On Stars, David Newman (aka Durga Das) shares a sense of hope and celebrates the beauty of life, even in times of struggle. Poetic English lyrics, flowing seamlessly into powerful Sanskrit mantras, are bathed in an array of diverse musical textures, earthy grooves, and melodies that nourish like comfort food for the Soul. With its intimate sound and nurturing sentiment, Stars is David’s contribution to an exciting time: Now!
As a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga (The Path of Love), it has been David Newman's lifelong undertaking to appreciate the diverse ways in which love expresses itself in all aspects of life. On Stars, he sought to capture many of these expressions and embody them within the music. Continuing the theme he explored on The Stay Strong Project in 2011, Stars addressees the capacity of the human spirit to overcome obstacles, and the power of light to prevail over darkness. At the same time, and in many ways, Stars is an expansion and a departure for David both musically and in the varied moods he explores and expresses on the CD.
For his seventh release, the first that he's recorded in his hometown of Philadelphia, David turned to local producer Bill Moriarty (acclaimed for his work with Dr. Dog). Although quite rooted in rock recording, Bill, a practicing Buddhist and meditator, quite naturally tuned into the spirit and essence of David's music. In addition to many of his regular musical collaborators, David enlisted several gifted local musicians from all genres of music, allowing him to explore new territory as a musician, arranger and producer. David also spotlights the contribution of his wife Mira, whose work as a vocalist and percussionist he describes as "an immeasurable asset to the sound on Stars. Her beautiful voice, sense of groove and invaluable input on arrangements leave a palpable imprint on the texture and beauty of the music.
The first song recorded for Stars, "Love Belongs to Everyone/Gayatri," illustrates the experimental nature of the recording process behind the album. For the first time on a recording, David plays lead electric guitar (using a violin bow on it during the chorus) and employs a muted trumpet. One of David's many joys in the making of Stars was combining elements that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to be juxtaposed together. In this case, a song about universal love was joined with the sacred Gayatri Mantra and placed in an ambient trance arrangement with overtones of smoky blues.
David describes the writing process for this album to mining: digging into deep parts of himself to bring back something that inevitably shares a sense of hope and celebrates the beauty of life. Spiritual liberation, the remembering of our true nature, and the quest for ultimate happiness, present a common theme throughout Stars. Perhaps this is most transparently addressed on the song "We Are What We Are/Sri Ram", on which the chorus states... ‘We are what we are divine and liberated, we are what we are spirit incarnated, we are what we are at one with all creation, we are what we are, we are our own salvation’. For David, this song "represents one of the deepest mystical and musical journeys on the CD," weaving elements of song and chant and building to a climactic wall of sound echoing a celebrative affirmation of truth and spiritual unity.
There were also significant personal life events in 2011 that inspired certain songs. For instance, he wrote the album opener, "Dreaming", while his wife, Mira, was pregnant with their first child, daughter Tulsi. As David explains, "The lyrics were conceived from Tulsi’s perspective as she was dreaming herself into our lives. When I sat down to write the song, it was with her in mind. In a sense, I felt as if we were writing the song together. If you listen closely to the lyrics, you'll see what I mean": 'My mother's love awaits me, my father's song I hear, held in the everlasting, so near, so dear, I'm dreaming’.
As "Dreaming" was inspired by birth, the song "Thinking of You/Sri Krishna" was inspired by the illness and passing of a dear friend and guitar player in David's band, Rama Bala. Rama had been in the hospital for several months when David sat down with his guitar to write this song. "Thinking of You" came forward as a prayer for his friend, and demonstrates the power of music to reinforce beauty even during a dark time. With its reggae inflections, centered around a playful ukulele part and with an upbeat groove, it is one of the most joyous and cheerful pieces on the CD. For David, "the song is a celebration of Rama’s spirit, which always exuded a child like innocence and a lighthearted love of life."
Stars is also full of devotional mantras celebrating the many aspects of the Divine through the ancient Kirtan chant tradition. Included are the upbeat "Durga Maharani", the entrancing "Ancient Spirals Shiva", and "Tulsi's Bliss", a dreamy lullaby in which the sacred Maha Mantra is preceded by the sound of David and Mira's daughter, Tulsi, giggling. The album concludes with a contemplative and tribal chant entitled "Ganesh Under Moonlight".
The music on Stars has the capacity to touch listeners of all walks of life who have been or will be called to seek truth. David locates the crossroads of his work as falling somewhere between the ancient past and the present moment, and between the great spiritual masters of the east and the musical luminaries of song of the west. "All these live within me," he says. "I know that we live in times of struggle, but we also live in times of great hope, inspiration and capacity for change. In my observation, there is definitely a shift that is taking place on the planet today." Simply put; we are waking up to who we truly are, conquering our fears and gaining freedom from that which had bound us in the past. Stars is David's contribution to this exciting time, one to celebrate and to approach with great sensitivity and awareness. It is David's offering of conscious reflection to others who have also embarked on this journey and who are part of this global transformation. "Perhaps this planetary awakening is the true meaning of 2012," David proposes. "The music, the songs, the chants, the sentiment, and the message of Stars is a shout out, which reads… YES, this is for real, and we’re all in it together!"
1.) Dreaming -3:30
2.) Durga Maharani -7:32
3.) Love Belongs to Everyone/Gayatri -7:57
4.) Ancient Spirals Shiva -9:25
5.) Thinking Of You/Sri Krishna -6:31
6.) We Are What We Are/Sri Ram -8:10
7.) Tulsi's Bliss (Maha Mantra) -8:02
8.) Stars -5:34
9.) Ganesh Under Moonlight -4:24