One thing you can say about this music is it’s not boring! It is amazing to me how every shabd is something new altogether. I just completed the bagesri shabds in Gurubāni Sangeet, the last one a love song to the Merciful Master, another gem of a different color. First of all, bagesri appears at the end of rāga kānrā and the grace of teevar gandhār is a small shift that moves mountains. Then in this shabd, the phrase, s S n d, artfully placed in the teentāl cycle, paints rāga bagesri in another hue.
Did you ever notice that within a genre of music all the artists can sound the same, or all the songs from a particular artist sound like all their other songs? It’s easy for this kind of predictable music, whether it’s devotional or popular music, to just become part of the background, a soundtrack to our lives. Then one day something new catches our attention. All of a sudden someone has captured a different sound, maybe something new, maybe something old done a new way. It stands out from all the other white noise. Great musicians tap into a sound that wakes us up.
Can you imagine what it would have been like in the Guru’s darbār when the masters themselves sang? Or even after the Guru times when the great kirtānyās sang? Going through these volumes there is a sense of that constant connection with greatness. Page after page there is something fresh, a new color, a new flavor, the same rāga with a different scent. It must have been amazing to hear this music for the first time, when no one had ever heard it before. It is certainly amazing to discover it now.
When I was a teenager it was the 1960’s and 1970’s. Something new was happening on the radio in America. We would listen to the songs we expected to hear and suddenly there was something new. One day amid all the bopping beats there would be a slow ballad or out of the screaming electric dissonance someone would suddenly release a sweet acoustic love song. Traditional sounds of gospel, folk, classical, country or blues would be reworked in new ways. There was so much creativity and it was the sound of a cultural revolution. Our ears were never bored!
The music of the Guru times was also the sound of a cultural transformation and beyond that, it was truly a spiritual revolution. The music remembered from that time is like a manifesto expressed in words of sacred bāni, placed in artful poetic form, graced with meaningful melody and delivered in cycles of potent rhythm. Powerful anthems, simple tunes, soulful devotional hymns and heartfelt love songs express an infinite variety of experience from the soul journey.
When I started this project, I didn’t know what would happen. There was simply an intention to try and sing each of the songs recorded in Gurbāni Sangeet. It has been a journey of discovery, awareness of riches hidden in plain sight, a vision of what the music might have been, a confrontation with my own limitations and blocks, a shift in perception, a gift and a blessing. An added benefit is improved sight reading skills. With just a few more rāgas to go, I hope to finish the project by the end of the year. But the journey feels like it has just begun.