Silence. Slowly a buzz forms, low and rumbling at first, reverberating against loose muscles in the throat. Sound commences as lips part, climbing octaves before exploding with profound dynamic: The voice has found echo in the breath. With exhalation, a drone destroys quietude; with each inhale, the original silence is consumed by lung.
Chanting has long been a practice of faith. It fosters a cyclical connection between initiate and God incarnate; the pure sound of one’s voice opens channels both intrinsic and cosmic. More than simple noise, however, is the tones one emits. Certain sounds and names are believed to directly connect one beyond mere song, a seamless umbilical cord to the divine.
“To chant or repeat or hear the names of God is beneficial,” says DJ Cheb I Sabbah, whose latest release, Krishna Lila, is a collection of Indian-inspired bhajans (devotional songs) backed by tasteful beats. “It’s also believed just the name of Krishna is transcendental. So if one repeats the name, or only hears the name, of Krishna, that’s already very powerful and comes back. Of course trance is based on repetition, so if you keep repeating any name of God I would think you would attain some kind of state that is blissful or positive.”
Let’s begin on the surface. Cheb I Sabbah is an Algerian-born man of Jewish descent who began DJing in Paris in the 1960s, spinning African, Latin and Middle Eastern rhythms long before chic. Now living in San Francisco, he has recently released the third segment of his trilogy exploring the fusion of both classical Indian Hindustani and Carnatic music with Western-influenced electronica.
Moving quickly beyond the surface, we find categorization not only inappropriate but utterly useless. Krishna Lila is an extremely passionate, beautiful album weaving magical flutes and violins within tablas and driving rhythms. Timeless poetry swirls in mystical cacophony, melodies infused with words that penetrate deeply every human, regardless of what language each understands. Great art transcends material boundaries, and Sabbah is proof positive of that theory.
The notion of dedicating an entire record to bhajans occurred to Sabbah while working with sarod (a wooden instrument with 25 strings producing both rhythm and a droning sound) player K. Shridhar. Shridhar suggested recording his brother on violin and niece, who is a bhajan singer, on vocals. Sabbah traveled with him throughout India on a quest of capturing the essence of this music. With that Krishna Lila was born.
“The idea of the bhajan is really to inspire one to wo