To be quite honest, I thought this would put me to sleep. American musician Dave Stringer fuses kirtan - an age-old practice of rhythmic call-and-response mantra chanting rooted in Middle Eastern tradition and derived from the Sanskrit word meaning "to sing" - with rock, gospel and jazz music to create a tremendously appealing sonic amalgam. Not being a practitioner of yoga, I wasn't prepared for the impact this compelling CD would have on me. The more I listened - three times in a row the first day - the more aware of my surroundings I found myself. I became more energetic, motivated and inspired. I even flirted with the idea of going out and finding someone to hug. But, alas, I didn't chant, even though I wanted to chant. I guess I'm just not a chanter.
You might be, though - especially after listening to Stringer's third record, Mala. Apparently, his music is played at actual yoga studios for actual yoga participants, but it'll sound just as good in your own living room, bedroom, car or office. Indispensable liner notes not only help listeners interpret what Stringer is chanting but also how the lyrics fits into the bigger musical picture the man is trying to paint. Despite the use of spiritual lyrics and exotic traditional Indian instruments, Stringer doesn't even pretend to be Peter Gabriel. Rather, the eight rather indescribable songs on Mala take on a life of their own, beginning with the surprisingly moving opener "Govinda Jaya Jaya," on which Stringer's dusty but likable voice converges with female and child singers in a joyful noise. Much of Mala is equally upbeat, reaching a climax on "Saraswati Ma," a tribute to the goddess of art, music and literature that begins slowly and builds with melodies so beautiful you may want to cry, The next song, "Devakinandana (Minor)," is the perfect companion piece to "Saraswati Ma" by continuing the soaring melodies and group vocals that highlight so much of this album, and then throwing in some joyful hand claps at the end to up the feel-good factor. Stringer closes Mala with the Middle-Eastern-tinged "Universal Prayer," whose translated lyrics are apropos in this era of international strife.
Mala is easily one of the most ear-opening records I've heard during 2004. This album will resound within your entire body as a celebration of existence. Music that has the ability to help listeners transcend their emotions and want to explore new aural possibilities - music like this - is, indeed, a gift. I think I just discovered what I'll be giving to those I love for Christmas this year.
1) Govinda Jaya Jaya (7:38)
2) Bhagavati (7:12)
3) Shivaya Namah Om (10:39)
4) Gaja Nana (5:27)
5) Saraswati Intro Mantras (0:56)
6) Saraswati Ma (7:03)
7) Devakinandana (Minor) (8:28)
8) Universal Prayer (2:17)