Not having much of a plan or a clear direction for my academic life attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, I signed up for a 6-month study abroad program in Delhi, India in 2007 during my junior year. I was a musician at the time, having played the guitar from about age 11, but I was at school studying World Literature. Musically, I was playing in rock and reggae bands that would jam loud and electric in the college practice space until 3am and wasn’t interested in any formal study of the subject. Since my major was literature, I joined the English department at the University of Delhi to study Hindi literature in translation.
Landing in Delhi was a whirlwind of sights and sounds and smells. I was immediately struck by how alive, vibrant, raucous even, the neighborhoods were. I was part of a program of about 30 students from different UC schools around California. We spent a few days staying at the YWCA near Conneaught Place in New Delhi, recovering from jet lag and getting our papers in order, before the university took us up to the foothills of the Himalayas to a small hillstation called Mussorie. There, we were to spend a month in Hindi language intensive training. This way we would be able to at least have a basic functional usage of the language before starting our course work and moving into our flats in Delhi.
Mussorie is a verdant green forest town with paving stone streets that twist and wind up the impossibly steep landscape. Whenever I was walking to class or to the small marketplace below, I found myself either pitching downwards, watching my feet as I bounced down the road, or climbing so steeply that I felt that I would almost fall over backwards. Large white, langur monkeys watched from the edge of the road in case anyone dropped any food.
One day, trekking back up hill from the marketplace, I noticed a small shop selling CDs and casettes. I was walking up alongside the shop so that its triangular windows were at about knee-height as I ascended the path. In the shop window, a CD caught my eye.
The blurry photograph on the cover featured a bearded man, seated with a strange-looking guitar laid across his lap. There was something different about the guitar as I peered at the picture, it appeared to have extra strings and to be played with a slide. I went inside, bought the CD and took it back to our hotel where I popped the CD into my Sony Discman and put on the headphones.
The sounds that emerged was enchanting, baffling, awe-inspiring…I couldn’t understand how the guitar could sound like this; some mixture of a full voiced singer, the cutting treble of the strings and deeply resonant sound with shimmering embellishments that rung out long after the note had been plucked. I listened to that CD the entire night, over and over again. It was as if I was quenching some long-unattended thirst; the sound filled my ears and buoyed my spirit. I decided immediately that I must learn to play this instrument, I must find a teacher and learn to make music like this.
Click here to check out my latest album; hear how I have brought this incredible moving sound directly to you. Today, it is my goal to spread joy and peace and healing with my music and I believe the Indian slide guitar is especially suited for the task.