Review by: Matt Crosslin
“Who or what is Aradhna?” you might be asking yourself. Aradhna is a Hindi word that means worship. The band that uses that word for their name is a group that writes Christian worship songs in a mixture of Western and Eastern styles. The catch is – the core of Aradhna is two non-Indian guys (Chris Hale and Pete Hicks). Don’t fear – this is not a lame attempt at ‘world music’ where some white guy lays some really western sounding beats on an ethnic drum and then brags about how cultural they are. These guys grew up on the Indian subcontinent and have an immense respect for their adopted culture. And adopt that culture they have – this album oozes cultural authenticity to its core. The statement on the front of their website says it all: “the group captures the beauty and dignity of India’s bhajan devotional melodies with music that blends east and west.” It also doesn’t hurt that Chris can speak Nepali and Hindi fluently.
The trick to making their albums great is that Chris and Pete record much of their albums in India with Indian musicians. Amrit Vani is the latest of three studio albums and one live album (and don’t forget the two CDs by Chris’s former fusion band Olio). While “Jaago Logo” from Marga Darshan is still my favorite Aradhna track (check it out in the samples section of their site), Amrit Vani is now my favorite album. I love the joy and beauty of all tracks. I even find myself singing along at times… even though I don’t know Hindi (English translations are included, for those that want to know what they are singing). “Jaya Dev” kicks off with a nice acoustic mood and some authentic tabla drumming, leading in to the sitar enhanced sound of “Yeshu Raja.” I love sitar music. There is also a good groove underlying several songs – one of my favorites is in “Man Mera”… even though it is very subtle. This album is full of subtle hints at different musical ideas – layers of sounds sit on top of each other in ways that allows you to really dig in to what you are listening.
Most of the songs on this album fall in to the acoustic category, even those there is a definite energy to many of them that surpasses the acoustic tag. My only complaint about this album is that the electric guitars of songs like “Jaago Logo” are not present on this album. Songs like that tended to sway the balance of east vs. west to the west side a slight bit on the previous albums. With that element gone, the pendulum swings slightly to the east side of the fusion mix… but that is still fine by me. I love world music and this is album is agreat addition to any world music lover’s catalog.