Martin Wolff,
(Etherean, 2006)

Martin Wolff possesses a gift to be admired. He is a Westerner able to do Eastern things without losing much in the translation. I am just so proud of Wolff and his CD Shakti-Bhakti. Instead of the usual ersatz, bogus, hyped-up amalgams of parodies of ancient wisdom traditions, Wolff has -- surprise! -- rendered faithfully some Vedic chanting, literally, to a tee!

Behind this praise is a personal backdrop of experience with and knowledge of Vedic chanting. Several years ago, I made the acquaintance of Yogi Viswanathan, a yogi, at the India Society of Worcester's (Massachusetts) annual India Day celebration, held around the time of Indian Independence Day. He had a yoga camp for children and teens and a book on yoga illustrated with poses by his students. I enjoyed his company and he mine, pleased to find a Westerner interested in yoga to the degree I was.

He invited me to a rare experience, a kind of "Bible camp" for Hindus! There was a "mission" convening to explore and celebrate the teachings of their swami, the venerable Swami Chinmayananda. While there, I saw a table at which music tapes were being sold. I asked the yogi to suggest some genuine Vedic chanting to me. He picked out two or three wonderful tapes, including Rudram Chamakam and, especially, the verses of Adi Shankara, the foremost proponent of Advaita Vedanta philosophy, whose verses (stotras) were chanted by a Swami Brahmananda. The Rudram Chamakam sound quality was somewhat less pleasing as it seemed to be recorded in an actual stone mandir or temple in India where there was a considerable echo.

That's the thing that struck me first about the authenticity of Wolff's CD. He even phased a second track behind himself that almost completely parallels the sound of the echo in that temple in India where the Rudram Chamakam, one of the oldest religious works, was recorded. Amazing! Uncanny! A brilliant stroke of authenticity.

Wolff learned from a bonafide spiritual authority, so it is no wonder. But instead of the usual new-age garbage we are subjected to in every venue from Wal-Mart to roadside convenience stores, this was the real thing!

But first a bit about Sanskrit and why this CD is much more than simply music. It is voiced well by Karan Singh in his article, "Sanskrit, Our Crowning Glory," in which he says, "First, as a classical language, Sanskrit is recognised as being among the most remarkable to have emerged anywhere on this planet during the entire course of human history. Its grammatical structure is so exquisite, and its sonic quality so superb, that it is universally recognised as representing a high watermark of human linguistics."

Lore has it that Sanskrit was given by the gods that we might understand the universe and its ways. So a Vedic chant in Sanskrit is more than simply some music and lyrics. It conveys a kind of energy; it creates a pathway to something else. The chanting, too, being quite specific in its modality, is said to be inductive of an effect. As an example, consider the phrase from the Krishna consciousness book featuring interviews with George Harrison titled Chant & Be Happy.

Wolff, in this notable success of a work, even humbly submits the following sentence, evidential of his enormous respect and understanding of his work and its predecessors and a great tradition of ancient wisdom: "All Vedic chants (words and pitches) are according to Vedic tradition, as taught by Dr. Srinivasan Yegnasubramanian, except that any errors are attributable to Martin Wolff." So add humility to the roster of this artist's attributes.

All vocals are by Wolff as well, except the "Shantih Mantra" by Billee Wolff. Wolff can be heard playing the tamboura (a traditional drone instrument) behind some cuts and in an introduction to them. Wolff himself has used only traditional chants except in the 9th and 14th cuts. The 9th is attributed to the great Hindu saint, Bhagavan Shri Ramana Maharshi, who propounded the method of Self Inquiry, a philosophical pathway to self-realization and liberation. The 14th cut is Wolff's own work.

If you want to hear the real thing -- but wait! -- this is the real thing. Let's rephrase that. If you want to compare Wolff's work to that of Easterners, you can hear the sounds and many of the words on the works of Swami Brahmananda, as well the works of the Brahmacharis of Sandeepany, Bombay such as another chanting of Rudram Chamakam. Two of my personal favorites are The Adi Sankara Stotrams of Swami Brahmananda, Parts I and II, especially "Thotakashtakam."

To Martin Wolff it should be said, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

review by
John Cross

15 December 2007

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