John Brown’s Body Amps Up

28 10 2008

Amplify (Easy Star)

John Brown’s Body has been one of the hardest working (and touring) bands around since their inception in the 1990’s. Using reggae as their foundation, co-vocalists Eliot Martin and Kevin Kinsella added opposing dynamics—the former, with his hip, soulful lyrical chops that at times had the scatter and swagger of hip-hop; the latter, with his roots base and scratchy vocals. Things have changed since 2005’s Pressure Points however, most notably Kinsella’s departure (and bassist Scott Palmer’s unfortunate death). Martin has taken the helms with a reconfigured line-up that has stayed true to their jamband-oriented reggae, in which instrumental sections can flourish and reform numerous times in any given song. Gone is some of the diversity, which is sad, but Martin’s songwriting has always been strong enough to carry the weight. The band is most interesting when they stretch their roots, as on “The Gold,” which features Martin’s trademark stutter-steps. They slow—and dub—it down when Midnite’s Vaughn Benjamin steps to the microphone on “Speak of the Devil.” A fine return for a band that has long transformed turbulence into part of their musical experience. Derek Beres

(This review originally ran in Relix)


A Soundtrack in 3 Cities

27 10 2008

By Derek Beres

[Originally posted on]

I have long been turned off with the entire concept of “yoga music,” as well as much of the actual material marketed within this seemingly indefinable category. Like many translations of yogic texts, in which the concept of “good” overrides and demolishes “evil,” the music leans toward the airy and winsome without proper foundations. The yogic path is concerned with “wholeness,” not separation between opposing forces; the same goes for the music. When listening to street recordings of bhajans and qawwali, there is something downright sinister — and complete — in these sounds. The mind may differentiate, but the soul of the artist does not.

Being that my career is involved with these two crafts — teaching yoga and writing about, producing, and DJing international music — I spend a lot of time honing and polishing my playlists. While I love the bansuri and sitar, my body craves to move to bass and well-placed kick drums. A few years ago I had high hopes when being sent a debut by two producers going under the name Bombay Dub Orchestra. They were on my favorite label, Six Degrees, and it seemed very promising. And indeed, the two-record self-titled set was and is beautiful. Yet it didn’t have the undertones and push that I craved when hearing the word “dub.” From my tried and tested experiences teaching, the low-end of reggae produces some of the best sonic waves to move to, in the yoga studio and outside.

I was equally open-minded when opening their latest, 3 Cities, a few weeks ago.  What I was yearning for a few years back was finally involved. The producers, Garry Huges and Andrew T. Mackay, turned up the lows and refined the drums, which now exhibit punch. This in no way distracts the listener from feeling the highs; in fact, it enhances them. When flutes, santurs, and drones emerge, they float effortlessly over the rich, full landscape. The vocals sit magnificently, gorgeously in the pocket. Everything shines.

Paying homage to the three cities the album was recorded in —Mumbai, Chennai, and London— their sophomore effort reminds me in theory (though not in sound) to Cheb i Sabbah’s Krishna Lila. It does not favor the “light” over the “heavy.” There’s beauty in the unpolished lotus that is directly pulled from the mud. The hard and rugged beats of “Monsoon Malabar,” the downward trek of “Spiral,” the sweeping orchestra of “Junoon;” it’s all there, canvassing the field of good and evil and finding a middle ground. If that’s what I want my yoga practice to do — to see the world undifferentiated, to be able to choose though not deny the complete nature of existence — then my music has to accomplish the same. Bombay Dub Orchestra continues to contribute to this cause.

Life & Debt

24 10 2008

By Derek Beres

[originally posted on]

As you begin to explore the intricacies of one discipline, it becomes obvious that what is truly important is the art of discipline itself, not necessarily what you are disciplining yourself in. This is true of the world’s faiths, which as the Taoists claim are like many streams all leading to the same ocean. Whether you call yourself Catholic or Hindu is not as important as living up to the virtues that these faiths profess; when one does, we find that the basic substance of each religion is molded from the same clay.

While reading an op-ed article by author Margaret Atwood in the New York Times, I found another thread linking together the Christian and yogic worlds. First off, I was very happy to read “A Matter of Life and Debt,” an excerpt from her recent book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. That this mainstream media entity would give attention to the moral and religious side of the economic collapse, and not only from a political-social mindset, was very inspiring — even if it was shelved as “Opinion.” The piece itself is excellent; this brief excerpt highlights an important point:

The version of the Lord’s Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for “debt” and the word for “sin” are the same. And although many people assume that “debts” in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don’t pay back what’s owed, you cause harm to others.

The word “sin” had another connotation: ignorance. Indeed, the condition that caused man to “fall” from the garden is directly correlated to avidya, which in yogic philosophy keeps man shackled to the grand illusion known as samsara. So here we have three concepts hovering around one general idea, the trifecta of sin, debt, and ignorance.

In popular modernist biblical languaging, the idea is that we owe God something for our inherent unworthiness. This corresponds to the notion that we as humans are somehow incomplete, in a natural state of “sin” that only Christ can absolve. In yoga as in Christianity, this is nonsense. The debts we may owe have been created out of our own doing, our own karma. If we have taken and not given back, there must be a balance to this somewhere. We get caught up thinking the “payback” can only be monetary — if we owe money, we lose money; if favors, lose favor, etc.

This is almost making too much of a rather simple equation. If the way you’ve acquired something has caused grief or suffering to others, there will be a balance to be paid. As a culture reared on the deregulation economics of Milton Friedman for the past half-century — can former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan be really, actually serious when he said of his free market ideology, “I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well?” — it is easy to see how we’d think tit for tat is the natural boomerang of finance.

What Atwood points to, and what is most important regarding this or any crisis, is the humanity of the situation. She makes a great point when writing:

A simple example: You’re in your car, and you let someone else go ahead of you, and the driver doesn’t nod, wave or honk. How do you feel?

Let’s face it, $700 billion is too large a number and too widespread an issue for any single mind to wrap its thoughts around. What I’ve been craving is reading and understanding the karmic effects of this crisis, looking for guidance not on how to budget my bank account but on dealing with the people around me on a daily basis. Of course there are no simple answers, as it is a very complex question. But as always, it does come down to what’s very basic in all of us — an opportunity to come clean of our debts to one another by living up to the greatest of what is human in our hearts. When we can bring our religion down from the clouds and away from a few who claim to know what “it” is really about, we become more humane to one another. The bricks needed to build a new foundation of our culture reside solely in this.

Watcha Clan Live in New York City

24 10 2008

Eccodek Live in Toronto

10 10 2008