A quick introduction to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Now is the time to discover the driving rhythms and uplifting vocal stylings of this world famous Qawwali artist.

Photo courtesy Real World Records

I was very fortunate to first hear the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the early 1990s. This was thanks to Garama Masala, a weekly radio show devoted to the music of South Asia, then hosted by Anastasia Tsioulcas on Columbia University’s WKCR. The show lives on under the new name Raag aur Taal, and Anastasia Tsioulcas is now a reporter for NPR Music. (Quoting Hecky Brown from The Front: “It’s nice when something nice happens to someone nice.”)

If you’re saying to yourself: “Qawwali? That’s all Greek to me…” don’t worry. This will be a quick and painless introduction, as easy as taking a bite out of a paratha to see if you have a taste for South Asian cuisine (or might like to acquire one). Without further ado, here’s one of the best pieces by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan readily available on the Internet:

Like anything new, it helps to open yourself to it, give it a chance, even embrace it. This piece has gotten about 4 million hits on YouTube. There’s definitely something going on, but what is it? To quote a classic line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are these guys?” Continue reading

Easter Music from Bach’s B minor Mass

I’ve been beating the Baroque bushes on behalf of my readers, trying to find not just any recording of Bach’s B minor Mass, but the best recording on YouTube. Of course, the Mass in B minor is such a beautiful work that it’s hard to make it sound bad. Still, I think this 1969 recording with Karl Richter conducting sounds exceptionally good. It’s a warm analogue recording, and when the trumpets come in you can really hear the wonderful ambience of the church where it was recorded.

For Easter, we hear Et incarnatus, Crucifixus, and Et resurrexit:


These selections seem to be from a September 1969 recording released on DVD in 2006, and not easy to find. So in this case, YouTube saves us. Continue reading

Self-Isolation Tips: Pink Panther helps you wake up early (cartoon)

Should you face the pandemic day with cheerfulness, or take a hammer to that alarm clock?

I totally love this early (1969) Pink Panther cartoon for pushing an age-old conflict to the max. After demolishing a bunch of mechanical alarm clocks, the Pink Panther ventures out to procure a genuine cuckoo clock, perhaps hoping it will be more persuasive. I love that it’s a blue bird who helps him: Continue reading

Nature, the Super Moon, the Coronavirus, and Charles Ives

Nature presents us with contraries, opposite poles, also known as antipodes…

On Monday night, as I made my appointed rounds through the streets of the city, suddenly I noticed the remarkably bright full moon, so close, so distinctive. With a faint mist surrounding it, it almost seemed to have its own corona. It took me by surprise, and once aware of it I had to wheel ’round many times to contemplate its pristine beauty, till finally the moon was eclipsed by gathering clouds.

I cannot say for certain, but it may be that our moon and sun are imitations of a moon and sun which are more beautiful to behold in some higher world. That is my hope, belief, and intuition.

As a race or as a species, we indulge in chauvinism, imagining that our moon and our sun must be best. But there is another theory or observation which says that many things found in this world of ours arise in imitation of things found in higher worlds.

There, nature flows in abundance. It is not built up from physical stuff, but flows directly from the mind of God, with no dirt or bugs, and no planes flying overhead. That is how it can be more beautiful — intimate, like a little wood, and yet we sense that its lakes, rivers, and forests could go on forever.

In our present world of opposites, we cannot fully enjoy the sun and moon at the same time in the same sky, for always one will be waxing while the other is waning. But in the spiritual sky, the sun and moon shine together, in a world higher than ours which is more subtle, and not racked by the extremes of opposites which plague our mortal existence. Continue reading

Sri Chinmoy Birthday Music Mix, August 2019

Exploring the subtleties of Sri Chinmoy’s music with a delightful mix including flute, esraj, singing, and piano, plus detailed notes

UPDATE 5. A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy, who would have been 88 today, August 27th, 2019! In the music world, when we hear the number 88 immediately we think of the piano, which has 88 keys. And indeed, the piano is an instrument for which Sri Chinmoy showed tremendous fondness. He played many instruments, and imparted to each a particular quality or manner of expression. Taken together, these begin to comprise his musical oeuvre.

Sri Chinmoy was a man of action, not a dry theoretician, or a composer removed from the performance of his works. He wrote countless spiritual songs, and was very active in singing, playing, and teaching them. But though his songs represent a significant corpus, he was also known for his striking improvisations on piano and pipe organ. Often times, at the close of a concert of one or two hours in which he played his songs on a variety of instruments, he would end with an avant-garde piano improvisation.

Sri Chinmoy as many remember him: in the spiritual and musical spotlight. Photo courtesy https://au.srichinmoycentre.org/articles/piano

His flute melodies are extremely pleasing to the ear — the essence of zenlike simplicity. When he played the Indian esraj (a bowed instrument similar to the better-known sarangi), this imparted a haunting, ancient quality. His singing was all heart and soul, seeming to embody the seeker’s plaintive cry to know the Divine, and to be freed from the shackles of ignorance. He himself was ever-free, but identified with the pangs of seekers.

When he sang in concert, it was as if he were bundling up the collective longing for God of his audience, and directing it as a single prayer upward to the Divine. Something more: As a spiritual Master, he was able to fulfill that prayer, to bring it to fruition. So inwardly, in the course of a concert he would play the role of both a seeker and a Liberator, carrying the collective longings of his audience Heavenward, and showering them with inner blessings from the Highest Height of meditation — throwing them into the Universal Consciousness (as he would put it). The closing moments of his meditations and concerts were indeed special for this reason. They are coloured deep blue in my memory. Continue reading

Happy 55th Anniversary, Sri Chinmoy!

Shedding new light on the contributions made by this immortal teacher and his musical oeuvre

I am so grateful today, April 13th, 2019, to write something about Sri Chinmoy, the great and good spiritual teacher, musician, poet, and artist who came to the West exactly 55 years ago today.

I am grateful because I feel that Sri Chinmoy saved my life many times over (though I hardly deserve it). I was and am a poor student, but Sri Chinmoy always reflected such an effulgence of light that even the dullest student could not fail to absorb some of it and be changed by it.

And by God’s Grace, I think I have some inkling into how much he willingly suffered in order to be of help to those who sought out his spiritual guidance. As human beings, you might say we are half-devil, half-angel. Or you can say that when we try to go one step forward and become spiritual, then we discover the destructive tiger within us that wants to keep us in its den at all cost.

By challenging humanity to change for the better, to embrace ideals of peace and divine love, Sri Chinmoy had, at times, to endure the hatred of the world. And in offering a helping hand to those who specifically asked him to help them change their nature, he had to endure hatred, at times, even from his own disciples — from the destructive tiger within them. Continue reading

Brexit: Irish Backstop For Dummies (video)

With a little help from The Cranberries, and footage from the People’s Vote March, London, 3-23-2019

In my (literally) fevered brain, I’ve been searching for a way to make a statement about the People’s Vote March, the Irish Backstop, and the seeming lack of concern among politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg over the violence which could ensue in Northern Ireland if things aren’t handled just right. This is it:

Full screen it for best effect, and choose 720p. Any problem with the embedded video, try this Dropbox link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/96u0is2hoka9gdr/Irish%20Backstop%20For%20Dummies.mkv

I also made an animated GIF for added exposure: Continue reading

Brexit and the Bells of Rhymney

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and MEP Ska Keller make a persuasive case for a second referendum, and why the U.K. will always be welcome in the E.U. Theresa May and Rupa Huq take Prime Minister’s Questions to a new level. Plus, we listen to (and discuss) the Welsh mining song ‘Bells of Rhymney’. (Yes, there is a connection!)

In my previous magnum opus on Brexit, much of my focus was on how E.U. membership benefits the U.K. After all, the nature of politics at the populist level is all about self-interest. (‘And what will you give me?/ Say the sad bells of Rhymney’.)

Yet, there’s a quite different way of exploring the Brexit question, based less on self-interest and more on the visionary aspect. In a representative democracy, one ideally tries to elect leaders who have vision, who understand the direction in which the world is headed, and who try to align their nation with the right tide of history. Despite many practical problems with E.U. membership which need ironing out, the E.U. represents a noble effort at cooperation between nations who had previously engaged in open warfare. It’s also a response to the burgeoning awareness that many pressing problems, including climate change, can only be tackled at a global level. Continue reading

Vote For Number 6

An election day screening of The Prisoner: Free For All

UPDATED! As an artist (or at least an artistic type), I prefer not to reduce the world to simple binaries. Still, in the current political landscape many choices come down to whether we want to be kind and loving, or mean and selfish.

Both major parties tend to act out stereotypes of themselves, and neither party is perfect (greed being a nearly universal constant — something we learn at our mother’s knee, so to speak). Still, there’s a difference between bad and worse. Politics in general is a cutthroat business, but there’s more kindness and compassion among the democrats. Whatever their faults, they recognize that affordable health care, an inclusive society, and concern for the environment are ideals worth fighting for. That’s why I personally tend to support democratic candidates. Continue reading

Happy 87th Birthday, Sri Chinmoy!

Remembering the beloved spiritual teacher, musician and artist with a joyful music mix and slideshow

Sri Chinmoy’s birthday was always a joyful occasion, a perfect opportunity to celebrate. The celebrations continue, although he passed away in 2007. He lit a bright torch, carried it for many years, and taught others to hold it aloft. So many people around the world are celebrating on August 27, 2018, the day when Sri Chinmoy would have turned 87.

My way of celebrating was to make this video as an introduction to Sri Chinmoy’s music world:

I say “music world” because Sri Chinmoy is a world unto himself, and his music is best understood by listening with an open heart, rather than theorizing with a critical mind. Listening brings its own rewards and leads to understanding.

I say “music world” because inside Sri Chinmoy’s music is his art — his painting and drawing. All his creations emanate from a deep spiritual well, and one can approach that well from many directions, like a circular fountain which has a myriad of little footpaths leading up to it.

Music, art, concert posters, and photographs are all ways of making inroads to reach that centre of consciousness from which Sri Chinmoy always acted. But the divine secret is that this centre of consciousness does not belong to any individual, but is our collective consciousness, to be realized. It is the Supreme’s consciousness of Light and Delight.

It is fitting, then, that the music mix begins with “Supreme Chant” — a melody which Sri Chinmoy composed to the word “Supreme” — and that it ends with Sri Chinmoy chanting the word “Supreme.” Continue reading

Stormy Daniels Warm-Up Party

UPDATED! Listen to “Stormy” and “Daniel” songs while waiting for the CBS 60 Minutes interview to air (or after). Might be some Devo, Nancy Sinatra, and Threepenny Opera worked in just for laughs. I freely admit “Danny Boy” is a stretch, but I couldn’t resist. All real music (no stupid parodies.) Sunday will never be the same! Continue reading

The Gospel Truth About Congress

Celebrating POETS day with an ode to our underworked legislators, and blues, gospel, and jazz. Musings about art, media collage, and the nature of reality.

For the second time in less than a month, the U.S. Congress managed to shut down the government late Thursday night, by failing to fund it. Then, by about 5:30 a.m. both the House and Senate had passed the necessary funding bill for Donald Trump to sign when he woke up — in between defoliating his eyebrows and sticking new pins in his Katy Tur doll. (What that mean, what that mean?)

At one time in the hoary past, Congress harboured the quaint notion that it was their duty to pass carefully crafted budgets. More recently, they’ve taken to making do by passing a series of stopgap funding measures known as continuing resolutions or CR’s. These are hard to fathom, stuffed with pork, and no one reads them anyway. The whole process has become farcical (thus steering it into my natural territory!).

Since they were up all night having adventures, I guess congresspeople were glad to finally adjourn and beat it out of town for the weekend. They are legendary celebrants of nothing if not POETS day, i.e. “Push off early, tomorrow’s Saturday.” While celebrants in Britain and Australia consider it proper to depart by 3:30 p.m. Friday, the U.S. Congress leaves nothing to chance. A Friday train disaster or invasion of midgets might derail their plans for the weekend, so best leave on Thursday and not come back till Tuesday next. Their departure reminds me of this bit of doggerel I penned a few years back: Continue reading

The Best of Leonard Cohen

I was so sad to learn that singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen passed away on Thursday at the age of 82. He was best known for bittersweet lyrics that put together images in a way not quite like anyone else. Of those who rose to prominence writing folksongs in the late 60s/early 70s, only a handful could be considered excellent poets, and he was certainly one. I’ve always thought “Suzanne” to be his most beautiful song, and I like the Judy Collins version of it best: Continue reading

John McLaughlin & Carlos Santana: 1975 Parade & Concert

  with Sri Chinmoy…

YouTube description:

From a friend of a friend of a friend I got this rare 1975 footage of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin & Devadip Carlos Santana performing at a parade & concert. The events celebrate Sri Chinmoy’s 10,000th Jharna-Kala painting. This is fan footage providing a snapshot of a legendary period that many speak of, but few have seen firsthand. As a snapshot in time, it says something significant about who these people were, what they believed, what they did, and what it all looked like — an important historical document which I’m posting as a 40th anniversary tribute.

On the crisp winter day of March 8th 1975, the parade wound its way up Madison Avenue, leading to a free concert at the Central Park Bandshell. There was a palpable sense of joy that’s difficult to capture in words, but does shine through in the film. Of the crowds of people appearing here, I’m sure some have moved on to other things, while others continue to believe and practice as they did. Nothing in this video is meant to imply promotion or sponsorship.

One reason I felt inspired to post is that I feared historical revisionism would graffiti over the reality. This clip provides a spiritual and cultural context for understanding the music of the period and the driving force behind it. It shows a kind of spiritual freedom which some people find impossible to understand unless they look directly at the reality.

My focus was on finding one clip that’s a must-see and is emblematic of the period. I wanted it to be a public clip, and something that I feel the musicians would be proud of and happy with. To respect the musicians is very important to me. Enjoy!

Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion (video)

A 3-minute look into the heart of this thrilling work often performed at Easter. One remembers the crowd scenes in particular…

I fondly recall making a study of Bach’s St. John Passion. It’s well worth the study, but here no study is required. In less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee, you can check out this short compilation of crowd scenes:

The selections are:

1. “If he were not a criminal, we would not have brought him to you.”
2. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
3. “We have no king but Caesar.”

The music is quite striking and moving, with some of Bach’s most distinctive counterpoint in a chromatic style. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir.

If you liked the trailer, you’ll love the movie (for as long as it stays on YouTube):
Bach: St. John Passion full (Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir)
[Alas, gone!]

I highly recommend the 1986 CD done by Gardiner/Monteverdi:
Amazon.com: CD Set of Bach’s St. John Passion
http://www.amazon.com/Bach-John-Passion-Johann-Sebastian/dp/B0000057CW

It’s a beautiful recording that you can get to know little by little, and the music is so glorious you would ideally want to hear it with the best possible fidelity.

If you’re a Bach lover, you might even want to contemplate this work at length until you grasp the essence of it; then make a compilation with your favourite choruses, arias, and chorales. I tend to cut out a lot of the narrative, which is written in a somewhat formulaic recitative style. Finding your own personal pathway through Bach’s St. John Passion is an experience that will last you a lifetime! So stop binge-watching The Sopranos and discover (ahem)… a higher tenor of entertainment. 😉

See also: “Easter Thoughts on Mercy” (includes selections from Bach’s B Minor Mass)

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