Getting the Hang of it

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A new musical instrument takes one musician down a spiritual path, RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA reports.

The Lotus function room at Govinda’s Restaurant in Darlinghurst looks like a meditation hall. It is dimly lit, there are cushions on the floor, and there is incense everywhere. The middle-aged Caucasian lady sitting next to me starts chatting, and tells me she met Prabhu Acharya, today’s performer, only last week at her meditation class, where he played live while the class meditated.

Prabhu plays the Hang, a kind of percussion instrument. It looks like a flying saucer, or a wok with lid. Made of steel, it has seven to nine tone-fields ‘hammered’ on its surface, and is played by the hands, resting in the player’s lap. A fairly recent creation, it is only available in Switzerland where it was invented in 2000, still made by hand by its original creators.

As I listen to Prabhu Acharya play his unusual instrument, I feel compelled to close my own eyes and retreat inwards. In between numbers, forcing myself out of my private sojourn, I see that many others in the audience have their eyes closed too. In fact, some are seated in the lotus position, deep in meditation.

“That is one of the essential purposes of my music,” a smiling Prabhu reveals to me later. “To get you back in touch with yourself, and then to connect to the universe”.

His Lotus Heart Opening, for instance, is inspired by the power of the early morning sun. “Just as the sun’s rays cause the lotus flower to open, shining an inner light on ourselves can cause us to become more open beings, receptive to the energies of the universe”. Another number, Riding the Waves of Bliss, does exactly what it says – bringing in an aura of peace and well-being.

And in Oceanic Heart, the therapeutic effect of the ocean is re-created beautifully. The accompanying ocean drum introduces an added feel of the water. Prabhu explains to the audience the origin of this number. Working on his computer late into the night one night, he stepped out for a bit fresh air, and the expanse of ocean in front of him drew his soul in, leaving him blissfully rejuvenated and replenished.

Another number, Drifting Into Nothingness, is a Zen-inspired song that he wrote while travelling down a river in Japan. On the other hand, Silent Song in Market Place was born out of watching people in a bustling urban space.

Yet other numbers have an element of Indian devotional energy. Glimpse of the Beloved still channels nature, but as Prabhu claims, you do get a glimpse of ‘godly’ energy in nature. Rang Raliyan and Dancing With the Beloved have a playful folk beat alongside that earthy spirituality such as in Sufi music: the mood is one of ‘flirting with godliness’.

Accompanying Prabhu are percussionists Nila Hagglund and Jiva Berry, his partners in the band OSONIQS Rhythm~In. Both Nila and Jiva have been involved with Indian music from early on in their lives. (All three appeared on the Channel 7 show X-factor Australia 2010 to support contestant India Rose Madderom on her song Jai Ho).

Prabhu claims he was drawn to the Hang as soon as he saw it. Today he describes himself as ‘a keeper of the Hang’, and has produced a CD entitled At the Temple Gate. A second album is in the making). He has played alongside a variety of musicians including traditional Japanese artists, jazz pianists, flautists, even a funk guitarist.

“The Hang lends itself easily to many genres,” Prabhu explains.

But his special interest remains spirituality, “to receive energy through the vibrations inherent in this kind of music”.

Another instrument Prabhu has been playing recently is the new creation ‘sansula’, the vibrations from which have a profound and immediate soothing effect on the listener.

“The first sensations humans experience are vibrations, while inside the womb,” Prabhu notes. “Those vibrations sustained us then. I’m trying to use vibrations again now to bring in a sense of peace and stillness”.

Prabhu is passionate also about reclaiming our essential earthiness, in our increasingly nature-deficient lives. “Nature inspires me. The last piece I wrote came out of a walk in a bamboo forest in Japan. There was a soft wind blowing, and the bamboo leaves were softly rustling against the trunk. It was like a song to me, and as I listened, it was as if the whole forest was dancing… I’ve called the piece Silent Wind in Bamboo Forest. What I offer is not healing, but something like a vitamin boost in your life that is ridden with constant activity”.

“I like to call it an OSONIQ tonic,” he finishes.