WHITE SUN’S SECOND ALBUM EFFECTIVELY COMBINES ANCIENT
HEALING YOGIC MANTRAS WITH WORLD MUSIC
In Eastern philosophy, sound is the origin of all things and it is the last sense to leave us when we leave the body. Within and without, we are constantly surrounded by vibrations. Sacred sound vibrations have a deep healing effect. Mantra yoga is part of the yoga of sound (“Nada yoga”) that connects us to higher vibrations and states of consciousness. Mantras are composed of sacred syllables imbued with spiritual power. Chanting or listening to them has the capability to transform us. Nowadays, with all the many recordings of sacred chants, both traditional and contemporary, it is a breath of fresh air to hear Los Angeles-based White Sun’s second recording White Sun II, an excellently-recorded and produced collection of life-affirming, joyous, and uplifting mantras combining ancient healing chants with beautiful melodies and contemporary tasteful arrangements.
Having charted no. 1 on Billboard’s New Age and no. 2 on its World Music charts, it has remarkably become part of the required curriculum for two courses at the University of Southern California as part of their health and wellness campaign to find new ways to deal with the stress level of students, and has raised the bar for this genre of music.
The core group is composed of vocalist and composer Gurujas, Harijiwan on gongs and serving as spiritual leader and two-time Emmy award winner multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Adam Berry. They are joined on this recording by Grammy-award winning Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate, Abhiman Kaushal from India on tabla, multiple Grammy-nominated Gabe Witcher of Punch Brothers on fiddle, along with a stellar ensemble of Gospel singers.
Richly layered, with the gorgeous voice of Gurujas leading the mantras, it is an album that has effectively and intelligently used the sounds of other cultures into one cohesive and unifying collection of works that transcends barriers of culture and faith.
World On A Note interviewed Gurujas who has traveled the world in the past ten years teaching mantras and Nada Yoga.
Photo by Santosh
WOAN: Tell me about yourself Gurujas. How did you come to be a musician? When did you start and when did you ﬁnd out that you could sing so beautifully?
Gurujas: I started singing and playing the piano very early on, and sang with the Cleveland Orchestra’s Children’s Chorus. So music has always been part of my life, but it was honestly the mantra that really activated everything. Once I started learning and chanting the mantras, I entered a whole new realm of sonic experience. The mantras began singing to me, there’s no other way to describe it, and the more I deepened my relationship with that sound current, the more I understood that I had to bring these songs into the world.
WOAN: How did White Sun come into existence?
Gurujas: Harijiwan, the gong player of White Sun, is also a Kundalini Yoga teacher, and for a long time was looking for a way to bring these mantras further into the world where they can do the most good. And I had been writing songs with the mantras, but I kind of kept them to myself. Then one day Adam heard one of my songs. He loved it and wanted to record it, so we did, and Harijiwan loved what we came up with, and then it all expanded from there and we became White Sun.
WOAN: Why did you choose the name White Sun?
Gurujas: White is the color that holds the frequency of all colors, and the sun is the energetic source.
WOAN: Who writes the melodies and who arranges them? Basically what is the role of each person in the band?
GURUJAS: I write the melodies and the harmonies and then bring them into the studio to record and orchestrate with Adam. Sometimes I have a clear idea of the instrumentation, I’ll hear the strings or a harp or choir or something like that. Then there are other times when I bring in something and we orchestrate together. It’s very collaborative. Adam has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and draws on so many years of training and experience. He’s really a musical genius, and it’s amazing to work with him. As we go, Harijiwan guides us, letting us know if the music is supporting the energy of the mantra. Sometimes it will be what seems like such a small adjustment, like removing a single sound, or adjusting the volume of a track, but suddenly the whole thing takes off. So Harijiwan’s very reﬁned and subtle understanding of the mantras is what keeps everything on track energetically.
WOAN: You come from the Sikh tradition. Expand a little on the mantras sung on the CD?
GURUJAS: Mantra is not about tradition or religion; it’s a technology to reﬁne and accelerate the human mind. Mantras have a vibratory frequency that doesn’t exist in other kinds of music, and so when a person listens to them, just listens, no chanting is necessary, they can experience an elevated state of being. Some of these mantras are 5,000 years old, and they were designed to bring a positive frequency to the planet.
WOAN: The ﬁrst album was very beautiful but White Sun II is a true revelation. Can you talk about the arrangements and the recruitment of such amazing musicians? How did you come up with the idea of using the kora?
GURUJAS: Thank you so much! It’s really a privilege to work with such incredible musicians.
It all happened very organically. We would write a song and hear certain instruments, and then songs began to connect to one another and we saw ways to bring instrumentation from one song into the next until the whole of the album began to take shape. On several of the songs we have Gabe Witcher of Punch Brothers on ﬁddle, he is extraordinary! He and Adam have known each other for 20 years and worked on other projects together, so as soon as we discussed ﬁddle we knew we wanted Gabe, if he was available. Thankfully he was. His playing on “Gobinday Mukunday” in particular is astounding.
For “Humee Hum,” I knew I wanted a gospel choir for the track, and we ended up with Oren, Maxine and Julia Waters, Bobbi Page, Carmen Carter, Kevin Dorsey, Dorian Holley, Clydene Jackson, David Loucks… these people are legends! I just about fell over! That was an AMAZING day in the studio. And if you’ve never heard Kevin Dorsey sing his bass notes, wow, that’s something to behold.
Abhiman Kaushal, the tabla player, has played with us since the beginning, live in concert and on both White Sun albums. There’s this great photo from a New Year’s concert we did when Abhiman is taking a solo and the rest of the band is just listening, and every one of us has a huge smile on our face because we can’t believe what we’re hearing. He’s such an incredible player.
From the very ﬁrst time I ever heard Mamadou’s music I knew we had to work with him. He’s an extraordinary musician. But in the beginning I didn’t even know if he lived in the US. I was hoping he did because it wasn’t in our budget to go all the way to Mali, but honestly I would have considered it, that’s how much I loved his music. Luckily he lived in the States and we convinced him to come out and record, which was really kind of him. He’s such a special human being, he has this royal energy. He comes from an ancestral line of 70 generations of musicians, and his ancestors actually invented the kora! He really carries that, you can feel it. So he came out to Los Angeles and we recorded in Adam’s studio. The kora only plays in a single key, and if you want to change keys you have to retune the whole instrument. Before each track Mamadou would retune and work out some ideas for about an hour and then we would record. I could have listened and watched him play all day, he’s just incredible.
WOAN: What was the process of recording?
GURUJAS: Every singer and musician came into Adam’s studio to record. Because we are creating music that has such a speciﬁc vibe, we really want to be in the same room with the musicians when we record. That’s important to us. And I think that’s partially why so many different elements from different cultures and genres come together so well, because once you get into the same space with someone you start creating connections and exchanging ideas in a way that just doesn’t happen via cyberspace.
Another interesting aspect of our recording was that I was pregnant with my daughter during the entire process. We recorded the last vocals just a few days before I gave birth. So I feel like she’s on the album too.
WOAN: What about the artwork of the album? Is this a picture of an actual Tibetan mandala painting or was it done digitally?
GURUJAS: The album cover was painted by a Nepalese traditional mandala painter named Ganesha Lama. We met him on one of our trips to Nepal, and absolutely loved his work. He and I collaborated over the course of about 8 months to perfect the design. I really wanted something that would visually express the White Sun sound, and also incorporate the White Sun logo, which was on the cover of our ﬁrst album. He did an incredible job, and if you look very closely you can see that some of those brush strokes were made with a single hair of a brush. And just like with traditional mandalas, the gold details were painted with 24k gold paint.
For further information about White Sun, visit: http://www.whitesun.com Their album is available on Amazon and iTunes.
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