Q & A
from an interview by Loyde Jenson, November 23rd 2012
Visiting my family in Lebanon, since I don’t speak Arabic or even French, I eat with my uncles and nephews and I don’t know what to say. This is probably when I first started calling my uncles, “nephew” and my nephews “uncle”. But instead of taking up the simple task of learning their language – I just played more music!
I was in Turkey during 9/11. My identity had been stolen. I had been traveling for 6 months in these foreign lands but still didn’t speak much of the language. Every day, each moment was a new opportunity. Was I American, was I Arab? According to some, I didn’t even exist. But the others, they showed me love and they fed me. They didn’t know why or who, neither did I. But it was during that time that I noticed all of these thousands and millions of kids, that they too would find times where they could be lost, and influenced. I saw the planes hit on a small television in a bar and I knew that some confused kids were manipulated by some slightly older, more confused kids. That is when I decided to play a role in the lives of our kids and that my students weren’t going to be limited by borders, race or religion.
But the school administrators weren’t ready to welcome me, I needed to prove myself worthy to make their kids smile.
What are you upto in India?
While touring India, we travel quite a bit of the country. We had our initiation in 2008 in Varanasi. Believing it to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in our present world, the families of Varanasi can trace their ancestors back at least 3500 yrs.
During my first visit to Varanasi, I spent two months discovering that there is so much to learn about. And all the music… that’s 3500 yrs of musical experience to feel and absorb.
And all of this history so perfectly leading upto – and – existing side-by-side with today’s modernity! … what a life-effecting experience! And what is this music, & its message.!!??!
I came to assimilate with the society, not as a tourist, but as a contributor. First as a student, then as a recording engineer, eventually on stage, all the while visiting the schools and teaching the leaders of their tomorrow, OUR tomorrow.
They appreciate my efforts. I take local musicians and dancers with me whenever possible, then bridges are always being made and the kids are a part of a very present and improvised musical experience.
Once word gets around town, that this man has come from far away to share his musical story-telling with their kids… I am quickly accepted and welcomed into special situations where I am learning and invited to teach as well. It is a great exchange that people share when they are open and accepting. This Healing.
And it helps to be a great musician!?
Content is important and delivery and the whole presentation is even another opportunity to represent… for example, “listen to how practice and dedication can bring me closer to you and may bring you closer to yourself.”
I always keep in mind that I am a representative, of musicians, of educators, of healers, of travelers, of Americans, of Arabs, the list goes on & fluctuates depending on the environment. But I am being heard, that is the point, and people, big and small, like to make associations to better understand. I am asked the same questions wherever I go, “where are you from, who are you?” and often “how did you choose to find us?” But sometimes, I take the audience on such a journey, that they forget to bother asking me, and they might return home asking themselves, “who am I, what do I have to offer?”
You mention these special situations that you are invited into. I am imagining you sitting at the head of a royal court signing autographs and greeting people?
Yes, there is actually a lot of that, but even better than a royal court, which is great fun….
Is being honored with small cookies and chai. Sometimes my hosts don’t have a table and sometimes not even a room to sit inside. But what they do have, or might just be able to afford that day, they present me with. It is the highest and humblest offer; my life’s work for their gratitude and best chai.
But you know, the most honored situations to be a part of is standing at the head of a class, sometimes 30 students, sometimes 6, often times 300-600, and experiencing the magic in their eyes when I give them sounds that make them smile and forget about all of their troubles.
That’s why I do this. I am giving them hope, Reminding them that they can follow their dreams, and that their world has plenty of opportunity.
It is a simple objective and it is clear, “I give you what I have, complete honesty & love. Here, take it, do as you wish, I have an endless supply and am here to share with you, right now”. The children give me all the inspiration I need to continue.
Do you believe in the power of sound?
Some of these sounds were heard by our ancestors many years ago and since I have been taught that hearing is one of the strongest senses, reminding us, connecting our present with our past, these sounds have the power to ground us and simultaneously free us.
They say that hearing is the last of the senses to diSSolve after death. That is why some cultures still read to their deceased who are traveling through the stages of death. We can be guided towards liberation through sounds.
Our ancestors also played many of these rhythms. It is quite a powerful opportunity to trace our lineage by researching the origins of this music. It is a magical experience to play a steady + simple pattern like a heartbeart, and to know that this experience has been and will be shared with millions or billions of humans back then, right now & eventually again.
When will you return to India? And what will you do there?
The annual tour is called “Teaching My Ancestors”. This will be my sixth consecutive winter to travel the land, learning while teaching. I take with me a few maps, national and international, some beach-ball globes, and some instruments to share. I find a local driver and someone to take pictures. Then myself & often a local dancer, musician or another yoga teacher present the class with a yoga/sound/movement experience.
Instruments to share?
Last year before leaving Tulsa for India, my American students, decided to make rainsticks and send them off with me to share with my Indian students. So I took 25 rainsticks on my back, as a cultural gift exchange. Everywhere I went for 3 months, the students made music and danced with this contribution by their American peers.
It seems sensible to encourage peaceful relationships between the future leaders of these two great countries.
But what a present these children belong to, the gift of music. This was a very mindful and powerful movement for both sides. We presented our Indian students with pictures of the American students making these rainsticks & offering them to their Indian peers; and we brought pictures home to the Americans, of the Indian kids all across the country smiling BIG and dancing with these instruments.
And that is an important point here – that my students in India just like my students in USA or anywhere else in the world – are the leaders of our future. So it seems like my responsibly, since I am an able traveler and communicator and lover of life, to work towards a peaceful harmonious future by empowering our youth.
Not speaking many verbal languages has helped me to get to this place where I know we can communicate without, and I know that we will have to be able to communicate in other ways.
There are just too many languages in the world, and they are beautiful and diverse and colorful and tell a unique story about a community. But when people are faced w the challenge of communicating w someone else, beyond words, creating a peaceful compromise, IMPROVISING, they need to have the tools necessary. They need to be willing!
I am teaching these kids by example, I put myself on the spot, I become vulnerable, to show that I am not afraid to expose my fears and to heal. That can be our experience together, right there.
Healers in many cultures sacrifice a part of themselves to represent and engage the victorious health of their tribe. I am just a musician giving people the opportunity to share in my playtime.
The Musical Experience is at the same time so simple and accessible, and yet if someone decides to learn the patterns with me, our relationship is boundless; boundaries can only appear by personal invitation.
These rainsticks, what are they actually?
They are sticks filled with rain. And what I have learned is that one of the greatest gifts a host can offer his guest is water!
Now with all that water, we’re gonna need to come together & build some bridges!
So I make sure to offer my audiences many opportunities to make connections between many aspects of a presentation.
For example: Most of the music in this work was written on one of my kalimbas. These are little music boxes that have from 3 to 28 metal keys attached. Each metal key is tuned to a different pitch. They are also known as thumbpianos and are considered to be a lamellophone and an idiophone. In some tribes, they are known as the voices of the ancestors, others call these instruments the telephone to the spirits.
So anytime I want to play a kalimba during a song, I have that opportunity, and this serves as an opportunity for the audience to make familiar associations.
This has always been an instrument used by storytellers, as you know music can offer a lot to a story and the story of our lives. So, in this way of keeping history interesting and musical, stories can be effortlessly passed down from generation to generation, and the listener can quickly become connected to their ancestry.
How do you mean effortlessly?
Well, there is a huge effort made by the musician. If a musician accepts this role in life, to be a messenger of these great truths – then he needs to constantly strive to perfect himself in every area of life.
He needs to keep his body fit and able to accept whatever needs to come to him. And then he needs to be fit to deliver the song in a humble yet magical way. If he can deliver the story effectively – than he is fulfilling his destiny – and just for the sake of being a fulfiller of destiny – he deserves an opportunity to share his experience with fellow humans. People will be inspired.
But music makes stories more interesting. And it helps us to associate and remember. So many Indian songs are evolutions of the music that is played in the temples and has been for thousands of years. In fact, so many of their rhythms were structured to a prayer, depending on the length of a phrase or the number of syllables. Music was added as a tool to help keep prayers moving and movers praying.
Nowadays, so much music is written within the common beat structure. It is a slightly different idea from the old temple music. My music also redefines beat structure as we commonly know it. People like what is familiar, and they like to be numbed by that familiarity. My music is enjoyable & relaxing, but there is a freshness to it that opens people up, it inspires them rather than numbs.
So, I am pretty convinced that you are a storyteller. What is it you are so determined to communicate to the world?
Oh, my part is simple. I know I have a lot to learn. There is life, and there is death and there’s a whole bunch of stuff in between, and there might be some stuff before and some after, and its all my Great Teacher.
I believe that with all those hours I spend awake living in this world, I can enjoy life and so I might as well. And I encourage everyone to take some of these hrs and days and yrs that we get, and learn to make music. This will heal you, whatever you need healed at any time in life.
This will fulfill you – and this is what is called living.
Then we have the rest.
There are those other hrs in a lifetime, that we are not awake & living out our dreams…. These are the times when we are having our dreams. It is those times that I am most dedicated to as well. I wish that everyone will have a good night’s sleep. I find this sleep experience to be an extremely important part of our life.
WaTeR is an important factor in preparing us for a good productive day and a strong healthy time of rest & rejuvenation.
Medicine Men taught us that the music in our lives has the power to bring us into harmony. Achieving peaceful life each day & peaceful rest each night are of one goal.
Some believe that our wakeful life experiences are determined in dreamtime.
And in India, you are teaching students about clean WaTeR?
Yes! We are actually teaching Environmentalism within our program. Air pollution & WaTeR pollution, road pollution & food pollution are big issues in India at this time. A big part of our mission is to teach students how to take care of their environment. We also teach them to take care of their bodies & their health. These concerns can determine a person’s self-respect and that respect carries on to their respect for their neighbor.
Varanasi, the city I mentioned earlier is known as the City of Learning & Burning. The mighty & infamous Ganges River flows through Varanasi and is revered as a sacred river. This river is believed to have the power to cleanse people of their sins & impurities. It is a great honor to have one’s ashes floated down this River from Varanasi. It was my fascination with this land and the people that come here to die that first inspired me to teach my ancestors here.
How has this inspired your musical compositions?
I have now written & composed all of the music to a world ballet called Sacred Sleep that is inspired by Varanasi. This is a city where millions of people come to die each year, to breath their last breath. It has lots of inspiration actually and intends to deliver lots of inspiration as well. In most cities in India and in many places on this earth, children are without a home to retreat from daily challenges, without a bed to rest, clean sheets or WaTeR to bath before or after waking. This efforts of this music is dedicated to them, to begging their pardon, to pleading with them to preserve hope & honor their dreams, that they may hear an opportunity worth dreaming; may they channel any frustrations into creative energy into miracles.
So the children here and there are somehow magically equally involved, in your life, in your work, in this school, in this music..?
This winter, on tour in India, we are recording the students singing & dancing to add to the Sacred Sleep album. Then we return to USA for the Beats To Bridge Tulsa Spring Tour and we hope for at least 10,000 more Tulsa students. Adding them to the album, we are building this international community. Through music of coarse, these kids belong to something very real and very special and hopefully, very influential. Everyone who contributes to this project in anyway is part of this experience. It is a journey that we are on together. Each character, each child, each voice, each beat determines the next step.
Hopefully the album will do well and these kids might hear their voices at the local record store.
Yes, and beyond that, they will hear their voices in a chorus, in unison with voices of children from America and maybe from Africa. Their experience will continue to grow and flourish and their world will open up.
It can be easy to insult another nation or another family, especially if we don’t have investment or any reason to relate to them. These children will have this experience forever. Documenting it will make it easy to remember. When the choice is theirs to insult ‘those foreigners’ or send missiles on them, they’ll always have this experience to consider.
Producing this album, making this dream of yours come true and taking this great international community of supporters along for the experience… this must be empowering.
Well, this is just a beginning actually. These are seeds that feed much bigger plans. It’s the children and everybody that we will inspire or ‘Empower’. We are involved in a movement and one of the specific missions of this movement is to help clean the Ganges River. This is a very big job. One of the challenges is educating the local inhabitants and simply convincing them that this is even possible.
This is where my work with the children and the local community can have a great impact. Imagine 15,000 local kids taking their future into their own hands; approaching a challenge as great as this, cleaning the River that their ancestors have been simultaneously praying to and polluting.
This might finally distinguish prayer from pollution. Imagine these children growing up with clean WaTeR and then passing the stories of the holy river to their children, but this time, it makes more sense. They will be in those stories forever.
Imagine the strength of the international community participating in such a selfless act, but nevertheless, acting. Imagine another 10,000 kids from other parts of the world going to Varanasi to help their contemporaries complete this mission…
The local Hindus in Varanasi bath in this river at the same time their ancestor’s ashes float by?
Yes, it is something quite amazing to experience. But this is just a piece of the chaos. Actually, this River is so amazingly polluted. It has become widely accepted in India to throw trash on the ground or into the water.
What WTM & I are doing with these Indian students are giving them an experience of music, of yoga, connecting with themselves and their community and educating them on simple environmental issues like, ‘let’s not throw our trash in the river. Let’s remember to honor the river that cleans us and that takes our ancestors into their afterlife.’
Maintaining ones environment brings a person closer to his identity. And this identity has a destiny to fulfill. But it takes a strong person to learn to hear his calling. It takes a person with confidence and motivation. These are the qualitites that develop & are empowered when we learn to take responsibility of our lives. This is what we are sharing with all of our students. And it all begins through the power of music.
And your local programs have similar themes?
Absolutely! The most obvious difference is my use of verbal communication with the Americans. I have a great opportunity in India and elsewhere to communicate creatively, without English to help me. This is a big part of their experience; to communicate with me without a common language. My goal is to motivate them and share the experience of successful, peaceful communication. They will learn some English also.
In USA, we are able to go into more depth and discussion about geography, culture, music, etc
Where do you present your programs in USA next?
We play music in 20 Tulsa-area schools each Spring and each Autumn, often for 500 kids at a time. Sometimes I am be joined by other musicians, other times, I may be joined by a great dancer or many great dancers to help tell our story. Often times I work alone.
Some of these presentations have been sponsored by Tulsa arts-in-education organizations, but many schools are still waiting for sponsorship to help cover our expenses. We will complete this tour and the international community is welcome to contribute. We have a non-profit organization coming called World Through Music.
We have an exhibition & are making music at Coffee House On Cherry Street this week and next week and are welcoming all of the community. It is a great time and place to make a tax-free donation.
Are kids welcome?
Of coarse. My presentation this week happens to be a wordless rhythmical odyssey. I am playing music for the seasons. It will be both relaxing and a very exciting experience.
As a world–wide educator, how do you feel about the education system in the US or even more specifically in Oklahoma?
Music education or arts education is a big deal. What is our intention as a society? The Success of all societies throughout this world & all ages can be judged by their attention to music and the arts. The ways groups of people work together , the way they compromise, improvise, accept each other’s role in the workings of a system or a nation; the role and actions of the leaders. All of this is a direct effect of how any society (or its oppressors) integrates and respects music.
We are all capable of recognizing a beat or melody. Are we all patient enough to replicate it or compliment it? We should be. Who is the authority that declares we should be? Ourselves. Are all effected by the power of music. This feeling we get, this harmonizing power that is right here all of the time, but even better with others. This is not worth ignoring.
In some homes, a musician may be a respected guest of honor because people acknowledge the dedication they make to carry on our ancestor’s legacy. To keep us connected to our roots, eventually even our Source. This helps us remember our path and our goals. These story-tellers are so important for so many reasons. Another great importance of these story-tellers & that our school intends to deliver to audiences is that life is a story, lots of stories. They begin, sustain our attention, give us focus, offer us emotional exploration, we learn about relationships, but then finally they must end. However excruciating life may seem for us at anytime, we are just playing out a story, we are the author, we are the players, this is a game and we must continue striving to win, our peace & calm within whatever challenges face us. We need to remember this & cool off from time-to-time. We needn’t resort to self-violence because we have forgotten that we are a miracle & that life is greater than we can fathom. if we recognize our frustrations, than they will not control us. And nextly, story-telling is a right for all of us and we all should work to deliver the greatest story imaginable, this is our dedication and our gift to one another. Everyone needs to be listened to. Terroristic violence comes from feeling unheard or disrespected. It is not neceSsary, it is easy enough to WaTeR other seeds of potential energy. Stories offer us the medicine of community coming together, laughing or crying together. This is most obvious with music. Participating in a powerful musical experience with others is absolutely a miraculous event that every man can experience to purify & cleanse & breath & smile & recharge.
In some communities, we are acknowledged as a part of the workings of society. Respected equally as anyone else who contributes his occupation to OUR success. It is all the same to me, it is all true, and I accept.
As long as they encourage me to fulfill this destiny, I will keep working to entertain & educate and create an honest & sacred place for sound experience.
I guess, in answer to your question, I have much work to do to make our education system even better. Sometimes, I recognize a miSSing link in our connection to the rest of the world. This is also the case in small villages around the world I visit, but usually, these villages honor an ancient story that keeps them on track, focused, dedicated to keeping their ancestral lineage healthy. Here, in all of our diversity and technological achievements, we seem to be miSSing that central theme, that story that we know and retell, so that we recognize our fellows as characters, and fellow Journeymen within thiS Shared story. So, if we can teach each other about each other, we learn to recognize that there is a story that such a community shares; making them a community. Then, as listeners, we develop a sense of our own story, realizing that we need a story worth sharing with other cultures or even with our own children, we start to fit the pieces in place. We need each other to fulfill the characteristics, and we realize our own contribution to the story. This may be the hope of our society and of our international community, a mutual respect. Without a story, I believe it is difficult for the rest of the world to accept us. When we meet someone new, we listen for them to represent themself. If they serenade us with a sweet song, we feel warm around them. So, as a storyteller, I hope to encourage my students to recognize an interesting story and to tell better stories (of)themselves.
Can we expect an album coming out soon?
I began working on Sacred Sleep during my first tour in India, where I recorded many Indian musicians and students, and Nature, and will continue until it is complete. It is something of a lullaby-rock world-music children’s album. The compositions are quite unique and already children and professional musicians all around the world are playing and dancing to this music. We plan to complete it in the summer.
_WTM gives music lessons daily while in Tulsa at the World Through Music Studio.
_Follow Massad in India with the mobile school, worldthroughmusic.org, thiS Season continuing this culture exchange between his students in Tulsa and in India.
_Returns to USA in Spring, to perform and share the WTM experience with 20 Tulsa schools.
_WTM is sponsored by private donors like you. World Through Music