MAUI 1997-2002 MAKING MUSIC AROUND OSHO’S MUSICIANS Part 1
1997 the birth of CELTIC RAGAS
I arrive from India in the spring of 1997 at the invitation of Shastro, whom I’d met in the music department at the Osho Commune in Pune. I join eight sannyasins living in two houses on his two acres in Kula, a thousand meters up the dormant volcanic peak of Haleakala. From there we look over the blue-green ocean below, across which the tiny planes fly in across the sugarcane fields to the island’s airport. Our verdant garden is stuffed with flowering plants that grow apparently without need of care; exotic fruit trees that grow tall in a year; bananas hanging in voluptuous bunches over the outlet from the laundry. Above us the mountainsides slope up another two thousand meters into the clouds towards the summit. I soon discover that there are seven of us professional musicians from the world of Osho clustered in the area.
Shastro, recently founder of Malimba Records – and with a couple of New Age CDs recorded already – is the reason I’m here. I’d told him that I was looking for a vocalist for Nature’s Way, an unfinished project of my songs, and he suggested I come to meet Swede Ellika Hansen, with whom he has worked before. He himself has recently begun studying Indian music on the bansuri (bamboo flute) and over these next five years we will have a lot of fun jamming together in various ragas. Plus I have a second project to take part in – help him clear a rugged piece of his land on which to expand the community.
As Chinmaya Dunster, I have released four not very successful albums for a German label called Nightingale and in these Maui years will begin recording with my own equipment, instead of paying for studio time. As well as Nature’s Way, I have a second unreleased project with me: an instrumental I’m calling Behind the Veil, recorded in Hamburg four years previously with guitarist Vidroha Jamie, which we had attempted to distribute ourselves without a label, with the result that we have a loft full of unsold CDs!
Within a couple of days of arrival I meet Karunesh, already at this point an established World Music/New Age artist since the eighties and a major figure on Nightingale. He has been living on Maui since I last met him in Munich six years ago. He will prove to have the most discerning pair of ears I’ve ever met, and be a major support as I struggle with the technicals of MIDI, SEMPTE code etc.
Anugama, also on Nightingale, made music in the ‘70s Poona One incarnation of the Osho Commune with Chaitanya Hari Deuter and Kitaro and was an early exponent of New Age music. A multi-instrumentalist and collector of all kinds of musical gear, his house down the road will turn out to be a point of pilgrimage for me whenever I need equipment explained or loaned.
Govi, likewise made a name for himself in Poona One, and by the time of my arrival had become a successful solo guitar artist with numerous CDs to his credit. His sitar playing was the mainstay of weekly live music at Osho Satsangs on Maui, at which he welcomed my sarod and Indian classical experience. Before I leave he will gift me a lovely Ovation guitar that has stayed in use with me for a quarter of a century now.
Ariel Kalma was an experimental composer associated with Terry Riley in the ‘70s. I meet him playing sax and flute in the Osho Satsang gatherings we hold every Sunday in the nearby hip town of Makawau not long before he leaves the island for Australia.
Pianist Nadama will come to live in the house in 1999 and help to build up a catalog for the newly formed Malimba with a collection of tasty duets with Shastro plus solo piano projects. Like me he is an insecure novice with the technicals, needing a lot of help from the above professionals.
One of the reasons for my trip here is the promise of a singer who may be the right person to re-sing Nature’s Way. After disaster and tears trying to record with my ex in Hamburg two years ago, it’s a sensitive subject and the songs have been sitting on my shelf and preying on my mind. On the first day in Shastro’s recording studio Ellika does a quick and professional job on the first and would be keen to go on. Now we wait while she ponders money, a subject I’m insecure about as everything is SO expensive here. I’ve got no prospect of earning anything and am depending on Nightingale agreeing to take ‘Behind the Veil’ and to pay me an advance on royalties.
I play ‘Behind the Veil’ in Shastro’s kitchen. Suddenly his flatmate Niranjan comments: “It sounds like a kind of Celtic Ragas”. Do I have a new title for it? Yes!
In these three months Shastro and I manage to hand clear, with machete and chainsaw, a swathe through half an acre of fallen wattle trees and then hire a backhoe and driver to pile the debris onto the lower boundary. On the resultant lunar landscape of mud we start a landscaping project.
Meanwhile we’re recording Ellika as she makes her way through nine songs. Often I sit by the mixing board in tears, so touched by the songs and by her as she struggles with her ME and aches and pains. Now I’m spending time around all these musicians who’ve been in the business far longer than I, feedback starts coming in. I’m forced to re-record my guitars on three tracks.
Next I need to come up with a cover idea and text for ‘Celtic Ragas’ and then translate the text into German so I can pitch it properly to Nightingale. By the end of July a package goes off to them with my fervent hopes.
I’ve also found time to mix a 15 min demo on DAT with three of my newly-sung songs (including Now Summer’s Here Again which I sang myself). Despite delighted reception over dinner at the house one night I have no clue what to do with it. Neither Real Music (Govi’s Californian label) nor a contact of Karunesh’s in Germany know who to recommend to pass it on to. In desperation I put 4 songs up for the ‘John Lennon Songwriting Contest’ (spoiler alert: I do not win!). And ask my sister for a loan.
Sitting in the field beside our land and looking out to the eroded, jungle –clad volcano of the West Maui Mountains (one of the rainiest places on Earth) a new song ‘Be My Lover in Disguise’ comes to me.
I perform an Indian music evening in Maui’s cultural center with Govi and Samajo, a Japanese fellow-sarodist and my guru bhai (meaning we both study under the same teacher in Pune).
Nightingale turns down Celtic Ragas.
For a few days I’m depressed. But I have a last hope: six years previously I had recorded two CDs with the band Terra Incognita for New Earth Records in Munich. For various reasons that relationship had ended and they had expressed no interest when I told them about Behind the Veil. So now I send off a demo with a friend who is visiting Munich. On 23rd September I hear she had delivered it into the hands of New Earth founders Bhikkhu and Waduda the day before and they had listened immediately. Seems they badly needed a Celtic title to catch the current Riverdance-driven Celtic wave. They called and are giving me 2000 bucks advance. YES!
Nature starts to heal the stripped bare land, much of its activity in the form of unwanted weeds of castor and fresh wattle seedlings. Weeding parties are a way to get a bunch of friends together to contribute and eat pizza afterwards. Hammer in hand again, I am feeling muscled, suntanned and strong as Shastro and I start framing for a cement floor for the hot tub we have been donated. We snake a path of multicoloured concrete through the land to end in a circle at the entrance, where I pile up scattered rocks into an impromptu sculpture.
Playing Celtic Ragas to Karunesh and Shastro gives me a jolt: their perspective is that four of the tracks are just not up to the mark and will need to be replaced. They’re right. In a frenzy and inspired by Cretan lyra player Ross Daly, I cook up a slip jig in 9/8 time. While we are recording in Shastros studio, Don Lax (a violinist I will use on several other pieces in the next years) phones by chance and we invite him over right away. Fortunately I also have the melody lines of another track already recorded on sarod. ‘Edge of the Known World’ only needs me to replay the guitars and add bass in the form of another local musician, while Shastro adds flute and percussion for me.
A surprise $1000 comes my way from fellow Nightingale artist Sangit Om in Germany, who offers to take one of my newly sung songs ‘Freedom Free’ for a ‘Women of Power’ compilation CD on a sub-label he is launching for EMI. Finally a yes! Now I record ‘ Lover in Disguise’ to replace it. Plus for the first time I am asked to contribute to someone else’s project and add sarod on a piece for Shastro (it will appear the following year on his CD Tantric Heart). As I look back over these six months it starts to feel like Maui’s volcano goddess Pele is guiding my career as a professional recording artist in all sorts of unexpected directions!
Two highlights from the many wonderful places I was shown in Maui that year:
21st July, Guru Purnima night: a group of us walk Haleakala’s volcanic crater beneath Jupiter conjunct the moon in a luminous sky. Long silent hours trudging the switchback trail down from the summit carpark; the strange liquid cries of nene, indigenous Hawaiian geese, echoing from the massive cumulus rockface walls milky in the moonlight. Laughing with Shastro, like an alien as he shines his torch up into his face from beneath his plastic poncho. Half an hour of darkness meditation sitting underground in a lava tube, which we enter at one end and then emerge from half a kilometer away. The night is freezing and the cabin we have booked is full of snoring people and feels too claustrophobic, so I settle my sleeping bag outside and barely get a wink of sleep.
Nigama takes me swimming at the tourist resort of Kihei to meet his turtle friend. We head out from the crowded beach until he triangulates the right spot. We dive down and sure enough, as soon as she sees him, up she swims from the bottom and lets us rub her shell before swimming off.
Flight at 12.50am. So I check in at 10am. Duur! I miss my NZ flight from Honolulu by nine hours, So back up to Kula for a second impromptu farewell party.