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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Amrit Vani (Immortal Word)
Length: 11 tracks 59:37 minutes
I must confess I love South Asian culture I was very excited when I first heard about Aradhna, which means “adoration” in Hindi. Aradhna is a group that has focused on creating culturally relevant worship music for people of South Asian origin. The music created by members of Aradhna is an excellent introduction to classical Indian music.
Aradhna is primarily composed of founders Peter Hicks and Chris Hale, along with a variety of other musicians who lend their talents on the album. Listeners, if they pay attention, will hear a wide variety of Asian instruments such as the Sitar, Tabla, Harmonium, Duduk, Sarangi and Bansuri. The album contains an eclectic mix of instruments when combined create a deeply spiritual and exotic sounding album. You will also hear a blend of familiar instruments such as guitars and violins that are beautifully interwoven into each of the songs. This creates a compelling and pleasing emotive sound. I am told one of the foundations of Indian worship music are repetitive phrases, so it becomes easy for the person listening to the album to pick up the choruses in Hindi.
One difference you will notice immediately is that each of the songs is sung in Hindi, with English only sung on a couple of occasions. And if you do not know Hindi, you may end up scouring over the lyrics translated in both Hindi and English like I did to understand what they are singing.
Overall, people unfamiliar with classical Indian music will find very delicate and pleasant melodies that capture attention. The instrumentation lends itself to pleasant melodies that are chilling and haunting, driving deep down into the recesses of your soul. It is easy to imagine a group of people singing along in worship, because the music captivates listeners and encourages them to join in. Hale and Hicks create a consistently contemplative and mellow sound throughout the albumn, and just when you get mellow…. they liven it up.
One of my favorite songs off Amrit Vani is one of the few with singing in English titled, "Man Mera". Not because some of the song is in English, but because the song is very well done. The English singing style sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel. I’m convinced it is him each time I listen to it. Hicks sings, “Pour out your light and your truth, let them guide me.” It is a song that is upbeat and a mix of eastern and western musical traditions, an intoxicating song. I love the wind instruments and sitar that interact with one another on top of the song’s acoustic guitar foundation. This song could easily be a hit on radio stations playing independent or world music.
If I were to only comment
on this album from a western perspective, I would not explain the relevance
of this music. To paraphrase a quote from a South Asian friend who introduced
me to Aradhna, You do not know what it means to me to be able to have worship
music that is based in my culture. Aradhna is unique in what they do and
what they bring to the table in non-secular music. There isn’t another
group I know of that produces music of this quality based on classical
Indian musical traditions. That alone should be supported by world music
fans or Christians who desire to worship with traditional Indian music.
By Robert W. Blake
It's not everyday that you come across an Indian-American Christian release, but if this is typical of the quality, then I would happily hear such discs regularly. This is superb.
Aradhna are basically Chris Hale and Peter Hicks, plus bassist Travis McAfee and a few Indian friends. Hale was born in America in the late sixties, but grew up in Nepal, while Hicks was born in New Delhi ten years later and soon moved to the USA. So their music is a true fusion of the two cultures.
The disc opens with a single, warm, swelling note on the duduk, soon joined by a gentle acoustic guitar and tabla, which all set the scene for the verse. When the melody arrives it is quite clear that – despite being sung in Hindi – it is very easy to relate to, and a stronger song than many sung in English. This track has a lovely rise and fall, as it gets pared back to a flute-led ambient passage before sitar comes in and the chorus returns. The tangible sense of space in the recording echoes a deep-rooted spirituality in the music.
The deep peace grows in the second track, where words are superfluous and the music goes straight to your soul. Simplicity and restraint are its hallmarks, building a space within which Hale’s Hindi vocal style conveys the emotion.
The songs keep showing individuality. The title track is like those Jewish choruses that start really slowly and build gradually to become dance music. So far that makes three tracks out of three worth downloading. And on it goes, with changes of pace and more instrumental colour from duduk, sarangi (Indian fiddle), bansuri (bamboo alto flute), cello and sitar.
The only English vocals appear at the end of “Man Mera,” where Hicks sounds just like Peter Gabriel singing “In Your Eyes,” with the same sense of building excitement.
Moments of excitement are Aradhna’s speciality. Like an erupting volcano from a placid sea, “Prem Milan”’s final line bursts with passion as Hale repeats, “Dhoola charana apani de de” (‘Give me even the dust of your feet’). But it works so well because they know how to be still in a close-your-eyes-and-swim-in-the-sound sort of way. The disc quietens greatly towards the end, not because they run out of steam, but because they build a reflective space – something more important to them than Western performance-style worship. This is particularly striking on the final 9-minute track Narahari (man-God) where the Sanskrit chorus bookends softly spoken English words of praise translated from Upadhyay’s Jaya Dev.
Don’t worry about any language barriers. Apart from the fully-translated words and helpful notes in the beautifully-produced booklet, this disc’s beauty, peace, pace and passion transcend such things. If you like Eastern, worship or world music, there is plenty here to treasure. Highly recommended.