Laurie Madison, Maasa Craig & Doug Cox Maitri (yogic chants) Independent release (Canada) Yoga chants, sung in Sanskrit have risen in popularity during recent years with the yoga craze in North America. I have heard kirtan chants or mantras sung in Hebrew, YofiYah’s Kabbalah Kirtan (Sounds True), authentic Indian devotional chants and an array of new age recordings. Fusing slide guitar and music genres of the West with yoga mantras though is new to my ears. A musical ensemble under the guise of Maitri, have done just that, created a mix of chants from the Subcontinent with bluegrass tinged harmonies (vande gurunham), slide guitar and other western instruments. Mantra recordings provide music for a yogic practice or for musical meditation (singing the chants). The press notes that accompany the CD, mention Nelson (British Columbia) musician and yoga instructor Laurie Madison came up with an idea of combining Indian mantras with Western music, “A means of making yogic chant more accessible to the western ear.” And the musicians do take this concept further than Deva Premal who was among the first Westerners to westernize Indian mantras by adding synthesizer and acoustic guitar. The harmonies of Madison and her musical partner Maasa Craig recall bluegrass harmonies at time and with Doug Cox providing slide guitar, dobro, and banjo, these chants have the potential to reach more ears. Saraswati with its gorgeous Indian vocals will satisfy the more traditional yogi. So I had to try out the recording with my own yoga practice. I found that the chants energized and relaxed me, while providing some lovely beats. The harmonies of the women and vocalist Cassius Kahn lent themselves to a meditative space. The opener Shri Ram (a popular mantra) with the tabla beats, silky slide guitar and hearty vocals can entice even the laziest yogi to roll out the mat and get to it. Throat -singing and classical Indian vocals compliments of Ganesh Anandan and Kahn appear on Siva Mahyna. I guess with this warming yogic recording, I have no excuse but to take it to the mat.
MAITRI Having heard a number of fine western musicians interpreting eastern mantras, including the excellent Deva Premal and Yoko, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Maitri have created an original set of interpretations that stand with the very best I have heard from other artists. Whereas the Deva Premal duo have a fairly standard, recognizable sound from track to track and from album to album, based around one female voice, Maitri capitalize on the interweaving of two female voices and a much bolder and varied choice of musical arrangements, especially in their use of guitar. The album begins strongly with Shri Ram and maintains the quality and creativity throughout, including tight, rich harmonies on tracks such as Baso Mere, the almost Philip Glass-like hypnotic repetition of Siva Mantra and the equally compelling quasi-Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush World feel of Samastha Lokah. The Indo-Jazz/World backing tracks are second to none and the musicianship, likewise. These are extremely refreshing interpretations of many classic mantras, and the ever-shifting yet complementary styles make for an album that never grows stale. There is so much depth here that I found myself being reminded of everything from high-end Sixties psychedelia, especially Jefferson Airplane’s finest work, such as on Medicine Buddha Mantra and Vande Gurunam, to Philip Glass and the mighty John McLaughlin’s Shakti. Being a major fan of Sheila Chandra and Susheela Raman, it takes a lot to impress me, but Maitri have managed to do that and then some. These are brilliantly nuanced performances from a band that would be sheer dynamite ‘live’. More, please. Steven Cain, author/screenwriter, One Star Awake and Sirius Moonlight.