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.
Times are changing. And yet, we still gaze backwards at ancient musical traditions and continue preserving the cultures of our lineages. In British Columbia, Canada, musicians from varying musical and religious traditions share an orchestra and stage. The musicians perform on modern European and traditional instruments from Asia, the Middle East and beyond. We can only wonder the types of non-musical conversations occur as the musicians exchange and share their backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. They are a microcosm of how the world could become.
Recently, the recording, Mystics and Lovers crossed my path. The album featuring the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) and Vancouver’s Laudate Singers (a chamber choir) bridges a large gap between the Islamic and Jewish worldviews via the exploration of ancient music and poetic or prayerful chants. Now, anyone who has listened to “world music” for several years, if not decades, has come across Sufi poetry performed by Iranian musicians and heard Jewish prayer songs and chants. We have heard fusion groups featuring songs from major religions. VICO goes beyond these scenarios in that you will find a Chinese zither player sitting next to a Middle Eastern dulcimer player.
Recently, as part of my new YouTube channel, Whole Music Experience, I interviewed Moshe Denburg who plays an integral role with VICO. In fact, he composed Ani Ma-amin (I Believe) which appears on the recording. It is based on the Jewish faith tradition. However, Denburg spoke of more than his composition or religious upbringing. I’m including the podcast of that appears on the Whole Music Experience channel. You can also find it on the Whole Music Experience blog.
Similar to VICO, I have a mission to unite musicians and musical practitioners (as in music therapists and sound healers, ethnomusicologists and researchers) to join together and usher in peace on the planet. I also have a Go Fund Me campaign to get the ball rolling. You can learn about this on my YouTube channel and blog.
Hailing from Prince Edward Island and the Magdalene Islands (off Quebec’s coast), twin sisters Pastelle and Emmanuelle LeBlanc along with Pascal Miousse, better known as Vishtèn cook up a musical stew of Acadian, Cajun, Quebecois, and Celtic influences that get the feet tapping.
The three muli-instrumentalists perform double, triple, and even quadruple duty on their latest album, Terre Rouge named after the red earth of Canada’s Maritime islands. The album features love songs with surprisingly happy conclusions, as well as, stories about blizzards, comical tales, and homages to the islands. Album release date is July 10, 2015 in the US.
Whole Music Experience: When and how did Vishtèn form? I read that Pascal is from Magdalen Islands and you’re from Prince Edward Island? (Your trio is the second band I’ve heard from PEI–Gadelle was the first).
Pastelle LeBlanc: Emmanuelle (LeBlanc), and I founded Vishtèn in 2000 with a fiddler from PEI. We enjoyed playing music together and decided to apply for a showcase and got accepted. The showcase was presented to many international buyers and was a huge hit! We hadn’t really thought of music as a career but it took off then and we got really busy. We played together for a few years, along with a guitar player, and then the fiddler decided the road life wasn’t for her, so we were in search of a new fiddler.
We met Pascal Miousse through mutual friends and immediately fell in love with his playing. We jammed and hung out one weekend and asked him if he would join the band. As he was finishing up a touring project, he said yes – the timing was perfect. Since then, Vishtèn has had 5 members, and then 4 members, and now a trio for the past 5 years.
There are lots of musical connections between Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Island and both Acadian styles compliment each other very well.
(Yes, Gadelle are friends from the same area as we are from, and Helen was our step-dancing teacher for many years growing up)
WME: It says in the press notes that all three of you are multi-instrumentalists so who plays which instruments? And what were the ages you first began playing traditional music?
Pascal started playing fiddle tunes when he was 4 years old. His father’s a guitar player who accompanies numerous Magdalen Islands fiddlers and he encouraged Pascal to play at an early age. He later picked up the guitar and mandolin.
Emmanuelle and I started step dancing when we were about 5 years old. We started off imitating our mother, a great step dancer, then joined the community dance classes and soon started performing at local events. We both played a bit of piano growing up and learned the fundamentals of accompanying traditional music by listening and watching the musicians that would drop by the house to play a tune.
We come from a community where house parties are common and consider ourselves lucky to have been exposed to so much great traditional music.
Emmanuelle picked up the whistle and bodhran in her late teens and the octave mandolin a few years ago.
I started playing accordion and mandolin around the time the band started, when I was about 20 years old.
WME: Is the track Corandina” the only song from the Magdalen Islands that appears on Terre Rouge? It definitely has stronger roots in Quebecois traditional music and less so with the Celtic strain, especially with the call & response vocals and the rhythms even if the fiddle has Celtic strains.
Pastelle: Yes Corandina is the only song on Terre Rouge that comes from the Magdalen Islands archives. The song wasn’t originally a call and answer song, but we adapted it a few years ago.
WME: How big of an influence is Celtic music with the Acadian folk traditions?
Celtic music has a very strong influence on our islands when it comes to the instrumental pieces (reels, jigs, strathspeys, etc). On PEI, Scottish and Irish settlers brought their music and dancing with them. Since French-speaking Acadians are a very small minority (only 5% of the island’s population still speaks French), we’ve been surrounded by these Celtic traditions for a long time and have learned the repertoire.
The Celtic tunes are often times adapted to more of a French style however – Acadian fiddlers will use a shuffle to create a rhythmic effect instead of Celtic ornaments such as cuts, rolls, etc. When it comes to step dancing, there are also a lot of common steps with the Celtic styles, although only in the Acadian traditions would you see sitting down dancing and foot percussion that accompanies the music. The songs come from our French ancestors – lots of different versions in different Acadian communities and households.
On the Magdalen Islands, they have a strong Celtic influence as well, mostly from Cape Breton. Repertoire were learned by tuning in to radio stations from Antigonish and Cape Breton, where people listened to a lot of Scottish players. Most fiddlers on the Magdalene play a repertoire of traditional pieces from Cape Breton, often times hybrid tunes (example : part A of a Scottish tune, but then a made up part B). We’ve heard from fiddlers that they would learn their pieces from the radio programs, but that sometimes the radio would shut out…the fiddler really wanted to play a new reel at the next dance so if he hadn’t caught a tune in it’s entirety, he would make up the rest which is where the hybrid tune comes from.
The Magdalen Islands are part of the province of Québec, but since they are situated in the Maritimes and in proximity with Cape Breton and PEI, the repertoire is Maritime/Celtic influenced rather than traditional music from mainland Quebec.
WME: Where would we hear the Micmac Indian influences?
Pastelle: The name of our band is a song which is part Mi’kmaq, French & English and represents the strong ties between our cultures (the natives helped the Acadians during the deportation). The song is tinged with Mi’kmaq sounds.
WME: The Cajun song Joe Feraille acts as a departure rhythmically and coming from the US, I’m familiar with Cajun music also realizing that the original Cajuns came from Acadia (though you don’t hear much of the Celtic influence with the Cajun songs I’ve heard). Which genres of traditional music most influence your trio?
Pastelle: Cajun music and Acadian music have definitely had different influences based on the geography and different settlers in the area. What we have in common are the songs, which have traveled and evolved but we find some common repertoire for sure.
Cape Breton, Scottish and Irish traditional music was part of the scenery for all of us growing up in our communities, but we soon were listening to many other types of traditional music which have influenced us a lot, like Cajun music, Québecois, Appalachian, Swedish & music from Brittany.
WME: Final question, how do you go about collecting and researching songs for your repertoire? Do you listen to field recordings, meet with old timer master musicians, or swap songs at folk music festivals? I noticed that you do all the above, but I like hearing it in your own words.
Pastelle: We’ve been doing a lot of research for old Acadian songs since the band started and have a collections of field recordings that we work with. It has truly become a passion for us and as we’ve traveled, we realize the importance of celebrating our roots music as not a lot of people out there are doing it. We’ve spent many hours collecting songs at the archives at Université of Moncton, going through hundreds of songs, we’ve had sessions with our local folklorist/historian, we’ve also met a lot of people who have shared collections with us or have even sang songs to us which we then incorporate into our own style.
In 1983, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai released his debut recording, Changes on Canyon Records beginning a musical journey that spanned over thirty years. On this musical journey R. Carlos collaborated with musicians from various genres ranging from traditional Native American to jazz, world, world beat and even symphonic orchestras. To date, he has released 35 recordings with Canyon Records.
R. Carlos’ 1989 Canyon Records album Trilogy went Platinum (sold over one million copies) and in honor of this achievement, Canyon Records has released a special edition of the solo flute recording: Canyon Trilogy Deluxe Platinum Edition.
In my humble opinion, as a former music journalist, R. Carlos Nakai has single-handedly lifted the profile of indigenous music by taking his flute into a myriad of musical arenas and embracing the world’s traditions via a musical path.
I caught up with R. Carlos by e-mail for this brief interview.
Patricia Herlevi: Congratulations on your Platinum recording. Your first album of Native American flute, Changes was released on Canyon in 1983. What was it like at that time to release a Native American flute recording? Who was your main audience? (I know that in the 1960’s and 1970’s a resurgence of various types of folk and traditional music had taken place…)
R. Carlos Nakai: At the time of my first project, I had shopped around consignment possibilities with all the “border town” Indian jewelry shops in the Four Corners area and none were interested. I then sold them at my booths at fairs and had a few return customers who wanted additional copies. Soon afterward, Canyon Records in Phoenix asked for an interview and my master tape which I supplied and signed a contract almost immediately, in hopes that they would be more successful in marketing my music. The rest is history.
My main audience became almost anyone who had attended my solo concerts and other presentations and that continues today but on an international scale.
PH: Did you expect the response that you received from a new age music audience?
RCN: That was the popular genre of the 80’s and Canyon Records were aware that using the appellation “new age” would befit this contemporary American Indian sound. Basically, it was new and different and had very little culture and tradition attached intentionally. But the resurgence of a newer Indian expression that was inclusive of influences in the surrounding American society was of interest to many others in our diverse multicultural community.
PH: Trilogy was released six years later and then went gold in 1998 and recently earned Platinum status. Is this the first Native American flute album to sell a million+ copies? And who were your main supporters for this album?
RCN: As far as I am aware this is the first and it’s still selling. My main supporters have been anyone who finds their own message purpose in the sounds of the melodies.
PH: Before your friend gifted you with a traditional cedar flute you played jazz trumpet. What were your thoughts at the time of receiving the gift from your friend? As any fateful event, did you resist the flute at first or did you embrace it?
RCN: Curiosity! I soon realized that this instrument would help me to continue my education in the western European discipline of music by applying this science of sound production to the indigenous flutes and also afforded me a methodology for sharing the knowledge I had gleaned in an notational and descriptive language for performance and composition. I continue that work and new discoveries of the breadth of indigenous American music historically and realize that many indigenous world cultures also share similar pre-historic and so-called folk traditions. Today, I embrace collaborative efforts with others and find that the sensibility of wisdom and knowledge for successful survival and their cultural integrity is contained in the aural histories of music world-wide.
PH: Since Trilogy, you have done more with the cedar flute than any other musician with any other instrument. You have performed with symphony orchestras, performed jazz, world beat, and other types of traditional music. Did any of these musical collaborations seem fated? It seems like an organic process as you expanded musically in many exciting directions and reached crossover music audiences.
RCN: Again, I was driven out of curiosity to find out the extended capabilities within the severe limitations of the indigenous flute and other whistles; and, that encourages me to integrate the sound into the contemporary formats of world music.
Women musicians from the West African country, Mali grabbed my attention in 2001 and I’m still enthralled by their personal power and musical talent. In 2002, I received Tama’s recording Espace in the mail featuring the vocals of Mamani Keita sung over warm acoustic guitar, the Malian banjo, ngoni and percussion and I haven’t forgotten Keita’s vocals over the years.
With her solo album, Kanou (World Village), Mamani Keita sings in a traditional voice about contemporary social issues, but mostly she sends an invitation out to women of the world to stand up against violence towards women and children as well as, keeping our world leaders on the same page as the people who voted for them. Keita uses her powerful voice and musical gifts to bring transformation to the world acting as a messenger for all of us.
Please note that this interview has been through three translations and lyrics weren’t included with the CD. Thank you to Mamani Keita for the interview by e-mail, as well as, Pierre-Alain Demessine (manager) and Simone Snaith (World Village) for help with the translations.
Whole Music Exp: After receiving a press release for your new album, Kanou, I remembered a 2002 recording you did with Tama called Espace. The song, Baro from this album was also included in a compilation album called Gifted (Women of the World) released on Narada Records in the US.
Describe your musical journey between the album Espace which you recorded with Toumani Diakite, Bissau Djanuno and Sam Mills and your newest recording, Kanou with Djeli Moussa Kouyate (guitar), Moriba Koita (ngoni) and Madou Kone (percussion). How have you grown as a musical performer?
Mamani Keita: I remember this album with the band Tama. It was their second album and they invited me to participate. Baro is a tribute to a goddess, so it is a song for all women everywhere. I have always placed great hope in collaborations and meetings. It is important to me even when simply sharing the stage. For example, I played with Jeffrey Smith, an American jazz musician, and I shared the stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater. Today I am still working with Eric Legnini, a Belgian jazz musician.
The first passport that opened the door of my career was Electro Bamako, with Marc Minelli and then two albums with Nicolas Reppac. But after all these collaborations I wanted to stand on my own feet. That’s why I did Kanou.
WME: I noticed that both you and Rokia Traore come from the Bambara tribe and tradition and both of you have strong messages in your songs about women, relationships and social messages. Do you find that your songs give you a platform for teaching others how to live in the world more peacefully?
MK: I try to build my song around themes that seem universal to me. I often speak about children and women in the world. Maltreatment of children and the difficulty faced by women affect me because of places I’ve lived where saw all this in my childhood. These are issues that affect me and they’re not specific to Africa. These problems exist throughout the world; in all societies people who are weaker suffer. I have this rebellion inside me that makes me want to sing in order to give voice to the weaker and to give them hope. We need to talk about it, we have to call to mind and make sure everybody knows what’s going on in the world. We especially we have to try to touch the heart of men.
WME: I noticed that the song titled Marimasa on Espace appears again on Kanou but with different spelling Marie Massa. Why did you choose to rerecord this song? What is the message of the song?
MK: I re-recorded Marimasa because there is a strong message in this song. Marimasa mean the Good Lord. He is the one who witnessed everything that happens in the world, good and bad. The idea is simple in this song. One that makes good (deeds) on earth, the Good Lord sees him and is grateful. The one who does bad things, the Good Lord also sees him, and bad people will answer their acts in front of God. It was important to me to include this song in Kanou because of its simple but strong message. I had to re-record it and to give it my own musical color.
WME: I especially enjoyed the warm acoustic song, Anissu and your vocals sound beautiful, clear and strong on this song. It says in the press release that this song is about responsible world leaders. I am wondering what responsible world leaders looks like to a woman musician from Mali. How can we create this responsible leadership in the world from your point of view or the point of view from your song (I don’t have the lyrics for the song).
MK: Anissu is about bad leaders, those who do not do their job well. Ministers and presidents and all politicians must realize that they were elected by the people and that they are not superior to them. They must serve the people. When I wrote Anissu there were problems in Mali. And recently the situation was complicated again. But I am not talking only to politicians. Of course they must be exemplary and do their job better than anyone. I also want to ask people to help politicians. We need everybody to make an effort and especially to be patient. But all this takes time. You can not build if we destroy things when something does not work well. We have to accept democracy, and accept that not everything can change overnight.
WME: I’m pleased to see the voice of international women being heard more these days and I believe it’s important that we all speak and sing our truth. What encouraging words do you have for other women wishing to bring peace and justice to the world?
MK: We must remain strong and not give up. Just because we are women does not mean we can’t do what men do. Women can even do better than men. This includes all women of the world, without exception. We should keep faith, hope and have courage!
The first time I heard Catherine Russell sing was when her 2010 Jazz Village CD, Inside This Heart of Mine arrived at my mailbox. The songs, all thoughtfully chosen blues and jazz classics, delighted me and had my feet tapping while I reviewed the recording. November hit the spot with its warm acoustic guitar, accordion, violin, and Russell’s soulful alto vocals wrapping around each word, like a winter scarf around a neck. The send-ups ‘All Cats Join In,’ ‘We The People’ and ‘Just Because You Can’ also had staying power.
On the follow-up album, Strictly Romancin’, again Russell treated her happy listeners to toe-tapping classics ‘Wake Up’ and Live’ and ‘Satchel Mouth Baby’ as well as, bluesy ballads ‘Under the Spell of the Blues’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me.’ She sang romantic ballads too such as ‘I’m in the Mood for Love.’
Bring it Back, Russell’s latest recording, features a bigger sound with horn arrangements, piano, bass, drums and a Hammond B-3 organ with more blues-jazz ballads, swinging numbers (Ida Cox’ ‘You Got to Swing and Sway’) and a delightful surprise, ‘Lucille,’ penned by Luis Russell (Catherine’s father) for Louis Armstrong, but never recorded until now. She also delivers powerful vocals on songs by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen and others.
The daughter of two jazz legends (Luis Russell and Carline Ray), Russell keeps her parents’ legacy alive and kicking. It was my pleasure to interview Catherine by e-mail.
Whole Music Exp: What was it like growing up in a household with parents esteemed in the jazz world? Did you think or know at an early age that you would pursue a career as a vocalist?
Catherine Russell: Ha ha! That’s actually two questions! Growing up with musical parents was great because there was music in the household all the time. My Dad used to sit at the piano and practice classical music. There were many instruments in the house including a grand piano, Hammond organ, my mother’s electric bass and guitars, and my grandpa’s violin and mandolin. My mother was either going to rhythm & blues recording sessions (which she took me to sometimes), or going to classical choral rehearsals which I also got to attend. They were both into all kinds of music so that’s probably where I get my varied musical taste from.
I had no idea that I would end up being a professional vocalist. I was too shy to want to be the center of attention, but I always had a good ear for music. Actually, I was a professional dancer as a child before I started studying music.
WME: You started out singing backup for pop singer Cyndi Lauper, rock singers David Bowie and Jackson Browne and country singer Rosanne Cash to name a few artists. Were you also performing jazz or blues before venturing into a solo jazz vocalist career? How did you finally take the leap to recording the five albums on Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi?
CR: I love back-up singing and still do. I grew to want a career in music when I discovered it was the only thing I thought I might be good at, and I started singing with different bands in the clubs in New York City. This eventually led to back-up singing on tours and recordings. It’s fun to sing with all these great artists! I was encouraged to make my first album when I returned home from David Bowie’s tour in 2004. I wouldn’t have pursued a solo career, but everything fell into place and I got the support from my manager and Harmonia Mundi to continue making albums.
WME: Your style marries speakeasy jazz to swing, blues and New Orleans jazz. I’m sure there’s more going on that my ears haven’t detected so how would you describe your repertoire? And which style do you find the most pleasurable to explore vocally?
CR: I think you summed it up well. All these styles flow together, so I love them all and I can’t say that I favor one over the other. I just like good songs and music that I feel sounds good. So that, I believe, is the thread.
WME: Bring it Back has a “big” sound with the horn arrangements the piano, bass, drums, and features mostly upbeat numbers. But then you slow it down on songs such as I Cover The Waterfront. Which songs are more challenging to sing, the slow ones oozing emotions or the ones that swing or the blues which you belt out?
CR: I choose songs that challenge me generally, so they all bring different things out of me. They make me use my voice to express whatever the story of the song is. So if it’s slow and romantic, that’s how I feel when I sing it. If it’s up tempo and I feel like dancing, that’s how I express it.
WME: I have noticed with the three albums I’ve heard of yours that you put a lot of thought and exploration into each album’s tracks and on Bring it Back, intriguing stories accompany some of the song choices such as the discovery of your father’s song, “Lucille” which he composed for Louis Armstrong, but was never recorded until now. Do you feel by performing this song that you carry on a legacy?
CR: Definitely! I feel like I went into the “Family Business” so to speak. I’m happy about that because I continue to get to know my parents. The discovery and recording of “Lucille” is just what my Dad would have wanted, because he was a songwriter working on getting his songs heard. And what a great song!
As we explore the ancient roots of traditional and popular music, we can also delve into the healing power and consciousness of our favorite music. In my (currently unpublished) book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit), I delved into both the academic and metaphysical sides of music by wedding ethnomusicology with new age philosophies while including experiential practices at the end of the fourteen chapters. Here is one of my favorite excerpts from the book from Chapter One, Delphi Temples & Pyramids: Healing Music of the Ancients.
Where does human music originate? Were the first humans inspired by frogs chirping in ponds, by the songbirds in trees, from the wind whispering in reeds (which flutes were made), and the hush that appeared after the sun set below the horizon and stars peppered the twilight skies? We do know that early humans played flutes made from bird bones, drums made from wood and animal skins, and stringed instruments (most likely lyres). Nature, sounds, and the cosmos fused together creating a human sonic experience, in which today, we attempt to recreate so we can usher in thousands of years of harmony.
We know that these early humans employed voice and instruments for a variety of purposes from organizing war campaigns to healing their fellow humans to sacred temples, to assisting with various tasks, for reproduction (frenzied music for orgies), and educating children. Since music always possessed a purpose, the potential for music was most likely common knowledge, unlike music is today. While musicians composed and performed music for entertainment, such as with Greek theater and festival games, music often fulfilled a task. Much of the music we enjoy today has roots in sacred music practices, military marches, healing rituals, or preceded modern reporters, shamans, and educators rolled into court musicians.
Today, indigenous people from around the globe still carry on the traditions of their elders. The Sami people (one of the oldest people on earth), of Nordic countries still sing the magical yoik, even if the sorcery element has disappeared in favor of praise songs (for the deceased), or fused to rock music for entertainment; ditto for the ancient Finnish runo-song that finds its roots in the Kalevala Legend, according to the late Ted Andrews in his book Sacred Sounds, was conceived three thousand years ago.
According to a National Geographic News article, “Lord of the Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic,” only one Finnish elder, Jussi Houvinen exists in Finland who understands the powers and intricacies of the epic Kalevala.
When did we lose the magical side and healing consciousness of music? As dominant cultures moved into regions occupied by tribal people, indigenous people often lost connections to their language, rituals, music, and nature-based healing practices due to dominant cultures and religions enforcing new rules that forbid “animistic” practices, often seen as the devil’s work and definitely viewed as uncivilized.
Some cultures such as in Latin America, fused Catholic saints to Yoruba gods (Brazil and Cuba), or lost their spiritual roots completely, but not the rhythms of West Africa (US American slaves whose work songs fostered the birth of gospel, jazz, blues, and early rock music). Is it ironic that musicians from the Black Church (the church of African-Americans), such as Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, and the cosmopolitan band Earth, Wind & Fire gazed backwards to ancient Egypt, West Africa and Latin America for spiritual and musical inspiration? However, ancient Egyptian music with its harps, lutes, rousing drums, and esoteric renderings would have sounded nothing like contemporary African-American music, and gave roots to belly dancing and Coptic Christian music and not American funk.
Court musicians were initiated and trained in the power of words and sound architecture.
The biggest different between today’s pop musicians and celebrated ancient musicians was that the purposes went beyond entertainment, and these musicians possessed an awareness for resonance and rhythmic entrainment. They knew about magic, alchemy, and intent. Contemporary musicians still supply the intent, and instead of alchemy, they provide cathartic music that is often therapeutic given the right circumstances. Musicians have not completely lost the ancient groove.
From Pan’s Flute to Rock Guitar
However, to give you an idea about the evolution of music, we need to also look at the evolution of humanity from pastoralists and hunting gatherers to urban dwellers. While we find wool gathering songs or sea shanties quaint, these songs performed the purpose of energizing workers and sailors of another age. The sung-legends with magical songs educated both adults and children about pre-Christian culture and about alchemy. Shamanic heroes on quests provided listeners with archetypical healing long before Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell arrived on the scene. Hero-worship is not a new thing.
Early Christians had their music too that spread the word of Christ’s teachings and to share “the good news”. Sufis of the Moslem faith employed trance dancing and sacred poetry to connect with the Divine. Jewish, Hindus, and Buddhists as well as animistic religions also included music for worship in temples, for weddings, for meditation, and ceremonial uses. If you listen to modern adaptation of ancient music from these religions, you can feel the sacred lingering in the room, even if you don’t practice any of these religions. Music with intent powerfully impacts our hearts, minds, and souls. As we listen to Persian Sufi poetry set to Iranian classical music, to ragas of India, or Native American sacred chants, or American gospel, we pay homage to a Universal God; we connect with the rainbow of humanity and all creatures.
A Quest for Whole Music
My definition of “whole music” revolves around music that wakes up consciousness through intent, resonance, and entrainment. Whole music comes in many guises from overtone harmonic chants of Tibetan monks, to the power of drum circles, didgeridoo players, to renaissance Christian chants, to the lush vocal harmonies of the Canadian band the Wailin’ Jennys. Whole music appears on street corners, farmers markets, outdoor music festivals, concert halls, temples, and Cathedrals. And in Bellingham, Washington, whole music drifts out of a chocolate and dessert shop on the corner of Cornwall Avenue and Champion.
Sound healers and psychoacoustic experts (they study sound’s effect on the nervous system) promote toning the body with vowel sounds. According to Jonathan Goldman, a sound-healer and proponent of over-toning (singing harmonics overtones to balance the body), musical practices that emphasize vowel sounds including Gregorian chant, Tibetan monk chant, and Indian raga vocals. When the chanter elongates vowel sounds harmonics result. Harmonics exist in all musical vibration, but when used with intent, healing occurs in the mind, body, and spirit.
Goldman quotes Sarmad Brody in his book, Healing Sounds describing the healing effects of Gyuto Monk overtone chants. “If you can be conscious of that fourth overtone you can begin to heal yourself through sound since this brings one’s whole being into tune and raises consciousness to a high pitch. Also, if you can sing very softly and send this sound, while being conscious of this fourth overtone, into an area where energy is blocked or tensed, you can release tension.”
We don’t often hear about overtones, yet, this important aspect of music provides healing frequencies. When we strike a note on a piano, notes above that note resonate, creating overtones. And it is overtones that shape the timbre of an instrument causing the flute to sound different than a piano, and a clarinet to sound different than a trumpet. If you elongate three vowels in a row such “o,” “u,” and “e,” you will hear yourself singing overtones. For most singers this takes practice, but I have developed throat-singing capabilities by using this method.
The ancients from Egypt to India practiced overtone singing and I once heard a story that the Giza Pyramid’s crystal floors once provided a resonating chamber where healers practiced overtone singing on their patients.
While we have forgotten this knowledge as music took the unfortunate journey from purposeful to a product of the entertainment industry, we still have the tools in our self-healing toolkits, including quartz crystals, vocal harmonics (which you could teach yourself in a manner of hours), and shakers which you can make by filling a container with dried beans. You can follow your intuition in combination with reading books by sound healers…
Excerpt from Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit) by Patricia Herlevi, copyright, Patricia Herlevi 2013
Singer-songwriter Brianna Lea Pruett debuts with Gypsy Bells on Canyon Records. Equal parts contemporary folk and bluegrass, Pruett focuses on the personal canvas of young love and friendship. Her well-crafted songs are backed by guitar, lap steel, bass, drums and flute. I’m reminded of Navajo singer-songwriter Sharon Burch’s contemporary folk and the 1970s American folk diva, Laura Nyro, especially on the tracks, ‘New Life’ and ‘Seeds of Love.’ ‘ Marry that Boy’ recalls the old folk standards once sung by Odetta, and Barbara Dane. Michelle Lee’s flute adds a nice touch to the song as it weds the lilting vocals.
Pruett claims Cherokee as one of her nationalities and on the track, ‘Red Jacket’ she appears to addresses her Native American ancestors and tradition. And on ‘Sun on the Mountain,’ she tells a story about an Indian man from South Dakota. Gypsy Bells features catchy folk tunes composed and performed by an exceptional young talent. This debut album is going to turn heads.
Hailing from New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea, the indigenous women vocalists that comprise Barefoot Divas sing in diverse genres ranging from rhythm & blues, flamenco, salsa, contemporary soul, and pop. And usually, an album featuring indigenous women vocalists with powerful voices (and the press release touts 6-part harmony) would entice my ears, but sadly, Walk a Mile in My Shoes sounds more contemporary soul than I prefer.
The lyrics lean towards dramatic struggles, which on a socio-political level I understand (Marvin Gaye once handled darker issues with more finesse), but on a musical level, I don’t wish to be plied with insufferable situations set to entertaining rhythms. If I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I could read the international news or visit websites for human justice. As it is, I shuffle through the CD searching for a song of gratitude, joy, or any good feelings, but I find no respite.
On one hand, I give these ladies credit for speaking their truth in a musical arena, but on the other hand, I’m unable to listen to this CD without feeling depressed (and depression is not a place I wish to visit). Even the prerequisite love songs possess shades of abuse and co-dependence (Never Forget). And yet, in the press notes, these woman vocalists (Ursula Yovich, Emma Donovan, Whirimako Black, Maisey Rika, Merenia and Nagaiire) have experienced extraordinary success in the music business. I guess they carry on a socio-political tradition that hails from places like Africa where musicians report social situations in songs, but at least with African music, we get tribal rhythms, soaring vocals, and uplifting melodies. On Walk a Mile in My Shoes, we get heartbreaking lyrics, sometimes sung with lush harmonies, set to popular music genres.
I would have liked to have heard the 6-part harmonies mentioned in the press release, indigenous melodies and instruments, and a few songs that celebrate life rather than hurling insults at the human condition. True, we can focus on all the wrongs in the world or we could come up with solutions and sing about that.
I suppose if you’re going to celebrate the music of Colombia you would want to travel to the South American country in December since according to the liner notes for Traditional Songs and Dances from Colombia performed by Son de Pueblo, “for several weeks we celebrate the joy of life...” And that joy of life in Colombia includes rousing Afro-Latin musical traditions from the plains, mountains, and the Caribbean flavored with salsa, rumba, and musical genres from throughout Latin America.
Anyone who only knows Colombia through tragic news stories involving drug trafficking or from flavorful coffee beans, needs to delve into traditional Colombian culture whether that is cuisine, traditional music or folkloric dance because this is where you find happy and contented people celebrating their regional offerings and culture heritage. The beauty of the Caribbean countries is the way African, Indigenous and European poetry, rhythms, dances, and melodies come together to create the first world music fusion (long before we even had this genre).
For instance, the folkloric instruments featured in the band Son de Pueblo hail from the Andes (quena, zampoña–flutes), charango (small mandolin instrument with an armadillo shell back), from Mexico–State of Veracruz, (the guitar-like requinto), percussion from both indigenous and African descent, and piano, bass, and guitar from Europe.
As Venezuela includes a variety of lutes and drums in its traditional songs, Colombia provides us with enticing regional polyrhythms, speed, agility, grace, and swooping vocals. In an interview with Marta Topferova for my upcoming book Whole Music, I asked the musician about the fast-playing cuatro music from this region, and she chalked it off to an effect from a coffee culture. However, what I can say is that Colombian music doesn’t need any sugar because in its natural form this music would even get a slug dancing the cumbia.
I feel exhausted (in a good way), just listening to the CD only because I couldn’t help tapping my feet and drumming along on my computer or stopping to clap my hands with the temptation to leave the review for later and just dance. Ah, if only more cities played this music on the streets, no one would have time to plan and scheme against others. But I warn you that on this particular recording you will only hear musicians play rapido and muy rapido. It will literally take your breath away.
The musicians offer us a variety of musical styles with the cumbia, salsa, and rumba standing out as the most familiar genres in the US. Since cumbia (one of the genres that pours into salsa along with Puerto Rican bomba, plena and Cuban son) hails from Colombia, we hear the raw, sizzling version here. Just listen to the delicious La Cumbia Cienaguera, Cumbia en el Arenal and Colombia Tierra Querida and you’ll satisfy your musical hunger. Need some interesting Afro-Latin polyrhythms? This band has you covered there too with regional festival music where flutes mingle with indigenous and African percussion. Some of the rhythms sway while other rhythms knock you off your feet they’re so juicy.
I’ve enjoyed this recording from start to finish with my fingers itching to press the replay button, but some highlights for me are Pájaro Campana with its quick tempo and fluttery flute, the salsa version of Moliendo Cafè, all the cumbias, the vocal harmonies over dense rhythms on El Canalete, Mi Varita and I feel like I’m including every track on this list. I need to learn more about Colombian music and I have barely scratched the surface. But for anyone who enjoys folkloric dance music, get this CD and listen to it often.
Anyone who enjoyed the street musicians in the Playing for Change series will adore Brushy One-String (Andrew Chin) from Jamaica. His opener, “Boom Bam Deng”, off his CD, “Destiny”, one of the most appropriate titles to come along in years, if not decades, uplifts with its lilting beat played on a one-string guitar.
According to the press notes, “When filmmaker Luciano Blotta walked out of a rural Jamaican recording studio, way off the beaten path of tourists and music hounds, he saw something wildly unusual: a man with an instrument. Even more surprising, the instrument in question– a battered but resonant acoustic guitar–had only one string.” Of course, on the recording, a minimalist ensemble on dobro guitar, harmonica, Spanish guitar, thumb piano, cajon and percussion accompany Brushy and his one-string guitar. However, prior to this recording, Brushy kept time on his guitar–pounding on the wood like a drum–a one-man band.
A man with an unusual destiny with enough twists and turns to place him on a musical hero’s path, Brushy writes infectious songs that blend blues, reggae, and African Diaspora (think griot with the morality lessons present in Brushy’s songs). They Are Going Down reminds me of that pop song Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant which hit the airwaves decades ago when I was in college. Listeners won’t walk away without knowing Brushy’s socio-political opinions, but at least the singer delivers these lessons in gruff baritone (from the musical pulpit) with foot-tapping rhythms. He delivers the big sermon on Life is For Every Man.
Tight musical arrangements along with Brushy’s songwriting talent combine in such a way that only the coldest hearts wouldn’t feel moved by this CD. It won’t take a miracle to land this CD at the top of the world music charts, but like with any authentic musician, destiny played a role in bringing this music to our souls. This radio-friendly musician is poised for the same international success that Playing for Change musicians experienced. You gotta love the guy with his one-string guitar who grooves without any drum machines or DJ remixes.
Sample Brushy One-String on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJFM6y2zIn4