A week before I wrote my review on David Pendragon and Natalia Christianna 's new album Circle of Light. It's a wonderful album that I take pride in reviewing. Even as I was writing the review, I was quite interested in knowing about David and Natalia, their interests and motivations behind producing this album. So here I am with an interview with David and Natalia, a week later and I must say that I love their album more than ever after their open talk on my questions. Follows below is my email interview with them.
Shankar, Question1: What's your motive in taking up the new age sacred genre, and particularly, Hinduism and Buddhism chants? Is it because the trend is towards it or because you are more spiritually based in these vibrations?
David Pendragon: In the late 1970 I spent several months at New Govadhana Hare Krishna Community Farm in Australia as a trainee devotee. While I made the discission to not continue that path, I had spent a lot of time chanting the Holy Names and learning about the Scriptures and the music stayed with me as a part of my daily life. I followed many paths in my search for knowledge and spent a lot of time with different groups both religious and cultural. Chanting has always been a powerful influence on my musical writings. I love repetition and drone…..hence my fascination with the Aboriginal music and the didgeridoo. Today I chant in my mind very often as a way to not have to hear the world’s noise. My Western style music also often calls on these influences. Natalia grew up in a household in the 1980’s where chanting and meditation were a daily event. She learned much of her natural singing style from this upbringing. I also sing contempory Folk music and ballads….. All music has its Spiritual centre I think. Of course chants, mantras and meditation music have their focus on the spiritual rather than the daily mundane world and therefore should ‘plug us in’ I feel.
S: Thanks David for sharing the bit of personal history and the spiritual influence. Your music has the essential qualities that you wish to share with your fans.
S, Q2: But then I would also like to know if you insist on knowing the spirit and the long spiritual story behind each mantra before you compose a tune for it or do you think understanding the meaning is not essential for music?
David: While some of the compositions come from my intellectual knowledge of the stories a great deal of composing for me is ‘in the spirit’. I think that an understanding of what one is saying in a piece is essential however the ‘feeling’ that is created is equally of importance. Prayer and asking for guidance is a big part of a recording session of these kind pieces. I am not however a perfectionist and I know that there will be many who question authenticity…..for me it come down to intention. The intention behind each of the works on Circle of Light was to give praise and share that vibration with the listeners hoping that they in turn would benefit. It has been very gratifying for both Natalia and I to hear that our Australian accents have not caused too much of a problem with these beautiful words and phrases.
S: Personally, when it comes for intention vs authenticity, I vote for intention and I completely go with you in this but as you rightly pointed out, there will be many out there in India who will question your authenticity and this reminds me of an incident which I will share it with you at the end of this interview.
S, Q3: Where does Circle of Light have its origin? Is it from the North India or the South or somewhere else? Please share the beautiful experience which eventually gave birth to Circle of Light.
David: I am not very knowledgeable of the geographical regions and the different styles associated with each however from what I have been told we seem to have borrowed from both regions in much of our work. We started with a practice chant which we did not end up putting on the album of one of Diva Primal’s pieces and it turned out so well that we decided to continue with some original ideas. Many of the pieces we started with underwent massive changes as we learned more about what we wanted to do. We came to the conclusion that the essence of this album was a portrayal of Balance, Harmony and Equality of the Masculine and the Feminine principles. We strive to show this in the mantra construction and the instrument choices as well as in the male and female voices. Once we were aware of the ‘theme’ it became far easier to connect the dots and come up with the correct balance.
S, Q4: Circle of Light seems to strike a natural balance between shaivism and vaishavism. Is this balance brought out to satisfy followers of both sects or is it a balance inside you?
David: This leads on from the previous question…. Everything to my way of thinking is about equality and balance. All is One and One is all is a way that I put it. I myself see only harmony and unity in ALL beliefs. It is so sad that the ideas of differences and separation have been so prominent in human history. We have an opportunity now to grow together and unite as One humanity. Music will help this to happen I believe.
S: This balance of male and female energy is a very good idea and it does have beautiful influence on the liseners.
S, Q5: Your voice can be closely associated with Krishna Dass of India. How you feel about this? Do you think it's a boon or a bane, in short?
David: That statement is probably one of the greatest compliments that you could pay me! Interestingly I had not listened to Krishna Dass until we were well into the recording of Circle. A friend said to me “David, you have to hear this….” And played me “Radhe Syam” I must say I personally thought that his magnificent voice was very little like my own! However I was drawn to write Radhe Guru Mantra from the inspiration I gained listening to his brilliant work. Hopefully people will hear that we are actually very different singers….but I think the man’s work is awesome.
S, Q6: Though being in India, I don’t understand the origin of Ganesha Drum Mantra. It's quite an 'outcast' track, being the only 'rhythm only' track in the album Circle of Light, yet a powerful and unique track, whose meaning I don’t comprehend. Please can you speak about this uniqueness? BTW, strangely, even my mother taps her toes listening to this track.
David: This is a great question. The piece was recorded as a practice session for one of the other chants in order to get the rhythm correct. The players were fantastic. Jim Shorrock and Donovan Gall. Great Australian percussionists.
It was so strong as a piece in its own right that we thought to use it as a track in its own right. While trying to think of a title for it my friends little girl said ‘It sounds like an elephant walking’ [we were playing it rather loud] immediately I ‘saw’ in my mind an image of Ganesha….and so it was named. I am so glad that it is liked, it is a piece that almost didn’t get on the album…..but I believe it belongs.
S: That's quite funny. You wont believe, I searched all over the internet and google half a day to see if there is anything called 'Ganesha Drum Mudra' to assciate with Lord Ganesha. Now I feel like laughing at me!
S, Q7: Natalia's soft voice is a good complement to your bass voice as seen in Krishna Mahamantra track. Can your fans expect more collaborative works from this duo? What's your next project and who are involved?
Just after we completed the recording of Circle Natalia became pregnant with her first child. For her and her husband this was a beautiful and wonderful thing and she has decided for a little while to concentrate he energies towards Motherhood as the focus in her life. This means that Kiah [her son] gets ALL the benefits of her great voice and that for moment we will wait until she feels the time is right to return. I am continuing on with my band Tribe World Ensemble and other recording projects. I do think that if Circle is well received that I would be very happy to do much more of this wonderful and uplifting type of music. I already have a few pieces rattling around in my head!
S: My prayers and wishes for Kiah. Natalia's voice is a perfect match for yours. I wish that Circle is well received (and not pirated) to encourage you to do more albums with the same spirit.
S, Q8: Now this is regarding the question of authenticity you were mentioning earlier. 'Om Shiva' is one of the many tracks that I love to listen to on your album. It represents for me 'devotion in disco club' version of Shiva Mantra. But this reminds me of a verbal fight (yet a friendly one) I had with a Chinmayanda Preacher in my town whose complaint was that all new age sacred chants are gimmicks and have no meditative quality. If you were in my place, what would have been your reply? (I replied him, just curious to know yours :) )
David: I understand your friend’s point of view. I also have great respect for it. He has quite obviously an intimate knowledge of the sacred chants and would be meditating and chanting all the time. What I have found is that in this very big world and that many people are yet to be introduced to this wonderful material. My work is not an attempt at authenticity but rather an attempt to connect with the magnificent vista of this great ocean of sound.
I do not for a moment believe that serious students of Scripture will receive a great deal from my humble offerings, however I DO believe that once a person has been introduced to the idea that they will seek out ways to use it in their lives. They may then seek out a teacher who has far greater knowledge than I.
If that occurs then perhaps I will receive a blessing.
It is a very interesting question….should African music and rhythm only ever be played by a person who grew up with it? Or Native American, Irish, Scottish music? I have taken influences from all these different cultural and historical backgrounds and created music that I am told people like and relate to. As a musician that is all I can do.
S, Q9: Om Mane Padme Yang is a wonderful track. I personally thank you for this meditative track which I am listening in my meditation sessions. Thank you David Pendragon for this gift!!
PS: Is the concept of "Yang" energy, scientific or artistic?
For me I believe that all things have within themselves their equal and opposite. All matter and all non matter are Godness . When I chanted this piece I was yearning to find that equal and opposite. It is also me and not Natalia [as most people think] who is sing the very high vocal part. I deeply felt the connection when I sang in this very unusual range [for my voice] It felt very pure and had a strong physical effect on me. I cried tears of joy as I sang this piece. I thank you for connecting with that.
Q 10, Not my 10th question, though: Only nine questions came natually to me, though 10 would be good number for an interview. I leave this one for you to speak on anything that you would like your fans to know about.
I am a great believer in numbers; the number 9 is the final of all numbers…..after which we merely repeat combinations of digits. This was I believe what John Lennon was saying in ‘Number Nine’ on the Beatles ‘Revolver’. I thank you so much for interviewing us and for your great support and help with our little album. We hope that all who listen to it will benefit in some small way from our offering. It is with a great sense of awe that Natalia and I contemplate that the music we created in our small studio has found its way home….to the land of its inspiration INDIA. That alone has made our journey very worthwhile.
Shankar: Thank you David for taking time to reply my question in such detail. I wish both of you a good recognition in India.