Sitting in the pews of Brighton’s Unitarian Church and readying myself for an evening of devotional music largely centred on Hindu and Sufi traditions, I felt slightly dubious. Perhaps an evening of ‘sacred world music’ would be cursory, simply paying lip service to the music, without taking heed of the rich traditions behind the songs. After an emotionally-charged few hours in the church, however, it was clear that the evening orchestrated by Brighton’s own Sahaja Yoga meditation group was created with the best intentions and a true passion for devotional music in all its varied forms.
Sincerity was the order of the evening, yet as evidenced by the opening act, sincerity is best accompanied by happiness.
The music began with the aforementioned Sahaja Yoga group themselves; an informal vibe filled the church, three of the performers on the side of the stage beaming with excitement and bopping along to the music. Sincerity was the order of the evening, yet as evidenced by the opening act, sincerity is best accompanied by happiness.
It appeared that the remaining performances would follow a similar fun, yet casual, pattern. This presumption was dismantled by the following performance by Tanya Wells, a truly astonishing talent. Her stage-chatter did fit these categories, yet her musical prowess was anything but blasé. A musician whose set would have been worth the price of the ticket alone, Wells’ masterful command of her voice and her guitar left the audience visibly in awe, particularly in the compositions where her relationship with India was most evident. One such example was a rāga-inspired piece about rain in London, yet the most impressive was a rendition of a traditional Sufi song performed in Farsi. Another highlight, perhaps less technically impressive but the most emotionally touching piece, was her song ‘My Two’, which was directed at her other half – her identical twin sister, who was sitting in the audience and who took to the stage in the final performance of the evening. I found it odd that her music hadn’t been advertised prior to the evening itself, as it made for an incredible surprise.
The following set consisted of an improvisation and a composition; this created an aura of meditative calm and a sense of inclusion, as the musician detailed the mechanics of the improvisation to us before beginning. Jolting us out of this peacefulness, however, came the final performers of the night, performing a set of Bhajans and Qawwalis in an amazingly energetic style befitting of the music itself, and the audience filled the church with dancing, clapping, and yelping.
After a final group meditation, audience members reluctantly filed out and talked about how they would definitely get into meditating as soon as possible. I had similar conversations, and I am yet to start meditating regularly – I feel my enthusiasm on the night, however, was testament to the enthusiasm of the performers themselves.