Chinmaya reviews Shastro’s latest album.
Satsang marks a departure for Shastro from most of what he has done before. Finally his love affair with Indian instrumentation (dating back thirty years to a chance meeting with a baba selling flutes outside the Osho Commune in Pune) and used as colour and timbre on so many of his recordings, bears fruit in music that does more than nod to India.
The CD is a culmination of a remarkable quarter century as composer and recording artist, which has resulted in the release of fifteen albums and covered a wide range of musical territory. Putting Satsang in context requires that I take this opportunity of first reviewing and celebrating the career of someone who is both a close friend and a musician I admire.
Shastro tells me that before arriving in India for the first time in 1986, he played guitar and wrote songs in Italy, with Dylan and Cat Stevens as his models. Based on the dominant output of his first ten years, I’ll bet he didn’t sound like either! There must surely be some Latino in his blood or past lives, because almost all of these recordings (from Bandole, 1994 through to Earth Sutras, 2004) invite you to sit back on the porch of your cabana while the waves roll in and sip a piña colada, before retiring to sleep in a hammock pitched under the tropical stars.
I’ve had occasion before to comment on Shastro’s uncanny ability to make a few weeks practice on any instrument into something worth recording. Oasis Night, 2001, for example, lists him as playing no less than nine instruments, in addition to programing keyboards and drums. Of these, three are Indian (dilruba, santoor and bansuri), to which can be added tabla, sitar, and surbaha, which feature on others of his CDs. All of these Shastro manages to fit seamlessly into the guitar-based arpeggios that recall those tropical evenings by a Caribbean sunset, yet I’ve often been puzzled how until now, with the release of Satsang none of them really evoke the East where he spent so much of his time!
I remember him in his early days in Pune as a retiring student of tabla, focused mainly on his role in the ashram as a photographer. He recalls how he passed a baba selling bamboo flutes on the street outside the Front Gate and being surprised. “I had to stop, as a voice inside was basically saying: ‘Now you will be a musician and no longer a photographer’.” He admits that the surprise continued with the success of his 1989 creation (together with Persian Sangit Sirus) of the music for Osho No Dimensions Meditation (a story told elsewhere). This marked his debut as flautist and initiated us into his astonishing ability to make something special out of limited technique.
But the Eastern flavor of his bamboo flute playing on that recording was not really to be repeated until now. From Pune he moved to Maui on Hawai’i, in 1991 and began to mine the smooth nouveau flamenco seam from contemplative (including Shambala, 1995) to lively (Malimba Moon, 1997), driven by Spanish guitar arpeggios and an emphasis on the soothing harmonics of the Western silver flute. In 2000 on Tantric Heart he sampled my sarod on the second long track ‘The Diamond and the Lotus’ and perhaps my playing forced on him a rare piece with a more Indian feel. Two follow-up albums saw Shastro exploring New Agey North American flute and drum atmospheres on Shamans Healing, 2002 and what would turn out be a last lingering look at his Latin roots on Earth Sutras , 2004.
A parallel seam of meditative music opened out with Shastro’s memorable live duet at the Osho Commune in 1998 with American pianist Nadama. This saw his public debut on clarinet and led to the CD Zen Notes, 1999 (and incidentally to Nadama moving to Maui and becoming a formative artist for Shastro’s newly-founded Malimba record label). The sultry Lovers Night 2014 and minimalistic Zen Moments with Raphael, 2015 track his love affair with the smooth lounge-y feel he gets out of clarinet, and his attempts to provoke space and silence through music.
Lovers Night also marked his return to music after a gap of ten years (although he kept his hand in with two days in the studio playing flute on Nanda Re’s production Body Healing in 2009). It also marked a move from Maui to Tuscany. There he began to study Hindustani classical in earnest with the Italian dhrupad duo Samvad. Satsang is the result.
The album opens with ‘Sweet Lotus’, with a rich drone and spacious bamboo flute playing a scale that is instantly recognizable as Indian (for the technically minded: Raga Madhuvanti, with the notes C D Eb F# G A B C). But Shastro is not aiming here to be a second-rate Hindustani classical player and doesn’t allow technique to interrupt the silence he leaves between the notes. The space he creates continues throughout the CD, with the addition of clarinet, dilruba and some highly supportive melodic pluckings on Spanish guitar. Only track 5 ‘Reveries’, a piano and clarinet duet, changes the mood and takes us back to the more lounge-y feel of Zen Notes.
Shastro’s aim on Satsang is to capture in a studio recording some of the meditative music interspersed with long periods of silence that he has been sharing live over the past couple of years in satsang gatherings around the world. His playing echoes the music that we used to hear in Osho’s Samadhi in Pune, and in the now-defunct ‘6.30’ spot in Buddha Hall’s White Robe Brotherhood. Such gatherings offer a chance for listeners to use music to support a quiet place within. Satsang achieves this with Shastro’s characteristic sense of effortlessness.
Review by Chinmaya for Osho News
Listen to the first track on video Sweet Lotus
Shastro took sannyas in 1981. Trained in Italy as a fashion photographer, he had the opportunity to photograph Osho on various occasions in Pune. His creativity soon expanded to music and, together with Sirus, he composed the music for the No Dimensions Meditation. He later founded Malimba Records that, as of today, features 14 of his albums as well as those of 12 other sannyasin musicians. Shastro lives between USA, India and Italy. www.shastro.com – www.malimba.com – link to articles by this author on Osho News