Nadama talks to Punya about his journey to music and to meeting Osho. (Part 1)
How did you decide to become a musician? Was there a decision you had to make to go for this profession or how did it happen?
It’s a very long story but it’s been a beautiful journey. When I was young, my older brother and sister both played the piano and sang. So I was very much influenced by that. I took to the piano very quickly and had lessons on and off. At one point – and this was something I’ll always remember – my mother said, “Well, we made your brother and sister take lessons but if you want to take them or not it’s entirely up to you.” So, I really felt I owned the experience and did take lessons. When I felt like it, I would stop and when I was hungry for more, I would start again. No pressure. It was a very personal and intimate relationship I had with the piano – and it’s always been there.
How old were you?
I must have been seven or eight when I started and I studied music all the way through high school. When I started college I had a big interest in psychology. I began as a psychology major but kept drifting over to the music department. It was like a magnet.
At the time I didn’t think I could do the collegiate level of music because of my skill level. I mean, I could read music, I understood it, I had a passion for it but if I compared myself to the virtuoso players that were there… But when I walked through the practice room and heard what people were doing I thought, well I can do that! So I did do a Bachelor’s Degree in music.
Did you do Graduate work ?
I did start graduate work in music but for me it became too cerebral and academic in the end. I can explain it this way. I majored in music composition. I was studying 12 tone contemporary music and avant-garde music which to most listeners can sound rather dissonant and unpleasant. It was very conceptual; new creative concepts and experimentation were more important than creating more beautiful, harmonious music – like the music of the last several hundred years.
But what this brought me to was to ask myself: What does music mean to me and where am I the happiest? I could have ended up being a college professor or perhaps a contemporary composer but that didn’t attract me any longer. I wanted to get back to my heart.
So I quit college and took on any odd job. Music would come and go. I could never really walk away from it, but music doesn’t always pay well as a job. So for many years I had one job and then music was on the side.
It haunted me. For instance, if I went out to dinner and heard music being played in the background, I would feel that magnetic pull again. It was hard to have a conversation with anyone because my ears were drawn to the music.
I felt that I needed to do something and started writing my own simple piano pieces – just for my own pleasure. I bought my first cassette recorder and over the years recorded some pieces. Eventually that became my first album, Heart to Heart. That didn’t happen until 1995, though.
But as far as my musical journey went, there was a point after doing all these other jobs – like working in a hotel in San Diego, or driving a taxi in San Francisco, or moving furniture in Santa Barbara – that music kept calling me.
In the early 90s I was in Japan for two years teaching English. During that time I was playing music along with a guitarist, Bhakta, on the streets of Kyoto and at night in a nightclub called Toucan Tango; and occasionally for an Osho meditation event. Sometimes people would say to me, “Oh, Nadama, you look so happy when you are playing music.” It struck me like, “Yeah – right !” With music I felt the most at home.
It was during those two years in Japan that I decided, “Okay, I’m a musician for better or worse, richer or poorer.” That was a big turning point for me. I finally embraced it totally.
From Japan I went to Pune. I was in this new space of: Let’s just see what happens. Wonderful things did begin to happen as I spent nine amazing months there, every day creating and coordinating new music for White Robe and other meditations.
I then went on to the Tao Center in Munich, Germany, where I was also able to play in the meditations. During that time I toured through five countries in Europe with Prem Joshua in the band, Hamsafar, and thanks to a referral from my dear friend, Miten, recorded my first CD, Heart to Heart, with New Earth Records who were at that time still based in Munich.
Three years later, around 1997, I moved to Maui, Hawaii, and worked with the musician, Shastro, whom I had first met in Pune. It was a very good match for me. We created a lot of music together.
Also the location was a good match. In Maui you have these light tropical trade winds that make the air fresh. It’s just so relaxing. I’ve always loved the ocean; it has always been a healing force for me – just as music has been a healing force for me.
Almost unconsciously I wanted to bring that same feeling of relaxation and healing into the music. Having practiced yoga and meditation, I knew what kind of music I wanted to relax to, or have a massage to. A lot of so-called massage music at the time was too busy or annoying. Nowadays lots of musicians are getting the right feeling, but back in the 90s it was still a new thing.
One of my most popular pieces starts with ocean waves. It’s called Waves of Love. Then the whale sounds come in, then the strings, and then this beautiful melody where the left hand rolls like waves underneath. It’s very simple and that’s part of the beauty of it. You want music to be simple so people can anchor in and not get into their minds.
I don’t like music that is too busy or too fast; that is not relaxing. I tried to keep most of my tempos at around 60 beats per minute; that would be around the rate of a relaxed heart rate. I also chose mostly major keys to give the music a more uplifting feeling. So, it depends on how it is done.
In Hawaii I did gift fairs ranging from the local weekend markets to really big events in Honolulu and Las Vegas. I would have my tent or an assigned booth indoors and I would sell my CDs directly to the tourists, to the public.
People would come to my booth, hear my music and say, “Wow, I just feel so relaxed. This is amazing.” Some people would start crying right in front of me. A few couldn’t even speak as the music was touching them so deeply.
For the bigger shows I used listening stations with headphones, but most of the time I preferred to play selections of my music on a portable stereo system; I found I wanted to listen to the music along with the people, talk with them and follow their interests and needs.
For example, I would ask them in what situations they enjoyed listening to music and then I would select a CD that might fit that situation – such as relaxation, studying, yoga, meditation, massage, healing or sleep.
Consequently, we would end up talking about many things, including spirituality and sometimes Osho. I’m sure that my time with Osho had a lot to do with the essence of my music. I would often include a quote from him on the CD jacket. He is in there. And maybe other people came to Osho through my music. I really have no way of knowing.
For many years I enjoyed this relationship with the public. I did touch a lot of people in a personal way. They would come back every year and look for me, because it was a sharing of my being as well as of my music.
I spent nearly two decades in Maui where I helped Shastro start and promote his record label, Malimba Records, and where we recorded the CDs Zen Notes, and Reiki Offering. I then went on to record nine of my own piano albums on Malimba Records and then Nadama Music. I now feel happy and at home.
So that’s the journey.
This was your journey to music. And then there was another journey – to meet Osho.
That was a parallel journey, interwoven through it all.
My first experience meeting sannyasins was while I was a yoga teacher and massage therapist in San Diego. I had done a Kundalini meditation with these people dressed in orange. I loved the meditation and it caught my interest. Then I took classes at a yoga center that was run by a sannyasin named Pujari. He was a very good teacher. He actually used to teach yoga in the ashram and had studied with Iyengar in Pune.
In the waiting room was a picture book of Osho. Pujari saw me looking at it and asked, “Oh, are you going to go see the Enlightened One?” And I said, “What?” He replied, “Well, yeah. People are going to India. If you want to go it’s a possibility.” “It’s the furthest thing from my mind,” I said. As it turned out, around a year later I was off to India!
At around the same time something interesting happened that I will always remember. I was in my apartment and suddenly I hear Osho speaking on the radio – this was the first time I ever heard his voice. Now, that’s a rare thing for him to be on the radio, even to this day. But it was the sound of his voice that struck me like, “What is that?” It was poetry to my ears. It was music to my ears. It was very captivating.
A short time later I was reading a book that had a picture of him and under the picture there was a quote saying something like: “I will teach you how to die to the past.” This sounded so nihilistic to me because he was canceling out everything. I remember thinking, “Well, I like this guy but he is pretty scary.”
The other parallel thing around this time was that I had an interest in living in a spiritually-based, conscious community. I went to a spiritual event and there were these singers, The New Troubadours, from Findhorn, Scotland. You may remember the book, The Findhorn Experience, from the 70s. Anyway, I was so captivated by their music and their joy that I quit my job, booked a trip to Scotland, and was off to Findhorn where I stayed a few weeks. I actually wrote a song there, I Am That I Am, with lyrics. It was a wonderful experience and I considered becoming a part of that community, but still felt I needed to look into other spiritual communities before deciding.
When I got back to the States I attended a huge event in Vancouver, Canada featuring several leaders of spiritual communities. There was Sikh Yogi Bhajan of the Happy Healthy Holy Organization, Swami Kriyananda from Ananda Farm, Pir Vilayat Khan of the Sufi Path and David Spangler from Findhorn. It was a real spiritual smorgasbord. Strangely enough I was chosen to accompany both Kriyananda and Pir Vilayat Khan on the piano.
After that I went to a week-long yoga retreat with Swami Satchidananda. For the retreat we were to bring a spiritual book to read in between activities and I brought Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. This book was about all of the active meditations that Osho had created.
So while we spent the entire week doing silent sitting meditations, I was reading about this great active meditation, Dynamic Meditation, which I couldn’t wait to try out. In stark contrast to the sitting meditations I was doing, the Dynamic felt like it was just what I needed. It became my daily morning meditation for years.
After doing the Kundalini and Dynamic meditations for a few years I was off to India. Now, I could have waited to take sannyas there but I didn’t want to wait. So I took sannyas by mail and I received my name in the post.
I came to Pune the first time in 1979 for a month and a half. I did about nine groups in that time. I was in a state of overwhelm. I would come to music group and there was this unison singing happening; some of it was off-key but people were very happy and celebrating. But I wasn’t quite in that space yet as I was processing so much. It was a different experience.
On the other hand, there was Sufi dancing which I loved very much. I wasn’t playing, I was just absorbing, experiencing and going through all these emotions. Then after that, in America, I was participating in centers, starting off in San Diego, California.
So the music and the spiritual journey kept evolving together.
How was it to meet the man finally?
When I first came to Pune – like many – I had an invitation to meet the Master. In this meeting you could either ask a question or you could touch his feet. I thought that many people were asking questions and thought that perhaps I could find my own answers through anybody else’s question. So, I chose to have the energy connection.
They called my name, Swami Anand Nadama. I stood up and suddenly there was just me and the Master. Walking toward him seemed like everything went into slow motion – like super awareness. So I slow-motion up there. I really wanted to look into his eyes because he has these amazing eyes that seem endlessly deep. After I bowed down and touched his feet I straightened up to look into his eyes – and at that very moment he closed his eyes…
It was as if he was joking with me. Exactly at that moment a picture was taken of me staring at him – and his eyes are closed and he is smiling. I felt he was just playing with me, but I appreciated that. It made me go a little deeper and remember not to be so serious.
While I was in Pune, I listened to his discourses and always got so much from them. And listening to him over many years the silent gaps between his words got even bigger – and that was even better.
You could really rest into those silent gaps. And that’s also something I came to experience in music, to rest in between the notes and savor those silent moments. Osho spoke of it often – to listen to the gaps between the notes and between his words. That really struck me.
To be continued…