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An Interview With Deva Premal

by Cousette Copeland

I have an image of Deva Premal and Miten, resting in a gentle embrace as they rock to the rhythm of the ocean.  I saw them this way on the bow of a catamaran in the Bahamian sea.  Most couples in an embrace exclude everyone else, but Deva Premal and Miten draw others into their love.  Now we have that expression in music, on Deva Premal's new CD entitled Embrace.

How did you choose the chants on the new Embrace CD?

Deva Premal: All the chants come to us as gifts.  Sometimes friends send us their compositions, as is the case with our friend Praful in Holland.  He composed four of the pieces on Embrace.  Actually, we commissioned him to write new material for the album because we so much loved his work on Om Shree Sache, which is the opening cut on Love is Space.  I gave him a collection of mantras that I wanted to sing and he came back with the most beautiful compositions.

One mantra was given to us by an enlightened woman named Shanti Mayi.  She hopes we will be able to get it out to a bigger audience in these troubled times.  It is up there with the Gayatri Mantra in terms of power.  It is called Teyata, the mantra of the Medicine Buddha. The translation goes: "It is like this. Medicine Buddha, you are the king, the supreme healer. Please remove illness, illness and the Great Illness.''

Illness can be understood on all the three levels: physical, psychological and mental.  The Great Illness manifests as the illusion of duality, which is the root cause of our suffering.  The Medicine Buddha is called by chanting this mantra, and is present immediately, even though he lives light years away. I also chose, Om Ram Ramaya Swaha which translates as "Om and Salutations to that perfection in the physical realm which was Rama, whose attributes exist in me also. Kindly manifest."

This chant brings back memories of my early childhood.  My father devised certain exercises for my sister and I, to help us become more aware of the moment.  One exercise was for us to always say 'Om', whenever we put something down on the table.  Another was to say 'Ram' whenever we switched on the light!  Of course I stopped doing these as soon as I could get out of it!  But now it feels beautiful to be singing the mantra again, as a gift to my father, as much as anything else.  And one of my favorite singers, Jai Uttal, joins us on the recording.  I was actually very shy to ask him to sing...!!  On Love Is Space he declined...but this time I asked again, and he said yes...he is so sweet! And when he sang...ah...we all just melted in the studio... So, that was just a blessing to have him with us.
How do you feel Embrace is different from your prior two albums, The Essence and Love Is Space?

DP: I feel this album is the most accomplished musically.  We have given ourselves more room to explore the probability of miracles.  I find it the most up-lifting album of the three. We had a great team...Kit Walker, Jai, Ty Burhoe, Manose and many more wonderful people.  Kit, our co-producer, was just amazing on this one.  He is a genius!  Plus, we have some beautiful new material. Every piece was a joy to sing.  We have also developed the vocal sound more now.  Miten is more present than on the previous albums and it feels so good.  There is more balance between the male and female energies, and of course we love to sing together, so that feeling is there in the music.

In the US we mostly know you, Deva Premal, but your partner Miten is an important part of your music, is he not?

DP: Miten and I have been playing and living together for the past 11 years.  Everything we do, we do together.  This is why I always say "us and "we".  He is a beautiful man, musician and songwriter, and has been my musical teacher, supporting me incredibly over these years, in my flowering. 

Most of these are traditional chants.  How do you go about developing the melodies and arrangements?

DP: I used to be more serious about wanting to sing only traditional melodies, but at one point I realized that the main thing for me is to enjoy singing the mantra.  If a melody turns me on, I sing it. It's that simple really.  For me, it is unimportant if a melody is ancient or not. Praful and Miten, who composed most of the pieces on Embrace, are as divine as anyone else! 

What I love so much about the melodies I sing, is that they run around your head, like a pop song. Only instead of singing some superficial lyric, you're actually sub-consciously walking around the supermarket calling on the Divine. And if I can encourage people to sing the name of god as they go about their daily business --well, I feel that's as much as I can do in service to humanity.  This is my service.

I understand you get a lot of e-mail stories from listeners about how your music effects them. What are some of your favorites?

DP: What touches me most is that so many people tell us that they use the music for giving birth.  Parents run the CDs on repeat because it is the music they feel most comfortable with. It's a very beautiful thought, that there are children out there who were brought into this world to the sounds of the Gayatri Mantra...I feel very honored to be a part of that.  Also, we've heard quite a few times that the music is played for people as they leave the body.  To be able to contribute something to this transition is, again, a great honor and touches me deeply.

Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross, who asked Miten and I to sing at her funeral, gave us the idea to sing personally, for dying people.  We will one day, I expect. And finally, there are many who enjoy to play the music while making love.  So we kind of cover the full spectrum...birth, death, and celebration!  We have also had a few of e-mails from people who tell us that they were close to suicide, and listening to the mantras gave them back some joy and solace in their lives. To hear these kind of stories is very humbling.

What does the future hold for you?  What new plans or projects do you have?

DP: Well, assuming we all agree there is no such thing as 'future', I can give you a few ideas of projected projects!  We are just finishing work on a live album.  People have expressed their wish to have the mantras and songs "unplugged", so this will be just that.  It will be called Satsang ...

Basically Miten and I plan to continue our touring.  We have been travelling for the past ten years, playing concerts and satsangs and giving voice workshops.  This is the most nourishing way of life we can imagine: singing with people and bathing in the silence of the chant. This is IT!

We do plan on cutting down a little, sometime, but not now.  We plan six months travelling and six months at 'home', wherever that may be. Actually, 'home' has come to mean wherever I happen to be on the planet, at any given time!    

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