Playlist: Shwas: A Cycle

Time for another yoga playlist, particularly given the (relative) success of the last one. This time, our yoga class had an end of semester assignment - write a five page paper on Pranayama. Naturally, being relatively indisposed to work that hard, we decided to do something a little more ambitious: we burned a CD with the following tracklisting and the artwork and substituted it instead. We titled it Shwas (breath) since, of course, the actual practice of pranayama concerns itself with breath control. Our challenge was to come up with a musical sequence that would model a yoga session, remain thematically relevant and, last but not least, contain some damn cool music. Judge for yourselves:

  1. The Breath Of Life: Cosmic Wind - Prana (14:55) by Hariprasad Chaurasia from The Elements: Wind Pandit Chaurasia is one of India’s preeminent classical musicians. In this track, his composition and arranging skills shine through as well. His flute work is blended here with a larger palette of instruments to create a meditative mood.

  2. Shwas-Uchhashwas/The Beginning (9:55) by Zakir Hussain from The Elements: Space Zakir Hussain, again, needs no introduction. Not only is his own tabla work is legendary, but he, like Pandit Chaurasia, has also reached beyond classical music in his lengthy list of collaborations and compositions. Here is a track from his contribution to "The Elements" series that came out in the '90s. In this particular composition, he draws upon the creation of the world, the first breath as it were, as inspiration. Note the dash of percussion at places to heighten drama in what is still a mostly contemplative track.

  3. The Man Part One (4:45) by Peace Orchestra from Peace Orchestra From Indian classical, we now segue to electronica, specifically of the Viennese variety, with the opening salvo from Peter Kruder's album project. The electric piano continues the sombre tone and the jazz-tinged drums slowly raise the tempo of the proceedings thus far. The electronic bleeps and whizzes on top of the mix reminds us this is not suppertime easy listening.

  4. Heat Miser (3:39) by Massive Attack from Protection The sound of breathing dominates this instrumental from the Bristol trip hop group. This is taken from their followup to Blue Lines, a one-two album punch they actually managed to equal with Mezzanine Note, we are starting to pick up the pace now. I debated including the opening track of the album, Karma Coma, instead but the mood and theme wasn't right. Pity as it sounds more South Asian then anything that media darling MIA has achieved thus far. And Protection came out over ten years ago!

  5. Khayaal (6:56) by Midival Punditz from Midival Times The best of a new generation of Indian musicians that blend Indian classical with tablatronics, this is a old style ghazal sung beautifully by Vishal Vaid, dressed up with modern beats by the New Delhi duo. Seamlessly integrated, the drumn'n'bass percussion also kicks up the tempo a notch. Around this time, we'd be doing the more intensive set of breathing exercises in the yoga class as a prelude to the deeper stretches, so this should get the blood flowing!

  6. Sunset (4:45) by Nitin Sawhney from Prophesy From New Delhi, it's but a hop skip and jump to London. A genre bending mixture of Bengali vocals by Jayanta Bose and soul sounds from Eska Mtungwazi, UK based Nitin Sawhney once again achieves a fabulously contemplative atmosphere.

  7. Triatma (5:43) by Joi from We Are Three Shifting to a lighter tone, next comes this track by Joi, one of the pioneering UK Asian Underground groups. The deep kick drums underpin the sitar melody and the vocal samples.

  8. Breathless (3:02) by Shankar Mahadevan from Breathless An Indipop sensation when it came out, the vocals for this track sound like it was done in one take. True or not, you decide! The concept fits in well here and the pace is not out of place either.

  9. Dum Maro Dum (Take Another Toke) (4:43)by Kronos Quartet/Asha Bhosle from You've Stolen My Heart - Songs From R.D. Burman's Bollywood. A celebrated pairing, their concerts earlier this year were sensational. The album is up for a bagful of awards worldwide. And yes, the meaning of the song itself has something to do with breathing - well, at least puffing :-)

  10. Dheem Ta Dare (3:33) by AR Rahman from Soundtrack To Thakshak. When A.R. is on, he's on. On his recent albums, his best work, at least to me, is when he's at his most throwaway and experimental. Consider Dol Dol from Yuva as an example. Similarly, from Thakshak comes this heady mixture of classical vocals, thunderous drums and sublime electronic sounds. Initially, I thought of it as filler but now I find it to be AR at his most addictive. Brings the proceedings to a crescendo.

  11. Bissimilai (3:41) by Angelique Kidjo from Oyaya!. There's no way to go from here but downtempo and few better way to do it than this song from Angelique Kidjo, the Benin-born, Paris-resident diva. The track lopes along on back of the Brazilian bossanova rhythm but it's her soul stirring call to the one above that sends chills down the spine.

  12. Om Hraum Mitraya (4:17) by Deva Premal from Dakshina

  13. Om Namah Shivaya (6:30) by Deva Premal from Dakshina She may be German born but listen to her lush, warm harmonies and pretty soon you'll want to hear all mantras receive the same sonic treatment. A meditative way of ending the session.

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- January 25, 2006 6:57 PM // Music