Boom Shiva: A Review of Rapture by YashAkasha

Netanel Miles-Yépez

 "The Dance of Shiva" by Netanel Miles-Yépez

"The Dance of Shiva" by Netanel Miles-Yépez

“Hip-hop . . . is to cause peace, love, unity . . .”

—   KRS-One

So opens Rapture, the debut album of YashAkasha (a.k.a., Yasha Wagner), a Colorado-based “medicinal hip-hop” artist and rapper. Just twenty-one years old, YashAkasha is already a veteran of the festival scene, deeply embedded in the culture of South American medicine work, and connected to various radical spiritual lineages. He announces his syncretic spiritual and musical inheritance at the outset, calling on “the ancestors,” a crowd of spiritual masters, poets, and hip-hop artists, all thrown together—Lao Tzu, Hafez, Pushkin, the Roots, Shakespeare, and Immortal Technique—“for teaching me to speak . . . for the benefit of all beings.”

Unique to the artists connected with the festival culture—whether folk, reggae, or hip-hop-influenced—are various degrees of “conscious lyrics,” lyrics reflecting exposure to diverse spiritual traditions, yoga, indigenous medicine, and sacred activism. In the upper echelon are artists such as Nakho and Medicine for the People, Trevor Hall, and Matisyahu; but these are just the names of a few successful artists riding the crest of the wave of conscious music today.

Rapture is the pure impulse born of the festivals, a do-it-yourself musical throw-down of youthful enthusiasm and commitment to change-making possibilities that will drive a crowd of ecstatic dancers.

Opening with “Boom Shiva” (feat. Hannah Apollonia)—a bass-driven song with an “invocation to the spirit” from Taino elder, Maestro Manuel Rufino—Rapture gets off to a rousing start with a whirling soup of rhyming spiritual references—from "Kabbalah," "Mahakala," to the “Heart of Allah”—all anchored in a chorus dropping the Hindu divinity, Shiva, on the listener like a bomb—“Boom! Shiva, Shankara, Om Nama Shivaya”—somehow invoking and combing the destroyer of the Hindu trinity with his other identity as shankara, the ‘giver of joy,’ at one and the same time. 

The other binding element of the lyrics come from the Hasidic spiritual tradition of YashAkasha’s Ukranian Jewish ancestors, with its emphasis on ‘the broken heart which speaks and heals,’ reflected in the opening lyrics . . .

 

Words that are spoken

from-a heart-that-is-broken

open-but-copin’-and-thus-invokin’

the-spirit-in-every-lyric-you-hear-it

 

And then a nearly direct reference to the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism (in Hannah Apollonia’s repeated refrain, “So many worlds inside these words”) that in every word of prayer are entire worlds.

Perhaps the strongest track on the album, “Transtribal Codex” (feat. Tr9nsfer) follows immediately after, with its beautiful chorus from Liv Phoenix and Steven (Newmanium) Newman repeated in English and Spanish—“I am opening my heart, I’m singin’ from my heart”—and a complex assemblage of standout rapping in English, Russian, and Italian. Wagner, who is fluent in Russian, manages a compelling set of lyrics in that language which he then follows with an impressive adaptation into an equally compelling English . . .

 

Love without end,

like a tale without end,

stretches out to vast—distance

around every bend.

We struggle and strive,

yeah, we laugh and we cry,

but only this love will live on when we die.

 

Equally strong is a richly complex, symbolically deep, and musically original guest appearance from Tr9nsfer (the MC name of rapper and slam poet, Daniel Battigalli-Ansell, known for A Love Note), who raps in Italian . . .

 

Incantata al Massimo dale luce lucido di dio.

Un sogno di esere uno io quando tutto e tutto e tutti sono nessuno.

(Enchanted to the maximum by the lucid light of God.

A dream of being ‘I’ when everything is everything and everybody is nobody.)

Also rising strong above the mid-line is “Animystic Linguistics,” an homage to the divine feminine, with its epic feature from Lily Fangz (the sharp-edged, popular hip-hop artist and rapper out of Denver, known for her equally strong singing, rapping, and layers of conscious lyrics), who brings in her own powerful and pulsing story of empowerment, almost an anthem for the re-emergence of the voice of divine feminine in all women, in all men, and in the planet. First calling out the abuses of women and the feminine in the past and present, she then lets the electric light of shakti, the divine feminine energy, erupt . . .

 

She was told not to blossom or bloom as a rose,

she was left in the cold in a room all alone [. . .]

but [. . .] the lighting has spoken, no room for a token,

locked-out, she was locked-out, but she broke in,

shakti awoken, now she’s spoken, spoken!

 

Finally, Fangz brings us a message from the Mother who has no intention of going back into hiding . . .

 

We must listen to the ancient words she say:

“A million ways to kiss the ground,

A million ways to pray.

We must keep steady for a world where children play.

Stand up tall like trees, we can lean and we can sway,

But never bend and never break,

We’ve got a brilliant world to make.”

Hey, ey, ey, that’s what she say.

That’s what she say.

She’s spoken.

She knows it.

She’s chosen.

She’s spoken.

She knows it.

She’s chosen.

She’s broke in.

Amid a series of interesting esoteric and activist-themed tracks—“Red and Yellow Brick Road,” “Temple of Solomon,” “The Holy Grail,” and “To the People”—referencing Sufi sages, warriors of peace, toad lickin’ psychedics, and muggles, is the crowd-pleasing “International Anthem” (feat. Felicia Chavando and C. Waters), often performed in public with the audience enthusiastically singing the chorus—“Earth, tribe, medicine, rainbow warrior, rockin’ on the beat in the sweet euphoria!”

Indeed, “sweet euphoria” might be the best expression for the experience of listing to Rapture, after which, like the festival dancer who, spinning ecstatically in the grass to the music coming from the stage, suddenly, in its absence, feels dizzy and falls to the ground, exhausted, a playful smile on her face.

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.

 

What's Happiness Got to Do With It?

Netanel Miles-Yépez

 Detail from the headstone of Elizabeth Ann Poe in Richmond, Virginia by Netanel Miles-Yépez, 2017.

Detail from the headstone of Elizabeth Ann Poe in Richmond, Virginia by Netanel Miles-Yépez, 2017.

“I’m struggling with living.”

It was not an appeal for my pity. It was a simple statement, trembling on his vocal chords, just as it tightened in my chest. Truth.

He paused a moment, and I wondered how many people have felt that through the millennia of human experience. What strange animals we are that we struggle with living. Not that we struggle for life or in life, like all creatures, but that we actually struggle with living. Is there another animal that does that?

He called me, I suppose, because I’m supposed to have the answers, spiritual prescriptions that can solve such maladies. But I had to confess—“I struggle with living, too.”

I’ve often heard it said that what we’re seeking in spirituality and spiritual practice is happiness. If that’s so, then I’m failing miserably, and so are a lot of others. We think there’s something wrong because we’re on a spiritual path, and yet, still struggle with life.

But maybe we’re seeking the wrong thing. If the result of spiritual practice is happiness, then the amount of happiness we feel is the measure of our success on the spiritual path . . . and we should probably just give up now, or at least some of us.

The truth is, I’m not really sure what happiness has to do with spirituality. There is such a thing, and it is certainly desirable. I’ve known it and been grateful for it, and will likely know it again. I look for it like everyone else. I have friends that I treasure, people I love, work that is sometimes fulfilling, but am I happy? It’s hard to say. I’m not sure that I am. I think the most I can say is that I'm in love—with those people, with the world—but it’s love, not necessarily happiness.

There are so many losses and things broken in life, things we can’t fix, that often we struggle with living. Sometimes we’re not even sure that we want to live; it’s hard to see a way forward, hard to endure the utter impossibility of living with what is simply ‘not right’ in the world. Does that make us spiritual failures? It can feel that way. But maybe there is a more important measure to consider, a more tangible proof of spiritual growth than happiness.

I think it is how we act.

Whether I’m happy or sad, heartbroken or world-weary, can I show-up when I’m needed? Can I rise above my own sadness to be there for someone else in their sadness or trouble? In the midst of my own pain, can I put it aside to meet the need of the moment—to be a “child of the moment,” as Rumi suggests. Or will I ignore them in my private despair, fail to see their need while thinking of my own and miss the moment of my own calling?

The proof of spirituality or spiritual maturity is not to be unaffected by the vicissitudes of life, or to achieve some permanently blissful—or alternately, emotionally aloof—state, but to transcend self-absorption in our own highs and lows when the need arises, when we’re called upon to serve others, and the world larger than our own needs. Those personal needs are important, of course, and we have the right to try to get them met, but not at the expense of another’s need, not in forgetfulness of the larger body to which we belong.

It may seem paradoxical, but in the end, the happiness we must seek . . . is another’s. Or so I’m learning.

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.

In All Her Darkness

Netanel Miles-Yépez

  "Light Shines in the Darkness"  by A.J. Golden (2012-2016)

"Light Shines in the Darkness" by A.J. Golden (2012-2016)

who ever loved the world in all her darkness

or desired that black lamp for her own light

cowards all who give up the chase in the night

or shrink from the struggle with her velvet mantle

 

bed me now in the warm flesh of the earth

in the cave of her sensuous darkness burrowed

to die something flesh sacred material and whole

and emerge into the light to which she gives birth

 

death now to the abstract god of the world-deniers

and their smug apollonian divinity    with all its shadow

dionysians arise and let us explore her molten core

not the faint heavens of these false angels of light

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.

For Love of the Music: A Review of Matisyahu’s Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III

Netanel Miles-Yépez

Ten years after the release of his breakthrough album, Live at Stubb’s (which reached #1 on the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart), Matisyahu has again returned to the well-known Texas venue to record Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III. The result is a picture of artistic evolution, filled with the kind of texture a performer only acquires after years on the road, gathering myriad life-experiences and exploring new musical influences.

From 2005 to 2015, Matisyahu’s artistic and personal transformation has been nothing less than epic. Achieving early success as a hasidic reggae superstar, he later went on to craft a broader, multi-influence, cross‐genre musical style that broke all the rules, bringing him greater success and an equal amount of criticism from early fans. Having survived the backlash from the die-hard reggae set, as well as those who saw him only as a bearded Jewish icon, Matisyahu released Akeda (Uh-kay-duh) in 2014, his most creative, self-reflective and purely conceived album to date.

Now, with Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III, Matisyahu reveals yet another side to his musical personality. Whereas the original Live at Stubb’s (2005) produced a classic of live performance, and Live at Stubb’s II (2011) the super-charged concert experience at it’s best, Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III (2015) delivers the no additives beauty of a stripped-back sit-down show in which the musicians play just for the love of the music.

Recorded at the legendary Stubb’s in Austin, Texas, on March 7th, 2015 (just over ten years after the original February 19th, 2005 performance, with supplementary tracks recorded on March 4th, 2015 at New York City’s Winery), Matisyahu reunited with three friends from his days at The New School in New York and the early years—guitarist Aaron Dugan (who performed on the original Live at Stubb’s album); keyboardist, Rob Marscher; and percussionist, Tim Keiper.

Like a rare bootleg recording of Bob Dylan singing in a smoke-filled club in the early 60s, Matisyahu’s performance in Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III has the simple sound and appeal of a great poet-musician on open mic night. Together with Dugan, Marscher and Keiper, Matisyahu soaks in the music and allows it to take its own twists and turns, which he often accompanies with his signature beat-boxing. Opening with an edgy, tone-setting, guitar-dominated performance of “Searchin,” Matisyahu performs six songs from his earlier albums—Shake Off the Dust…Arise (2004) to Spark Seeker (2012). Notable on the album are newly interpreted versions of early songs like, “Lord Raise Me Up” (Live at Stubb’s), “Warrior,” and “King Without a Crown” (Shake Off the Dust…Arise and Live at Stubb’s), as well as a cover of Bob Marley’s “Running Away,” into which he blends his own, “Dispatch the Troops” (Youth).

As part of the 10th anniversary of Live at Stubb’s, Matisyahu and his band will be out on the road performing a series of intimate sit-down shows highlighting the songs on Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III.

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.