I have been exploring North Indian raga from the ancient ‘”Dhrupad” tradition for 23 years, in my workshops, teaching sessions and as my personal daily practice, ever since my dear friend ( and my former movement and voice student) Felix Padel first introduced it to me back in 1998.
At that point I was in a healing crisis; an acute hypersensitivity and tinnitus in my ears had caused me to let go of part of my work as a DJ and drummer and choose a different path. As it turned out, raga was exactly the healing and musical expression that I needed…..
Felix learnt with Ritwik Sanyal in Varanasi and currently with the sublime Wasifuddin Dagar in Delhi. He has been living part of each year in India, returning regularly to England/ Wales and sharing the ragas with me. The main way I have learnt is through a deep meditative process of repetition followed by ‘jagalbandi’, the wonderful improvised singing dialogue or duet, essential to Dhrupad.
The musical notes of the ragas come out of silence and return there – this mysterious ancient singing form, passed down orally for many hundreds of years, gradually brought about a healing to my hyper- sensitive, pained ears and simultaneously I fell in love with the sound and depths of feeling that they evoked in me.
Many of the ragas, or groups of notes that dance in a specific way with each other, are linked with a particular Hindu deity; these deities became, over the years, very profound archetypes for me, encouraging powerful expression on a physical, emotional and also at times soulful level….I found that something from the beyond, from the unknowable can sing through me.
Very soon after I was first introduced to the ragas, I began a daily morning practice alone, where I improvise on a raga scale, making it “my own” , going deeply into its patterns and embodying its particular mood and qualities. I have been practising like this ever since, and my singing and knowledge of the ragas has organically evolved in its own timing. For me, in truth, ‘knowledge’ is not quite the right word: it would be more accurate to say that I have gradually got to know each individual raga, as one can get to know a good long-lasting friend.
Raga has become a profound creative meditation practise for me, grounding me in my body, and into my life as it is in that moment and at the same time opening me to experiences that are often quite sacred and ethereal. I am very grateful for this.
In September 2016, I began to compose songs on the ragas that I love the most; from improvising deeply on the raga, words begin to flow out which I write down as a kind of poem. I then set this poem to specific musical notes from that particular raga scale and gradually, singing these words and notes over and over, the composition begins to feel and sound like a melodic song. I find this process very exciting and mysterious. It is a natural meeting of East and West inside me, the ragas blending themselves with my Western Celtic roots and love of poetic language.
The compositions are also an expression of my love of wild nature in all its forms..
In April 2019 I launched my album, Prayer to The Wild , a recording of 10 of my raga-songs, supported by a wonderful band of musicians, at a church in Hampstead, with an audience of 70 friends, students and family members.
It was one of the most powerful and beautiful evenings of my whole life.