“We have ALWAYS been in this together,” musician Trevor Hall responds emphatically to my question about the Coronavirus pandemic’s rallying cry for compliance, “but over time we have forgotten our connection and unity as a global family.” Hall’s point is a good one: We are all in this together implores an obvious truth recast as a novel idea, provides an easy refuge from the harder work of examining the larger implications of such a global covenant. If we stay home to save lives now, how can we continue to save lives once staying home is no longer necessary to stem the Coronavirus’ spread? When and where does our collective and individual responsibility for each other begin…and when and where–and why–should it end?
Hall is part of a burgeoning conscious music movement that sees questions such as these as fundamental to the artist’s mandate. Like Hall, performers such as Nahko and Medicine for the People, Xavier Rudd, Rising Appalachia are committed to being the change they wish to see in the world. Social media platforms, live concerts, and/or streaming sites–the new norm in time of COVID-19–offer an orientation to core values typically found within this paradigm. Life is sacred; Earth’s protection and preservation are primary; and global cultures manifest distinctive, intrinsic, and autonomous incarnations of humankind are some of the essential and urgent truths addressed by conscious music artists through advocacy and/or action. Moreover mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation, augment individual awareness and foster a deep sense of connection to the larger community.
“In the song, I am free, ” Trevor Hall says, offering insight into music’s inherent power. And that cultivation of freedom, whether emotional, psychological, or spiritual is of vital importance, especially right now, while the world is on hold. From the very beginning of his career, which started in earnest before he was 20, Hall’s music has sought to unshackle the human spirit from its own imprisonment. Against a backdrop of reggae, roots, and folk, Hall’s vocal yearnings conjure stories replete with hope and healing. He has pilgrimaged to India (several times), gone deep into his own soul, sought answers to the big questions, done the hard work…and, from the start, his message has reflected an overall “Right Mind,” or–more generally– a right-ness, instilled, in part, through his love of Eastern Mysticism. Hall’s song, Unity, from his 2009 eponymous first release with Vanguard Records, sums up, rather succinctly, an encapsulated philosophy that continues to be his trusty guide: “Love all, serve all, and create no sorrow.” In fact, Trevor Hall’s entire music catalog can be viewed as a decade-plus invitation to his dedicated fans, known collectively as Villagers, to join him on a journey, its redemptive virtue found: “where there’s no more you and me/No more they and we, just unity.”
Fast forward to the present. That same right-ness continues to resonate. Even prior to Coronavirus’ pervasive unease and anxiety, there had been an increasingly fraught global atmosphere of not right-ness, evidenced by a painfully polarized and fractious world, in which fear-based “us vs. them” narratives prevail. As a welcome alternative, conscious music offers an empowering, uplifting, agency-driven counter narrative, which honors the necessity of care for the Earth, our global family, and oneself. Trevor Hall’s latest single, “Put Down What You Are Carrying,” which features singer/songwriter Brett Dennen and was released just as the planet was closing its universal front door, provides a much needed respite from a socio-politico climate overrun with discordant and reactive noise. In lyrical contrast, the listener is granted permission to: “Let go, let go, let go/Of everything holding you down.” Hall wrote part of the song several years ago, while in India, and then, later, when mourning his beloved grandmother’s death, he heard her voice: “don’t go to war with yourself,” and the song found its final form. Put Down What You Are Carrying, like many of Trevor Hall’s songs, holds the quiet power of prayer and is imbued with a wisdom learned from his grandmother’s love. War is inherently antithetical to such wisdom, which Hall holds, like her memory, in his heart.
Song: Unity by Trevor Hall
Song: Put Down What You Are Carrying by Trevor Hall
If Trevor Hall evokes heart, then Rising Appalachia, conscious music’s dynamic sister duo, Chloe Smith and Leah Song, invoke spirit. A global spirit. A rhapsody of musical traditions, fiery elements of roots, hip-hop, gospel, and folk, the sisters rekindle into exquisite harmonies. Community by vital community, they tour, connecting at each stop, with the people, the plants, and the stories, an intentionality which serves to mitigate disconnection, because, as Chloe explains, “disconnection is the great disease of our time.”
And like any “great diseases” its path is ubiquitous and indiscriminant. Similar to the way the Coronavirus has infiltrated and weakened the already fragile systems on which we, as a world, depend, disconnection takes root in our relationships, both to the land on which we live and with the people on whom we depend. Disconnection dismantles and destroys the very foundations of human life: old growth forests, water systems, animal species, and plants. But Rising Appalachia, like the other artists within the conscious music movement rubric, refuse to speak defeat to power, or–for that matter—even recognize such forces as power in the first place. Instead the sisters redefine power; they reclaim the conversation and sing a narrative that, effectively, and through its reach and repetition, “negate(s) the chaos.” Leah and Chloe assure us that they are, in fact, Resilient: “ I am resilient/I trust the movement/I negate the chaos/ Uplift the negative/I’ll show up at the table, again and again and again/ I’ll close my mouth and learn to listen.”
Song: Resilient by Rising Appalachia
Song: Medicine by Rising Appalachia
The sisters’ ideals were sourced early, as they were growing up, in Urban Atlanta. “We are proud worshipers of nature and always have been.” Chloe says. “We were raised by “dirt church” type parents and godparents who praised nature as a source of strength and inspiration.” Naturally, they found kindred spirits in the herbalists and community healers with whom their paths intersected, finding camaraderie in “our commonalities of serving the muse, whether nature or song, for the greater good. We have always thought of ourselves as conduits of song, and most of the healers we know consider themselves conduits of healing. Thus we have mutually supported each other for many years now.” Medicine, from their 2014 album, Wider Circles, is Rising Appalachia’s homage to the healers and the plants, both of which have been such steadfast teachers:
Find your teachers in the voice of the forests
Unplug, you can’t ignore this, wisdom of the voiceless
Remedies are bountiful and surround us
From the garden to the farthest, prayer made of star dust
Conscious music heals and engages a generation ready to hear its hymn. Aspiring singer/songwriter, David Jensen, has long been ready, and he believes, “songs inspired by plants and nature serve a broader healing and evolutionary role for the human family.” As he follows and supports artists like Trevor Hall and Rising Appalachia, he writes music conceived in nature and dreams of, one day, sharing his voice with a broader audience. Through fans such as Jensen, conscious music artists become like pollinators, nurturing a collective hive of ecologically aware, spiritually rich, and globally receptive change-makers.
Song: Right Here Right Now by David Jensen
The beliefs and values that that conscious music movement embodies had always resonated with international singer/songwriter, Sahffi Lynne, but for a time she found herself dabbling in different music genres, her ultimate role as an artist unclear. “My music was resonating with people of all ages, colors, and creeds, but I never understood why I seemed to make people cry, or why I never landed in any one genre,” Sahffi Lynne explains. Finally–and rather unexpectedly–during a period of uncertainty, her purpose was revealed. “In 2015, Peru literally called to me, and I visited the Sacred Valley for my first ceremony,” she says, and it was there, when sharing her music within that sacred intentional space, that Sahffi Lynne found clarity. “I knew then that my music was medicine.”
Medicine music, a form of conscious music which specifically aims to heal and to attune awareness and “awake-ness,” is traditionally associated with the sacred shamanic ceremonial practice of using entheogenic plant medicine, such as ayahuasca, San Pedro, or peyote, as a portal to otherwise hidden spirit realms. During plant medicine ceremonies, Icaros, or “magic songs,” access these realms and provide powerful and, at times, profound healing opportunities. Rooted in both ancient tradition and a deep reverence for the natural world, medicine music helps tune the receptivity of the listener’s emotional and psychological landscape. As consciousness opens, the interconnectedness of all living things becomes apparent, and this may greatly impact one’s relationship to the world. In traditional indigenous settings, shamans may receive their specific Icaros directly from the plants themselves, offering a glimpse into an amazing symbiosis, simply inaccessible to cultures with an exploitive and/or assaultive relationship to nature.
Anthropologist, ethnobotanist, photographer, and writer, Wade Davis, writes often and eloquently about such a symbiosis. In Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes Of Spirit and Desire, Davis details how the Siona people of the Northwest Amazon distinguish nearly identical varieties of the ayahuasca plants: “…the trading history of the plant, the authority and lineage of the shaman, even the tone and key of the incantations that the plants sing when taken on the night of a full moon. None of these criteria makes sense botanically, and, as far as modern science can distinguish, the plants are referable to one species.” Because of the years he spent living among various Amazonian people and the access he was granted to sacred plant ceremonies, ordinarily closed to outsiders, Davis offers a rare and a humbling look at a harmonious human-nature landscape.
Sahffi Lynne returned from Peru, excited to infuse her own music offerings with the healing energy she had experienced in Ceremony. Her understanding of both music’s potential and her mission as a musician had, fundamentally, changed. “Musicians are able to hold space for our collective trauma and transmute the energy into a powerful song. In this way musicians are very much like modern-day shamans, taking our collective fear and helping to turn it into hope, love and a desire for joy and peace.” And this is not a mission she takes lightly, especially now. “It is time for me to use all of my practices, including meditation, yoga, and music, to hold space for my community. I am offering my Medicine Music Meditations online to help people become grounded through the power of music.” As the current global crisis continues, with means of social and emotional support limited, a commitment like this becomes an essential act of service.
Sharing medicine space with Sahffi Lynne, whether in the context of a formal Ceremony or a more informal medicine music gathering, is a very special gift. I remember one Sunday in particular, Medicine Music Meditations now part of our weekly routine, D and I sat shoulder to shoulder on the sofa, my laptop raised by a few books on the coffee table in front of us. It was almost 10:00 by the time the last song was sung. Washing the dinner dishes, we talked quietly, and then moved towards bed. D and I curled together under the blanket, awaiting sleep, both of us still aware of the medicine space lingering around us like the moon’s soft glow.
Song: Let the Healing Begin by Sahffi Lynne
The truth that Trevor Hall, Rising Appalachia, Sahffi Lynne, as well as many other conscious music artists, embody resonates so profoundly because it is a truth that taps into an innate, almost instinctual knowing, a deeply felt intuitive understanding of who we are, in the most primal sense, as human beings. “We are all in this humanity game together… at the end of the day, we all share a common need for shelter, love, nourishment, and safety,” Chloe Smith writes, an observation especially poignant during this time of personal isolation and global reliance. Where we currently find ourselves is startling. “Climate change” and “global warming” are phrases hardly adequate to hold the catastrophe that has and continues to batter our collective home, humanity’s life source, Earth. And this truth, once attained, arrived at, or even glimpsed–whether through feeling, thought, ceremony, meditation, or some other mode of common sense or transcendence—reveals an almost palpable energy, a sacred and sustaining vibration, that offers an antidote to the disconnection, polarization, and domination narratives that are the standards of today. “So many rivers but they all reach the sea,” Trevor Hall reminds us, and we, as a global people, are that sea…if it becomes uninhabitable, we are gone.
Visionaries, like epiphanies of awe and wonder, hold space in the realm of possibility. The conscious music movement is filed with such visionaries, giving voice to that which makes our humanity tenable: life. Visionaries inspire hope and motivate change. In 2008 Ecuador’s constitution became the first to ratify the Rights of Nature, which enacts “that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people – have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.” In addition, a Decriminalize Nature momentum has gained traction in cities and states across the country. And youth culture is embracing counterculture tropes of peace, love, and understanding, while committing to Be Here Now in real and concrete ways. The Coronavirus has reframed the story; what was impossible a few short months ago, is now possible. Conscious music musicians, like Trevor Hall, Chloe Smith, Leah Song, and Sahffi Lynne, sing of a world where we truly are all in this together—let’s join them. https://www.trevorhallmusic.com https://www.risingappalachia.com https://www.sahffi.com https://www.facebook.com/david.peterjensen