Hitting the high notes

Struan Douglas

In the beginning there was sound. Sound was supreme – bringing people together and allowing them to journey within a deep meditation. Sound was the unifier – the inter-relator and the inter- connector. Yet, the true language of sound was no sound. It was something you could not hear, but only intuit. And this is the sound all great spiritual music shares, according to some of the leading Eastern musicians at the current gathering of the Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town.

The parliament has brought thousands of delegates from all over the world to congregate in the city in a means of inter-religious faith and sharing. From Buddhist monks to Hindu priests, Christian reverends and African traditionalists, there has been an abundance of presentations and promotions. However, in the high profile arena of supreme beings and divine leaders there has been less inter-faith sharing than one would expect.

Yet, in stark contrast to the extravagance and fame of some of the idols – in both the rock star and religious businesses – the music at the sacred festival is deeply humble, spiritual and sincere in its modesty.

Amazing acts from diverse and distinct backgrounds, from Japan to Ghana and from Khayelitsha to Soweto, are here to join on one stage in an act of cultural and spiritual expression. An act that is humble in its individuality, yet generous in its healing and soothing qualities.

The Dalai Lama launched the festival on December 9 with his unique presence. The myth goes that all you have to do is see him and realise his contentment and happiness to gain enlightenment. If that is true all you have to do is hear the powerful Taiko Drummers from a mountainous and spiritual retreat in Japan to see the light. With the determination of a Zen warrior, the focus and strength of a martial artist and the humility of a religious superior these 12 strong men played drums twice their size, creating a thunderous, deafening sound, so precise that it touched people’s hearts in reverential reverberation.

The Taiko Drummers return to Japan on December 10. Having performed a combination of traditional songs in meditative harmony, Pops Mohammed and his collaborators, the Ngqoko singers, will also return December 10 to Johannesburg.

But the festival is far from over. The whole of Saturday and the brilliant Cape Town weather have been dedicated to bringing the rest of the stars together in a line-up at the Company Gardens. It is a wonderful venue and initiator of sharing and grace and all is set for another stunner in the sun.

Contemporary pop-stars Qkumba Zoo bring with them a rather interesting, upbeat and un-contemplative sacred celebration. Local reggae outfit, Sons of Sellasie, represent the light at the end of the parliament for Rastafarianism while Wendy Oldfield is back, treading on the esoteric path.

There’s Ghanaian saxophonist George Lee and Pedro Espisanches. Espisanches has been playing a variety of instruments and introducing people to the music of Africa for many years. Best known for his long- running series on SABC, Espisanches is a versatile musician and great storyteller.

“The drum is the most important instrument,” sang the wellknown acid jazz band US3. Certainly in linking the heartbeat of the natural to the spiritual it can produce a beautiful sound within our spirits. There are the Burundi & Djembe drummers – 12 players from Burundi exiled in South Africa. There will also be a team of local drummers, gathered under the name of the Pan African Drummers, especially for this gig.

The parliament has brought many fascinating people, traditions, ceremonies and cultures to our shores. It allows us to learn from the others and appreciate our own. “Losing your culture,” says Pops Mohammed “is losing your identity and self-respect.” And through exposure, sharing and mutual appreciation we can all gain so much.

The music festival starts at the Company Gardens at 11 am and runs to 9pm. Entrance fee will be R20 for adults and R10 for children. For information call Cian on 083 325-9269

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