‘TERRA INCOGNITA’ My first CD recording, 1990 Munich.
2020 marks the thirtieth anniversary of my first-ever CD: Terra Incognita – ‘No Goal But the Path’. Here are extracts from my diaries of the time.
As background I should explain that with my German partner Rasamaya, I had flown into Munich in early spring 1990, having left Pune shortly after Osho left his body in January, and briefly tried – and rejected- Australia as a place to live.
Fri 4th May
Here in Germany, everything has to start from zero. Apart from passing through on the hippy trail back in ’75 I’ve never spent any time in Europe. My ignorance of German is so comprehensive that Rasa has to correct me as we pass the signs saying ‘Ausfarht’ on the autobahn. I’ve been assuming they must be signposts to a vast city of that name that we are circling. Driving involves negotiating around rickety Trabants, full of excited East Germans enjoying their new-found freedom after the fall of the Wall.
For the first weeks I’m walking around with no money in my pocket, carefully buying the cheapest food. We quickly learn that almost none of the ‘precious’ stones we invested our money on in Australia will sell. I’m pointed to the only Indian restaurant in town interested in live music and soon face typical Indian delays in firming up a deal. How desperately I could use the sixty Deutschemarks that I’m told they pay!
I may not have much in my pocket, but in my heart I’m carrying some of the juiciest music I’ve ever heard – live from Buddha Hall, Osho Commune, Pune.
How to get a job in the face of German bureaucracy? I can’t get a Gewerbe ‘til I have an Auftenhalterlaubnis, which I can’t get until my tax is settled with the Finanzamt, which can’t be done until I have Versicherung…
Once I sort out all this paperwork I start a new job for the first time in eight years, an employee at a sannyasin-owned business earning fifteen Marks an hour making tofu and cleaning. It’s a five am start after a bike ride across the city and hard grind, but at least I can get by with English there.
And it’s not all bad. Rasa gets an office job and we find a nice flat near the River Isar. And shortly after our arrival, Osho’s physician comes from Pune to give a talk at Munich’s packed Osho Tao Meditation Center. Followed by a big music festival to which I am welcomed as if this was the Commune itself. Turns out that many of my fellow musicians from Pune are choosing Munich to live and Sunday morning live music meditations at Tao host vocalist Neera, kora player Ravi, multi-instrumentalists Prem Joshua and Amareesh, guitarist Vidroha Jamie, singer-songwriter Bindu plus local sannyasin musos. A bonus is the appearance of Bhikkhu and Waduda, setting up Tao Music (today New Earth Records) here.
Best news last: they have offered Joshua, Ravi and me a recording contract!
Mon 29th May
Making tofu spreads, packaging algen/pilzen smoked tofu, driving the okara (waste) to the local pig farm. Today as I arrived they split a dead pig in half in front of my queasy eyes.
So what am I carrying in my heart? The answer is ringing in my ears as I work: fragments of melodies created ‘on the hop’ before a performance; shimmering guitar chords picked out behind my sarod in a quiet jam with a friend in Nullah Park; world-eclectic grooves played by percussionists from every continent in Budhha Hall.
And out of this tapestry a few themes recur again and again: my first ever ‘gat’ (or composition) in a raga (it was Shivranjani) that mysteriously popped out of me five years ago, a mere year after I’d had my first lesson on sarod in London; highlights from a sequence of improvisations tossed out casually mid-raga by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan – each one a gem in itself, but for the master mere baubles decorating the majestic unfolding of the raga; a melody that appeared while playing for a live sufi-whirling event in Pune. All are elements that I plan to present to my fellows as ideas to work on.
We have been given a big room in a house outside the city to record in and I’ve taken a week off from the smell of boiling soybeans. The three of us are joined by Neera on vocals, Pramada on cello and Babu Alam, a Bengali tabla player. Pragit has flown over from London to do the sound engineering. Like me, the others too have brought a few musical ingredients to toss into a pot and we begin by presenting these and sorting out what we can collectively cook with. By the second day we are each ensconced behind a pile of mattresses to stop our sound bleeding from one microphone into another and are preparing to record live. This will turn out to mean endless retakes, as a tiny mistake from any one of us means starting the recording again from the beginning, (Reel to reel tape recording – real history in today’s computer age!)
We begin with a track based on Joshua’s and my mutual love for the half major-half minor musical scale used in Raga ‘Charukeshi’. We’d worked together on this back in Pune, knee to knee, with me on sarod and Joshua swapping between sitar, sax and bamboo flute, exchanging lines, inspiring each other to find a complement. Now at the moment of recording we have Babu to keep us tight in time while the rest of the band simply add whatever they feel, or not. (Charukeshi didn’t make it on to the Terra Incognita album and ended up unreleased).
Our second day is dedicated to Ravi’s kora-based ‘Bap du Bap’. Deceptively simple, the theme that emerges from his fingers on those African gut stings calls for nothing more dominating than nuance in response. Less-is-more is often the best tip when faced with something difficult and unfamiliar (we are continents from away my comfort territory of Hindustani Classical here). So I sit back and let the others do most of the embellishments.
On the third day I suggest we try a seven beat. My basic idea recalls Amjad Ali Khan’s ‘Zilla Kafi’, which I’d heard him play in London years before. We’re all fired up by the fun of being seven (including Pragit), playing in seven and discovering at the end of our best take that it’s seven minutes long. (I will discard almost half of it during final mixdown later in the summer when it suddenly becomes clear when a statement is made and finished with).
The fourth day is a long one, with endless retakes of ‘Shepherd’s Dream’, loosely based on some half-remembered lines from my favourite Indian classical record – ‘Mishra Mand’ on Ali Akbar Khan’s ‘Morning and Evening Ragas’ LP. My short improvisation midway through is a major challenge – I’m being overambitious. But the piece turns out be perhaps the best balanced from the whole week’s recording, with lovely contributions from each of us.
The fifth day is hard work on Joshua’s moody ‘Darshan’ and the sixth we spend with Pramada, putting his ‘Oriental Expression’ ballad into overdrive. We are all tired by the rainy final day, Babu and I whiling away the morning playing fast gats in Raga Bhairagi, which everyone enjoys but don’t record well because of my many mistakes. Josh and I sit uninspired, fooling around in the minor scale Raga Darbari: “I just can’t hear it anymore. Too depressing”. “Yeah perhaps we should create something cheerful?” So ‘Himalayan Celebration’ is born out of a composition from Villayat Khan I remembered from years ago. One take and done. Seven of us celebrate the end of the recording with clapping, cheers, bells and cymbals, all captured on tape. TERRA INCOGNITA, ‘the unknown land’ has been initiated.
Wed 27th June
The Isar south of Munchen, steep-sided, thickly-wooded on crumbling glacial boulder clay, the shallow river racing over coloured pebbles from deep in the Alps. I walk through pine forest to the ridge above it and plunge down vertically into the willows and bog at the bottom. Not a soul in any direction, I could be in wildest Canada. Suddenly a raft full of beer-swilling Bavarians careens downstream, an um-pa-pa band onboard playing ‘Oh When the Saints’.
Jamie and I have had a couple of sessions in the forest high above the riverbanks, weaving textures out of guitar and sarod. Two promising pieces emerge, one of them a melody he remembers me coming up with at a live music dancing meditation in Buddha Hall a year before. (I’m glad he was able to remind me of it for although we don’t record it this time, almost a decade later it will be released as ‘Chance Meeting’ – Paul McCartney’s favourite – on our CD ‘Celtic Ragas’!)
Rasa and I walking off the days tension after work; barley in the field up the road smelling dusty sweet, swan and signets on the lake. The rent needs paying as well as our credit card debts. “What’s the meaning?” she screams, breaking something in the kitchen. “What does Existence want from us?”
Rasa and I serene at home in our flat this evening. Suddenly there is an explosion of noise from the direction of the city, and then a cacophony of car horns on the quiet streets of our neighbourhood. We check the TV news for the World Cup result and.Germany 1 Argentina 0 explains it!
ENGLAND 18-21st July
Joshua, Neera and I, together with Karunesh (another well-established sannyasin musician based in Munich, though shortly to leave to live in Hawai’i) drive for twenty-four hours to reach the annual music festival at Osho Ko Hsuan school in Devon. Southern England is brown like Africa with drought; our van has no air-conditioning. The school is sweltering in the heat and chaotic. We meet with Ravi and Pramada and get time for a proper Terra Incognita practice before going on as the last act and discovering most of our audience has already left for home.
Another 18 hours on the road and we are back in Munich. (As the saying goes, musicians are the only people who will put five hundred bucks worth of gear in the back of a van, drive five hours and come home with fifty).
25th August MUNCHEN
Rasa and I find a hideaway from the heat in the spray from an unvisited waterfall at the foot of the Alps. Behind us the roads are full of traffic searching for relief by lakes and rivers, but we seem to have this place to ourselves.
Terra Incognita get our proper maiden gig as support act for Hariprasad Chaurasia in Munich’s prestigious Gasteig concert hall. Afterwards Hariprasad tells us how much he’s enjoyed listening to the live feed piped into his changing room, and then entertains us over dinner with stories about Osho, who he’d met when they were both young.
A new recording session and over the past few days I record ‘Sarox’ with Joshua (this also ended up unreleased) and watch him and Ravi creating ‘Amazonas Juan’. Jamie and I present his touching `Hamsafar’, while Ravi and Joshua bring ‘Blind Man in the Bazaar’ and ‘NYC Rainy Afternoon’, both of which we axe to half length during mixdown. A final session brings us all together to ramble carefree over a funny little melody ‘Paddy Goes to Poona’. It looks like we have an album!
I’m proud to have come up with the name for our band, the title being an inspiration of Joshua’s. The cassette version was released in the autumn with the rights to reproduce it shared between Tao Music and the Osho Commune in Pune. The CD version followed a year later. It was a modest seller for Tao and deleted from the newly-renamed New Earth Records by the late nineties, but continues to be sold in Pune and piped regularly into the Commune’s Welcome Center. (Link to BUY)
Prem Joshua has gone on to become a world name in East-West fusion, while Ravi has brought his kora playing and multi-instrumentalist skills to numerous musical collaborations in the UK. Pramada, Neera and Pragit have all passed on to the further shores. For myself I feel utterly blessed to have been in the right place at the right time to initiate my thirty years of CD creation with them.