An interview with Ravi
As part of my research for this edition, I attended a workshop on overtone singing hosted by Ravi, a local Glastonbury musician. Ravi has joined us for this edition of Wake up screaming, in the following interview he discusses his relationship with music, the voice, the plant world, indigenous music and starting his own festival. m.w.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your musical journey.
My name is Ravi, I’ve been playing music since the late 70s. It’s been a fascinating musical journey through many different genres and cultures with a very strong World Music theme, ie non-western music plus a very strong theme of indigenous tribal music and cultures. There’s a lot of variety in the style of albums I have made and have been involved with. In the very early days, I was listening to classic, pop, rock and roll, the 60s and 70s stuff.
How did that move into World Music?
There was one major factor, in the 70s one of the first times I heard African music was from the band, Osibisa, a fusion of musicians from different parts of Africa. It had a rock feeling but was also very African. In my late teens, I started exploring Spanish guitar and also totally fell in love with Brazilian music including indigenous music and Bossanova. I shared a house in Manchester (the area in which I was raised) with an anthropology student at the university who showed me a lot of South American styles, particularly Bossanova.
I had to make my own way with my music education and started playing percussion. The 80s gave me a chance to explore Brazilian music, such as samba (street percussion orchestras of Brazil) and I was a member of the first Samba group in Europe, the London School of Samba, a movement which has now grown to many cities around the world. Same for capoeira, I explored it in the 80s, through the few teachers in London, and now it’s everywhere; I learned the berimbau, the one string bow they use in capoeira.
How did your musical story progress from this interest in world music into what you offer now?
Many of the albums I made were groundbreaking experiences, with some stunning musicians such as musicians who studied with Ravi Shankar, master musicians from India.
The last 15 years has been the most significant period, an intense period of exploration of particular indigenous cultures which included a tour around Europe with indigenous Indians of the Amazon.
Also started exploring the spirituality of certain tribes of the Amazon, particularly the ones who use the plant teaching medicine, ayahuasca. That exploration brought a depth to my music which I never really had before and am able to finally be more present with the concerts and workshops and really offer something of substance in a way that wasn’t possible earlier.
What happens at your concerts?
The concerts take people on a journey through various songs, mantras, kirtan and chants that have been collected over many years and in which I encourage people to sing.
In the UK and in western societies, the culture of singing has all been drained out. There are societies where it’s not so strange to sing as part of everyday life and I notice some of this is coming back now, through the new popularity of choirs and kirtan. People do want to sing, but they need encouragement. Once they have sung out I take them on a sound journey so they can receive.
Then we finish with more singing, and that’s the format am really satisfied with now.
Is performing a positive thing for you?
What kind of instruments are you playing?
The kora, which has a big gourd and a pole coming out with two rows of strings. The scales go up and down side to side, as opposed to one row of strings on a traditional harp.
That’s part of its character and why you recognise the sound of the kora, because of the way the strings are set up. True to my fashion I couldn’t get on with learning it traditionally and so created a unique playing style.
I also play open string tuned guitar, inspired by Eric Roche, a well-known musician who exclusively played in DADGAD, an alternative to the standard tuning of guitars. Then I play some flutes, overtone singing, and any other sounds that are available.
One song I include in my repertoire is by Sweet Honey in the Rock, the legendary all black female acapella group. One of their well-known songs goes…
“For each child that’s born a morning star rises and sings to the universe… ”
It’s a song that celebrates the different generations and I play it at every event It’s an example of how we can cause ripples and how long-term consistency can pay off. Just recently, people have started coming to me and saying, you are the guy who plays that song, they assume I am the one who wrote it, a natural presumption if you become known for a song. But the performances are not about my songs, it’s about whatever songs are needed to create the possibility for people to open their voices and sing.
I attended one of your overtone singing workshops last week, can you tell us about your workshops?
This musical journey has now evolved to offering vocal workshops which are purely an opportunity to explore the voice through various techniques, chakra toning, overtone singing, chanting, choral singing, and in the day and weekend workshops it gives an opportunity to go deeper into these practices. There are so many ways to explore the voice. That’s all you need to do is explore, jump in, and then it just moves on from there.
As I start to offer this opportunity am very open with the fact that I am on a journey myself. So far it’s becoming very apparent that it’s such an extraordinary portal for transformation.
I understand you help organise a festival? Can you tell us a bit about that?
I helped create a festival called Spirit Fest U.K. It was a vision with a close friend & It’s been quite an adventure. We are now in our fourth year and it seems we have earned our right to be one of the established conscious festivals in U.K. What distinguishes us from other events is that there is no drugs or alcohol and all the music is natural and organic, with no electronic music. Most festivals make their money from alcohol and its always challenging to survive financially as a festival. So far, it’s been on a complete wing and prayer. We got lucky a few times and touch wood it feels like we will turn a corner this year.
What’s the focus of the festival?
It’s a tribal gathering, and a safe place to experience activities such as music, art, dance, workshops. It’s a chance to bring people together who are tuned to the same vibration, which immediately creates a vibration in which people from different backgrounds are able to gather, connect and raise the vibration together
We were on a beautiful site in the Forest of Dean but this year we will be in Bedfordshire this year from 26th to 29th July, plus a one-day event on Sun 13th May in Bristol. Part of the beauty of the world I have been immersed in the past 5-10 years, is the sangha, the community, which is an ever-evolving family. There are more and more conscious events happening, with more and more people being attracted to them. This year we will hope to have around 350 people attending, up from around 300 last year.
Do you have anyone special performing this year?
Yes, our headliner this year is Tina Malia, a very special artist, who brings some excellent musicians with her. We also have a collective of shamans from Brazil, called the Paxamama Alliance who will have their own little village in the festival with sweat lodges and ceremonies. We are evolving slowly and have a great team, we hope to do a lot more and perhaps to bring these events and ethos to other places too.
Do you take part in other forms of creative expression, are you an artist?
I explored painting and had exhibitions. Around 15 years ago.
Is this is inspired by musical exploration?
I can relate to how some well-known music artists, got into painting. Creativity is an energy itself, whether sculptor or musician, it’s an energy that you develop within yourself that you can apply to other art forms.
Is creativity your spiritual practice?
I can relate to creativity being a practice, in one sense in that it is a thread through my life. But it depends how you interpret practice. It’s important that it’s real and it’s not fluffy. Particularly when you are including the voice. It’s such a different form of expression when there is song and voice involved. There is always the begging question, are you feeling the songs you are singing, are you feeling the source, is there meaning, is it real? And that’s part of the journey.
Part of my experience has had a theme of personal growth, waking up, being on the healing journey, however you like to put it. That is reflected in what comes out through my work, whether writing my own songs or interpreting the songs of others.
It’s been a slow burner, A work in progress and I’m feeling lucky to be alive.
Thanks for talking to us, is there anything else you want to add here?
(Ravi pauses for a while, with his eyes shut). One of my main mentors said he never imagined he would be such a positive person, and I have got to experience the same particularly over the last 15 years. In terms of being your own work of art, one gets to witness one’s own evolution and you get closer to what keeps you moving in that direction. The light at the end of the tunnel; in the world I have been immersed in there is a strong focus of simply just being present, and that is a journey in itself and through the concerts and the voice workshops, I encourage everyone to be present and sing because that’s the wind in the sails and creates the possibility for transcendence and transformation.
Find out more about Ravi here: