There is no happiness for those who do not travel musically
Bill Laswell's City of Light is an electro-Vedic journey to India's holy city of Benares. The evocative booklet essay is by the anarchist writer and poet Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), whose book Sacred drift: essays on the margins of Islam was featured here some years back. Music on the margins of Islam has also been a preoccupation of Bill Laswell for decades. His 1992 album Apocalypse Across the Sky offered a refreshingly lucent take on the Master Musicians of Jajouka, in contrast to Brian Jones' celebrated chemically-blurred production. Staying on those creatively inspired margins, Laswell's Gnawa Night captures the spirit masters of sub-Saharan Africa in the same lucence.
In his booklet essay for City of Light, Hakim Bey quotes from Diana L. Eck's definitive portrait of Varanasi, Banaras: City of Light, and the quote resonates with my recent post Music is the best way to travel. It comes from the ancient Indian collection of sacred hymns the Aitareya Brahmana, with the god Indra urging the life of the road on the young Rohita:
'There is no happiness for him who does not travel, Rohita! Thus we have heard. Living in the society of men, the best man becomes a sinner…
The fortune of him who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves when he moves. Therefore, wander!'
Bill Laswells' album and Diana Eck's book are titled City of Light, as is musical wanderer Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No. 22. These three masterworks dos not just share a title, they also shares the same lucent serenity. To paraphrase Indra, there is no happiness for those who do not travel musically. If you like Vaughan Williams' London Symphony and have never heard Hovhaness' City of Light, you are missing a quite special experience. Why not give it a try?