Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Okay, so the Dalai Lama may not be the prophet Jesus was, but he plays on a much wider stage, and in real time, and he speaks English. So he’s about the best we’ve got, the one person in the world who can be looked up to for moral authority, in a world that needs nothing so much as moral authority. While Roman Catholics and Thai Buddhists are embroiled in sex scandals that can no longer be explained away with a shrug of the shoulders and a “comes with the turf” attitude… and fundamentalist Muslim mullahs and imams tempt the gullible to travel heavenward by a shortcut that includes self-annihilation… and equally fundamentalist US Southern Baptists and Mormons mix their religion and politics instead of mixing their drinks… and Jewish leaders give the nod to Israeli aggression… it’s nice to know that someone- at least one major religious leader in the world- is quietly concentrating on the business at hand… individual happiness.

For those religious skeptics out there, the process by which the Dalai Lama is chosen/non-chosen must be as exasperating as religion itself. After all, how is a Dalai Lama simply reincarnated/reborn/manifested out there in the countryside somewhere, only later to be confirmed by testing and rigorous examination of details about which only the One would know? Such things defy reason… but that’s the point. Now maybe they just got lucky, and happened to choose someone who turned out to become a religious master, or maybe he’s just a very adept student… but that’s a win/win situation, not a victory of nurture over nature. Or maybe he really IS the reincarnation of something/someone who is more spiritual than material. It’s no accident that Jesus came along right as we were losing our instinctual spirituality and trading it for a philosophical one. And it’s no accident that the Dalai Lama is on the world stage at the same time that China completes its dialectically materialistic rebirth/return to prominence after a long self-imposed detour into self-doubt.

‘Dalai Lama Renaissance’ is the award-winning documentary- produced and directed by Kasyar Darvich and narrated by Harrison Ford- that resulted from the Dalai Lama’s meeting a decade ago with the so-called ‘Synthesis Group’ of forty Western ‘renaissance’ thinkers, and some of the thought that resulted. But even more than their thought, it documents the simple direct yet thorough religious thought of the Dalai Lama himself, vast yet disciplined… like the sea (‘Dalai’) itself. The Western thinkers, after all, came with their own viewpoints and prejudices, and though certainly well-intentioned, also full of opinions not always without controversy, and not always accepted by their peers in their respected sciences. These are, for example, some of the same physicists featured in What the Bleep Do We Know?, a documentary similar in message, that caused much controversy by its misrepresentation of scientific opinion, especially the continuing efforts by some to postulate a ‘quantum religion’ that dates back at least to The Tao of Physics. Despite harsh denials by physics’ best minds, this is an effort that somehow tries to elevate physics’ Uncertainty Principle into a metaphysical category. The distinction is simple, if often missed. Religion is about certainties, and the belief systems that are both cause and effect of that. Science is about theory, and the testing that produces it and results from it. The two activities are not the same thing. To ‘believe’ in science is a contradiction in terms.

Fortunately the Dalai Lama is disciplined enough to stay within his field and domain, which is the place of the individual- and his happiness… or not- in the world. His social message is fairly simple, similar to the Four Noble Truths themselves, and can be summarized as such: 1) change is constant, 2) man’s nature is essentially good, 3) bad things happen, 4) society can become corrupt, 5) change it.

Best of all, you can dance to it, or just listen in contented bliss. What Kasyar Darvich has accomplished cinematically, Michael Tyabji has seconded musically, pulling together a group as diverse as it is accomplished. This includes guitarist Larry Mitchell, composer Medicine Bear, The Yoginis, Heyraneh, and… the list goes on. Though incorporating many different instruments and sounds of Nature, too, the soundtrack leans heavily on classical sitar and the voice of the Dalai Lama himself, offering choice helpings of Buddhist wisdom mixed with good ol’ common sense. When the music starts to drift off into trance, the Dalai Lama’s voice brings it right back down to Earth. And if that’s not enough, you can hear Harrison Ford apparently teaching William Shatner how to rap in ‘Drops of Gold’: “words, words, words are mere bubbles of water… but deeds are drops of gold… you, yourself, must make the effort… the Buddhas are only teachers.” Cost of the soundtrack album: not so much; value of hearing Harrison Ford do Buddhist spoken word with the Dalai Lama: priceless. The release is timed to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s speaking tour of the US May 12-23. Is there Tibetan politics behind all this? Probably so, and that’s where it’ll stay. Hardie K says check it out.

Monday, April 05, 2010

LEVAME AOS FADOS by Ana Moura- Portuguese Soul Music

Fado has been one of the big musical disappointments of my life- until now that is. It’s not like they played it on the AM radio back when and where I was growing up, so the knowledge of it came slowly and packaged with a certain amount of mystery and mysticism attached. It seemed to be way cool, and I looked forward to the day when I could sit and listen to it, preferably in the flesh, the real thing, in a real fado house in Portugal. It’s not like I could just open up MySpace and do a search on Amalia Rodrigues and take it from there, or even go down to Amoeba Records or Bleecker Street and rummage through the racks. We didn’t have anything like that. So naturally one of the first things I wanted to do when I finally got the opportunity to visit Portugal was to sit down and listen to some down-home fado- simple, right? Well, considering that my train came in to Lisbon on a Sunday overnight from Madrid, and when I got off in the old port and one of the first things I saw was a sign written on a notice-board at the community center reading, “FADO HOJE!”, I’d say the odds were looking pretty good. So I booked a hotel close by, took a shower, and resolved to go listen to fado my first afternoon in Lisbon. I’ll need some help, of course, and that means some strong coffee.

So I got there at the time indicated and I was the first one there- not good. But eventually people came trickling in one by one, until the place filled up. Then I spilled my espresso all over my notebook- not good. Finally the music started. There was only one problem- it wasn’t very good. Now maybe that’s because of the lack of a big star or the fact that it was afternoon- not evening- fado, but the result was the same- disappointment. One by one self-styled crooners got up on stage and… proceeded to butcher the music, much more concerned with the high drama of the moment than the careful execution of the songs’ intricacies. It was more like bad karaoke than good fado. I left early, in something of a huff if I remember correctly.

Then Mariza came along a few years ago and made a big splash in world music circles, but I’m still not getting it. The high drama just seems all out of proportion to any kind of emotion that seems real to me. If fado is something typically a bit sad and mournful, then why belt it to the skies with flash and flourish? I’d more likely be crying alone in my beer. That doesn’t sell records, of course, but you get my point. When a speed guitarist plays the blues, no matter how much influence he derived from it, it’s no longer blues.

Now there’s Ana Moura and her new album Leva-me Aos Fados (‘Take Me to the Fados’)- aaaahhhhh. Now this is what I wanted all along, sad and mournful, deep and searching, but without all the dramatic affectation, just simple…. Como se diz?... soul. This is not only the real thing, but it goes down smoothe… like fine wine. She and her primary collaborator and songwriter Jorge Fernando have created a real gem here. The title track is one of Fernando’s and sets the tone for the album well- sad and mournful, yet at the same time yearning and hopeful. Fernando’s other songs- A Penumbra (At Twilight), Rumo Ao Sul (Heading South), and Que Dizer de Nos (What to Say of Us) continue in that same vein. Rumo Ao Sul is in fact of the album’s nicest songs, a change-of-rhythmic-pace that works nicely, pure balladry in the final good-bye of a lover’s parting.

The album has many other great moments also, and they’re not all sad and slow, either, though they do tend to be limited to acoustic guitar, by definition I suppose. Como Uma Nuvem No Ceu (‘Like a Cloud in the Sky’) is light and bouncy, as is Fado Vestido De Fado (‘Fado Dressed in Fado’) a nice little play on the meaning of fado as ‘fate” and a nice little tune to boot, with some really good playful guitar. Then there’s Critica Da Razao Pura (‘Critique of Pure Reason’), a nice little tongue-in-cheek number that asks the big questions. No, you won’t have to re-study Immanuel Kant to enjoy this. Emotion is the ultimate critique of pure reason, and it triumphs handily here, and in the album as a whole. The final song says it all, Nao E Um Fado Normal (‘It’s not Normal Fado’). No, it’s not. It’s pretty… spectacular? No, that’s not the word. It’s deep, yet simple… penetrating and soothing, like medicine for the soul. It’s Leva-me Aos Fados by Ana Moura. Hardie K says check it out.

search world music

Custom Search