Thursday, 30 August 2018

Worlds Apart - The evolution of a song.. and a songwriter..


Suddenly, I am standing still and the international whirlwind that has been my life is distilling into musical expression. I knew it would. I am surprised it took so long. Last February I landed again in Mumbai, where the concept, the creative partner and the material for my next album started to emerge.. I've been working on an album that bridges the musical and cultural gaps that I often find myself in, one that expresses this journey towards wholeness. I suppose I had to first reach some level of understanding and personal alignment before it was possible. I am blessed that Ken Shorley, my long time collaborator joined me in Mumbai and has thrown his heart and brilliant mind into this work with me!

In 2006 I went to Mumbai with my professor Denise Nuttall to learn Indian music. She introduced me to Ustad Sultan Khan who first put a sarangi in my hands. Sabir Khan taught my first lessons and their dedicated musical family inspired me tremendously. What happened there has shaped my last 12 years in the most unexpected ways and has brought me many times to that amazing city. In India I strive for something that I have wanted since childhood, to learn Indian music. In Canada I have worked to deepen my songwriting and to continue my career as a performing musician. Ensembles have come and gone, I got a degree, tours happened.. and my refuge between the worlds has been a quiet room in Amsterdam where my musical mentor Joep Bor has given me space, guidance and perspective on all that was going on. As well as sarangi, Joep has been teaching me raga as it was taught to him by his teacher Dilip Chandra Vedi. It has changed my life and opened my mind.

It was in Amsterdam that I first wrote Worlds Apart. In that song I blended raga and songwriting. It was inspired by the families I grew up in, Afghan and English Canadian, by the cultures that separated us and the love that bonded us. It was also inspired by loving someone in another country regardless of vast misunderstandings, and it was a tribute to a beautiful friend who was killed in a way that defies reason entirely. Our minds separate us, our hearts bind us. I wanted to write it all in a song. I wanted to sing in Indian Raga supported by Western chords, I wrote it in Amsterdam and it was healing for me. I performed it quite a bit..

Here comes the head trip for me though... Now that I am recording this album, I want it to be the best it can possibly be. Studying music in India may sound romantic, but any student of classical music can tell you, it is a mountain of effort.. and you are generally at the bottom of that mountain.. for most, it is a long slow climb. A big part of learning a new language or culture or musical style is forgetting what you know, what you once held as truth. Luckily I have had guides on that level too.. Reading Krishnamurti’s lectures, meditation with Panda Chi, and Mooji satsangs have helped me to stay grounded in what is true, without interpretation, without desire, without manipulation. Music lessons with our beloved teacher Pandit Dhruba Ghosh helped too. He focused on deep listening, the kind that lets you hear not only your own accent, but your own assumptions and conditioning.. all that comes between you and the perfect tone.. sigh.. he is deeply loved and deeply missed.  He led me to a clarity of experience and freedom of expression that is not possible when there is any clutter in the mind. I needed them all, these great teachers of truth, to finally see that my song had not reached its potential. It was full of mental blocks, it was written before I had the skill or understanding to write the song that I wanted to write. I sang it publicly and some loved it, but I was always aware, if I was honest with myself, that the audience was only half with me.

I wanted the album we are making to be called Worlds Apart, because the song means so much to me. But I also felt that the song needed to be reworked. It had a Celtic style guitar and Indian tabla accompaniment, English lyrics and occasionally it broke into raga Alhaiya Bilaval. So Ken and I worked on it, we took out a verse to make it more concise, we shortened the intro, and then took it away entirely, we tried different speeds.. but still I felt something was not right.. so we took a break and walked through the lovely nature trails that surround our little A-frame studio here in Nova Scotia and lead eventually to an organic coffee shop. On that walk I asked Ken for his honest opinion. I told him about the nagging feeling I always had that the song did not land where I wanted it to, that it did not fully express my intentions.. and that I was thinking of cutting it from the album. Then he gave me the honest answer that I needed to hear. Ken first heard the song years ago and since then, has learned it and performed it with me. But he told me that the first time he heard it, he felt the struggle musically, like there was an abrupt change between the Western and the Indian styles. And I realized that yes, when I wrote it, my understanding of Raga was still very basic. I had not yet had the experience of Raga speaking through me, not as a learned series of notes and phrases, but as the teacher itself unveiling its own unique character, separate from the mind of the musician. I was still in a very western box, unable to compose in raga. I simply switched between two styles in one song and called that a blend. I realized in that little walk and honest discussion that in order to save the song from being cut entirely from the album, I had to start it again from the beginning.

In some way, the song has been a companion through this musical journey.. but it got stuck in a moment of time when I was still living two separate lives, East and West, unable to connect them, but so desperately wanting to. I had learned in early childhood to separate my behaviors and even my thought patterns to suit the situation and culture that I found myself in. My desire to write fusion music is connected to my desire for inner unity. I thought this song reflected that, but it was only in its first draft. I had not yet made the journey myself.

Since that conversation on the trail, I started again. I was able to let go of the composition and reconnect with the original intent, and Ken also had to forget his understanding of the song as it was. We cut both the guitar and the tabla. I switched ragas and changed the tune from Alhaiya Bilaval, a raga that corresponds to a Western major scale, to Raga Pilu, a mixed raga which uses a number of magical movements between what the West would call major and minor scales. In Pilu, I could express the sentiment more perfectly and let the whole song be inspired by the raga instead of switching in and out. And Ken made the most amazing accompaniment. He created a drone out of a synth patch, and made a set of electronic loops that use Indian rhythmic patterns, adding to the cultural mix a beautiful blend of past and present.

Now we both love the song again, and it will make it onto the album. Some deeper unity has been realized inside of me as a result of this process. It is a reminder of the danger of calling something finished, or known. As our perspectives develop, we can look at our work and ourselves and make the necessary adjustments to reflect our growth.. instead of sticking with something because that is the way we always did it.

These last twelve years have been a wild ride. Making this album allows me to settle in for a moment and catch up with myself. I am now able to see the Worlds Apart, without being the Worlds Apart. I am grateful for all that has led me here.



Thursday, 12 April 2018

New Video!


This year I am in the process of writing for a new album. The music is international and self reflective, electronic and acoustic, inspired by Indian music studies, a lot of travel, and a constant desire to dance and enjoy life! Other than the dancing part, this video has really nothing to do with the upcoming album! In the midst of preparing for that project with Ken Shorley, we met Rahul D'lima, an extraordinary dancer and teacher based in Mumbai, India. He helped me realize my lifelong dream of being able to tap dance. On the last weekend that we were in Mumbai, we recorded this video. Just days before, I came across this song that I had written in Goa last year and completely forgotten about. Suddenly all the elements were there.. a fabulous tap dancer, Ken's camera and recording set up and a song to suit the occasion! Check it out on Youtube;  Come Dance with me!!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Special moments in Goa



Life continues to be a constant stream of absorbing happenings... There is always so much going on and I tend to be carried off by the currents much of the time. It is this part of my nature that allows for such rich experiences and constant surprises to occur, but sometimes months or years go by without my taking much time for reflection. Writing is a sweet way to catch up. It used to happen mostly through songwriting, but lately my compositions have been more melodic than lyrical, which means that the stories are passing through me without description.. remembered in feelings, expressed through the rise and fall of notes, wordless...

Those who have seen my performances over time, know that my musical and personal journey has been towards unity.. In taking a deeper look at culture, how it forms us, how it divides us, we can come to a place where we can honor and delight in our traditions without being bound by them, or separated by them. My personal experiences seem to be in contrast to the wild world around me though. I continue to learn in India, a place of deep rooted traditions and divisions, to experience the trend towards conservatism in Europe, and to observe the situation in the U.S. as the political climate becomes more fiercely protective of its comparatively new culture.  As a musician and performer from Canada, I have a way of seeing the world, of respecting culture but not identifying too closely with it. How could I? My father is from the East, my mother from the West, and myself, I am constantly between, and I don't need to choose. Both musics flow through me. As the world lately seems to be delving still deeper into politics and division, this position of mine feels more and more like a radical stance. Still, despite the outward influences, I feel a deep inner unity happening...

In Goa, there is an international music scene, this play of people who may or may not understand each other's musical phrasing, language, training or approach, but we share a love for the exploration. The performances are perhaps most powerful for the musicians as we see our assumptions and expectations of each other most clearly in the musical 'failures', which can create chaos and confusion and then lead to places no one could have imagined on their own. The key is to stay with it, to become aware of how each of us lives inside a set of codes, how even in our improvisations, we are bound by forms. Forms that are real inside our own heads, but mean nothing to a player from another tradition. How able are we to let go of the structures we know? The measures, the rhythms, the cycles, the talas the ragas, the words... How willing are we to say yes instead of no? To affirm another voice from another place and co-create the presentation?

From the audiences, there is an openness, as everyone becomes aware that anything can happen. I'm talking about the jams. The embryo stage of what we are calling these days, "fusion music". It takes time to find the center, to develop. It takes deep listening to each other and ourselves. It takes a lightness and a letting go. It can be absolutely magic. When we let go of what we wish would happen, or what we are trying to create, and allow the flow to happen. Allow ourselves to be truly present. Nothing exists outside of this note, this breath, this phrase... This is music. This happens when culture, training, desire and expectation are paused. This happens a lot in Goa. Thank you to all who have shared with me and taught me so much.

Friday, 30 September 2016

ASHK!

 Deep Roots Music Festival in Nova Scotia has just finished and it feels like the season has changed for real now. It was so wonderful to play the festival with my sister Kamila and Ken Shorley.


 This summer has been a special time of playing music with my sisters, enjoying sweet lakes, walks in the woods and watching little children grow up. Somehow slower and more introspective than past summers, still, lots has happened. The most exciting being the formation of a new band, ASHK, with a show that explores all of our collective musical experience. The four of us, Ariana, Kamila, Ken Shorley and myself have all devoted our lives to musical study and performance, and music has taken us around the world and given us so much. In ASHK, we can relive it all and share it!
We did one performance over the summer - and it was an intense experience putting it all together. Vocal harmonies, many instruments and styles, music from around the world in ten different languages...  and we will be back at Denton Hall in Wolfville on October 22nd at 8:00pm. It is wild ride, this show, and I can't wait to be part of it again.






Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A Summer/Fall Update!

The summer has been busy. A new project. Two new little family members. An amazing family wedding. And now, finally after much waiting and creating... A new tour bus!!

After leaving Asia last spring, I landed at the Banff Center in the Rocky Mountains for one of the most intense musical experiences of my life (and that is saying something!). It was a three week residency in Persian and Eastern music with my teacher from Mumbai, Dhruba Ghosh, as well as Yogesh Samsi, Kiya and Zia Tabassian, Didem Basar, and Charbel Rouhana. I learned so much in a short time and I would have loved a year off to process!  But there was more to come...

Immediately after I left Banff, Ken Shorley and Heidi Kalyani met me in Victoria where we started a tour of the beautiful West Coast with Blue Lotus Trio. We played in the loveliest of spaces, yoga studios, halls, homes and community centers. It was a magical experience touring around the islands of BC and meeting such wonderful people!

Then I was joined by my long time friend, Daunt Lee. We used to hang and play music and build guitars together in Newfoundland when we were just starting out. Now after both of us have spent many years in Asia, (he lived in Japan) we are back in Canada and playing music together! And what a Joy! We toured across Canada, reconnecting with dear friends both old and new, playing in wonderful venues and creating a new show together.

On coming home to Nova Scotia, I taught a course on World Music at Acadia University with Ken Shorley. What a joy to be able to share all of these cultures of music that I have lived and worked in. Indian, Chinese, Persian, Celtic, Latin American. We listened, found connections, learned about culture through music. Another intense three weeks!

Then summer happened, my niece and nephew were born. My sister got married. I swam and jammed and spent time putting a new show together with Daunt as well as launching our new small business; Sahara Jane Collections. This is a line of Jewellery, scarves and shawls that Ji Myeng Kang and I started in India through designing and purchasing beautiful quality pieces made by our friends and communities there. Now Daunt has joined the project to help create colourful elegant pop up stores and markets around the East Coast. Every sale helps to support children in need in Varanasi though a project called DARE.

So as winter approaches, we are preparing for some upcoming tours in Asia and we will be heading out to Christmas Markets to sell these beautiful pieces that I brought from India.

Our tour bus is going to be a pop up shop for the fall, his name in Benji. I think he deserves his own post! Well, everything that has happened could have had it’s own post, but I was just way too busy to write. Soon I will introduce the lovely sweet bus.. when I have finished painting the interior!! 

Wow. Life is full and wonderful. It is a treat to be in Nova Scotia for so long. We will be back in Asia this winter and back in Canada next summer. I hope to see you all along the way! 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Cross Canada Tour

Canada is unbelievably beautiful. We just left Lillooet where every time we would exit a building, or even close our eyes and open them again, we were amazed again at the natural beauty around us. What a magical place. In fact it has been like that everywhere we have been so far on this tour!

Here are the dates for the rest of the tour which will take Daunt Lee and myself from Vancouver to Halifax and many places in between...

Friday May 15 - Nelson BC  at Cafe Momento, concert starting at 7:30

Saturday, May 16 - Nelson BC at Cottonwood Farmers market, the first of the year!  10am-12pm

Sunday, May 17th - Winlaw BC at Mama Sita's - we will play an evening of Indian and fusion music while they prepare a special Indian menu!

Thursday, May 21 - Kaslo BC at Blue Belle Bistro 7:30-9:30 - for an evening of original music!

Friday, May 22 - Driftwood Concert House - Kimberly BC - 7:30 - A special and intimate venue, we are so looking forward to this magical show.

Saturday, May 23 - Lethbridge, Alberta - Owl Acoustic Lounge - 9:30 pm

Sunday, May 24 - Alberta - House concert - email saharajanemusic@gmail.com for details

Tuesday, May 26th - Calgary Alberta - House Concert - email saharajanemusic@gmail.com for details

Thursday, May 28th - Saskatoon, SK - House Concert - email saharajanemusic@gmail.com for details

Sunday, May 31st - Kenora, ON - The Bijou Steakhouse - 152 Main St. S. - 8:00pm

Tuesday June 2 - Ear Falls, ON - House Concert - email saharajanemusic@gmail.com for details

Thursday June 4th - Thunder Bay, ON - Red Lion Smokehouse with Outside the Lines!! 8:30 pm

Sunday June 7th - Toronto, ON - 8:00pm at Majlis Art Garden, a beautiful venue with roses in bloom!

Tuesday, June 9th - Ottawa, ON - at Avant Garde with Tea and Bread ( Kyla Tilley and Ed Hudson) this will be a happy hour newfoundland reunion!  Can't wait! 5:30-7:30

Wednesday, June 10th - Montreal, QC - at Cabigi - with Tea and Bread again, and another bunch of East Coasters no doubt.