ECM, 440 014 165-2, 2002
artist website, label website
Mantras are repetitive prayers. Say you prayed "let peace rule on earth and all her kingdoms; let peace reign in the hearts and minds of men; let peace become the flavor of all religions". At first, these are just words, blips on mind's screen. But repeat them over and over while all other thoughts fade. This prayer will soon drop into your heart to create an actual and tangible feeling sensation of peace. Continue. Much later again, the mantra/prayer will have gathered enough momentum to self-perpetuate while you simply hold the space. It now speaks itself while you have become a transmitter of peaceful energies anchored by the cyclical rhythmic underpinnings of the words.

Mantras have been used for thousands of years. They've been refined and used by millions, thus gathering power and efficacy over the centuries. Certain popular ones -- Om Namo Shivaya for example, or Om Mane Padme Hum -- have become veritable GigaWatt spiritual radio transmitters that broadcast 24 hours a day because devotees around the globe are continuously engaged in repeating them. Advanced practitioners will use accompanying physical postures, hand locks, exacting pronunciation and breath alignment to shorten certain bio-energetic circuits and set into resonance others conducive to magnifying the core energy embedded in the mantra.

The West has its own mantras. The most powerful one is Buy!. Perhaps it's what has led particularly Western musicians with spiritual leanings to embrace this ancient science to rebalance their own lives while experimenting with setting mantras to music. The challenge of course is their repetitive nature and relative brevity. It creates short melodic units arrayed behind each other like beads on a necklace.

Deva Premal is one of this emerging art's preeminent and most gifted practitioners and connected to the spiritual commune of Osho Rajneesh and its present-day tendrils into living examples of the teachings. Endowed with a magnificent voice and a wonderfully controlled "perfect" vibrato, she has a penchant for beautiful melodies and appropriate WorldBeat settings enlivened by musicians like Kirtan prince Jai Uttal, Kit Walker, Miten and Ty Burhoe.

Embrace follows the predecessors Love is Space, The Essence and Satsang and exhibits a growing sophistication of instrumental accompaniment and underlying percussion grooves. The mantras themselves are of Hindu and Tibetan origin and mostly in Sanskrit, but English translations are given in the liner notes. The surprising element here is the stand-alone extent to which Embrace works as sophisticated WorldBeat quite outside the much deeper dimension of meaning. Even listeners without a sympathetic bend to Hindu-based spirituality can delight in the tunes and enjoy Premal's drop-dead-gorgeous vocals.

Three percussionists -- using tablas, djembes, dumbeks and programming -- create the common heartbeat while other guest artists on pedal steel and sitar guitar, cello, dotar, harmonium, piano, Hammond organ and bansuri flute set up harmonies and melodies to make for distinctly varied atmospheres. Those range from tropical-dancy-celebratory to mystical/transcendental. Deva Premal overdubs herself on occasion for truly divine harmonizing and has realized crafty solutions to undermine the inherent redundancy of endless thematic recapitulations.

If you enjoy trance-ambient fare with world-class female vocals, Embrace should be a persistent blip on your mind's screen. It's not vapid New Age ware we've all gotten sick of hating. Think of it more along the lines of Delirium or the BuddhaBar compilations. If you liked those, melting into this Embrace will make you feel right at home.