Singer Narayani tells Punya about her life with music…
Her voice is so iconic that many of our Osho songs, even when just heard in our heads, inevitably bear her voice. One of them is the song she herself wrote: ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is’. And we are constantly reminded of her beautiful voice whenever we are online and find a video that has one of her songs as a background.
Every year, Narayani comes and visits Corfu, where she gives workshops and always sings for us at Buddha Hall. This year she came with the first copies of her new CD, ‘Let Your Heart Sing’. I looked her deeply in the eyes and said: “It is high time we wrote something about your life with music.” I was pleased when she told me a few days later that she had immediately started writing!
This is her story:
Narayani was asked to sing on stage when she was only four and at the time she was blissfully unaware that she had a special voice. Later, as a teenager, she became part of the school’s choir and won a singing contest with the song ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, although – she confesses – she only understood the meaning of the lyrics in later years….
She taught herself to play the guitar with a little help from a boy in the neighbourhood. Every day, after school, she played in front of the big mirror in her parents’ bedroom and pretended, for hours at a time, to play in front of a large audience.
At sixteen Narayani eventually started writing her own songs, not happy songs because they reflected her fairly miserable life as a teenager, but singing and writing songs helped her in difficult times and brought comfort. She performed at school events, in theatres, at parties for friends, in churches and get-togethers of youth organisations. “To sing and perform for others – at every possible occasion – became part of my life,” she says.
After taking sannyas at age 21, singing and playing took on a radically new dimension. She started singing in music groups and festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Narayani came to Pune for the first time in September 1977. Her everyday treat was the morning Sufi Dance run by Aneeta, and the evening Music Group by Anubhava. Sometimes she would look jealously at Suresha, who in those days was one of the singers. “But I was too shy to let myself be noticed or ask to sing with the band!”
Back in the Netherlands, in 1982, she joined the Osho Humaniversity – at the time called Grada Rajneesh. As soon as she walked through the door she was told that one of her jobs was going to be the lead singer in the band. She knew Veeresh since 1976 and he had remembered her voice! “So I joined Vereesh’s staff – and became the singer of the band; my wish came true!
I did not have
to do anything
to get my voice.
I was born with it –
it is simply a gift.”
“It was with Veeresh that I really learned to be creative with singing and music. Imagine, one day he needed a song for an event and challenged us – that was me and the band leader, Helmut – to prepare a song and have it ready within 24 hours. Recorded of course. I still have some of those first songs on tape. The lyrics were often outrageous and extreme, on issues from catharsis to sex, from emotional issues around relationships to people living together. Quite often Veeresh made us improvise music and lyrics on the spot when he was guiding a group of people into a structured meditation. I enjoyed the freedom he gave me and that he trusted my ability. During that period, in 1983, I also sang a few times on a moving truck during the public demonstrations for Osho so he could stay in the USA. That was a lot of fun!”
During the last year she was at the Humaniversity, she formed a duo with Pritamo – and together they created a lot of songs. “Sometimes I wrote the lyrics and he came up with the music. Sometimes he prepared chords and riffs while I added a melody with lyrics on top. We gave many beautiful touching concerts; it was the first time I saw people becoming emotional while I was singing – the listeners laughed and cried. Our best performances were at the Humaniversity Coffee Concerts on Sunday mornings.”
Narayani left the Humaniversity in 1987 to visit Pune, while Pritamo stayed on. (They later played a few times together again, but it was clear that their lives had taken on a different direction.) Soon after she arrived at the Commune she participated in a talent show together with another singer, Sudhananda. Little did they know that Milarepa and Satyam were in the audience, scouting for singers and musicians. “Soon afterwards, English Satyam, who was one of the singers in the music department, invited me, as well as Sudhananda, to start singing in discourse. Live for Osho!”
“I feel very blessed for this to have happened to me. And I remember very well one evening when I could not get up after singing for Osho. I could hardly move for another half hour and only when a friend came and helped, could I peel myself off the floor. Whenever I was in Pune I regularly sang for Osho and when Osho introduced Oshoba I participated in those first White Robe evening meditations with Osho introducing the high-energy music and conducting the musicians with his hands. Musicians were Nivedano, Milarepa, Satgyan, Neera, and many others.”
Eventually, Narayani and Milarepa worked together as a team; they sang and performed together for over ten years. “It was a musical love affair and we are still very connected. In 1989 a group of us recorded a tape called ‘Love is the Fire’ and later ‘How Beautiful this Mystery’; the latter included a version of ‘Home is Where the Heart Is,’ one of my songs. These two albums were later compiled into the CD ‘Songs of Awakening’.”
In the beginning Milarepa had her sing the harmonies most of the time, later on he started giving her the lead and then he would sing the harmonies with her. She learned a lot from him and Satyam (harmony-master supreme) about these skills. She now enjoys preparing two or three harmonies for a recorded song. She likes the idea of being able to sing on top of one’s own voice. “But that is only possible when recording!”
“In 1993 Milarepa invited me to join a three-month tour of the European Osho Centres. Musically it was one of the most exciting times I ever experienced. I learned to be a singer in a band of top class musicians. We never rehearsed. There were no fixed arrangements for our songs. And nobody gave anybody else space. I had to learn to take space and if I didn’t, I did not get it! I still feel proud and blessed that I was part of that band.
“The following year we again toured in Europe and Japan and we recorded the CD ‘Cloud Watching’. For me and Milarepa it was the beginning of the end of a long partnership. As in all relationships there is a time of coming and going. Mind you, we are still dear friends and he is one of my big supporters in regard to music.”
There is a big difference
in front of people
who want to be entertained
and when singing for people
in the context of meditation.”
Narayani was now back on her own feet. For the Multiversity in Pune she created a workshop called ‘Singing Celebration’ where she had the participants use their voices and sing sounds, write their own poetry and create a song out if it. This song was then, at the conclusion of the workshop, performed in front of an audience. “Satyam, who supported me for these groups, later turned that original idea into a process she renamed ‘Finding your voice, finding your song’.”
Taking advantage of the opportunities during the low season, the months – in particular during monsoon – when all aspiring musicians are keenly aware not to miss the chance to come forward while the ‘affirmed’ musicians are abroad, she lead the Sannyas Celebration, two Music Groups a week and “an Energy Celebration, which was the wildest events of all.” That was her start in 1996 and 1997. But after that ‘low season’ start she was always amongst the musicians, low or high season no longer mattered.
“I had been writing a lot of songs and it was time to come out with my own album. The day before I should have started recording the CD – it was in a studio in Goa – my partner Jwala suffered a severe stroke. Ramadhan and Adarsha were there with me and two Goan musicians. All of a sudden I was caught up rushing to an Indian hospital and worrying about my friend’s life.”
She took care of Jwala for almost two years and this is the length of time it took her to finish her first CD. She had worked on it in Goa, then Pune and finally in New York when she took Jwala to the States to when her health improved. ‘The Power from Within’ eventually came out in 2001.
After leaving Pune for good in 2002 she kept singing at events in Belgium and in the Netherlands, but never at the frequency of the heydays in the Commune. Since that time she has been living in Belgium while commuting to a job near Rotterdam.
In January 2010 she came to Corfu for the first time to visit Ganga and this is where we met again. When I urged her to come and sing for us for the evening meditation, she agreed as long as I would sit next to her and play my little percussions. So, since then there is live music up at Buddha Hall, every Saturday, low season or high season….
While in Corfu she also met Samada, who has been giving Journey workshops and sessions at a holistic centre here, the Ouranos Club. She introduced Narayani to the then owners, Jochen and Gerda and it was arranged for her to give a workshop that same summer. Since then the holiday makers at Ouranos have been enjoying her singing workshops and private sessions every year.
“One day one of the participants at Ouranos came up with the idea to make a CD of the songs I was teaching, so that they could sing along when back home. And so I did. Whoever you are, when you read this, I want to thank you.”
The making of ‘Let Your Heart Sing’ took over a year and was released last September. As music remains a hobby for her, she created the CD besides her day job and caring for her father.
And concluding, she says:
“There is a deep longing in me which is becoming stronger, year after year. It is to live again more closely connected to a sannyas community and to spend more time singing for and together with seekers. Singing makes me and the listeners happy; it connects me with people.
“Sometime in the nineties, in the middle of participating in a Mystic Rose in Pune, I had the insight that singing exists right in the middle between laughter and tears. Both touch the heart, both keep the feeling channel open and the same accounts for singing.
“I feel that singing creates a channel for people to open up. It is a trigger for any emotion blocking the way to experience joy and bliss. The human voice, especially, has the ability to open people’s hearts. It is something in the experience of the singer that comes through in the voice and which resonates with the feelings in the listeners.
“I love to sing for Osho’s beloveds and meditators, at events where seekers gather. There is a big difference between performing in front of people who want to be entertained and when singing for people in the context of meditation. For me it is the most relaxed way of singing, no ego involved and I can just be myself. Here the reward is the sense of gratitude and bliss, shared by both musician and listener. As we are both meditators we share the energy of the music and the depth of the silence that remains when the music stops.
“Just singing a few simple songs, there is always that moment when the silence deepens and the connection to the divine, to Osho, is felt unmistakably.
“As a human being the gift of singing has given and still gives me more than I can express in words. Wherever I go, I take it with me – it is something I can always share.
“I did not have to do anything to get it, I was born with it – it is simply a gift.”
Read Milarepa’s review on Narayani’s latest CD ‘Let The Heart Sing’
Listen to one of the tracks from the CD on Osho News and read what she has to say about it: From You I Receive