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The University of Hartford

Voices from the Village
World Music at WWUH
By Brian Grosjean

"Global peace through cultural Understanding"

New Music from Asia

Shri Amanda Ma
Divine Bliss
Sounds True Records (800-333-9185)

    Shri Amanda Ma is deeply devoted to the Hindu gods and to her guru. In her album Divine Bliss she expresses her yearning to be close to god. Shri Amanda Ma (whose name means "Bringer of Divine Bliss") was considered a saint at a very early age. She composed these simple, repetitious songs to accompany her own yearning. This album collects eight of her devotional songs, most running 8 to 12 minutes, out of the hundreds she has composed.
    Although the beauty of these songs cannot be fully appreciated this side of the cultural barrier, anyone can appreciate her marvelous voice, accompanied by dholak drums, tala bells, the tamboura for the necessary drone, and harmonium for melody.
    Devotion is one of the higher states of being for humanity. Beyond care, beyond allegiance, beyond dedication is the devotion of one to an ideal, another human, or to a god. The expression of one's devotion can take many forms. Prayer, work, and attention to a shrine or certain place are one of humanity's oldest urges. And very often, the devotion is accompanied by music. Music specifically written for devotion time is usually repetitious and trance-like, enabling the disciple to concentrate on the devotional. In the west, Gregorian Chants and Native American powwow songs lead to trance-like states of being. In the east, a long tradition of chanting includes Qawwali music in Pakistan, the drumming of Islamic Dervishes, Tibetan prayer chants, and the bhajans and dhuns of India presented in this album. (For a good sampler of trance music, pick up the multi-disk set Trance (Ellipsis Arts)).
    But devotional music is connected to the soul. It lifts the listener up. In the right frame of mind, it can lead toward one's own exploration and yearning to be close to the maker. Scaling the cultural boundaries is easier that it appears. All that is required is an open mind, no foregone conclusions, and a willingness to build a bridge and cross over to a new culture. This album affords the chance to expand and explore your own devotions - no matter what it is you are devoted to.

Celestial
Spirit House
DOMO Records, 310/966-4414

    Spirit House is an easy to listen to album on this small but lively independent label specializing in music of Tibet and the east. The album is mostly the work of Peter Millward who arranges and, I suspect, plays most of the keyboards on this album Although packaged and marketed as music of Vietnam and Nepal (the beautiful cover graphic images evoke the east), it is actually very Western in its influences and overtones. Chot Kit Yee on the zheng zither, Hsin Hsiao Hung on Chinese erhu, and Nelson Hiu on flute are backed with synthesizer washes and mostly 4/4 rhythms on congas, tabla, and drum machines. Some of the sounds were collected in "a little village outside Hue in Vietnam" and sound very true, but the repetitious nature of some of the songs reminded me more of New Age music, circa Kitaro 1977.
    There might be more here than meets the ear, though. The easiness of the music and its predictability may be part of the plan. Chinese philosophy notes that music is not really for the mind or body, but is a food for the soul. In that way, Spirit House may have soul sweeteners as an extra ingredient. The sweeteners help the music be more appetizing to the average (Western) listener. It does feel good for the soul. Once I put away my preconceptions of music as challenging or a learning experience, I began to enjoy this album much more. So I recommend this album to your soul, and remember to brush afterwards!

For more Roots and World music reviews, news, and sound samples, visit Rootsworld at: http://www.rootsworld.com

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1998

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