problems rather than obsess and react to problems in ways that bring more discomfort. Therefore listening to music, such as that which appears on Himalayan Crossroad, can only benefit the listener.

The title track possesses the strongest melodic elements on this recording. The sitar takes on a vocal quality, while the harp sings backup harmony and the tabla keeps gentle time. This is also the most joyful track on the recording, uplifting and gleefulness.

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Patricia Herlevi host the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience and the radio show, Global Heartthrob (ksvr.org).