It is impossible to listen to Aradhna without a sense that something much deeper is brooding under the music. Spirituality is such an easy term to throw around when speaking about a thing you can’t explain but nonetheless feel. It’s a term that breeds ambiguity and at times, misunderstanding. Nonetheless it is a word that is necessary in describing the formation and subsequent work of Aradhna. After all, the name of the band is the spiritually charged Hindi term that means “adoration.” Popular music is often made to settle into the nooks and crannies of our daily humdrum, like an elixir against the pain of human existence. We drink it in and feel a bit better but we don’t expect it to change anything beyond our emotional state. Aradhna is a band with higher aspirations, making music that is centered around spiritual enlightenment and transformation while keeping ethnic integrity intact.
We live in an an age where cross-cultural musical projects are a dime a dozen, and all too often they result in a half-baked, watered-down muddle of eclectic instruments banging into each other. The sitar was introduced to rock and roll way before many of us were born. World music has been around long enough to go in and out of style many times over. Western attempts at eastern music is an arena where many more fail than succeed. It’s a road that is fraught with cultural and aesthetic baggage that ensnares all but a few who have managed to produce something worth listening to. Aradhna is among the few who have created a new and enduring sound out of diverse musical traditions of North India and North America.
Somehow, Aradhna has been able to glide past the subterfuge of globalization and establish itself as a band that is genuinely interested in creating cross-cultural dialogue through the arts. They are the real deal and they sing in a bunch of languages and people from all over the world are listening to their music.
Aradhna’s front man Chris Hale writes, “…my passion in life is to build bridges between cultures. A good bridge builder has a strong foundation on his own side and then builds a strong foundation on the other side, and then he crosses over.” Strong foundations are indeed one of the defining characteristics of Aradhna’s founding members. Chris Hale, an American, spent his childhood and adolescence in South Asia, where he gained fluency in Nepali and Hindi. It was in these formative years that Chris began to study the sitar and develop a love for bhajans, the classical devotional genre of India, and particularly of Hindus. In 1991 Chris formed the rock fusion band Olio and toured all across India for 6 years before releasing their first Hindi album Naam Leo Re (1997). Later that year, American guitarist and vocalist Pete Hicks returned to India, the land of his birth, to join the band in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Olio concluded its final tour in 1999 and soon after Hale and Hicks reunited in London. Soon the two friends began a new collaboration that would evolve into Aradhna.
As soon as Chris and Pete had enough material for an album, they decided to record in the U.S. where they met up with bassist Travis McAfee. The three of them had an instant rapport, as Travis spent part of his childhood traveling to Africa, India, and throughout Southeast Asia.
In the spring of 2000, Deep Jale′ was recorded, which they decided to release in the U.K. over the course of a three-month tour. Aradhna was born, and the ardent response to their album and performances encouraged them to continue arranging traditional bhajans and begin composing songs of their own for their next release Marga Darshan (2002). After performing extensively in India and North America, Aradhna’s touring expanded to the South Asian Diaspora in South Africa, Guyana and Suriname where East Indians have lived for over a century.
During this time Aradhna self-released three more notable records and gained new audiences as diverse as the music itself. From the beginning, Aradhna has chosen to remain independent from the support of the record industry in order to stay true to their artistic vision. As each new offering surpasses the last, their decision to maintain creative control has certainly made for better art and more innovative collaborations with the likes of Ric Hordinski, Naren Budhakar and Jim Feist, among others.
Now Aradhna is releasing their most ambitious and far-reaching project yet, their sixth album Namaste Saté, along with a companion DVD Sau Guna, a collection of music videos filmed in Varanasi, India. The intimate and immense sound of Namaste Saté not only builds upon the best of their preceding albums but deepens the possibilities of cultural and spiritual contextualization in the most winsome and genuine of ways. (Click here for a full write up on the album.) Until you experience their new album and DVD together, you cannot fully appreciate the degree to which Aradhna is achieving its goal to produce a prodigious body of work and build lasting bridges between disparate communities throughout the world. To support the release, the band will be touring extensively throughout the U.S. and India.