Let’s start 2017 with a sweet, gentle instrumental – something to soothe away the excesses of the New Year’s Eve party and ease the conflict and bitterness that was the hallmark of the year just gone. This is a track called Peace of Mind from the Natural Elements album by Shakti.
Shakti was an east-west fusion band that combined John McLaughlin’s jazz-influenced guitar with elements of Indian music supplied by Lakshminarayana Shankar (viola, violin, vocals), Zakir Hussain (bongos, dholak, percussion, tabla, timbales, triangle, vocals), Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam, kanjeera, percussion, vocals) and Ramnad Raghavan (mridangam). If, like me, you’ve never heard of many of those instruments there’s a glossary at the end of this post. For now, though, you can just lump the ones you don’t know under the general heading of ‘percussion’.
Peace of Mind sounds very familiar to those of us brought up on western classical and popular music. There is none of the wailing sitar, quarter tones or chanting voices that characterise the traditional music of the Indian sub-continent. Instead we have a contemplative acoustic guitar reminiscent of John Williams and a violin that slips and slides through a simple, haunting melody. Nothing I know says “peace be with you” as eloquently as this and nothing reaches across cultural divides more successfully.
If 2017 is going to be better than the anno horibilis of the last 12 months we will need something like Peace of Mind in our lives to provide an antidote to the selfish isolationism that is taking Britain out of the EU and has elected Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. We will need peace and forgiveness to stop the wars caused by religious fundamentalism and to heal the physical and psychological wounds they will leave behind. We will need men (and women) of peace, men who reach out to others across the globe, spiritual men like Mahavishnu John McLaughlin.
I’ve been on this Earth too long to believe the world’s ills can be solved in a single year but there is always the hope that things will get better. Here’s to a more rational, more peaceful, more humane society in 2017.
- dholak – a two-headed hand drum
- ghatam – a large, narrow-mouthed earthenware water pot used as a percussion instrument
- kanjeera – an Indian version of the tambourine
- mridangam – another two-headed drum
- tabla – a pair of small hand drums
- timbales – shallow single-headed drums with a metal casing played with sticks