Deva Premal & Miten interview

You talk about creating a sacred space with your music – what do you mean by that?

Well, we don’t claim the responsibility of creating a sacred space. We just show up, along with other like-minded souls, and together – with the intention of being open to something more than is usually visible – something magic happens. It’s not a performance as such. It’s not about entertaining a crowd.

What inspired you both to become ‘divine’ musicians – isn’t all music divine?
Yes, all music is divine – it’s a medium that expresses what we cannot say in words. Basically, in our case, because of the nature of the mantras themselves, which are sound formulas that have the potential to effect our physicality – and our meta-physicality, we’re freed from the usual emotionally based lyricism. We’re not attempting to say something nobody else has said, kind of thing…we don’t put ourselves under that kind of stress… most songs are love songs, right? – sure mantras are love songs too, in a way, but they’re addressed to no one in particular…plus they’ve already been written! They don’t ask for anything – they don’t necessarily even ‘describe anything’ – they’re concerned with a different dimension, where emotion is secondary…where the sound itself is the point. (you know that Leonard Cohen song – love itself was gone? – that’s a clue).

Mantra’s are by their nature repetitive – do you ever get bored of singing them and long for something new?
here’s the thing: we’ve been chanting these mantras now for 20 years and I swear to god, every time we rub the lamp we just hang on because we know we’re in for a wild ride – it’s an ecstatic experience to watch them do their thing. And the point is – and this is easily missed or misunderstood – that the power is in the repetition…we chant and we start losing our usual perspectives – we have the opportunity to move into a more expanded space…and yes, it can look a bit stupid – a bunch of people chanting themselves into a trance, but then, so does making love if you’re on the outside, looking in. It’s a drug. Once you get it, you’re hooked. A beautiful obsession, as Van Morrison says.

Can you write your own mantras or songs in the style of the traditional kirtans and mantras?
sure you can – the way it works for us though, is that Deva – who was born to the sound of her father chanting the gayatri mantra and who chanted it as a little girl all through her childhood (she was a precocious child – at age 11 she decided, after seeing a video of a discourse and experiencing one of his meditation techniques, that she wanted to become a disciple of osho – then known as bhagwan shree rajneesh. receiving parental consent, she spent the remainder of her school years dressed completely in red and wearing a mala and using the name he had given her; deva premal) – brings a particular mantra to me that she resonates with (there are thousands) and we feel it out until something melodic appears which expresses the vibe of what the mantra is about. My sweet lord is a pretty cool example of how you can incorporate a mantra into contemporary music. Not that contemporary any more! – but since we’ve been enjoying the Scorsese movie on George Harrison, the song comes to mind.

How has your musical and creative process changed you?
Well – we’re still playing the same music we were making in Pune at Osho’s ashram 20 years ago, but like anything, the more you do something the better you get at it. We’ve grown into it – we like to explore the boundaries. Deva’s last album was recorded with some great young jazz musos in denmark. It’s not a jazz album, but we were curious to see how jazz musos would respond to mantras. I guess you could say we’ve grown, more than actually changing from one thing to another.

You talk about the divine and awakening the spirit within, but what is your sense of spirituality? How do you communicate this in your music?
trying to conceptualize something as abstract as ‘awakening the spirit within’ is huge…basically, we just found something that nourished us internally – it came from being in the presence of an enlightened being – you can’t argue with stuff like that. It’s too big. In our case, it was music – we had the chance to play music in that environment – this changed us – you just play and there’s nobody there. This ‘space’ for want of a better word, is what we remain open to in our gatherings – they’re called ‘concerts’ but…they’re not really – anyway, we found out that the less self-conscious we are the more ‘spirit’ comes through. We’re not ‘holy’ people, Deva and me. We’re pretty down to earth. To answer your question about how we communicate spirituality – you could say we see ourselves as messengers…we have something to report – and we can do it pretty well – so we do it. Our sense of spirituality is that everyone with a voice can experience their divinity…and I’m not talking about vocal chords. We remain open to miracles. We’ve been taking the mantras into prisons lately – because we wanted to see if they REALLY worked, you know?! and every time, we are left in tears – there is something too incredible, being in the presence of a bunch of men (or women), who are in such a different reality to us – who come with a kind of tenderness (that’s the only word I have), and who are open to absorbing what’s happening…the last one we did, in the San Pedro penitentiary…we actually heard the men singing with us. Not like, LOUD, but they were with us..we remain pen pals with some of them to this day.

When you are not listening to chants, what is the music that you are drawn to, or music that inspires and moves you?
Personally, ‘spirit’ music moves me – so that includes everything from the Beatles, Blind Willy Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf to Bombay Jayashree and Bobby Mcferrin. Deva’s a Jagjit Singh freak, Bobby Mcferrin, Indian bhajans (O.S.Arun, Shankar Mahadevan) and she likes to cook to West African music..the Kora…Ali Farka Toure etc)

What are the struggles that confront you both on a daily basis to maintain your practice?
We don’t struggle – maybe it’s around the corner, who knows, but so far these past 20 years have been a breeze. Don’t ask me what the secret is – I don’t know. Well, ok, it’s a combo of Osho’s teachings, music and mantras. We have a few daily things – yoga (Deva!) etc, but not always possible in hotel rooms. The most consistent practice, is we do 15 minutes of shaking the body every morning. Loosen the knees, let the head drop, loosen the jaw…loosen the pelvic area…loosen the wrists…and shake it baby!

Does being on the road sometimes get tiring – how do you set space for yourselves & maintain your privacy being such public identities?
I’ve heard from musician friends that being on the road all the time can be tiring – they have homes and families etc. In our case, it’s kind of different. We don’t have a ‘home’ in that way – no real base – so we’re never looking over our shoulders. Somehow, we’re always home – this is not a spiritual concept – it just happens to be the way it is. When you don’t have anywhere to go back to – you make your home wherever you are. So, no, being on the road can be tiring at times, sure (we played in 25 countries last year!), but it’s never draining. Every time we play, we get a re-boot. As for being public identities, we just cannot relate to that. We’re not performers – we have nothing to live up to. People who love our music are friends of ours – they’re all good people – no weirdo’s – no Mark Chapmans in our world – so when we meet someone, it’s always with a hug and eye contact…simple stuff.

If there was something in the world you could both change, what would it be?
That’s too big a question.

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