Creating Music that Uplifts: The Development of Shunia
Someone asked me how this album came about. It’s actually an interesting question.
It goes all the way back to when I first started going to kundalini yoga classes many years ago. They were great, but often had subpar music playing on a cassette that we all chanted along with.
As a classically trained musician, I often found myself distracted by some of the music I was hearing. As years went on, I did find a couple of chant artists I liked, but for the most part the music left me feeling unsatisfied. However, there was one artist, Singh Kaur that I loved. It was such a joy to hear her sing the mantras so beautifully. For me, it elevated the whole experience of chanting. I listened to her for years. When I chanted with her, I felt happier. I also recorded my own versions of the mantras and would chant along with my own creations.
One day I ran into a musician producer friend of mine, Thomas Barquee, in Santa Fe. He and I talked about how great it would be to work together. So, we decided to make an album. It started out as a typical songwriter and producer situation. He was going to produce some songs I had written, but that’s not what ended up happening. We only worked a few days together before he had to leave for a European tour, so we didn’t make a lot of headway. While he was away, I was visiting my friend Suzanne Jackson, whom I had known for many years from college and The Washington National Opera. We had created several projects together and we were talking about what we were going to do next.
She had recently attended a kundalini teacher training course and had learned many of the chants that I had been chanting for years. We talked about how cool it’d be to do a chant album together. I thought about Thomas. I knew he had produced several chant artists and was familiar with kirtan and chant music styles.
The next time I met with Thomas, I told him I wanted to shift gears and make a chant album with my friend Suzanne. So, that’s what we did. We created the album, Ascend. It was a fantastic, collaborative experience. We all felt really happy about how it had turned out. It was satisfying to hear the chants I knew and loved come to life with such creative music to support them.
During that same time I heard a new album by one of my favorite chant duos, Mirabei Ceiba. I absolutely loved it, and I listened and meditated to it over and over again. As a musician, I was so impressed with the beauty of the music. The arrangements and structure that had been created were unusual and compelling.
Every time I meditated with these chants, I always felt a sense of joy, well-being and appreciation for them. There was something in my gut that told me I needed to find the album’s producer and work with him. Finding him was easier said than done, but after a long time searching, I found someone who knew someone that had played on an album he produced with Snatam Kaur, and she made the introduction. Thank God! And that’s how I finally found Jamshied Sharifi. And I’m so grateful I did.
I knew Jamshied had recently produced a chant album and it seemed to be something he was really good at. It’s an interesting thing to create a chant album with him. Creating this kind of album is not like a normal exercise of song writing and development. In most songs you tell a story on the verse and then you sing a chorus. But on a chant album, you’re just chanting… Meaning, you say the same words over and over again. So, in a way it’s much more challenging to keep it interesting. You have to use the music to create an atmosphere that transports you. There has to be so much movement and the feeling of ‘going somewhere’ within the energy of the music. This is where having a brilliant composer/producer comes in very handy.
The Creation of Shunia: Moods and Mantras
So, into this world we went. Together with Jamshied, we created our second album, self-titled Shunia. The music so perfectly sets the mood for each mantra. The musicians Jamshied brought in to play on this album gave a whole other level of intrigue, beauty and magic. The unique ancient instruments they played so skillfully, took us on a journey with every note. It was obvious that they were telling a story with their instruments. On to this rich sonic canvas we were able to lay our voices down. Singing the chants on this album often felt like flying, as if we were singing them on top of those stories that had been told by each musician with each individual instrument.
One thing is for sure, these songs are definitely not boring. Just the opposite. They are filled with life. The creation of each song and the performance of each musician has filled them with pulsating life and energy. I’m personally so grateful for all the talented players that are on this album. They each brought their own talent, heart and soul to this project and you can hear it on every track.
This was my prayer and desire for Shunia. The mantras that we are chanting on this album have been chanted for 5,000 years. The intention in each word has a vibrational energy to it, and the language (Sanskrit) is an ancient holy language that carries the seed sounds of humans. I wanted to create music that would lift you up, and give you hope and comfort. Music has the power to do that. I believe it is our most universal and ancient language.
I feel honored and blessed to have worked with such incredible people to put this album together and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
Share our journey at: www.shuniasound.com.
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.