Confession time: I love 90s era alternative rock. Whenever I hear Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins on the radio, it takes me back to my younger days. Not only were these bands incredibly “cool,” their music also evoked a great deal of emotion. Unfortunately, much of the lyrical and emotional content of the music I loved dealt with negativity. Once I got into yoga music I stopped listening to much of what I used to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still like to rock. So imagine my extreme pleasure to discover that there is a band who draws their musical inspiration from 90s bands like Coldplay and Oasis, and uses positive mantras as lyrics. ANHAD is truly yoga music for people who like to rock!
Formed in Malaysia, ANHAD call themselves a Sikh rock band. Growing up in the Sikh community, the members (who are also family) were immersed in Gurbani kirtan. At the same time, they also enjoyed listening to modern rock bands like Oasis and U2. They dreamed of being able to someday merge Eastern and Western music, and in 2009 they formed ANHAD, which comes from the word meaning “unstruck sound.”
In their own words: “We believe that God is a part of every breath, every moment of our every day. Not just the good ones, and not just for the ones we spend in His name. And that means He’s there when we give someone a hug, when we go for rock concerts, when we dance to Bhangra, when we go on a date, and when we watch YouTube videos. He is always present. Now we love the fact that we have been able to make Him a part of our favorite music in the world.”
Their newest release, Above picks up where their debut album Live/Unheard left off. Opening up with “Intra,” you may think you put on a grunge album instead of yoga music. The guitar is mysterious and intense, with simply the refrain of “Sat Nam” running through the track. When the drums kick in about halfway through the song, they have an almost hypnotic effect. If it was ever difficult for you to imagine rock music as meditative, ANHAD shows it’s possible right from the beginning!
Where “Intra” was deep and heavy, “Merey Raam Rai” is a light and acoustic treat. The longest track on Above, it is a sweet song to the Beloved Lord. The main chorus can be translated as “My Sovereign Lord, You belong to the Saints, and the Saints belong to You.” The lyrics to the song come from the beautiful words of Guru Arjan, who wrote of God so attuned to the lives of the people that they cannot suffer pain or death. ANHAD treats us to sweet vocal harmonies and a gentle acoustic guitar, which merge so well with what they are singing it’s challenging to imagine the words being sung in any other way.
Next up is “Parmesyuareh,” which brings the energy back up. Energetic electric guitars and a chorus of voices make you feel like you’re listening to a live track recorded at a rock concert. This may be my personal favorite track on Above because, like a good rock anthem, it balances intensity with softness, simple vocals with a crowd of voices, so that by the end you feel as though you’ve gone on a journey with the band. And the beautiful thing about this particular rock anthem is that the whole time you are singing about the majesty and wonder of the Divine!
The fourth track, “Mool Mantra,” starts with a rainstorm and the strumming of the guitar. After the high of “Parmesyuareh” it’s good to bring the energy back down a bit. If you are familiar with the series MTV Unplugged, this track feels a bit like the unplugged sibling of “Intra.” Simple in construction, it’s great to chant along with. ANHAD gives us a great mix of eastern and western here, with tablas and guitar laying down a wonderful sonic bed for the powerful words of the Mul Mantra to resonate.
When the closing track “Vahe Jio” comes on, no matter how many times I hear it, the opening guitar makes me wonder if my CD player or iPod has suddenly skipped to a Soundgarden album. I love the sound of the electric guitar, which for me can be such a powerful instrument of emotion and energy. This track, like “Parmesyuareh,” is an amazing rock song. Where “Parmesyuareh” felt like it was recorded live, “Vahe Jio” is the kind of rock song you expect to hear when you turn on your radio. It has amazing percussion throughout, killer guitar lines, and singable melodies that had even my non-yogi husband chanting along.
In short, Above is a treat for anyone who likes to rock! Musically, it is so different from so much of the sacred chant and yoga music that is out there. This is the kind of music you would expect to hear when you turn on the radio, and imagine how much the world could change if that were to happen. Krishna Das often talks about how the mantra is the medicine, and the music is the syrup we place the medicine in to make it easier to take. ANHAD has created a syrup that is so wonderful for people who like their drums a little heavier, their guitars a little louder, and the devotion a whole lot more rocking! I, for one, can’t wait for these guys to come to the US for their first arena tour!
Check out both of ANHAD’s albums on Spirit Voyage today!