Editor’s Note: This is the first of a 2 part interview with Hari Rai. You can read part 2, where she opens up about her Kundalini Yoga practice here.
We are absolutely, madly in love with Eternity by debut artist Hari Rai! From the first time we heard it, we were hooked! It’s the kind of album you can listen to over and over, and still want to keep on listening because with each play, you discover something new and delicious. This album is pure delight and we couldn’t be prouder of Hari Rai for her incredible offering!
From a young age Hari Rai has been playing most of the instruments she could lay her hands on, including viola, violin, guitar, piano, harp, marimba, taiko drums, and even the Mongolian morin khuur. Alongside her classical training in viola and violin, she has been leading meditations, live sadhana, and kirtan using her own music since the age of thirteen, both in her hometown of Espanola, New Mexico and abroad. She has performed in concert with Snatam Kaur, Nirinjan Kaur, Dharm Singh, Guru Shabad Singh, and others. Her melodies are known for evoking an experience of deep meditation and longing.
We couldn’t resist finding out a little bit more about Hari Rai and the making of her very first album! Her responses are so rich and poignant – it’s a pleasure getting to learn more about her.
Spirit Voyage: What was your inspiration for this album?
Hari Rai: For me making this album wasn’t so much a choice as the inevitable result of a lifetime of music-making. I grew up playing every instrument I could lay my hands on, but in particular classical viola and Celtic fiddle. I learned Western music theory, African and Japanese rhythm structures, and of course the Eastern traditions of kirtan, mantra, and raag. This album incorporates pieces of every part of my musical life so far. Plus lots and lots of harmonies. I’m all about the harmonies.
Hari Rai: I learned so much of who I am and how to be in the world from my grandmother. We recorded this album in San Francisco, where she had been living for the past decade, and in the days leading up to recording my father and I got to spend a lot of time visiting her in the home where she lived. Her feet were always freezing cold, no matter how many socks or blankets we put over them. Instead my father would sit at the foot of her bed holding her feet and warming them up with his hands, humming a tune that had come to him from nowhere in particular. He called it the healing song, and soon we were singing it together, taking turns holding my grandmother’s feet. My grandmother would lie back with her eyes closed, drinking in the music for however long our voices would hold out.
She died on the first day we went into the studio. I got the call from my father just as we were finishing up for the day. By the time I ran into the hospital room, wet from the rain outside and still panting from my long run up the stairs, all the hospital machines were silent and dark, but my grandmother’s body was still warm. We held her hands and hummed the Healing Song with shaky voices as her warmth slowly ebbed into the room and her soul merged into infinity.
Every part of this album is steeped with my grandmother, but after she passed we decided to include The Healing Song as a special tribute to her. My hope is that it brings peace to anyone who hears it, no matter what is ailing them, as it did for her.
Spirit Voyage: Is there something that your fans would love to know from the making of this album?
Hari Rai: Ram Dass and I had huge amounts of fun putting this together. We’ve been friends since before we were teenagers and spent many summers tinkering around with musical arrangements before finally getting the opportunity to do so in a serious way. Not that anything about our creative process is serious. Probably half our studio time was spent creating music and the other half laughing.
Some tracks had a very clear vision from the moment we started, but I think we had the most fun working on the ones that didn’t. Aap Sahaaee Hoaa, for example, ended up being modeled on a pirate sea shanty, which led us to a really unusual instrumentation that we would never have come up with if we were trying for something specific from the beginning. Pirate sea shanty is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear it, but now that you know, you’ll never unhear it. You’re welcome.
Spirit Voyage: Are there any special contributors to this album? If so, tell us about them!
Hari Rai: The secret to success is probably to surround yourself with brilliant people and let them make you look good. That’s certainly how this album came about. It was a huge pleasure to work with Ram Dass in a professional capacity after so many years of non-professional musical shenanigans. His clarinet-playing along with Amar Singh’s piccolo are such gorgeous additions to the album I really can’t imagine it without them. I was also very happy to have my father and sister singing with me on The Healing Song in honor of my grandmother.
But I think what really took this album to the next level, and without which the whole project would have turned out very differently, was the incredible percussion work of Patrick Graham. Patrick plays a mind-boggling number of drums and other percussion instruments from around the world (and I will readily admit that I probably could not personally identify half the instruments that make an appearance on Eternity). Nevertheless his beautiful playing really brought the whole sound of this album together in a way that I don’t think could have been achieved with anyone else. He might be a wizard.
You can learn more about Hari Rai, her creative process and her relationship with Kundalini Yoga in Part 2 of our interview.
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