Throughout my life I am drawn to acoustic instrumental and vocal music from all over the world, particularly North India, North Africa, the Near and Middle East, Eastern Europe and Celtic music, to name a few.
All of these musical lineages find expression in varying degrees throughout my musical offerings, and come forth (or not) purely by the grace of “the muses” --those inexplicable inner creative forces that inspire the birth of song.
I have studied with some of the greatest living exponents of classical Indian music and drumming, including the revered maestros Ali Akbar Khan, Allah Rakha, Zakir Hussain, and Swapan Chaudhuri. I perform as an accompanist and soloist on tabla, bendir, tar, udu, conga, djembe, and other “finger-style” drums, accompanying myself on vocals, or other singers and/or instrumentalists of many kinds and styles, including classical Indian, Celtic, Kirtan, Eastern European, Bulgarian, Early and Medieval music, as well as modern contemporary and original singer-songwriter styles, including my own. In performance I prefer live ensemble accompaniment, but I also use a looping station and synthesizers to flesh out my songs when performing live as a soloist and/or in duo’s or small ensembles.
I tour much of the West Coast of America and British Columbia with various World Music Ensembles, including sitar Maestros Shivnath Mishra and his son Deobrat from Varanasi, India. I traveled and studied with them in India as well, and was instrumental in helping them realize their dream of creating an Academy of Classical Indian Music, now alive and well near the Ganga River in the Holy City of Varanasi/Benares. Over the years I have also perfomed and toured with other fine exponents of contemporary and traditional sacred world music including Ashana Lobody, Babu Kishan Das, Snatam Kaur, Ancient Future, Gina Sala, Jaya Lakshmi, Shanti Shivani, Fariba Heyraneh, Lakshmi Devi, Ena Vie, and the wonderful “Rumi Live!” dramatic performances with our live musical accompaniment by actor and raconteur extraordinaire Dan Furst, accompanied by my “Ulu Ensemble” group out of Ashland Oregon, and many others.
I write and play and participate in music that uplifts the heart and soul, and inspires one into deep inner reflection and/or ecstatic movement and dance, ideally both!
While listening to my music I hope you will be “moved by the muses” both within and without!
The Music of Nature, and the Nature of Music
As a young boy I went to a Union Convention with my father. My father used to play ukulele while singing union songs of inspiration and rabblerousing. The convention was held in a stately old wooden ballroom with massive wooden beams, cut and hewn by early pioneers, beside the mighty and mythical Mississippi River.
There was a big band playing that night, and as dusk moved into night they began a rendition of the classic song “Moon River”. Outside on a balcony, I saw a full moon rising over the distant horizon, a silver path of moonlight shimmering on the surface of the river and reaching out toward only me it seemed, because it followed me wherever I went; a shimmering pathway of light straight to my heart, bringing me a message.
The deeply emotional melody of longing and pathos playing in the background, infused with the moon itself over the mighty “moon-river”, permeated my entire being with a sense of connection between nature, music, and my living breathing heart; a visceral epiphany of experiencing the interrelatedness of all living things, through music.
Music moves the heart with a deep sense of the intrinsic unity of nature itself, because the emotional vocabulary of music literally speaks the “language of nature”.
Music, like the entire “natural world” is by its very nature spiritual, and the inter-connectedness of music and nature rests in the symmetries of sound, light, and “matter” that they all share. The “harmonic intervals” of musical notes are a perfect mirror or “aural analogue” of the “universal geometries” embedded in all things living and all the material “elements”, atoms and planets, all shaped and fashioned into proportionate order and lawfulness as if by some unseen hand and mind.
When I heard the exquisite music of sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan for the first time, something touched and moved me again on that ineffable inner-terrain of instinctive knowing; each raga (melody) is connected with a specific time of day and set of emotions or empathies; each rhythm (tala) evocative of certain animals and how they move or run or play; I felt a heightened understanding of that connection between music, emotions, and nature, all of which are fashioned from the same “language”; the language of beauty, fire, and light; the language of empathy, compassion, and knowing-ferocity; the language of tenderness, sorrow, longing, strength and love; in short, the language of the human heart. And the songs that it fashions anew in every soul and in every generation, sing of the wonderment of being alive in the living mystery we call “life”.
I studied the drum of north India (tabla) and it’s “language” (tala) with Ustad’s Allah Rakha, his son Zakir Hussain, and maestro Swapan Chaudury at the Ali Akbar College of music, where I was blessed and enthralled to study music and singing with the great “emperor of melody” himself, Ali Akbar Khan.
What had hitherto been my inchoate musical soul became informed by the sustained presence and teachings of these great musical masters, and at some point I began to fashion musical musings of my own. And here you can find some of them.
Although I have studied music quite a bit, I still feel that I “understand” very little about it. Simply and directly living and breathing and singing and dancing in the mystery of it still feels like the best way of really “knowing” music, anyway.
Many of my songs use a mélange of linguistic syllables based loosely on the singing and dancing and drumming languages of North India called “tarana” and “tala” into which I also intersperse other words from many other languages; names of love; names of gods; names of beautiful creatures and people; an appellation of syllables that may even be described as “singing in tongues” but with a deliberately mellifluous beauty and cadence to it. I have assembled these methodologies from the ancient masters into a more contemporary compositional and choreographic language and methodology, useful for all forms of music and dance, that I call “Tongues & Tala”. (You can learn more at www.tonguesandtala.com ) As a singer and percussionist I am also fond of playing and singing and composing in many different “time signatures” or rhythm cycles as they are called in the East.
I do use actual lyrics as well, but many people say they sometimes feel “constricted” in their experience of a given song by hearing “words” or a “story” that in a way diminishes their experience of the song. And as a singer, I can also understand that. Which is why, singing in “tongues” so to speak, has a certain liberating quality, and allows the pure emotion of the song, unburdened by any particular “meaning” to shine forth raw and pure and unadulterated by any particular “message”.
It is my hope and deepest wish, through this music, to touch and move you, heart and body and soul, to sing and dance in the spirit of “sacred joy”.
This is both our greatest gift FROM the living spirit, and our greatest gift TO the living spirit; it is the cosmic reciprocity between the giver of life, and the living of life.
It is the recognition of what, most truly, is.
Because what most truly is, is beautiful.
What is Music?
By Marco Zonka
What is music and why does it touch and speak to and move us so deeply? The answer to this question cuts to the heart of another question: what is language, and from whence does it come?
So-called “modern science” and ancient wisdom have now arrived at the same conclusion: The very body and substance of the entire universe itself is made of: vibration.
What we call “substance”, what we call “matter”, what we consider to be the most “real” and the most “tangible” substance of “the material world” is, in fact, the most illusory and deceptively “physical” form of what can only be more accurately described as: units of encapsulated light (atoms, molecules, stars and suns).
Even those very “units” themselves, regardless of how “tangible” and “real” and “physical” they may seem, as revealed to Einstein and his mentor Max Planck, and known as well by the ancient masters, are not even “here” at all half of the time: because, as the units of matter (atoms) “move” through space and time, in reality, they do not move in a continuum of constant “existence” at all. In fact they forever “disappear into nothing” and then reemerge at their next “location in space” so to speak. Consequently, it is now known, the entire universe spends at least half of its time existing in another state, in another dimension, that the human mind can only grasp and articulate as existing in “the nothing”.
So when darkness was over the face of the deep and the Primordial Source of All declared: “Let there be light!” the very flesh and blood of the material universe streamed forth as wind and water and earth and light and power and fire and flesh.
And so the birth of light is widely understood to be the first primordial act of Source coming into: Existence.
But this too, is illusory.
Because the first and most primordial act of Creation, was not the creation of “Something” (matter/light/physical existence itself) or “Sophia” as the ancient Wise Ones called it; the first act of creation was the creation of: “The Nothing”, “The Womb of Emptiness” that will birth all that will come to be, before it comes to be.
It is what the ancients called “Ain-Soph”, the “before-something” the “Womb of All that will be”; it is the gestating source of Love and Wisdom, the formative power of light and creative will at the foundation of all that ever is and ever will be.
And as we now know, matter as we know it still spends half of its existence dwelling in a state of “nothingness” out of which it is forever “reemerging”, reborn and renewed.
In music one can think of it as the “space” between the notes, the silence in between the sounds, the “nothing” that gives a particular shape to a given song, and out of which the melody and rhythm “emerge” into sound and form and movement.
In the so-called “Gospel of John” (which we have reason to suspect is really the Gospel of Magdalene) we read:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.”
Yeshua/Jesus referred to Magdalene many times, over and above all his other disciples as “thou pure of the light.” Which is to say: she is of Sophia/Birther of Light/Giver of Knowing.
And as there is in “light” there is also in “the word”, both of which in purest essence are “vibrations” suffused with “meaning” and “messages” and even a guiding “purposefulness”.
“Evolution” as we refer to the developmental unfolding of life and the universe, IS truly happening, but not the way Darwin and the materialists/mechanists would have you believe, which is to say “by chance” or by “accidents” or by “random mutations”; as most of the greatest scientific minds have always known (including Einstein, Newton, Kepler, Pythagoras and Michelangelo) evolution is happening and is being shaped and guided by the informing intelligences emanating throughout the universe in the forms of sound and light.
“Light” (synonymous with “knowing” and “understanding”) and the “word” (synonymous with wisdom and the message of love and spiritual power) transmit and communicate cosmic “information” (literally “giving form to”) all bodies that breathe and move with the animating power of the living spirit.
What does this have to do with language and music?
As light conveys and quickens the body and flesh and substance of the known universe, it gives rise to life itself, and all that lives and grows rises out of “the darkness” into the light; so too does language convey and inform the mind and the heart with the “forms” of knowing and understanding, wisdom and love.
And the “language of music” exalts that wisdom and knowing into a shared “aural-field” (song) in which we can sing and dance together, sensing intuitively the Oneness of all being. That is why music is also called “the lazy man’s path to god.”
And as music is made of “units of sound” or “notes” with varying levels of pitch (tone) and with uniquely variable degrees of texture (timbre), in between these notes we also hear: the silence; the nothing; the primordial source from which all music/language/form/substance/atoms/electrons reemerge, renewed and newly alive, in every second, in every moment, in every living heart, in every star and sun.
Spoken language as we know it differs among people the world over, and is largely a language of the thinking-mind. But the mind itself has a higher and wiser master, because the thinking-mind is most deeply informed by the knowing-heart; the one and only true “knower”.
The ineffable language of music is the pure and unadulterated language of the heart itself, transcending all temporal boundaries and linguistic limitations.
When we listen to music, or create and engage in music together, we are transported beyond all boundaries of time and space, beyond all limitations of mind and suffering and ignorance, through which we can peer into the very heart of all that is, and know: we are and ever will be a part of that ineffable thing we call God, Source, or the Living Spirit.
Knowing this we a blessed to sing and dance together in sacred joy, understanding and remembering the unity of all that is and ever will be; the joyful recognition of universal connection that is by nature the essence of being truly “human”; the unity of nature that is fashioned into flesh and blood and is alive and well within us.
And that is the word of God, made flesh.
And that is the language of love.
And that is the language of light.
And that is the language of music.