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Lili Haydn: The spirit of yoga in the bow of a violin

Lili web1Musician Lili Haydn will perform at the Moksha Festival

“Music is the universal language, literally rewiring the brain, resonating way past intellect into the chambers of the heart; and it’s my way of connecting with and giving love to the world.” –Lili Haydn

Called “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin” by George Clinton, Haydn has performed with, collaborated with, played with, and/or opened for artists such as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Herbie Hancock, Sting, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Josh Groban, to name but a few. Yet to profile her solely as a performer would be a gargantuan understatement. Expanding that description to add composer, humanitarian, activist, thinker, radio host, philosopher, and spiritual seeker would begin to offer a more accurate picture.

Currently, Miss Haydn is navigating multiple projects. She’ll be performing at the Moksha Festival on Sunday, July 14. She’s just finished scoring three films: The House That Jack Built, which premiered in June at the LA Film Festival, Anita, a documentary about Anita Hill (who brought workplace harassment to the national spotlight) by Academy award winner Freida Mock which just premiered at Sundance, and Sublime and Beautiful, a film slated for Fall, 2013. She’s working on her fifth album, I am A Man, scheduled for release later in 2013.

Can you talk about I Am A Man? It’s a unique title.

I was asked to perform for the Civil Rights Museum where I came across that iconic image of the sanitation workers wearing the placards that said, “I am a Man,” when they marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. They weren’t asking for higher wages or better working conditions; they were simply affirming their humanity. It just devastated me. This really is the essence of every movement. “I am a human being and I matter;” it is what they are saying in Turkey and Brazil and right now in Syria.

That is what matters most to me: human dignity and treating each other with respect. Every issue on the planet, every crisis, could be solved if people really saw each other’s humanity and looked out for each other. That’s what “I am a Man” means and is what my record is about. The more we can see the outer world as a macrocosm of our inner world, the more we can change the world.

Perhaps it will inspire people to dig a little deeper and find your message.

That’s what I hope. Although I think the more intense things get, the more there is a separation of people who gravitate toward substance. Then there is the other part of the world that wants to tune out and is not interested in looking deeper. I think most media caters to that portion of the world. So it becomes harder and harder to find one’s place.

You also compose music for films.

Lili web2

I got my film start by being part of Hans Zimmer’s team of musicians. He would have me improvise on violin and perform to the movie he was scoring. It came very naturally. Then people started asking me to score their films. I was the solo violin for both Pirates of the Caribbean and The Town. I’m still playing and singing for people but I’m almost exclusively composing and working on my solo record.

Could you talk about your connection with Yoga?

Because playing the violin is so rough on the body, I have no choice but to practice yoga every day. Every 20 minutes when I’m playing, I’ll break to do a pose or exercise. It’s part of my survival. My ability to play depends on how mindfully I stretch to counterbalance the ridiculous rigors of holding a piece of wood with your neck for 30 years.

I think of yoga in the same way that I think of spirituality and God in general. God doesn’t exist in one house for me, but has been thoroughly integrated into every moment. Yoga, in that same way, is about mindfulness, paying attention, and slowing down. Those are the same tools that apply to my playing, my composing, and the way I try to relate to the world.

How did you come to Yoga?

My mom, Lotus Weinstock, was a standup comedian. Lotus is a name that she was given in the Brotherhood of the Source. The guru of that spiritual organization was friendly with Yogi Bhajan, and he brought Kundalini yoga to this community, so I was kind of raised with Kundalini yoga as the backbone of my spiritual life. I bonded with Yogi Bhajan a little bit before he died and I gravitated toward Gurmukh because there was a resonance. I wrote a piece based on a mantra we used to sing in yoga class. It was called “Seek” and it was on my second record which I did with Bill Laswell [Light Blue Sun]. The record was number one on the New Age charts for a while.

Arvind (Chittumalla, founder of Moksha Festival) mentioned that this year he wanted to have sacred music of all types. He felt that you would be a good fit for Moksha, and that you could be a portal into sacred music.  

It’s an interesting thing he’s is doing by taking the spirit of yoga and widening the scope of the music that he incorporates. I’m really excited about being at Moksha with a group of people who are there to experience and be honest, and to learn, and listen with mindfulness.  It’s also a unique opportunity for me to do my deepest and grooviest music with an incredible lineup of musicians and special guests.  Donna DeLory will be sitting in with me, and doing her own set too, along with so many great artists and teachers.

Musically, you don’t really fit in any one genre.

I grew up only really playing and listening to classical music, so I hear all music now just as an extension of that, and don’t really relate to normal boundaries.  I like to use genres as a touchstone to tickle the ears in a way. There are certain intervals I enjoy that are found in India rock or alternative. I like the playfulness in a Gotye, Kate Bush, or Bjork, the harmonic and sonic richness in Radiohead, the groove and soulfulness of Stevie Wonder, and the expansiveness of Pink Floyd. I’ve been lucky to be able to collaborate with many artists, which has come very organically because I wasn’t a prisoner of genre. I ended up bringing a fluidity and freedom to their music, I think, from not being limited by genre.

Lili web3I’ve never fit neatly into a category, musically or otherwise.  I think this may also be because both of my parents (who were introduced to each other by Mama Cass) experimented with psychedelics. In particular, my father was infamously called The Acid King.  He was the first person to mass produce LSD. He did some 10,000 hits and survived – at least for the time being. I don’t get high but I think I got some of the benefits of psychedelia epigenetically (the behavior that affects your genes).

Fascinating. How does this inform your approach to music?

I am in a constant state of aspiring. I aspire to the complexity of richness that I’ve been describing. I aspire to that for my music. I want to be clear that the time that I’ve spent traversing this musical terrain has humbled me greatly. I feel my smallness and participation in the larger picture. I think bigger and bigger but at the same time it’s with an increasing, hopefully, dose of humility.

Perhaps some closing thoughts on how you describe yourself?

I know this sounds vague or airy-fairy, but I would say I am made of heart and earth and wood and clouds and tears. I try to tune into the human experience and turn it into song. I am equal parts grit and beauty. And I try to love both parts equally. I love so many types of music and I think that it’s important to embrace levity with gravity. So I will play my heart out and then I will play something to tickle you. I will write a bass line to make your toes buzz and your ass shake.

Lili Haydn is playing on the third day of  Moksha Festival on Sunday, July 14: mokshafestival.com

Lili Haydn’s new album I Am A Man is scheduled for a late 2013 release: lilihaydn.com

Joe Kara leads a double life of teaching Yoga in Hollywood and the Valley and working in the music business. He’s teaching at Moksha Festival Friday July 12: mokshafestival.com; Facebook / Twitter: JJKara

Images by David Young Wolff: Davidyoung-wolff.com

 

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