Madhuri’s impressions while listening to Prem Joshua’s most recent album.
With Joshua on sitar, bamboo flutes, soprano sax, vocals.
Dondieu Divin on piano, keyboards, programming, harmonium.
Sandhya Sanjana: vocals.
Raul Sengupta: darbouka, tabla, shaker, voice.
Sanou Otszewski: vocals.
Francky Moulet: electric guitar.
This very musicianly album – expert, confident, so experienced and urbane that it falls back on itself and back out the other side into innocence – is, for me, like a lost afternoon… the kind of lost that is really found; the kind where time disappears and you are lying back watching the clouds, listening to shhhhshing palms and gentle waves – and you realize that all that you’ve striven for is nothing to this accidental time of Presence.
The instrumentation is deft and dense – sitar, bamboo flutes, keyboard, soprano sax, harmonium, synthesizer, shaker, tabla – and last but not least – the human voice… or rather, two sorts of voices – a man’s and a woman’s; sometimes one then sometimes the other; and once, a conversation between them made of sounds, not words. But above the different statements of the instruments – with their beguiling side-by-side Eastern and Western influences – I always was aware of the silent arching sky – the sky we know and love, and yet never really know – Osho, and all he brings to us of boundless space.
Many times I felt I was in a jazz lounge – shady, desultory, walled, air-conditioned, an afternoon trickling away into timeless dissolution – and yet the album was inspired by a protected biosphere in the Maldives; as beachy-natural as you can get. Still… there is something similar: both are laid-back, with the brush of fronds or shaker, the beat of tropical rain or drums; starlight coming, whispering about some sort of romance one cannot really even be bothered to pursue… because one is done with chasing, and one lies back here, and finds oneself as if transposed back to the beginning – back-pedalled into a circular existence where things are the same and yet not the same.
…An ultimate kind of relaxation, really.
Most of the twelve tracks have a beat coming in at some point – pretty fast, asking you to stand up and waggle a little bit, maybe – but what I noticed more was how each track had a sort of freedom to the construction – an intro with only keyboard, and then a flute coming in, and only later some drumming – and then the whole kit-and-caboodle of the multi-tangle of sounds… really luxurious, a leela, so many elements, as there are in even a simple-seeming place like an atoll in the Indian Ocean. And all of it doing just as it pleases – a kind of artistic license which mirrors how nature really is.
I went on quite a ride, listening… sometimes haunted, sometimes flying, sometimes in a cafe in the monsoon, with people smoking and chai and spicy food smells and a damp dog lying under a tree – the Blue Diamond in a minor key – flirting – flat Kansas – while a bluesy saxophone weedles and woodles melancholic-optimistic. Clouds sailing by like huge ships. Feeling my insides being tugged around like a fox was making off with them in his teeth, his sassy, gorgeous, dignified tail behind him. I particularly was beguiled by the infrequent interjections of the synthesizer – a thing I normally haven’t much use for – but in the context of all these classic, natural instruments it brought an energizing, fresh breeze of its own… and I was grateful that it never took over at all.
Only one track, Vasundhara (“Earth”, but meant poetically) had lyrics:
Greed, war and pain have always been around
It seems like man is never learning
Again all hopes are burning to the ground
There’s no redemption to our yearning
A raging storm’s out there with mighty sound
It feels like history repeating
But deep inside a secret place we found
Beyond illusion, fear and cheating
A tiny seed has sprouted in our souls
It grows into a tree of silence
Although the world is turning round and round
It feels like time is never moving, it feels like time is never moving
What struck me about the cover was how Joshua, standing diffident and grinning on a pier, wearing loose tropical whites, carrying a sitar is really… extraordinary. Here is the gone-native European – but not sickly, not dissipated, not lost and foolish – rather, owning his place in the world, on the planet, as a joyous beaming who-knows-what, a listener to the music of the amazing place we find ourselves in. His grin is split by the wonderful little space between his two front teeth – his hair is long and pulled back, rippling, greying and easy – his sandalled feet are paused mid-step. Behind him are palms, huts, the quiet surf – and in the sky a just-seen interlocking design, almost white on white… something Indiany and repeating, like a beat. But so understated, so spacious.
The phrase, “Life is a beach,” does not normally take in the aspect of awareness. Beaches often appeal to the sleepy, or those wanting to escape – but in these songs I feel Joshua’s indelible time with the Master, waking the beach up into its myriad components and its whole music – undaunted, alert, savouring.
Review by Madhuri
Joshua was born in south Germany and came to Pune in 1979 where he took sannyas. Some might remember him washing pots in Mariam Canteen but mostly we saw him playing for Osho, before and after discourse. Joshua lives between India and Italy and travels worldwide with his band. He released 18 albums so far, with EMI, Universal, Silenzio, Music Today, New Earth Records. premjoshua.com – facebook.com/PremJoshuaAndBand
My Inner India – Joshua talks to Ishu about music and his beloved India
Note: Voavah – in case you are wondering – is an island in the Maldives