catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 5 :: 2008.03.07 — 2008.03.21


A harmonious confluence


To start, could you give me an overview of the band's story for folks who haven't heard of Aradhna? 

The foundation of Aradhna took place when I joined Chris Hale’s rock band, Olio, in North India.  After a day of practice of songs like “Purple Haze” and “Even Flow,” Chris would bring out his sitar and I would grab my guitar and we would improvise for hours in our apartment.  We both loved the sound and the easy musical flow of the instruments.  Later Chris introduced me to the spiritual songs of India called bhajans and Aradhna was born. The band now also includes Fiona (Lyth) Hicks and Travis McAfee.

From the age of one, Chris was raised in a village surrounded by the Himalayan mountains where his parents ran a hospital.  Running on the hills with his Nepali friends, he absorbed the heart, language and music of Nepal.  Later he moved to a boarding school in North India and picked up the sitar and began to learn Hindi.  He went to University in the U.S. and then returned to India and formed a rock band in which he played guitar and sang. 

I was born in New Delhi, India but by the age of one, my family had moved back to America where I grew up much like most suburban American children, but with a collective living memory of India coursing through my family's blood.  I had no memories of my own, but the love of India was passed down to me from my parents.  It wasn't until late into my teen years that I experienced India for myself.

Fiona spent the first nine years of her life in Bangladesh, Nepal and India and then was taken back to England where she finished school and studied the violin in University.  Those nine years worked a deep love of the sub-continent into her heart.  She is now studying Hindustani classical violin with Kala Ramnath. 

Travis McAfee lived for three years as a child on a literature ship sailing around the east docking in ports like Calcutta and Cochin.  The rest of his childhood was spent in the U.S.  He joined up with Aradhna when we were working on Deep Jale, our first album.  He is now in India with his family working with Freedom Firm, a group that rescues girls who have been forced into prostitution.

We now have four albums: Deep Jale (2000), Margadarshan (2002), Satsang (Live, 2004) and Amrit Vani (2007).  Most of our touring takes place in the U.S., Canada, India and the U.K., but we have had some exciting trips to places like Suriname, Guyana, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and mainland Europe.


The way I understand the band's musical style from listening is that you combine a love of Jesus with uniquely Indian sounds, images and often language.  Can you describe it more specifically?  What's the philosophy behind this stylistic collage?

Bhajans (songs) are from a Hindu tradition called bhakti, which means “devotion.”  The tradition is thousands of years old and one of the most popular forms of practical faith in Hinduism.  People who practice bhakti are often seeking a personal relationship with their god, just like we as followers of Christ are seeking that personal relationship with him.  There are Indians who have chosen to follow Christ from within the folds of their culture rather than adopt a Western expression of worship.  Many of the bhajans that we play are actually composed by Indians in India who follow Christ but express their devotion in this culturally Indian way.

We believe in the eclectic diversity of God and his heart for the whole world and it challenges us to examine the self-imposed confines of what it can look like to follow Christ.  Just as Christ came to Earth, contextualizing the heart of God so that we could begin to understand Him, we believe that he goes to every culture and speaks or sings truth in a way that is not foreign but resonates with each personal history.  Our efforts are in support of that concept for India as well as the rest of the world.  If we, as cultural Christians can grasp the importance of Christ as an Indian or a Latino or an African—or even as he was, a Middle-Easterner—rather than the Anglo-Saxon portraits we have come to use, I believe that we will see many of the walls fall that have kept Christ out of people’s hearts and a new richness enter the Church.

Instrumentally, the mixture of styles and sounds from different corners of the Earth when brought together help us to see that we are all not so different; we can at least co-exist or even better, enrich each other’s lives. 


What have been some other influences, artistic and otherwise, on your work?

Both Chris and my first musical loves were rock classics like the Beatles, Led Zepplin, Genesis and Pink Floyd.  The introduction to Indian classical music and bhajans brought about the desire to combine both rock elements and classical Indian sounds and styles.  Recently I have enjoyed modern folk music, like Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, Daniel Lanois, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Ben Harper.  I love it when music and lyric combine to redefine or to strip a situation of any pretense, to lay it out in front of me and draw me closer to God. I love instrumental fusions and am growing in my understanding and appreciation of Indian classical music. 

I think my favorite film is The Mission.  At the end when the two main characters, both servants of Christ, are faced with imminent death, they have to choose how to die, but they are so different. They choose completely opposite roads but do so with their consciences un-defiled. There is something mysteriously wonderful about that moment, not to mention that the soundtrack is next to perfect.

As far as books go, C.S. Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Mark Helprin and many of the classics make up a majority of my reading.  As a band, the writings of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, an Indian freedom fighter and pioneer of following Christ in a culturally Indian way, and others like him are very influential and encouraging to us.  Two of our songs on Amrit Vani are based on his poetry of Christ Incarnate.  Living Water Indian Bowl by Dyanand Bharti, Jesus Christ and the Hindu Community by Hans Staffner and Churchless Christianity by Herbert Hoefer are some other examples.   

The people we draw inspiration from are those who are working in the world, bringing the message of Christ, the message of love and change, to the practical realm.  We are connected with a few different groups that embody this.

Freedom Firm works to rescue girls who have been forced into prostitution at a young age.  They prosecute sex traffickers and provide a home where these girls are given a safe place to live, far away from the red-light districts, where they are educated, taught trades and counseled.  The Sewa Ashram, just outside of New Delhi, India is another inspiration to us.  They gather together homeless, abandoned people from the streets and under the highway overpasses of city and give them a place to live.  We have spent some time there and it is humbling to listen to these social cast-offs singing with such joy and exuberance.  It is people like these who help remind us that God is alive and working, truly the up-lifter of the downtrodden, in this world where so many are forgotten and misused.   


Knowing some people from an area in Toronto where your band has connections, I've heard about the house shows Aradhna has done, with music and food.  What is a typical house show like?

One of the nicest things about a house concert is that we can get away from using a PA system and people sit really close to us.  Everything shrinks down into a very real experience of solidarity between the audience and us, to the point where it can cease to be a concert and more of a time of worship, more of a whole experience.  It is a very Indian thing to have food at gatherings and it is easy to strike up a conversation and make new friends when eating a samosa or dal and rice.  It all helps to take away the pretense of artists and audience allowing every one a greater chance at being real and making a connection with each other and with God.  

As we begin a concert there is always an intake of breath, usually lasting through the first few songs as we and the audience try to find each other.  Sometimes it gets a little uncomfortable as we seem to miss…and then comes the magical moment when we begin the exhale, something clicks, whether purely in our hearts or echoed in the music, and our souls, both the audience and our own, sing in unison. It helps if we have all had a meal together or some time for interaction before the concert.  


As musicians, how do you understand the relationship between the artist and the audience?  What kinds of responses do you get to this style from people who hear your performances and albums?

The type of music we play is traditionally a communal experience with a lot of interaction.   Often, the leaders of bhajans are not professional musicians at all and musical expertise is not a pre-requisite.  It is an issue we are always revisiting; how much of a show to put on, or do we just let it be simple and merely a vehicle for a spiritual experience for the audience and us.  We try to find the balance that exists between the two approaches.  We need musical fulfillment as a band and want to make it enjoyable for those who have come for non-spiritual purposes, just good listening music, but also help to pave the way to that deeper place of interaction with God.  It gets a bit tricky sometimes.  We want the audience to feel the freedom to sing along, dance, meditate, clap, cheer raucously or just be silent.  In the early days the silence sometimes made us a bit uncomfortable when we finished a fast number that we hoped would get the crowd on their feet and the audience would stay silent with their eyes closed.  We have learned to let that be and even enjoy that response now. 

There seems to be a hunger in the west for a fresh approach to worship and music in general, something that reaches a different place than mainstream pop or worship music.  Indian young people normally avoid bhajans, thinking them prosaic and remembering long days at the temple, but they are usually surprised and pleased with our fusion that relies heavily on western rock and folk roots.  We are constantly surprised when we meet people who have driven over three hours to be with us for one concert. The albums have sold well over the years and to a great response.  Our latest album, Amrit Vani seems to have struck a chord with reviewers and fans alike.     


Realizing that grand plans can always change, where do the members of the band anticipate and hope the journey takes them next?

This is something that we are always working through.  We have always tried to hold Aradhna loosely understanding that at any moment it could cease to be right.  But the music has continued to improve, our relationships with Christ have continued to grow and mature, and people around the world, as well as ourselves, are still being blessed.  There have been many times I thought that we had been delivered a death blow, but it turned out to be my fatalism, and we have been picked up, dusted off and set to the task again.  We hope that this music goes far and wide, deeper into the Hindu, New Age, Christian and secular worlds and can become a starting block for relationships to be built among the cultures.  I think this music can be a fresh introduction to Christ, helping to eradicate stereotypes and allow Christ to truly be alive in our hearts.  We hope also that it will serve to embolden India and other cultures to pursue their own expression of devotion to Yeshu. 

To learn more about Aradhna’s story and music, visit their web site, which also includes a list of upcoming performances.  If you’re intrigued, please be sure to check out their most recent album Amrit Vani, which is alternately meditative and invigorating—a refreshing expression of the band’s mission to explore the lordship of Christ in and through all of the world’s cultures.

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