I honestly don’t know what I would have done this year without music!
I mean, REALLY, I don’t have a clue how I would have got through…but, thankfully, I didn’t have to and, I have to say, my deep appreciation for musicians, for resources like Spotify, and for the sheer creativity, vision and determination that guides people to make music and share it with other people, in spite of all the hardships, has never been higher than it is right now. I am in awe and so so so much GRATITUDE.
That said, I am going to keep the words of this post to a minimum whilst sharing some of the music that I rate so very highly in 2020; as in, out of just soooo much music I have available to indulge myself with (I have extremely diverse taste, which ebbs and flows like a winding river through different landscapes and genres all the time, and such an appetite for new discoveries as well as old favourites), these albums share the loose title “transformational music”, in my opinion. As in, they go way beyond being a pleasant distraction or something to tap your foot to but, rather, deep into the senses, into the psyche and the soul where they do profound healing work and facilitate powerful shifts, even as you give yourself over to them for the pure enjoyment. In other words, similar to certain visual arts, you can be busy enjoying yourself, feeding your senses with something enjoyable and, meanwhile, great healing and upliftment takes place quite easily and effortlessly as an almost sideline. Collectively, I suspect, we never needed access to that facility more than at this moment.
Now, I can be such a music obsessive that I don’t often let the cat out of the bag in my writing (for fear of becoming a bore), though I have written about Kate Bush many times, including quite recently in my post Jig of Life and the Ninth Wave , because of how that long standing relationship with her music has helped me navigate these “interesting” times. So I step into this topic cautiously, knowing we don’t all share the same taste in music; but all I ask is that, if you bother reading this at all, you follow through on any curiosity I happen to incite by clicking on the links, because you just don’t know what you might be missing out on otherwise; which is how I tend to approach my endless voyages of musical discovery. I LOVE to curate music and create endless playlists which are freely available to listen to on Spotify but all I can do here is walk the horse to the water, your choice if you decide to drink. So, this is just a few of the highlights of my year, focussing on “newer” artists that have recently impacted me in a very big way and I will try to keep this post to the top half dozen, with some links to where you can sample anything that takes your interest.
First and foremost, not only because the music has affected me so deeply but because I know Lee (he has purchased two pieces of my art, I have attended his courses, we chat on social media and met in person back in 2013) so I have closely tracked just how much passion and vision he has poured into this project, along with his partner in music Davor Bozic, my album of the year is Lee and Davor’s newly released album “Awaken” (full album stream here on YouTube). Those of us that follow Lee’s work have been in eager anticipation for this album because we are familiar with some of the tracks, in more pared-back versions, from his monthly offerings but this beautifully produced album takes the music to a whole other level of cohesion and power. It is honestly the most astonishingly beautiful, multifarious album; one that defies categorisation so it really just begs to be experienced rather than “described”.
Lee was “hearing melodies and songs in the ether”, writing music and singing even before he became the energy intuitive and teacher he is now so well-know for being but watching him spend more and more time on this great passion has been such an inspiration as a fellow artist, not least because he has shared so publically the very process by which he and Davor came to create this collaborative album. In fact, Lee’s resources for creative types wanting to bring their gifts out into the world are second-to-none, for which I recommend his Impact the World series of podcasts (subscribe via YouTube and Spotify), in which he interviews creatives and visionaries and shares his own unique teachings on the topic…one delicious episode per week…so these also helped get me though my year!
On that topic, I heartily recommend this podcast interview between Lee and Davor to understand their joint creative process better. Davor is the most remarkable and unique musical genius and such a fascinating and contagiously inspiring person to listen to. The way he infuses the sounds he mixes with high-frequencies, tuning to the 528 Hz known as “the miracle note”, and layering musicians, voices and sounds causes me think of him as a sort of musical Merlin performing alchemy. As I shared before, when I included the track “All Who Walk the Earth” in one of my other posts, this music evidently holds the power to affect people very deeply (I was astonished by the unexpected effect this track had on me the very first time I heard it and the rest of the album works similar magic, each track in a different way). As I’ve got to know the album very well indeed over many listens, new layers of all the many ways it coerces layers of my own awareness to the surface have emerged and I can honestly say there is no other album like it; it is its own genre. Impossible, really, to chose a favourite track but “This is the Voice” moves me so profoundly that it has become a track that I use most to release all those parts of me that have ever felt hidden, shut down or silenced using my dance movements. The best thing I can do is recommend you put on headphones (best way to listen), lie back (give it full attention) and listen with all your senses and no prior expectations; which you can do on, YouTube, Spotify or by downloading from all the usual channels or via leeharrismusic.com
The second artist I’m going to mention is one introduced by Lee in an interview with Chris Assaad (you can watch the replay here), whose album “Lion” was released the very same day as “Awaken”. So, at the time I had not heard of Chris and the album was quite new to me (that was just a couple of weeks ago) and, already, its one of my most played albums of 2020…its just so affecting, but in a completely different way to “Awaken”. A pivotal topic of the interview was how do we set about the creative process of bringing projects forward into the world with a certain positive intention and how do these then impact upon those people who receive them or how do we get them out to their intended audience, not least during these times. About 50 minutes in (because I had contributed to the live discussion), Lee mentions how we met, my art and how much it affects him to have around in his house and I was so moved and up-motivated to get such an enthusiastic mention, which is another side of the equation of how we receive and show appreciation for art. Its not about ego; we all need that encouragement and the feeling that those who benefit from our offerings, thus, to whom we give value are prepared to give value back by sharing this with their tribe to spread the word and its always something I try to do via my constant sharing, reviewing and (as here) writing. Its one of the gifts of the way music is broadcast these days that I like to follow the music trails of what other people who share aspects of my taste are listening to or can recommend and this means of passing the good news around feels extremely organic, you could say feminine, like the flow of a meandering river with many offshoots.
So there is that side to these emerging genres of music and the way they tend to be more “indie” in their production and distribution, as in, they have this underwritten feminine quality as compared with the traditional music industry and its heavy handed marketing practices. Yet Lee also describes “Lion” as having a spiritually muscular quality and I would concur as I get what he means because, to me, it captures the very essence of the Sacred Masculine, distilled into music. The opening track “Lion” is especially powerful and I often use it to evoke the masculine aspect of myself in my dance practice, especially at times when I really need that half of my whole to step into my healing process because I am feeling extra weak or challenged…and it works, like magic, to bring back in some courage and resilience.
In fact, “music as medicine” is one of the phrases that Chris uses a lot and is a concept that is picking up some momentum out there in the music world, where more and more people are seeking spiritual nourishment from the arts, which has certainly been my intention as a visual artist for the longest time. As someone who lives with chronic physical pain, I turn to music as daily medicine and its of supreme importance to me that the music I listen to be high vibe so that it gets to model for me the frequency I may have temporarily slipped out of and to hold my hand in getting back there; it then infuses me with the frequency of love, which is (as I know from direct experience) the healing bandwidth in which all things are possible; trajectories can be altered and timelines jumped in that place.
Combined with just how uplifting and life-affirming every track of the “Lion” album is, with a distinctive upbeat quality that I now know is very much Chris’ style, having explored his back catalogue, I can honestly say this album has a quality all its own and perhaps one that is especially needed at this point in our collective evolutionary process. It was produced and contributed to by the wonderfully talented Joby Baker, who I have been so fortunate as to see perform in concert with Deva & Miten and Manose contributes his unmistakable bansuri playing to one of the tracks. In a way that I almost can’t put into words, this album has been with me and empowered me at a very deep level since I found it, a little more with every listen, and from it I gain both physical and spiritual stamina, I guess I am saying. I have witnessed the landscape of so-called “spiritual music” morph considerably from what was largely a trend of “massage music”, sitars or mantra a few years ago into something quite fresh and dynamic over the last couple of years, and “Lion” deserves to be at the very top of any recommendations I could make to someone newly exploring the territory. The good news is that “Lion” is also freely available in its entirety on YouTube as well as via chrisassadmusic.com – here is the title track.
The next new offering, also released very recently, although their collaboration started a few months ago, when the track Surrender helped dance me through the very early stages of lockdown, comes from Jahnavhi Harrison and Willow. I had the very good fortune to experience Jahnavhi performing in person at London’s Union Chapel a few years ago during Deva Premal and Miten’s Temple at Midnight tour and was quite blown away on the spot. Her album “Like a River to the Sea” instantly became a much-played favourite in our household (the track “Like a River” was included in one of my earlier posts) so I was extremely eager to hear about these new offerings in 2020. The second collaboration with Willow came out last month as a 6-track EP Rise (find all tracks on Spotify) and is as diverse and beautiful as it is consistent with the quality of the earlier album. Jahnavhi’s ability to make mantra and sacred music accessible, relevant and so exquisitely listenable is such a gift; one that comes straight from the heart of the tradition of Bhakti yoga (which incorporates singing your devotion) that she follows.
When it comes to this other relative newcomer in my collection, though she has been releasing crowdfunded music since 2017, I am hard pushed to choose a particular album from Swedish artist Fia, so I would just say “try them all” (there are three). Or, try the song Breathe, which she describes as a time capsule of her experiences during the pandemic, including the repeat lyric “Keep your spirits high, you were born ready for these times” (which, in hindsight, has pretty much been my self-mantra for the year) plus there are other samples on that webpage I just linked. A combination of extremely unique voice, pared back delivery and such meaningful and crisply truthful words, which feel as though they come straight from my own mouth as a straight-thinking awakening woman, makes her particular sound so extremely appealing and easy to surrender to, almost like melodious mantra. Needing some urgent replenishment just the other day, I was able to sink down into some pillows with Fia in my ears and find myself both following her words yet surrendering into something far deeper and more rejuvenating. Just try her if you’re curious.
I’m going to add in a very recent addition to my playlists Amber Lily whose activist spirit is as uplifting as it is a call to pay attention to what is going on in the world. Her bio describes her as “both wildly inspired and heartbroken by the state of the world” and her music “a call to reclaim health & wholeness, her voice a salve for personal & social wounds”. Yes, I have found all of that and, a little bit like “Lion”, I find the effect is to make me feel more courageously aware of my powerful feminine qualities, which has the effect of unifying with me with the “the situation” of our world in a way that isn’t the overwhelming, powerless muddle presented by the common media. I can happily listen to this music on loop while I am painting and the effect isn’t to drum my down by lift me up. The song “Woman” is what first drew me in (what a voice, such a great rhythm, and its now one of my most used dancing tracks) but I also love this lyric, so in sync with the themes of this post, from the song “Water Song” – “You cant change the fate of the river to make it to the ocean”. The video of “Woman” is really worth watching, you women!
Though an incongruos seeming addition to this spiritually oriented mix, I’m going to include “country” genre Patty Griffin’s 2017 self-named album here because it shares something of the same “transformational” quality, in my view. Perhaps this stems from the fact it is the first album from Patty, whose earlier work I had already explored long before I came across this one, since recovering from breast cancer, because this album has phoenix rising stamped all over it (including the album artwork); a quality we all need right now as we seek to rise up from the flames of extreme entropy. Already such a unique voice and powerful delivery, there is that particular quality to this offering that I so often find in the music of women who have “been through stuff”; which, if it doesn’t snuff them out, tends only to make them stronger, richer, wiser and more powerfully catalystic (think mature Joni Mitchell…) and its all here in this album. The track “River”, especially, always moves me for encompassing the formidable, indefatigable, entirely unfathomable feminine qualities I can most relate to:
Isn’t she a river?
Doesn’t need a diamond to shine
You can’t really have her
But you can hold her for a time
Takes an army just to bend her
Be careful where you send her
Cause you can’t hold her back for long
A river is just too strong
And she’s a river
Arms made out of silver
Moving in a crooked line
Carrying some dreamers
Off into the end of time
You don’t need to save her
Or teach her to behave
Just let her arms unwind
Ever changing and undefined
She’s a river
You can ride her easy when she’s slow
Walk across her when she’s low
Follow wherever she goes
She’s a river
Run for cover when she’s mad
Drown in her tears when things are bad
Don’t you ever forget it that
She’s a river
Isn’t she a river?
Doesn’t need a diamond to shine
So people call you clever
But she’s been here a long, long time
And she’s seen so many faces
And places down the line
Been left for dead a million times
Keeps coming home
Arms open wide
Ever changing and undefined
She’s a river
“River” – Patricia J Griffin
I recently set about creating a playlist of tracks from various artists on the topic of womanhood entitled “She” (you can find it here…still work in progress) and it was fascinating to notice just how many of the tracks were about, or mentioned, rivers (going back to Jahnavi’s first album “Like a River to the Sea” and Amber Lily’s “Water”). I should add, I was so taken with the artwork “Empress” on the cover of this album (see that river flowing, and the phoenix rising…) that I have ordered a limited edition print of it straight from the artist Mishka Westell and look forward to it gracing my wall.
I’m itching to add more to this list but I’m going to build myself a dam around this post or I will be gushing all day. If you are tempted to explore any of my recommendations, I really hope you get at least half the deep enjoyment that I am getting from them because that would be such a lot. Meanwhile, if there are any artists or creatives that have impacted your year and kept your spirits upspiraling, why not think about offering them a plug, a positive review (I always take the time to positively review other artists on as many platforms as I can), sharing them around with your friends with a few words about how they have deeply affected you and so on; this is all how we continue to encourage the arts through these precarious times, keeping the positive vibe swelling and impacting more and more people with the positivity and healing potential that will get us all through.
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