Many of the world’s religions are built around the concept of opposing forces. Whether bound in perpetual struggle between each other or held together in steady equilibrium and balance, binary systems are pervasive in spiritual thought. Good versus evil, enlightenment over ego, salvation against damnation — these ideas form the roots of humankind’s philosophical reasoning around “self.” In ancient Vedic thought (the philosophy that transitioned into the modern Hindu religion), there is much consideration given to the duality between the masculine and feminine forms of “the Divine.” The masculine form is rigid and direct, the feminine fluid and dynamic. It is thought that an imbalance between these two expressions that exist within each of us can cause problems in our lives or, on a larger scale, in society as a whole.
This theme of the Vedic concept of bicameral divinity, with a special focus on the “Divine Feminine,” is the inspiration behind singer-songwriter April Bond’s new album.
“To make peace with the feminine, one has to be willing to go with the flow, to allow unpredictability,” Bond explained. “In our society, this is devalued, feared, and suppressed, and I found within myself an authoritarian style of self-regulation that was limiting my ability to evolve and create in my life.”
On Shansan (a Sanskrit word meaning “invocation”), Bond said she attempts eight bhajans, or devotional mantras, to feminine expressions of Hindi deities such as Shailaputri, Kali-Durga, and Saraswati to open her to the Divine Feminine and facilitate spiritual and emotional growth.
“I began writing compositions for the feminine aspects of the Divine for my own personal practice,” Bond said, “to correct the imbalance I saw in myself and the rejection of the feminine that I felt I had internalized. The practice made a great difference for me personally.”
Shansan is her way of giving that practice for others to benefit from.
Though Bond has recently relocated to Florida, the new album was released Friday on Fort Worth’s Orange Otter Records and features musical contributions from a bevy of local instrumentalists. As well as labelhead and fellow singer-songwriter Clint Niosi, Bond’s eight Eastern modal mantras benefit from violinist Tamara Brown (Cameron Smith, Eric Osbourne), expressive drummer/percussionist Eddie Dunlap (Rage Out Arkestra), and the lyrical flute of Daniel Katsük.
“I’ve known April for as long as I’ve been playing music, but I hadn’t heard from her in many years,” Niosi said of his decision to be involved in the album. “When she sent the new tracks she’d been working on, my jaw dropped open at the number of beautiful vocal harmonies. I knew immediately that it was going to be a musically interesting project.”
Although her two most recent albums make much use of traditional Indian musical motifs, Bond does not exclusively work with these sounds. A devotee of a wealth of regional and ethnic musical styles, she has previously explored Greek, Flamenco, Celtic, and Ashkenazi Jewish Klezmer music.
“I lived in France from 2004 to 2005 and was heavily influenced by the Celtic and Klezmer influences in much of the local music there,” Bond said. “Most of this album bridges the gap from Klezmer to Indian classical music. I wanted to bring mantra into other regional styles, make it more relatable to new areas of the world, and I wanted to explore those possibilities creatively.”
Bond’s compositions are beautiful expressions, laced with compelling Eastern motifs, her seraphim voice dense with harmony as she recites invocations from traditional Vedic texts, a task that, though she admits she is no scholar, Bond accomplishes with impressive mastery.
“To translate the mantras is difficult,” she said. “Each syllable, each letter even, in Sanskrit has meaning, often several meanings. In fact, [a deity’s] name could be broken down to the meaning of each individual letter.”
The music works equally well as an accompaniment for meditation and yoga as it does for reading with a cup of hot tea or as a peaceful soundtrack for housework. The calming aesthetic provides much to enjoy regardless of one’s propensity for Bond’s specific spiritual motivations.
“The main thing I hope listeners understand is this album is not just for women, though, of course, I do hope it provides value to women,” Bond said. “Even more, I hope it provides healing to the ‘feminine’ aspect of anyone who listens to it. I believe we are the soil for one another’s souls, so to speak. Healing the Divine Feminine creates fertile soil for the Divine Masculine to grow and find its most glorious and beneficial expression.”