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Sunday, July 21, 2013
This. Song by Song
Robin's latest album is This., it features call-and-response chanting, soulful voices, and a rich soundscape of organic instrumentation blended seamlessly with light, heart-opening electronic ambience.
I must admit my ignorance. I am unfamiliar Eastern spiritual music, kirtan, yoga, meditation - it all remains a mystery as much as I have tried. It is impenetrable. Or perhaps it isn't. This. is perhaps a gateway drug to understanding, as I like it. Maybe I just need to understand it.
What follows is my track by track impression of the album, followed by Robin's thoughts on what the songs are really about. Enjoy.
Glenn: The origins of this title come from, I believe, an aspect of Vishnu that is venerated to avoid bad luck or achieve good luck. It is a gentle start to the album, blending pop flavor and sensibility with the call and response method. Like many of the songs on the CD it has a subtle and wonderful build that I love. It is proof, as with much of This., that I can enjoy the music without knowing what it is about - but I am sure learning is the real joy of the journey.
Of course there are many stories that come out of the spiritual traditions that inform This. While it can be useful and interesting to study those, Sanskrit chants still aren’t really “about” anything. The words may have multi-layered translations, but the true “meaning” can’t really be stated. The intention of the music is to help bring about an experience beyond the mind rather than the experience of being caught in the mind. But since you asked:
Keshava is one of the names of Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu, who is called the Preserver of the Universe. The aspects of Krishna that show up for me while singing “Keshava” are the Universal Love that connects and runs through all, as well as the childlike playfulness and divine beauty that is associated with Krishna. The other names in the verses call out to some of those who appear in stories of Krishna’s life (mother, caretaker, lover, wife, Goddess of the Ganges River) as a way of conveying the many faces and many ways one can connect to the Sacred.
If any of that explanation feels directly important to listeners, that’s great. If not, that’s great as well. I don’t really know about the good luck/bad luck thing.
Glenn: I'm learning. I had to look it up, but it makes the music make more sense. 'om namo bhagavate vasudevaya' is a twelve syllable mantra used to attain freedom. The song is truth in advertising. It's the chant, the mantra, set to a groove. I dig it.
Robin: Yes, all of these mantras, really, point toward moksha, or freedom from ego and the beliefs that keep us limited. Om is the primordial sound, the All-That-Is, and it is chanted by itself and as part of many mantras. Namo is usually translated as “I bow to.” One way to think of Om Namo Bhgavate Vasudevaya is “I bow to the God of the Heart” or “I bow to the indwelling Divine.” It is recognizing and connecting to the inner essence, allowing space for the untruths and limitations to fall away.
Kali Ma Potluck Singalong
Glenn: Much of Robin's work renders itself to singalong, whether by intent as a call and response song, or as just a great tune that pulls you in and you find yourself humming and singing along in the car. This is how this one strikes me. It's both, and I've found myself doing exactly that. And much like the above, there's a subtle groove to this one. Another winner.
Robin: This song originated during one Friday evening when three women friends and I met at my place for dinner and chanting. We had our “Kirtan Intensives” fairly frequently then. They could be quite intense, indeed, and also a lot of fun. The melody and words to this one just sort of popped up during our singing and hangout time. Songs to the goddess Kali are often more minor-key and somber – Her energy is about the “tough love” of destroying what one no longer needs or what stands in the way of growth. I enjoy celebrating the energy that facilitates even that kind of often painful, jarring, but ultimately positive experience with an upbeat song.
Glenn: As the song begins I am hypnotized by the drums and their depth, and then, at first slowly, then quickly, the song builds and speeds up. I really dig this song as well. What I did not know in my several dozen listenings of the tune, before I moved to research what it really meant, is that this is a cover. And ancient cover perhaps, but a cover of a chant used to praise the joyous aspects of Shiva. Beautiful song, and beautiful rendition, Robin.
Robin: I don’t remember where I first heard this melody – It may well have been when I first encountered the music of Krishna Das. Shiva is the Lord of the Dance, turning the wheel from death and dissolution to rebirth and renewal. I do like how the drums are prominent and so evoke movement and dancing in this one.
Glenn: This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a multilayered lullaby. From what I understand, 'namaste' is a greeting or salutation in the East when meeting and parting. As I said, I like this one a lot, from its many layers to its slow subtle build, it is terrific.
Robin: Namaste is a greeting in everyday use, but it also has a deeper meaning. It really is saying “the divine in me honors the divine in you,” so it is a recognition of the still center where we are all One. “Blessed Be” is a common Wiccan/Pagan blessing from the Western mystic traditions, and “Namaste” is from the Eastern, so this song brings those together and recognizes the synergy among varied paths. It does feel like a lullaby, or Irish blessing song. It is my favorite, too.
Glenn: This song makes me smile. "Leaving Space" is a song of bells, liberally spaced bells with silence that might make you think you have a problem with your iPod if you're not paying attention. It reminds me crazily of a song on the most recent Eminem album where he lowers the volume and yells at you, the listener, for falling for his trick and turning up your device's volume. Other than my crazed comparison, this is beautiful in its way, as well as thoughtful and relaxing.
Robin: That’s a funny comparison – I like that. “Blessed Be, Namaste” is kind of an ending song. I often will sing it at the end of a concert or kirtan. The next one, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” really is an ending song, too. When finishing up the recording of This., I realized I literally had to “leave space” somehow in order to have both of these songs appear. And “leaving space” in one’s life and mind for transformation, awakening, healing, love – that’s basically what kirtan and other spiritual music helps us do. Those were the concepts in mind as producer Jack Walker and I composed this ambient track.
Glenn: The slowly rushing water is both a relaxant, and an irritant if you need to go to the bathroom. I kid, but I am sure this would be excellent meditation music. There is a definite movement toward center here that I like. While the water reminds me of environmental vibes meant to put one to sleep in those sound machines, it's accompanied by sounds to clear one's mind and give focus. The combination works well.
Robin: The rainstick is convincing! The Buddhist mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, roughly, is “the jewel in the lotus” – our center or True Nature. If this track brings you closer to center, allows for more focus, relaxes you, or brings a peaceful sleep, I’d say it’s done something right.
Glenn: Thank you, Robin, for taking the time to give your thoughts on my impressions and your work. I have to confess that having This. on my iPod these last few months, and especially more recently delving deeper to write this, I have just liked it more and more.
This. is going to be followed up in 2014 by the singer-songwriter genre album …and Everything Else. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm sure we'll be talking about that when it arrives. Thank you, Robin!
Robin can be found at website, on her blog, at CD Baby, and at iTunes. Follow her on Twitter here.
Don't forget the Robin Renee Blog Tour continues at Patti O'Brien's blog, A Broad Abroad, tomorrow, check it out!