About Hamsa Lila's newest album "Aurora"
The west coast ethno groove pioneers Hamsa Lila have just released the lost album Auroura. The shelved follow up to the chart topping Gathering One. Recorded in 2004-2006 the album sounds so fresh and timeless you would think it was recorded yesterday.
Infusing elements of hip-hop/spoken word as well as ritual dance, Hamsa Lila earned its stripes as venerable force within the world music genre, and has been recognized as a pioneer in world fusion, singing in 13 languages. Instruments from
Morocco create resonant grooves that spiral around West African drums, while ethereal Flutes, Worldwinds and the impassioned soul waking sounds of the Saxophone weave through powerful male and female vocal chants and lush harmonies. The Songs contain mesmerizing and trance inducing rhythms and melodies, producing and atmosphere of Euphoria.
A rich tapestry of some of the earthiest grooves on the planet. Weaving the camel skinned Sintir (Vir McCoy), goat skinned Kamele Ngoni (Evan Fraser )and Guimbri (Beryl Jacobson) over the unbelievable drumming of Inkx Herman and the stellar vocals and chants of Mj Greenmountain, Nikila Badua , and Deja Solis. Hamsa Lila creates its own genre with touches of world, rap, R & B, funk, electronica and trance to dance and make love too.
Hamsa Lila Press
The stage at Boston’s in Las Vegas was lit up with candles, floating scents of incense, and covered with tapestries from distant worlds when I entered the main space on the early morning hours of November 2nd. The overheads slightly illuminated what seemed at first glance a well-planned clutter of amps, cables, foreign instruments, and gorgeous crystals setup at the front of the stage, the collective whole striking me as reminiscent of a hipped-out yet modernized Middle Eastern coffeehouse gathering. This scene of well thought-out, themed decking-out of the venue appeared to fit appropriately the character and mission of Hamsa Lila. This is a band that engages listeners, pulls them in, turns them upside down and then rights them up again, leaving listeners deliciously shook up. Mind you, this entire experience and its energy followed the wrap up of two nights of the String Cheese Incident only a few blocks away.
That night Hamsa Lila blended soaring melodies with challenging composition while incorporating backbeat rhythm; blending the rootsy sound of the goat-skinned guimbri from Jajouka which created resonant grooves that spiraled around West African drums, while ethereal flutes, woodwinds set the tone and passion of all the musical liftoffs of the evening. All of this weaved on a platter of powerful male and female vocal chants and lush harmonies in different languages mainly of the Gnawan people of Morocco, although there were sections of freestyle rap in English performed by any one of the three female and single male vocalists in Hamsa Lila.
This unprecedented musical brew was heightened though the responsorial singing and interlocking clapping patterns of this type of music that defined and determined the room’s spiritual level. While offering a propulsive drive of good female singing, in languages one may not have understood, the fantastically repetitive pentatonic riffs and deep percussive sound of the bass-like sintir recalled a fretless bass laying down the harmonic and rhythmic foundation in a jazz or rock group.
This solid foundation of groove that Hamsa Lila has should be given a patent on a genre of its own.
The first piece began with swelling vocals and building intensity from the widely-assorted rhythm section working itself into a horn soliloquy of rapid-fire streamed notes. The rest of the band waited and absorbed the cycle of mounting percussion and saxophone. A mixture of non-vocal interplay was clear as the dissonance seemed planned and harmonically effective. Just as it reached a point of climax, the drums triggered into a whole new zone of emotion and let the breath of the jam exhale.
Song beginnings and endings were unclear each continued to the next; all band members playing simultaneously and rarely, if at all, taking breaks from the stage. The Lila refers to a rich, all-night ceremony from the Gnawa people from Morocco that follows a path through the night and whose road is marked in the sensory realms of sound, sight, smells, and movement. The music and song – the visuals of their dress, costume, and stage decoration – the candles and incense – and the passionate dancing: a modern day Lila.
Hamsa Lila was the perfect host. Beginning just after 1am, the show continued past sunrise. This is no ordinary band.
Within an hour I found that the first instance of Hamsa Lila’s unique character manifested itself. The three sensual vocal tones of Andrea Vecchione, Nikila Badua, and Sasha Butterfly, layered themselves into a melody which perfectly positioned itself producing a multicolored chorus of sound. After a succession of arching melodies, appropriate percussion continued as the pressure dropped and military-tight drummer Inks> took care of cooling things off with a textured groove. Led by M.J. Greenmountain’s vocals and talking drum, he summonsed to up the tempo again, his shouting and chanting seemed to extract the most from each musician.
The meaningful and mesmerizing dance of Nikila Badua commenced on an enormous monster take on “Oshun.” With a dance inspired by Yoruba traditions – her dance seemed to reflect an offering and cleansing with water; a ritual filled with intensity, body thrusts, and spins that offers dizziness just from watching the show and never failed to entertain. All of the musicians and artists played the melody and made statements of their own. The freedom of the compositions allow for each musician to stretch and contract as they pleased.
Once again Hamsa Lila’s musical effect was conveyed through unconventionality and juxtaposition within their open structure. Musical passages swayed and evolved, sudden mood changes and seemingly out of context coarseness and loose playing melded seamlessly together in calculated, yet improvised, delivery.
The night’s exploration then included the quirky wit of Peak Experiences mastermind John Dwork on vocals and percussion and hammered-dulcimer wizard Jamie Janover on all sorts instruments that quickly ushered in an interesting change of mood from the all-Hamsa Lila session. This exploration dove through peaks and valleys of vocal, percussion, and ambient overlay which was enjoyable to a point, then I felt I wanted to band to get their groove back – and take their stage back from its celebrated guests.
Just when things seemed to be resolving themselves, Brett Jacobson throws the echo effect on the guimbri and screams up to the top of the neck of his table steel instrument building a sheet of sound the band feeds off of for what seemed like hours. Repetitive trance-like drumming maintained this elevation of pace and then dropped it down to different peaks and valleys each one cresting on a newly discovered apex of knowledge and realization about the actual point of the lila.
To me, the creations within this ensemble’s structure opened new doors of consciousness in the room. Slippery heads danced through the wide floor bouncing to the chop and groove of earthy percussion. Horn handler Terry played exotic solo after exotic solo jumping from baritone sax to clarinet to tenor sax to flute – each had hints of blues and helpings of cosmic inspiration.
I can imagine vamping on a musical utensil for six hours straight could build up a rusty refrain, yet the caliber of musicianship continued and compositions extended and glowed at moments where they could have crumbled. All eight musicians played at once yet the sound did not seem crowded as it could easily have been. The bass and drums coaxed a funky groove taking advantage of the non-stop energy rotating from performer to audience and back. The final statement of the evening, characterizing the purpose of why we were there in the first place, the group wove back together to close with the appropriate ‘mellow-dy’ of a song purposely soft and enchanting as if it were a musical way to tuck someone into bed. The next step after this Lila was rest.
It is clear that Hamsa Lila is onto something with this ensemble. Male vocalist M.J. Greenmountain put it in good context, “we are creating a very unique musical space where there is a direct connection between the audience and the band. If someone is looking for simple surface entertainment, forget about it! Our purpose is to let the music fill the ears and move the body/spirit, allowing incense and color and foods of different kinds to intoxicate the mind completely to be able to let go of all time and space awareness, and go completely into the moment without distraction.” Quite a respectful mission for a group that blends centuries of rich traditions from Morocco with the new-school beats and funk of the 21st century.
What Hamsa Lila offers is powerful and compelling music. It is these two things because the band aggressively breaks format and cliché yet remains compelling because they don’t choose the easier and more obvious routes that avant-garde music is sometimes victim to. They remain respectful to the traditions of this music while they open you up to a new level of what music can feel, taste and sound like.
San Francisco Spectrum
Infectiously hip and world-rich Hamsa Lila will sail you onto the dance floor while spinning a layered treat of vocals around an African trance groove mash-up of aural delights. Your pulse will quicken as the voices, drums, flutes and spirits collide and spiral. Enchanting & inspiring.
San Jose Mercury News
An International Blend of Musical Styles Refreshes:
The group is known for its marathon concerts. The octet blends music in the Moroccan-Gnawa (North African) tradition with sounds from elsewhere in Africa, as well as Caribbean, American Indian, East Indian and Middle Eastern textures.
They create a wonderfully meditative blend of the ancient and modern, a bridge between cultures, continents and times. Each of the 11 songs alights on a different spiritual tradition, with the accompanying and wonderfully refreshing quotations that highlight the meaning behind the rhythms. To break them down individually, however, would be a grave injustice. This CD is a complete package, a 45-minute long ceremony of life, peace and improvisation.
From the first glance at Gathering One’s artwork and photography, it’s obvious that Hamsa Lila are more than just a band… All throughout, hand drums and exotic stringed gourds lay down a dense, unchanging foundation.
Gathering One is a pleasing combination of spiritually alluring traditional chants and authentic instrumentation, blended with mesmerizing rhythms and masterful production. The sound of distant chanting, a bass sintir kept in line with a tight, edgy drum kit, lead into an upbeat crescendo of synchronicity between the old and the new. This music looks to achieve what seems to be so difficult in reality: Unity, where the idiosyncrasies of humanity can, and will, intermingle freely.
An Honest Tune
Looking for a truly unique musical experience? Then try San Francisco’s Hamsa Lila on their latest release entitled Gathering One. A winning combination of world beats and inner soul searching rhythms and instrumentation, the music spreads across the globe to hypnotize the mind and set the spirit alive with dancing vibration.
A fusion of cultures and music, Hamsa Lila springs out of San Francisco with an acoustic techno fusion that conjurs feelings of oneness and spiritual enlightenment. Blending stringed instruments from Morocco and Gnawa with African drums and East-Indian-like chanting, the hypnotic overtones have a distinct, original, and meditative quality that teeters on acid-jazz fusion. Songs like “Om Tara” and bring drifting vocals over drum and bass rhythms that blend into the more modern “Salamat Aisha” with danceable beats and soft blends between choruses. While in a completely different direction, “Full Moon Flow” mixes their usual medium and adds a bit more thump behind vocalist Nikila rapping between sintir and giumbri accents that make this album a must have for would-be gurus and bodhisattvas alike.
If a good fusion band is one that knows how to combine the best of all their worlds into a sound that’s immediately engaging and stays that way, then Hamsa Lila goes beyond good and well into the realm of great. Of course, when your starting point is the spiritual music of the Gnawa (a Sufi Muslim sect descended from black Africans enslaved by Arabs centuries ago, you’re already trodding a path likely to lead to something quite special. The “Lila” part of the band’s moniker, in fact, is taken from the word for the nocturnal mystical music and healing sessions undertaken by the Gnawa to achieve purification via connection with The Almighty.
Hamsa Lila is based in San Francisco, which may account for the rather (dare I say it) psychedelic quality of their music. However, much of their melodic muscle comes from liberal use of guimbri and sintir, stringed gut-and-skin instruments that in Morocco (where many Gnawa now reside) are the rough equivalent of guitar and bass. A standard drum set sharpens and regulates the rhythmic flow, but don’t assume for a minute that this music sounds reined in. It’s as free-spirited as music gets, extending an invitation to dance and trance that’s hard to resist. Incantory female vocals, African, Arabic, Asian and Latin grooves and ancient atmospherics rubbing elbows with modern ones are all part of the Hamsa Lila signature sound. Further inspection (and introspection) reveals that this music is largely music of the spirit, incorporating perspectives from Islamic, Judaic, Buddhist, Yoruba and other ideologies in praise of The Divine. I’m not going to flap my gums any further about how great this disc is, since it’s gotta-hear-it-to-believe-it stuff. Oh, and for the remix lovers among you, there’s an album’s worth of Hamsa Lila remixes available courtesy of one Ian “Inkx” Herman.
With no electric bass, the acoustic thump of the sintir and guimbri hold down Hamsa Lila’s rhythms, and the double-team bass attack, augmented by sneaky drumming, bongo breaks, and Roland Kirk-style reeds gives it a groovy sheen that’s as much jazz-soul as world beat. Hamsa Lila want to lift your spirits and make you move. Who can argue with that when they do it so well?
San Francisco Chronicle
This is musical mysticism that invites listeners to dance, clap, twirl, shout praise, sing along — anything that involves a creative impulse. Hamsa Lila can slow down the pace, too, as on the jazzy song “Sudan,” but it’s the group’s trademark up-tempo numbers that really anchor “Gathering One.” The tracks “Eh Mustapha,” “Oshun,” and “Om Tara” are full of extrasensory sounds, including the North African lute called the sintir, and the heavenly voices of M.J. Greenmountain and Nikila Badua. Hamsa Lila incorporates traditions from Africa and elsewhere to make its own brand of stalwart music. Call it trance. Call it spiritual. Call it otherworldly. The effect is the same: bringing listener and musician to a higher place than before.
-Jonathan CurielSan Francisco Chronicle
Hamsa Lila is a hypnotic and original musical ensemble with a kaleidoscopic world-beat perspective. The band has been creating lots of interest in the Bay Area with what it describes as “world trance grooves.”…While the band uses authentic indigenous instruments they offer a bizarre juxtaposition of the traditional and modern rhythmic elements. There’s a strong dance groove that permeates these lush textures with some neat jazz undertones. Live, they reportedly often begin at midnight and play well into the night. “We want people to dance, sing and freak out with us,” says Greenmountain, adding, “And they do!” Based on the delights of their album Gathering One, you can certainly see why.
The Beat Magazine
Here’s Gathering One, Hamsa Lila’s debut collection of trance-rocking grooves, multi-culti world-beat, trans-planet waves and sub-Saharan possibilities. Hamsa Lila begs, borrows, and appropriates styles from Gnaoua music, Yoruba rhythms, Buddhist goddesses, Latino chants and other world staples to concoct an avant-cool, NoCal-meets-African melange of flavors, riddims, and sounds.
All Music Guide
Ever since George Harrison first picked up the sitar on the Beatles classic “Norwegian Wood,” the fusion of Eastern sounds with Western pop music has been an extremely fruitful, if sometimes dicey, proposition. And with the advent of computers and sampling at the cornerstone of music production, contemporary ears have grown accustomed to the synthesized versions of such exotic instrumentation, with the genuine thing sounding quaint or even archaic in comparison. San Francisco’s Hamsa Lila succeeds where many have failed, creating music using entirely live Indian, African, Arabic, and Western instrumentation to sound excitingly modern yet wholely legit.Highly inspired by modern house and electronica, “Oshun” and “Salmai Aisha” easily lock into a pro-dancefloor groove that should be eagerly picked up by DJs such as Ron Trent and Marques Wyatt, while “Tuka Lila” and “Om Tara” are perfect bricks in the downtempo pyramid. The group even offers its own form of the remix, with duplicate bassline and percussion appearing in the opening chant groove of “Eh Mustpha” and again on the album’s only English moment, “Full Moon Flow,” which features lead singer Nikila Badua‘s smooth rap flow. Never falling into unfortunate world music, or worse, colonizing ethno (ethnic-techno), this debut from a fairly young Cali unit deserves the ample praise it has already received.
Rich in polyethnic percussion and complex rhythmic grooves, this global trance music draws listeners into the creation fo new multicultural, mostly dance-based rituals…On 11 tracks, Hamsa Lila draws inspiration from the cosmologies of the Gnawan and Yoruban peoples of Africa, Buddhist mantras, African proverbs, and even T. S. Eliot and Frank Lloyd Wright (whose quote “I believe in God, only I spell it N-a-t-u-r-e” is cited in the liner notes). [Hamsa Lila] weave beguiling multilayered chants through an airy and somtimes bristling acoustic-electric mix than pulsates at the bottom end like a rock band. For a group fashioned at least in part to move and mesmerize audiences at jam band concerts, Hamsa Lila beautifully embodies its African, Indian, and Carribean influences on a recording that pleases the head as much as it moves the body.
“Ska Renzo” conjures the spirit of Jamaica in the 60s, with a few dub effects in the arrangement to highlight another brilliant, brittle solo by Ranglin. Every tune on the album moves in different directions, making for a timeless international excursion held together by Ranglin’s inventive guitar. “I love playing with these musicians,” Ranglin says. “Like me, they’re interested in music from all over the world. They make it easy for me to express the emotions I feel. I think working together on this album allowed us to do something special.”
After the sessions, Mindel and Ex-Centric Sound System’s Yossi Fine, who has produced and mixed efforts by Vieux Farka Touré, Hassan Hakmoun, Hadag Hahash, Dancehall singer Anthony B and other notable reggae and world music artists, mixed the album. “It was inspiring to be working with Ernest Ranglin and mixing this music,” Fine says. “A chance of a lifetime. The album takes the listener through every era of Ernest’s music. He was constantly adding new flavors, while staying rooted in each particular style, be it reggae, jazz or Latin grooves.”
“This band sounds like they’ve been playing together for years,” Mindel says. “I want people to hear this album so they’ll know Ernest is still going strong at 82, composing and playing great music that touches on all the eras of his career. I know he still has a lot of new ideas he wants to express and we want to continue making music with him, and for him, for as long as we can.”
In the late 50s, Ernest Ranglin started adding rhythm accents to the tunes Coxsone Dodd was cutting at Jamaica’s Studio One by playing muted upstrokes on his guitar. That simple lick became the characteristic sound of a new groove called ska. His playing also laid the foundation for reggae’s relaxed rhythm, ensuring Ranglin’s place in the pantheon of innovative guitarists.*
After years of studio work in Jamaica, including the first session of a singer named Robert Marley, Ranglin moved to London to play with the Island Records studio band. His jazz influenced approach was featured on countless records, including Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop,” the first international ska hit and The Melodians’ classic “Rivers of Babylon.”
Ranglin played with pianists Monty Alexander and Randy Weston in the ‘70s. His fluid bend of jazz, world music and reggae fit perfectly with their ideas about music without boundaries and brought him to the attention of a new international audience. His deceptively simple rhythms and sinuous leads created another genre, reggae jazz, showcased on groundbreaking solo albums like Below the Bassline, Memories of Barber Mac and In Search of the Lost Riddim, recorded in Senegal with Baaba Maal and his band. His reggae jazz style fully flowered on 2001’s Gotcha!, the album that prefigured his ongoing creative surge. Never one to stand still, Ranglin recently played the Blue Note in New York with Monty Alexander and rising reggae star Chronixx on a show billed as A History of Reggae + Jamaican Music. The audience included Ranglin’s mentor Chris Blackwell. In a backstage interview Chronixx, praised Ranglin’s ability to blend the past, present and future in his playing. Gigs like this showcase Ranglin’s ability to bring out the best in the musicians he works with, young and old. His playing continues to be marked by his serene approach and a playful sensibility that often conceals his jaw-dropping virtuosity. He was inducted into the Jamaican Music Hall of fame in 2008.