Planet Chant Various artists compilation Triloka, 2001 http://www.triloka.com Since the Spanish monks’ big hit record, chanting and ritual song has for years been a mainstay of “new age” and pop music. As a result, all sorts of chanting have been turned into marketable albums. There are a couple of ways to look at this. The first way, which a classical purist would take, deplores the trivialization and cultural exploitation of religious and ritual chanting. It is just short of blasphemy to take these musical artifacts and stick them with synthesizers and torment them with a disco beat. This is the bitter consequence of unbridled globalism, in which the once - hidden treasures of the world are turned into trash for the mindless consumers of the twenty-first century. That’s one way to look at this album. Then there’s another way, and it consists of just one comment: “Cool!”
Well, that’s what I say. On this compilation, which selects pieces from many different labels, albums, and artists, you can hear a Tibetan Buddhist lama chanting to a pop-synthesizer accompaniment which makes it sound like reverent gospel music. You can hear the late Islamic devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing to a synthesized beat. And there is the incomparable Sheila Chandra, who has brought Indian vocalizing to the pop world, singing here to an Indian mode which will be familiar to those who remember the pioneering Orientalizing of the Beatles in the ‘60s.
Other cuts on Planet Chant feature singers and musicians who are not native to their chanting tradition, but have adopted it and made it their own, like the Hindu mantras of Western yogi Krishna Das or the “overtone singing” of the “Oberton-Choir” of Dusseldorf. It proves that at least somewhere, new chant forms are being created or re-created. Among these re-creations are the Native American peyote songs of Primeaux and Mike, and the upbeat Zulu hymns of the world-famous “Ladysmith Black Mambazo.”
But then, for the purists, there are examples that are taken from the tradition, traditionally interpreted. There are reverent Eastern Orthodox chants from Russia and Bulgaria, and a sublime medieval Spanish chant sung by the female early music group “Sarabande.” This one, “Regina Polorum,” is my number one favorite among this all-star compilation.
Yes, this album is just a sampler of pieces taken out of context, where each one is the musical treasure of a long, reverent, and ancient tradition. But this global selection has its advantages, too. I would never have heard many of these chant forms at all had they not been placed on this accessible album. Many cultures, such as Tibetan or Native American, are “endangered;” others are hidden away in distant places or among hostile peoples. Albums such as this give this music a chance to be heard, and to “enchant” people who may eventually help to save it.
HMGS rating: 9 out of 10 2/21/01
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