As it so often happens, the stories of underrepresented people get lost or forcefully erased through time by those who wish to control the historical narrative.
In early twentieth century India, women were pioneering the music recording field but their results and efforts have been somewhat hidden under the radar, until now.
Because of the efforts of author and historian Vikram Sampath these women’s stories have been brought to light in the book Women of the Records. The book is accompanied by a CD on which one can hear original recordings of the artists, fully restored and reconstructed.
“Across India women, mostly from the courtesan community, were the stellar pioneers of recording technology in the early twentieth-century.
Yet, their stories have been completely lost in the sands of time.
This book revisits their lives & features the indefatigable saga of 25 inspiring Indian women musicians from across the country, from 1902 to 1947.”
In 2011 Sampath launched Archive of Indian Music, an online preservation database of Indian music, all of which can be streamed on Soundcloud, for free.
Lifelong friendships, a longing to inspire a kind of oneness among all creatures and some good ‘ol basement jamming is some of what makes up Magna Zero. Three friends who, after some time apart, got back together to once again make music.
This time their jamming together has resulted in a debut album as Magna Zero. It means The Great Nothing, and it is also the title of the album. The band explained to me, that what they experience when they play together is ” a melting away of the ego into a state of oneness with all things in the universe”, hence the Latin derived name and album title.
Through groovy bass lines, some epic guitar solos and lyrics that convey the strange experience of living in today’s turbulent world, Magna Zero tries to unite the people of the world through themes of mortality, grief, purpose, selflessness, connection, and compassion.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the band briefly about their music and specifically about the single, Endure, which Shouts is thrilled to premiere for you all.
Exclusive Premiere: Endure by Magna Zero
Halldór: First of all, for those not familiar with Magna Zero, who are you and what’s the story behind its creation?
Chris: Magna Zero is simply 3 long-time friends getting together to jam. For me it’s a reprieve. No egos. Just getting to play my guitar freely and exploring new sounds.
Jason: We decided to form this band shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown first started, and then the studio where we rehearse in Los Angeles basically became a ghost town. We were able to continue playing there, so we found ourselves in this incredibly unique situation where we had this amazing, creative space pretty much to ourselves for about a year. And that particular year happened to be one of the most monumental spaces of time in recent human history, a time of collective introspection through the quarantine we all found ourselves in, and also a time that served as a catalyst for social change. Both of these aspects fueled our band’s creative process, and we just exploded with new music every time we got together, which was quite often. Playing music together was really the only in-person interaction we had with other people besides our time with our families, so the studio was a gift not only for our artistic expression, but also for our psyches.
Dave: We’re a true collaborative based on the bonds of brotherhood and the bonds of the known and unknown universe. The music is inspired by that core. From this the music shapes itself into what it has become—songs that speak to the soul of our Moral Universe.
Halldór: You are about to release your debut album. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process behind this album, and specifically the song Endure?
Chris: Most of the tracks came out of free jams. We were smart enough to record most of the jams on Dave’s cell phone. I think we got close to 100 of these live jams before we then took turns picking out a favorite track to turn into a song. I believe Endure started with a baseline from Jason. I just tried to play around with it and add some color. I wanted to be as spare as possible to let the bass and drums groove. There’s this tension with trying to hold on to the sparseness until it kind of explodes in the guitar solo.
Dave: The album spans from death giving birth to life. Giving up oneself to find the ‘self’. Death is the center of life. Black holes give life to all galaxies known. It’s an entire journey of ultimate, unashamed, bare- bones nothingness equivocating to everything living in the entire Universe. The ultimate album of self-preservation and self-love.
Jason: What Dave’s describing reminds me of the age-old saying, “Die before you die, so that you can truly live”. Our album is titled, The Great Nothing. The phrase is literally our band name translated from Latin into English. It’s the closest expression in words for what we experience when we play music together, a melting away of the ego into a state of oneness with all things in the universe. The path to this for the band is to become nothing, and paradoxically, experience a sense of unity with everything. The song Endure is a message of love prevailing over strife. Even when we experience the darkest moments imaginable, it is love that ultimately lifts us back to our natural state of harmony with each other and with the earth. Since the pandemic, we’ve been seeing a shift in consciousness that is heart-based and that is bringing people together on a scale that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Now more than ever before, strangers from the other side of the world are supporting each other and standing together for compassion, kindness, and justice. Throughout the massive challenges we’re seeing and experiencing in modern times, it’s love that brings us together for positive change forward into a future of hope.
Halldór: Do you all have a background in writing political music? Do you consider your music political or rather more spiritual?
Chris: I’m not a fan of politics, as I feel it creates unnecessary division. I don’t want to be a ‘political’ band. As cheesy or cliché as it is, I feel like we need to focus more on peace and love. And I hope our music conveys that.
Jason: I’d describe playing music together as a spiritual experience shared between us and with our audience. For me, this transcends politics. It’s like a glimpse into something much bigger than any single one of us, while connecting us all. Music is a peak experience. Like painting, mountain climbing, meditating, or a thousand other things, it brings us closer to something deeper yet familiar, as the material world falls away and we feel at one with each other and the universe. When we are playing music together, the space between all things and the time that separates them collapses, and we are completely present to the ever flowing moment of the now. Echoing what Dave said earlier, it’s as if we are tapping into something void of form, a Great Nothing that connects us back to everything, much like a singularity links the nothingness of a black hole to the creation of something words simply cannot express.
Dave: Our music is the continuous evolution of earth and all that inhabits it, to lose themselves in order to find themselves, to become the NOTHING that shapes this planet into something positive.
Halldór: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
Dave: I hope to inspire all things, for people to hear the sound we make to be inspired, to be moved, to be changed, to be humbled, as this is what the music does to me and my rough edges.
Jason: As word spreads about our songs and visuals, we feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment because we believe that the work we do adds to the momentum of positivity, peace, and love in the world today.
Halldór: Do you feel resistance or lack of interest from people when they understand your lyrics or that you make critical music? Do you feel like a lot of artists specifically use their music for change or to send out positive, constructive messages?
Jason: Our music resonates with people who share in the values of kindness, compassion, and unity. There are so many great bands and artists out there doing similar work. While some of them are household names, many are independent, lesser-known folks who are incredibly talented. It’s inspiring to hear music that not only moves you, but also is a catalyst for positive change in the world. As a musical artist, why wouldn’t you want to do that?
Halldór: Life in your country, the US, does seem turbulent, as in most places. What are some of the things that affect you or drive you to pen down some lyrics or come up with a tune?
Jason: When we look at what’s happening in the world today, all the cruelty and suffering we’re inflicting on each other and all of the damage we’re doing to our planet, it’s easy to get down and feel like the problems we face are insurmountable, like nothing we do in our individual lives really makes a difference. But it does. What we’re seeing in our local community is an overwhelming response to call out and end bigotry and hatred. There’s a rallying cry against the destruction of our planet, and a willingness on the part of the individual to take personal responsibility for the actions made in daily life. It’s a choice to live with optimism, hope, and positivity towards ourselves and others. Creating this music with Dave and Chris helps anchor me in staying true to that choice.
Chris: If anything, I hope The Great Nothing shows that life is good.
Halldór: Can you recommend other likeminded bands or musicians from your scene or any artists that inspire you?
Jason: My short list these days includes Bob Marley, Rage Against The Machine, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam, and Black Sabbath…these artists move me with their groove and especially with their lyrics.
Chris: Influences are tricky. There’s just too many. Bands that just make me feel good when I listen to them and especially see them live. Guitarists that play with soul and express themselves through their playing.
Dave: I’m inspired by so many, where to start? The pages continue to be written on my inspiration…from my childhood: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Zeppelin, The Eagles. My teenage years: Metallica, Sabbath, Rush!!, Iron Maiden, The Police, Boston, Dr. Know, Subhumans, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Excel, D.R.I. My 20’s: Alice In Chains, NIN, Soundgarden, Fugazi, Radiohead, Ani DiFranco, Elliot Smith, Gang Starr, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, WuTang, Beck. Now: Jungle, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tame Impala, St. Vincent, My Morning Jacket, Father John Misty, Angel Obel.
Halldór: Outside of the music, do you partake in any projects or activism of any kind? Anything you’d like to share with the Shouts audience?
Jason: I’d like to share that as a public schoolteacher, I’m inspired by the thousands of kids I’ve worked with over the years, who despite differences in color, creed, gender identity, or politics, choose to accept each other for who they are and be friends. From my experience, I have a strong sense that our young brothers and sisters growing up today have a sense of moral responsibility to ensure there is a planet for their grandchildren to live in. Every day I see reminders from our youth of the goodness that is within the human spirit. Based on what I’m seeing in kids today, I believe we have strong reason to be hopeful that together, people from all over the world can continue to partner for a better future.
For those who don’t know, Peter Rowan is a bluegrass musician and composer from the US. For those who’d like to know more about Rowan they could do a lot worse than to read Mike Fiorito’s latest book called Mescalito Riding His White Horse.
Fiorito has for some time now been interviewing musicians from around the globe, some of which have been published here on Shouts, and as a fan of Rowan’s work he managed to delve deep into the musician’s life, art and activism. Drawing from inspirations of Rowan’s musical adventures, the book becomes much more than a biography of Rowan’s life. Fiorito somehow manages to intertwine parts of his own life story, his interviews with Rowan, song lyric analysis and explorations of Buddhism.
It is not everyday one discovers Asian philosophy in the world of blugrass music but Fiorito manages to introduce those two worlds to the reader, and so much more, in a highly entertaining way. Woven around his interviews are fascinating happenings such as Fiorito’s dreams and a vision of the Dalai Lama, to mention a few.
The book explores the themes that Rowan himself has covered in his songs, such as music history, climate change, eco-activism, social activism and spirituality. Fiorito tells me via email that Rowan is currently working on a new album which addresses the social injustice which some Mexicans experience in their immigration to the United States. Said album will come out next year.
This is a beautiful book which I recommend to fans of music and spirituality alike. It’s a trip like nothing else, part music history and part psychadelic journey telling.
After our call, when I went to sleep that night, the dream visions continued. Now I looked forward to going to sleep, knowing that I’d see Peter.
In one, I was at a concert dancing with Eric Dolphy and Patsy Cline. Otis Redding played guitar and sang. There were other people there too, some of whom I didn’t know.
Something amazing had happened. Humans had made contact with highly intelligent beings from another world. As if in an instant, these beings taught us how to live more just lives. How to protect every human being. How to acknowledge the sovereignty of trees, oceans, and rivers.
We were celebrating our liberation.”
– From Mescalito Rides His White Horse by Mike Fiorito
Mike Fiorito is the author of previously published books such as Call Me Guido, Falling From Trees, Freud’s Haberdashery Habits, Hallucinating Huxley, The Hated Ones and Sleeping With Fishes. He is currently working on a new novel. For more info check out his webpage mikefiorito.com.