The sound of the sky, just before dawn breaks that tender crack in the blue when we are our most undivided selves an old weather vane that creaks as it indicates the shifting of direction

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the sound of the sky, just before dawn breaks. that tender crack in the blue when we are our most undivided selves. an old weather vane that creaks as it indicates the shifting of direction. when we can no longer trust our created institutions--representational democracies that don't represent us, financial systems that don't report to us or finance us, health care systems that don't take care of us, educational systems that don't educate us—what can we reach to that we can rely on? my father was an immigrant. i trace my lineage to desert warriors in rajasthan and farmers in punjab, india. he used to tell me, "if we lost everything, i wouldn't worry. because i know how to build." that faith, that sense of knowing how to work with life, it is a farmer's faith, the faith of someone who can sit by a field in a fallow season, knowing it would bring bounty again. this song is a calling to return to life what belongs to life—and not the marketplace. our bodies, our foods, our connections to each other, the water, the seeds, the soil, the sun—these things are part of the common experience of life, necessary for life. these things are not inherent commodities, although they have been commodified and misunderstood the world over. i wrote this song to remind myself of who i am and the task at hand for our culture, in this great time of awakening where people around the world are simultaneously asking out loud questions like "what belongs to life? to all of us? to none of us? what can i create that is not for sale and is entirely valuable?" you can take a seed, put it in the ground, water it, make sure it has plenty of sunshine. it can grow, give you nourishment and can sustain you. there's something about that process that makes the global financial systems heaving and collapsing appear farcical and tragic, greek-style.
a weed—an undesirable plant that is highly resilient and adaptable to its environment, be it a crack in pavement or in between rows of crops. who determines what is weed and what is desirable life? I love eating dandelion greens. ..stinging nettle soup. . .there are 80,000 edible forms of plant life…only 150 are cultivated.. .8 are traded globally as commodities. . .the rest grow wild, like weeds. in november 2010, i did an artist residency at an art space called EDELO in san cristobal de las casas, chiapas mexico, a place known for the indigenous uprising of the zapatistas. i worked with local musicians and some indigenous tzotzil children who taught me how to say thank you in their native tongue. i started to recognize that the most crucial part of my work, as a physician and an artist, is to learn to see the invisible things, the things put aside that society does not want you to look at or to notice, the things that have been deemed undesirable or not valuable. i have been tuning my ears to hear the inaudible things--the native songs of the indigenous ohlone san francisco bay who left in exodus to southern california when their people were being used for target practice in the 1800s, the stories of undocumented folks who are traveling clandestinely around the world to find work and a better life for themselves and their families. the work of the invisible beings—like the bees—keeps life moving on this planet the way it is. as albert einstein noted: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.” these invisible engines power life around us and in us, and in their invisibility lies an immense vulnerability. i learned to say thank you in the indigenous language tzotzil (kolabal) to simply acknowledge the culture in the marketplace, on the streets of southern mexico where indigenous people were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks until relatively recently. i believe that until we can acknowledge the power and honor the invisible beings and inaudible stories—the human race cannot move forward with compassion and grace, and we will continue to enact atrocities on the other side of the world and in our own communities. in the song there is a section where the lyrics are "batatik a. .." (which means, i go to. ..) with a list of cities around the world where large groups of people have been mobilizing into the streets, refusing to remain unseen, demanding the attention of governments, of the media, of the world. it is not an arab spring. it is a worldwide awakening we are witnessing. it is crucial to recognize what is happening at this precise moment and to welcome the courage of people peacefully manifesting against oppressive regimes and financial systems that keep them and their interests invisible and inaudible.
sur la route
in the space in between, in the journey lies the raw experience of life, the pulsation of living. not in the setting off point or the destination. not in the static here or there, not in the supposed nuggets of truth we gather along the way. but in the place in between. the space of the unknown. in order to fully give myself to my art, i had to give up everything i had ever known to be exquisitely in the present moment and to attempt to awaken my awareness to all that moved before me and all that will come afterwards. the surrender to the road, it has taken me a while to get here. and here i am. the song starts in a soundscape of the world in transition, the beautiful sounds of JHNO eichenseer who recorded his viola from napoli and the saxophone of carnatic jazz musician prasant radhakrishnan, the morchang of rajasathani musician rais khan who we met when we were in india in 2011. out of the ether comes the voice of asma mahfouz, the brave egyptian woman who called people to tahrir square for the january 25th demonstration in a youtube video that went viral, her voice coming out of the wind. it ends with a mic check....occupy. ..for one brief moment in recent history in the US, people felt emboldened to take to the streets and organize, to speak out against the failure of financial institutions and government policies to protect ordinary people's pensions, homes and livelihoods. this movement was systematically dismantled in the US, literally by the department of homeland security working with city governments—we witnessed horrors on the streets, where students peacefully assembled were being pepper-sprayed in the face, pregnant and elderly women battered with standard issue riot cop gear, where oakland turned into a war zone with teargas canisters wounding veteran soldiers (I subsequently learned cannot be used in war because it's deemed a chemical weapon) and the adolescent rage of a few came to be sensationalized by the media who subsequently abandoned their role to hold those in real positions of power accountable for their brutality, financial and otherwise. although the camps have been shut down, what came about was a language of awakening—occupy—which has become unpopular in the US through the work of our mainstream media while gaining legions of supporters around the world. it serves an important meme, a building block in the transitional time we find ourselves.
no olvidado
in 2009, i received a grant from the sf arts commission to do a multi-disciplinary project together with documentary photographer lars howlett, choreographer sara shelton mann and a whole circus arts troupe made up of immigrants from latin america, malamaña. we traveled from tijuana to texas, along the us-mexico border, interviewing people on both sides—immigrants who had been deported, border patrol folks, doctors working in emergency rooms along the border, people taking care of the vulnerable folks making the journey. in calexico, we stopped at a graveyard where the unidentified people who are found dead in the desert are buried, each with a “john doe” brick marking the grave. these bricks extended into the desert, hundreds of them. someone from a local church had come by and left little wooden crosses along a line of bricks with the words “no olvidado” on them—not forgotten. the stark image struck a deep chord. i am more inspired by visual cues than anything else to compose music. there are those who leave. and those who are left behind. i wrote this song in a place of deep longing, thinking of my mother, who held my father in her arms as he abruptly left this life a decade ago. i was thinking of so many families of patients who i have sat with at the time of immediate loss. i was thinking of my own loss, in the quiet of winter.
guns of brixton
featuring black nature from the sierra leone refugee all stars. i first heard this song when i was about 12 years old. i grew up a big fan of the clash and joe strummer. police crackdowns. .. .in the SF bay, oscar grant. ...charles hill. ..unnecessary deaths of the marginalized. . .the colored. . .the homeless. ..the poor. . .the invisible. ..the list continues. . .excessive use of force. I hope for the time when this song is irrelevant and when people hear it they are shocked that a time ever existed when the civil service—known as the police—were used to control people, even the most vulnerable groups with force and violence. and when we respond to the violence of the police with our own violence, what ensues? and if we do not respond with violence, what fate awaits? these patterns of violence from police have been planetized. our intelligent reaction to them must be as well. i struggle when i hear intellectuals and activists justify the use of violence to support or bolster an agenda. i want to take them to the hospital where nurses and doctors patch up the bodies or put them in bags, riot cop or citizen—the human body does not know politics.
a sort of strange tender lullaby. our parents left us with things they do not even know they are handing down, that they received from their parents and their parents from their own parents and back further—this long line of unspoken stories that follow our ancestral lines, they seem to get passed down on the molecular level. maybe they get packaged in the mitochondria or whispered into the strands of nucleic acids. and then we wake up one day and must contend with them. i remember tracking the vocals in the studio in the rainy springtime where producer todd sickafoose’s newborn baby was sleeping close by. matt szemela, one of san francisco’s finest musicians, joined us on this tune on violin.
like i do
on our past two albums, there were songs i called “the declarations and apologies” which in some way embodied the embracing of my artistic life and recognizing the difficulties that created for people around me I love. songs like “les abeilles” or “la rose,” songs about an insatiable hunger that wanted to be addressed. this song here is part of a series i’m calling “the unapologetics”—a wholehearted embracing of love, life, music and sass.  i invited sf django-inspired band GAUCHO to play it with drummer aaron kierbel and myself because i love their sound and stylings. we also invited longtime collaborator ara anderson to lay his particular tasty trumpet sauce down. delicious.

we recorded the drums on this tune and the kick drum was too straight. todd sickafoose gave me 10 minutes during a break to figure out a new sound that i thought would fit better with sound engineer scott mcdowell. he stepped away and when he returned, he found me stomping out the kick drum on a turned over bedside table and several mics to pick up the different tones that came from the impact of my footsteps. the fun we had in the studio making this album—the whole process felt open, exploratory and deeply collaborative. todd sickafoose dug in the bass line, ben goldberg added the contralto clarinet punches and aaron kierbel’s percussive textures using plastic bags, bells and knick-knacks accented the wacky sound of heartbreak from a massive love gone.. .so gone.
since 2008, i have been on the road, leaving my home as i knew it, letting go of everything i knew and undergoing a significant change i still cannot fully describe. i started to imagine what it must be like for a caterpillar to go into the cocoon, to be in this private space where their whole body returns to its constituent cells—it liquefies. i was wondering how they feel when they are in there and who they are when they emerge. does memory have a molecular basis that goes with them? do they remember their lives as terrestrial beings once they are skyward? does the giant oak tree have a memory of being tightly packed into that coded seed? the shifting of forms. my name rupa means “form” in sanskrit. i wrote this song as i was considering what was form and what was formless, in a deep state of missing my home and all that i have ever known.
in the space of 3 months, three people i knew suffered life-changing alcohol-related injuries. one man fell off a mountain, down 90 feet into a river.  he fractured his thoracic spine and was paralyzed. another man who is a painter and guitarist in our community in SF fell from climbing in his window drunk when he forgot his keys late one night, breaking both wrists. and the third man got drunk and fell into the sea and drowned. i wrote this song as a kind of exorcism for the thing that drives us to injure ourselves through firewater. in the zapatista communities, the women of the indigenous communities would not support the movement without the men committing to the communities being alcohol and drug free, recognizing the devastating impact those substances have had on demoralized indigenous groups. that recognition and the seriousness with which it is followed affected me. in the studio, we had the fantastic marco benevento on organ and andrew borger on drums with todd sickafoose on bass. a heavy dirge. an exorcism. so that those plagued by this self-destructive need can crawl out from under their demons. i wrote this tune on a quiet night in the hospital when all the patients were tucked. i went to the old medical library, sat down surrounded by old texts and played this beautiful grand piano that is there and never seems to get enough attention.
in 2000, multinational corporation bechtel that is safely based in SF went to bolivia to convince the government to privatize the waterways of cochabamba, which were public and much of dug by the people themselves.  the corporation charged people for water, up to 1/3 of their monthly income and made it illegal for them to capture the rain for their own water use. the people rioted and the cochabamba water wars ensued, where at first the government brought in military issue riot police to contain the people and protect the interests of the multinational corporation. eventually, the people’s pressure and alliances with the church and other local groups forced the water back into the hands of the public. Bechtel left. in 2010, longtime collaborator and muralist mona caron went back to cochabamba to paint a mural commemorating this event and her stories and images on her return spurned this song. elements of life belong to life—water is totally necessary for life and i deeply believe belongs to the commons, not only to humans but to the animals and plants and organisms and intricate systems that rely on it for basic functions. the line “a cochabamba me voy” is an homage to the late chilean singer/guitarist victor jara who had a song by that title. in that song, he recognizes that the struggle for dignity that happens in another land is our own struggle. victor jara was killed by the pinochet regime in the 1970s, his hands both cut off as a symbol of undermining the guitarists might. as martin luther king said we must “planetize the movement.” the last sound on this piece is the SOS signal generated by the titanic before it sank. “too big to fail. ..” as we witness the heaving of capitalism around the world, i see that this economic system based on a structural violence, the depriving of things vital to life to some groups of people or organisms cannot be sustained, especially when war is needed to guard the power to control vital resources. what kind of world would we have if empathy and sharing were rewarded, while greed was planted the darkest corner of the garden? a new economics. we need to create it now—the world is screaming for it.
electric gumbo radio
“what kind of music IS this?”—one of the most frequent questions we get about our music. it’s electric gumbo radio. this song contains a collage of sounds from around the world, samples from uprisings with people from tahrir shouting “the people want the fall of the regime” to the sounds of teargas canisters being shelled in palestine, in athens, sirens wailing, people chanting “oakland. …oakland. ..” at the port shutdown—to try to hear the orchestration in the chaos, the sound that is rising and comes in fits and starts. . the voice sampled saying “por la voluntad del pueblo,” for the will of the people, is salvador allende, the democratically elected socialist leader of chile who was overthrown by pinochet in a CIA-led coup. his voice is also the last sound on the album “la historia es nuestra, y la hacen los pueblos.” history is ours and it is made by the people. this recording is from the last radio address allende made, from his residence. shortly after he spoke these words, he was shot. this song is a wake up call. SOS.. .

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