When I was first invited by MoreThanSound.net to listen to the CD Dhamma Gita, I wasn't sure what to expect.
A meditation CD perhaps? Named after the Dhamma (which are the teachings of the Buddha that help lead one to enlightenment), a person like myself, i.e., one who embraces and attempts to practice the teachings and concepts of Buddhism but is not necessarily super-versed in the Dhamma - would think this to be a likely possibility. However, a quick read of the CD description, or better yet, the review posted by Bodhipaksa of WildMind.org, and it's clear that Dhamma Gita is not your typical meditation music. Notice I said typical. For me personally, typical meditation music is that which is slow and dreamy. Something you might hear while receiving a massage at the spa. Or, better yet, something you would listen to while taking a quiet meditation - eyes closed, breathing deep...you get the picture.
And while there are songs on the Dhamma Gita that are conducive to this kind of quiet meditation (Ki Ki So So, by Ravenna Michalsen and "Swell" by Lucky Vita in particular), the majority of this CD is composed of music by Buddhist musicians that help to get you "thinking" about the principles of the Dhamma - even more so when you consider the whole basis and background of the CD. On that note, when you download Dhama Gita at MoreThanSound.net, be sure to click on the "Get to Know the Artists" link. In my opinion, it brings another level to the music.
Inspired by the "vast creative space of meditation practice", More Than Sound's intent in creating the Dhamma Gita was to compile a collection of the best songs being produced by young practitioners of the Dhamma - the next generation of Buddha's and Bodhisattva's, if you will. The end result is a very eclectic mix of music unified by the universal thread of the Dhamma. Granted, it helps to know this ahead of time. The album has its greatest effect when the listener is conscious of the source - the Buddhist musicians. Some of the songs on the CD, although not necessarily my "cup of tea", take on an added dimension when placed in context with the artist behind the music. For example, "White Lines" (which starts off the CD and is heavier and harder sounding than some of the other songs) actually sheds light on the sometimes-rough beginnings of self-enlightenment when considering the personal story of lead man Dave Smith.
Several of the songs performed by the Buddhist musicians on this CD, I have no doubt could be (and already very well might be) playing on the radio. Sut Nam by Tori Heller has a slightly melancholic, coffee-house-feel reminiscent of Tori Amos while Eva Mohn's "Matters How you Pray" sounds like a cross between Lykke Li and Feist. And if "Hello Mr. June Bug" by Lela Roy isn't playing on the airwaves or as a soundtrack in a movie, I bet it will be soon. Let's just say "Hello Mr. June Bug" had me bopping my head and humming along, sending my thoughts into cinematic wonderland.
It goes to show the Dhamma is in everything and speaks it's truth in ways and through people we may least expect. With that said, here is what to expect from the other Buddhist devotee's sharing their musical art on the Dhamma Gita:
Travis Callison's "Bear Witness" has a downtempo, smooth, feel with nothing short of some very inspiring and wise rap lyrics.
Jay Harper's Lu Shan Cha is an invigorating fusion between classical Asian and modern Bhangra (that's my take at least).
"Bedtime Waltz" by Brad Gibson isn't necessarily a "Buddhist melody". But, then again, what is? What I can say is that "Bedtime Waltz" - besides starting off like George Winston's latest piano track - is some of the more complex and sophisticated jazz that I've heard in the clubs of New York City.
Duncan Ros' "Rabbit Horns" is - as the lyrics put it - a "so very real" alternative track that I would think any fan of Band of Horses would take a liking to.
The catchy chorus, melody and hard driving guitar in "Let it Ache" might just have you up and singing along - especially if your heart is indeed aching and needing a release. Heather Maloney certainly has one of the best voices on the album.
Monique Rhode's "Lama Care for Me" and Michaela Lucas' "Faith" are devotional prayers of sorts that while slightly literal with the lyrics, are the perfect bedtime melodies that hold the capacity to bring one back to the childlike state.
Ladyfinger's "Yer Gonna Get You" offers another great voice on the album. The lyrics "You made your bed, you're gonna lie in it" represents an essential truth expressed in the Dhamma. And yet the bluesy, gritty sound of this song is nothing what one might stereotypically think of the Buddhist sound.
The song "Swell" ends the album, and quite frankly, is the most meditative and quasi-existential of the tracks (a slightly variating synth sound that is something to meditate to, that is).
Then again, this album isn't about traditional meditation. For me, it's the kind of the music you can listen to while washing the dishes, driving, doing housework or taking a shower - Activities that can be transformed into meditative practice. Essentially, the Dhamma Gita is about the Dhamma - and how the teachings can be expressed in manifest ways. And through the young Buddhist musicians covered in this album, the teachings of the Dhamma are fresh and clear in the 21st Century.