Songs of the Heart featuring Neera, Yoko, and Milarepa
Recorded live, Sendai, Japan 1999
This music has a little story.
In 1999, I did a month-long “unplugged” tour of Japan with two of my favorite musician friends, Neera and Yoko. Our little acoustic trio played all over Honshu, one of the four main islands of Japan. We also visited the north island of Hokkaido.
It was a wonderful tour. We met many beautiful people and it was a joy wherever we went. We played all kinds of venues, from temples and auditoriums to private homes and meditation centers. After many years of touring in band situations with a big sound, it was especially satisfying for me to enjoy a softer, intimate and acoustic side of music.
The girls were awesome. They had a heartful, easy connection with each other that made traveling with them delightful. One of our traveling highlights was taking the boat from Hokkaido to the most northern point of Honshu. The ferry arrived to a small fishing town where we were met by two sannyasin friends who ended up driving us all the way to Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka, a beautiful natural area south of Tokyo where we would finish the tour. The whole trip took about six days. Along the way we had many interesting adventures: such as visiting several active volcano areas which meant of course wonderful hotspring soaks. One of the areas had big flat rocks that were heated by the earth. They were also naturally radioactive. Busloads of old people with their aches and pains, some suffering from cancer, would arrive and simply roll out their bamboo mats and curl up under their blankets on the warm rocks, letting Nature work its magic.
Another of our stops along the way was the City of Sendai, one of the places recently devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Here, a concert had been organized for us in a beautiful, large auditorium. It had great acoustics and we were fortunate that evening to have a professional sound mixer. The tour was almost over and after so many events, we were playing really well together. It was one of those special evenings when our on-stage chemistry was really clicking and the love flowing. We were relaxed, having fun, and the audience could feel and hear it. Our sweet little tour finished several days later and the three of us went our respective ways.
Fast forward eight years later. I was on a solo tour of Japan and again visiting the City of Sendai where I had since had made a connection with two new organizers, friends who ran a small coffeeshop in the countryside. It also functioned as a venue where I gave small events and concerts. Several years later, this very shop and venue was devasted by the tsunami and my friends were forced to relocate and start a new life in Osaka. One afternoon, I was having coffee, chatting away with the friends, and I noticed my ears kept going to the background music playing in the shop. As I was leaving, I inquired with my friend, “What music is that?” He smiled and said, “Hey, that’s YOU!” I was incredulous, mainly because if I had recognized it as me, I most-likely would have tuned it out. I am usually very critical of my own playing and singing. But this time was different because I hadn’t recognized myself! I simply found myself enjoying the music for what it was,while happily tapping my foot along to it’s soft, easy rythmns. Then my friend produced a cd with a hand-made label and said, “Remember Sendai? You, Neera, and Yoko? Golden Light Concert Tour?” And I said, “Wow, yes of course! But how did you get this?” And he said his friend on the mixing board that night had made the recording and given it to him. “You would like a copy?” And so, this is how I came to have these tracks.
Again, many years passed. The cd lay tucked away in my cupboard and I forgot about it. Live recordings have never really been my thing and I figured I would never be be comfortable putting it out. Yet, I always had this nagging feeling that kept coming back, how I had been caught off-guard and surprised that day in Sendai. It has actually been an interesting lesson for me — in what one likes and doesn’t like — when it comes to my own creativity. Could it be the music was actually ok when my critical mind was by-passed? Cleaning out my cupboards last year, I came across it again and decided to put it on while I worked. Sure enough, it caught me off guard again and I found myself smiling, appreciating it for what it is: not the polished professionalism of it, but the innocence and special atmosphere it has.
And here we are now, in the first weeks of New Year 2014, and I have decided at long last to share the concert. I did some small mastering to it, but no other editing or cosmetics. I present it in its flowing uninterrupted format, just like we played it. The songs are what we know as Osho Songs: songs written by various sannyasins and sung by the commune in gratitude to the Master for His endless inspiration. They express hearts touched by silence, inspired by a vision for a New Humanity blessed by the flowers of love and meditation.
Since these tracks were played, Neera has left her body. She will always have a special place in my heart. She has a voice that remains as loved today as it was when she stood by my side the evening we sang these songs. She loved Japan and had a special connection with its people. And they loved her too. Neera had a natural tendency towards ecstasy when she sang. Being next to her whenever we played was infectious and a feeling we had in common. Yoko lives in Japan, nearby the City of Hiroshima where she continues to play, teach, record, as well as share meditation. Since our tours, she has developed into a wonderful singer in her own right. Working with the tracks, I marveled time and time again at her awesome mastery of the flute. So precise and in-tune, so much awareness in every note, her playing is sheer magic.
I sincerely hope the music catches you as much by surprise as it did (and continues to do!) me.