YOGA ON SACRED GROUND Chinmaya’s most popular album, re-release 2018
Yoga On Sacred Ground is a cornucopia of stories, both musical and human. First released in 2001 on New Earth Records, it was a pioneer of what has today become the well-populated genre of music for yoga.
I made this CD during 1999-2000, while living between a garden home in Maui, Hawai’i and a room in the Osho Meditation Resort, Pune, India, where I was co-ordinator of the Music Department. Here I am at my Roland 8-track in the kitchen that Shastro and I built on his land on the slopes of Mount Pele. He features on Track 5 ‘The Watcher’, his smooth bamboo flute playing gracefully floating above the edgy accordion, played by my bazanak, Zaheer. Bazanak is a Turkish word, meaning that we are married to two sisters. His Middle Eastern approach to the Indian scale I chose for this piece makes for a distinctive East-West fusion.
While this reflection on the CD will mostly focus on the people involved (without whom it would be but a pale shadow of itself) I must at this stage introduce one non-human character: the Yamaha QY70, a tiny but mighty aid to composing and recording in those pre- software-plugin-free-samples-on-internet days. Both synthesizer and sequencer, it enabled me to make my first experiments with drum loops and electronic effects on ‘Bhakti The Beloved’ a CD of Indian chants released on Shastro’s Malimba Records in 1999.
It was one of these chants, ‘Hari Bol’, a traditional Krishna bhajan, that provided the basis for the extraordinary first track of Yoga On Sacred Ground. ‘Natrani’ (Queen of the `Dance) is perhaps my favourite of all the hundred plus pieces of music I’ve recorded over the past quarter century. The melody and Spanish lute playing on this track are by Gerhard Fankhauser, an Austrian I met on my first trip to Israel in 1999. Gerhard had spent years in India, attending bhajan recitals in temples, hanging out with sadhus and collecting traditional devotional tunes and lyrics.
Removing the vocals left ‘Hari Bol’ the perfect platform for the flute playing of Bikram Singh. Bikram hails from Manipur on the India/Myanmar frontier and has both Hindustani classical and Indian folk music steeped in his bones. I recorded him as a single ‘take’ in my room in Pune, allowing him to range free over the Raga Bhairavi scale. This he did with barely a pause for breath and with a sort of flawless impertinence that puts my struggles with my own instrument to shame. With a few edits to leave some space for wooden sound effects conjured up from the QY70, plus punchy drum loops and Manish Vyas’s marvelously deep-tuned tabla, the track achieved its breathtaking flow from muted entrance to grand finale.
Mention of Manish brings me instantly (and out of order) to Track 3 ‘Breathing Prana’ on which his brilliant tabla playing is so prominent. I recycled this piece from my CD ‘Lands of the Dawn’, which briefly saw the light of day on Nightingale Records in Germany in1996 and disappeared with the collapse of the label soon afterwards. Manish and I recorded the sarod and tabla for this live in a studio in Hamburg on his first trip to the West in 1994. Based, like so much of my music, on traditional raga (in this case Malkauns in Dadra or 6/8 time), this is essentially improvised performance music. Don Lax added his (very Western style) violin in Maui.
Returning to order, Track 2 ‘Gratitude’ features the rich voice of Delhi-based singer Bodhianand, singing in the Hindustani classical ‘taranana’ style, together with some sampled Irish bagpipes. In typical Chinmaya fashion it is also a recycle, an instrumental version of a Norwegian folksong ‘Nu Takk for Alt’ I wrote a new melody and chord structure for on a privately released ‘Nature’s Way’ collection of original songs in 1995.
Track 4 ‘On Sacred Ground’ is a treasure. As Music Dept co-ordinator in Pune I had access to old DAT tapes recorded live at the White Brotherhood meetings in Buddha Hall during the ‘90s. I stumbled upon this one with me playing sarod, Prasad (now famous as the bluesman Harry Manx) on slide guitar and a bassist (Satgyan?) improvising live for fifteen minutes. I transferred it to hard disk recorder, edited out a few minor flaws and stitched it back together again with the addition of some anonymous African mouth harp playing I found on an ancient cassette tape. The spontaneity of this unrehearsed performance captures the spirit of those Buddha Hall music days.
Track 6 ‘Ha Tha (Sun Meets Moon)’ is essentially my solo sarod and guitar playing over a chord pattern I created for another of my unreleased songs ‘All Is Worship’ that used lyrics based on an anonymous tribute to Rumi.
The original album finished with track 7 ‘Purnima Namashkar’, featuring Atmo Sangeet Robertson, the main Osho Resort drummer during much of the ‘90s, on tabla tarang. This rare assembly of differently tuned tablas surrounded Sangeet in my tiny bedroom as he banged out patterns based on the scale of Raga Bhopali. I then added noted Pune sitarist Atul Keskar, improvising in the same raga, some supporting sine wave rhythms from the QY70 and swoops of a swarmandel (Indian autoharp). My partner Naveena plays tanpura.
For the re-release I suggested to Bhiikkhu at New Earth that we add a final bonus track. ‘Shivasana’. This is essentially a piece recorded by Amano Manish, featuring his slide guitar together with Japanese flautist Nityo. I simply edited it and added background string pads plus birdsong I recorded in Sikkhim in the Hilmalayas many years ago.
A last thanks must go to Karunesh on Maui in the early days in which this CD has its roots. For his technical support in the complexities of DAT recorders, MIDI cabling and external synchronization, and for his skills in mixing and mastering which he leant me unstintingly.