SHUNIA, by Shunia, features the fusion of classical instruments from different countries, multiple styles of vocals, and the focusing energy of ancient chants to bring feelings of joy, hope, and awareness to Western culture at a crucial moment in time. Shunia is a duo comprised of Lisa Reagan and Suzanne Jackson, the word “shunia” (shoon-ya) means a stillness of power -- quiet, unmoving, and totally focused. The core of the music is the synergy of these two voices in combination with various instruments, and on this, their second album, there is the amazing voice of Hassan Hakmoun on several tracks and the contributions of the legendary Jamshied Sharifi and flutist Jay Ghandi. The sound is a blend of chant, mantra and opera, always positive and uplifting. The music emanates empathic confidence, creating a sound that succeeds at reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and improving emotional health.
You can listen here: https://lnk.to/shunia
You can find the music here: https://shuniasound.com/
You can find the video versions of some of their songs here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVvsZECVFyfF5OFCS5VWJCw
The arts have a unique power to heal and transform. We want to be happier and at peace within ourselves. We are all interconnected on the planet and ancient religious ideas are now being proven by contemporary science, the practice of a mantra, repeating the same phrase over and over again, has a beneficial effect on body, mind and spirit. There is a theoretical potential for conflict between contemplative Christian faith and Yoga, Tai Chi, and related disciples -- the yogic path and the Christian path. Shunia has successfully merged these two sacred life paths creating universal meditations for healing, and simply allowing your mind to let go of all its temporal concerns.
This is the second album from Shunia, in 2017 the ambitious duo released Ascend, creating artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism, aiding meditation and relaxation with repeated recitation of mantras and statements carrying positive spiritually supportive messages. Whenever one makes more room for God's Spirit in their heart, there can be a seed for peace and higher thought. In medicine, an agent that is soothing is called a demulcent. This allows some who suffer a chance to relieve, comfort, and refresh their spirit, to be able to lead a more normal or fulfilling existence. Music performed as an act of meditation provides mind-pictures that promote relaxation, stress relief, lucid dreaming, chakra auditing, yoga, and meditation.
Everything is vibration, observes the spirit of Shunia. All the energy in the universe exists in different vibratory levels. Combining music with meditation can deepen the positive effects of both, and bring about greater stress relief. Bringing comfort, solace, reassurance, peace, composure, and quietude serves to uplift humanity through the oldest universal teachings, foster the creative spirit and bring a new awareness to the voice and body connection. Shunia continues to foster a mindset promoting meditation, relaxation and stress release which are all so important for our health. Shunia merges the art forms of chant and opera and promotes the body’s own natural healing processes. Universal Energy exists around us, all of the time, nature gives us everything we need to overcome the distance between God and humans. When the duo Shunia discovered the hidden dimension and power of singing chant music, they wanted to share this profound experience. We have a physical body and an energy body. The chakra system is a main conduit for energy. In order to live at our highest potential, our chakras must be aligned. If we want to make changes in our lives, we have to change ourselves. In the sharing process, each faith must maintain its own unique identity and integrity, to bring together the voice and body vibration as one and develop strength, balance, harmony, and flexibility. The music of Shunia provides a way to calm the monkey mind and to journey towards a totality of being, honoring eternal change.
Sa Re Sa Sa
Breeze at Dawn
Har Hare Han Wahe Guru
Ang Sang Wahe Guru
Sa Ta Na Ma
Jonathan Widran, in a review posted on Dec 28, 2020 (THE JW VIBE: Music That Sticks To My Soul https://www.jwvibe.com/post/shunia-shunia) said that "The beginning of any year, but this one in particular, is the perfect time to rise above our angst, anxiety and pain and into different mindset fueled by gratitude for what still is and what can still be. The collection (Shunia) can surely be experienced purely for escape, simple relaxation and pleasure. But these eight tracks are designed to rewire us and thus, if we let them, can serve a higher purpose in our lives. Since the duo chose to roll out a few more lead singles throughout the fall, it makes sense to engage the experience as they intended, following “Akal” with “Sa Re Sa Sa,” whose swirl of tribal rhythms and dreamy atmospheres underly the intense masculine-feminine energy exchange between the lilting harmonic chants of Shunia and the visceral, soaring chants of guest vocalist Hassan Hakmoun, known as the “Godfather of Gnawa Music.”
In a review by Kathy Parsons (Mainly Piano, January 10, 2021 https://mainlypiano.com/reviews/shunia-shunia) she confides that "I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t sure I was going to like this album, but I ended up loving it. There is so much heartfelt beauty in both the words and the music, that it’s an album that needs to be savored, not just relegated to background music. Shunia is recommended for group classes or personal practice of yoga, or for simply being inspired and uplifted. Close your eyes and let the music transport you to a more peaceful place."
The first mantra on Shunia, "Sa Re Sa Sa," removes negativity from within, awakening the infinite creative energy to burn away obstacles to achieving higher consciousness. Sa is the Infinite, the Totality, God. That Infinite Totality is here, everywhere. That creativity of God is here, everywhere. "Sa Re Sa Sa" (3:02) features the voice of Hakmoun, which is joined by the two choral voices of Jackson and Reagan, creating an empowering and invigorating feeling, upbeat and positive. A bright energetic orchestral mantra that helps you conquer the wisdom of the past, present, and future.
Here is an update on "Sa Re Sa Sa" examining the lyrics:
Persian poet Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207 - 1273) wrote the words for "Breeze at Dawn" (4:12), Shunia has created a mystical sound for this classical poem of romance, with sweet breezes coming from the darkness before the dawn, repeating the words, spoken low by Hassan Hakmoun and joined by the choral voices who sing the lyrics. "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell - Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you want - Don’t go back to sleep..."
In each life there are occasions to confront the dark night of the soul. The power of time controls worldly events; the only entity independent of time is Time itself, and that is Akal, the Timeless One. The vision of the track "Akal" (6:48) starts in the dead of winter deep in the wilderness, beneath a transforming sky. The air is laden with deep endless snow, imagine a statue that becomes an icon of grief and loss, snow is heavy on mountains, mixing with rain, a chilling frost grips a pine forest. Rain comes to the ice resulting in a slowly transformative dripping, the snow gradually melts, winter recedes and the warmth of the new season emerges. We are shown a glorious vision bringing the miracle of spring and a deep sensation of gratitude, communication and empathy on a global scale like never before, experiencing the power and benefits of this free, accessible and abundant Universal energy. This powerful chant is intended to be used for helping the soul move on to another dimension of life, becoming timeless, immortal, and non-temporal. Deathless or non-temporal implies everlasting reality, eternal being, or Transcendent Spirit, the music is intended to help the soul leave the Earth and head for the light. "Akal" invokes a protective force field that makes it impossible for animosity to touch you.
Sung in Latin, the title of the next track literally means "Praise the Lord" and has a direct connection to the Hebrew word Halleluya which is also an expression of praise to God. "Alleluia" (6:51) The early music feeling could easily fit into a program for Christmas or Winter Holiday listening.
Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit: in loco pascuæ, ibi me collocavit.
Super aquam refectionis educavit me; animam meam convertit.
Deduxit me super semitas justitiæ propter nomen suum.
Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu
Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.
Now I would like to share the words of Lisa Reagan, taken from a transcription of Shunia - Stories of Inspiring Joy Podcast.
"It's interesting how life takes you down a different path than the one you thought you were going to go down. As I have grown older I have come to realize the importance of being more zen in my life. I guess you can say I am a bit more chill than I used to be. When I was young, I wanted to be "in control" as much as possible. I am not saying that is a good trait, I am just saying that's how it was.
"Maybe it's because there were parts of my childhood that were chaotic, and being in control made me feel safer, but as time went on, I began to realize I didn't really have control after all, and that thinking that I had any control was just an illusion. In a profound way, I found that to be very freeing. In the end, there is really no choice but to trust the process.
"For me, that meant I had to let go, and trust the higher intelligence that keeps this whole universe going. It meant to believe in something out there that was so great, that all I had to do was get out of the way, and allow that intelligence to come through me, and guide me.
"When I first learned about yoga and chanting, it was very foreign to me. I was raised in a traditional Christian family and had wariness and reservations about other religions and their practices. And because of when I grew up, and where I grew up, a big part of my upbringing was centered around fear, and especially the fear of the unknown.
"So fear became a part of me, it was etched into my psyche. Yet, in the deepest part of me I knew life wasn't supposed to be like that. I could sense and feel when I looked around at nature, that the God who created all this wonder and beauty, wasn't a God of fear, but one of great brilliance and creativity.
"So one day my curiosity and wonder walked me into a gurdwara, which is a Sihk place of worship, where I had my first chanting experience, and something that I never felt before happened to me.
"The gurdwara itself looked like a cross between a temple, and a really nice yoga studio. We all sat on the floor, on a pillow or a blanket, and there was a leader at the front of the room. We were all taught a certain chant, with a specific mudra.
"A mudra is a hand gesture and position that acts as a lock to guide energy flows and reflexes to the brain.
"We were told to begin and follow the instructions of the instructor. I think I must have been the only first-timer in the room, because everyone else there seemed to know what they were doing.
"I decided to act like I knew what I was doing, and followed the instructor's guidance and see what, if anything, would happen. After a few minutes, something miraculous did happen. I felt this powerful energy come down through the top of my head and flow throughout my whole body. And then when I looked down, I could see that my whole body was glowing with white light. I wasn't frightened, I was just amazed and in awe, and decided to allow this experience to be mine, and to just flow with it.
"Well, that experience changed me, and things have never been the same for me since. Once I had that experience, which to me was the holy spirit of God flowing through me, I knew that I had tapped into something so powerful, and I wanted to know all about it. So my journey began, and this world of yoga and chanting opened up a magical new world to me, that I didn't know was there before.
"Since I have been trained as a classical singer, I knew a lot about vibration, and sound, and sound production. I am also a teacher of classical singing, so I have worked with many students in my life, and I have taught them to sing their bodies, which basically means to vibrate their bodies.
"When you sing, you breathe and then allow that breath to vibrate the sound, that then projects out into the world, a sound vibration that is on a word, that has a meaning.
"This is similar to chanting. In chanting we create a specific sound using words that are often in Sanskrit, which is a holy language. As we chant, we vibrate the sound over and over again, which changes the patterning in our brain.
"For me, my first chant experience was so incredible and life changing, I knew that there was great power in the sound current of these chants. There is also great power in opera, but there is a big difference. In opera, there is a story, one that is familiar to us, because it's one of the myths that we have heard over and over again. These stories are played out in movies that we see and songs we sing, often it is a story of betrayal and redemption, especially in opera. There is an emotional component to it that we can relate to. It reflects the lives we live and tales we tell, and it helps us make sense of things in the here and now.
"However, when you chant, it seems to go beyond the mythological stories, it goes into a vibration that is so primal and so much a part of our genetic memory, that it's timeless. It's beyond time, it's an interaction directly with spirit, which is vertical, not horizontal, if you know what I mean. That's why we know it in our gut. That's why it's so familiar to us, and that's why it's so powerful for us.
"It's this experience, and this knowing that inspired me to create the group Shunia, because I wanted to share this music with my fellow humans and give them the gift of this magical tool. I wasn't sure how to make this all come together, but it was a desire in my heart.
"As it happened, one of my close colleagues, Suzanne Jackson, had been going down a similar path as me. Suzanne had been practicing and teaching yoga for many years and had even created an entire series of videos called YogaSing, which is yoga specifically designed for singers. Suzanne and I had been friends for a long time. We got our master's degrees together, at the University of Maryland's Opera Studio, and we had sung together with the Washington National Opera for twenty-five years.
"I had written several soundtracks to her yoga videos, so we spent quite a bit of time together, discussing the power of yoga and chanting. One day we happened to be together at a spa, and we were both in the steam room, and we started chanting OM, we both thought, Wow! Our voices sound really good together! Why haven't we ever made a chant album together?
"So that was the beginning of the adventure that became Shunia. We created our first chant album, Ascend, in 2016. It's a beautiful album, and it was such a joy to create and put together with our producer Thomas Barkey. We loved singing together, and when we do, we create a sound that neither one of us can produce on our own. It's such a beautiful collaboration.
"The first album we did was so rewarding that we decided to do another one. I am a big fan of the group Mirabai Ceiba, and I think their music is so beautifully written and produced. When I chant with them, it takes me into a sacred world. As a musician, I appreciate their musicianship, sensitivity and skill. I looked into who had produced several of their albums and found out it was a guy named Jamshied Sharifi. He was someone I didn't know, but someone I really did want to know. It took me two years to find him, but it was well worth the search. When Suzanne and I went to him with our ideas for this album, I could tell that we were in the hands of a skilled genius, who would guide us to where we wanted to go.
"We wanted to create a chant album that was filled with beautiful melodies and energy. We wanted the power of the chants to be amplified by the music. We wanted the listener to be taken on a journey into a sonic world of vibration and transformation. We wanted people to have an experience when they listened to our music.
"We worked really hard on this album, composing songs in Gurmukhi and Latin, and in English. I feel like this album is a golden thread of sound that brings together worlds of ancient knowledge and weaves it into the world we live in today. Our cultural beliefs may be different than our ancestors, but we are still all humans, and we are curious seekers of the truth.
"To quote the timeless words of Jesus, "The truth will set you free," and that brings me joy."
To help further illuminate this work, I would like to share some excerpts from an article that was written by Lisa Reagan for LA Yoga Magazine (December 15th, 2020) titled Creating Empowerment and Hope through Music with Shunia.
"As a classically trained musician, I often found myself distracted by some of the music I was hearing. As years went on, I did find a couple of chant artists I liked, but for the most part the music left me feeling unsatisfied. However, there was one artist, Singh Kaur that I loved. It was such a joy to hear her sing the mantras so beautifully. For me, it elevated the whole experience of chanting. I listened to her for years. When I chanted with her, I felt happier. I also recorded my own versions of the mantras and would chant along with my own creations.
"One day I ran into a musician producer friend of mine, Thomas Barquee, in Santa Fe. He and I talked about how great it would be to work together. So, we decided to make an album. It started out as a typical songwriter and producer situation. He was going to produce some songs I had written, but that’s not what ended up happening. We only worked a few days together before he had to leave for a European tour, so we didn’t make a lot of headway. While he was away, I was visiting my friend Suzanne Jackson, whom I had known for many years from college and The Washington National Opera. We had created several projects together and we were talking about what we were going to do next.
"During that same time I heard a new album by one of my favorite chant duos, Mirabei Ceiba. I absolutely loved it, and I listened and meditated to it over and over again. As a musician, I was so impressed with the beauty of the music. The arrangements and structure that had been created were unusual and compelling.
"Every time I meditated with these chants, I always felt a sense of joy, well-being and appreciation for them. There was something in my gut that told me I needed to find the album’s producer and work with him. Finding him was easier said than done, but after a long time searching, I found someone who knew someone that had played on an album he produced with Snatam Kaur, and she made the introduction. Thank God! And that’s how I finally found Jamshied Sharifi. And I’m so grateful I did."
Jamshied Sharifi is a New York-based composer, producer, and keyboardist. He has composed the scores for feature films including Harriet The Spy, Down To Earth, Clockstoppers, and Rollerball, as well as contributing music to numerous television shows and independent films. He has produced and/or performed with Paula Cole, Ray Charles, Dream Theater, Laurie Anderson, Hassan Hakmoun, Yungchen Lhamo, Mirabai Ceiba, and many others. He produced Snatam Kaur's album, Beloved, which was nominated for the 2019 Best New Age Album Grammy. Sharifi did some orchestrations for Sting’s Broadway musical, The Last Ship. His orchestrations for The Band's Visit won the 2018 Tony Award.
My colleague Windy Campbell recently interviewed Jamshied Sharifi, and I would next like to share their words with you.
Windy Campbell When selecting the artists that you work with, what did you see in Shunia that led you to work with them?
Jamshied Sharifi One thing that intrigued me is that they are both classical singers, and this is not a classical record. I was drawn to artists trying to step out of their comfort zone and find a different field in which to express themselves, or in which to grow. They were also very keen to work with me and very adventurous in their approach to this music, which usually indicates to me that we are going to have a good time. There were not a lot of preconceived ideas about how the record should go, how it should turn out, who should be involved. They seemed very open and willing to experiment. Those were the things that drew me to the project.
WC: There are some other amazing artists on the album itself, Hassan Hakmoun, Jay Gandhi and some others, how did you go about selecting them and why were they a good fit?
JS: There were different criteria for each of the artists involved, Ben Whitman and Marc Copely who played percussion and guitar, respectively, on the record are old friends who I have worked with on many projects, for decades. They are involved because we have a common language, we know each other musically, I can speak to them in shorthand and they know exactly where to go. And they are also very generous with their musicality. If I ask Marc to play an acoustic guitar track he will send me back five tracks of guitar, similarly with Ben. Those two guys were the foundation of the recording process, they were the first ones to work, after Lisa, Suzanne and I had written and sketched out the songs.
Hassan and I go back a long time. I have been a keyboard player in his band for more than two decades, and he is a very dear friend, he has taken part in both of my records, a really big part. When I have performed with that music he has been involved with it. One thing I love about Hassan and about working with Hassan is that our approaches to music are really different. I am perhaps an overly trained musician, a musician who tends to think about things alot, and Hassan is deeply instinctive, he is of course trained in his tradition, but his approach to music making is primal and instinctive, and unpredictable. If there is something that I am working on that I feel could benefit from that energy he is a place to go. As we got into writing certain songs, there were ones that we were working on that it felt like it would benefit from that. It says a lot about Lisa and Suzanne, that they were willing to go down that path, because they are singers, and to say "hey! why don't we invite another singer?" doesn't always go over well. But they were into the idea, and as you can hear, Hassan's energy is a different thing, and I feel it is very welcome and fresh for the project.
Jay Gandhi and Abhik Mukherjee were new to me, I had met them in the process of putting together a band for the musical of "Monsoon Wedding" that I had been working on for a few years, with Mira Nair, the original director, and our plan was to assemble a band for the musical in New York, and bring it to Dehli for a workshop and series of performances there. That plan didn't go as we expected, we ended up putting the band together in Delhi, but I got to know Jay and Abhik and felt that as there is an obvious Indian connection in this music, it's based on Sihk mantras, I thought it would be a good way to get to know them, to involve them in this project. I know that they are both adventurous musicians, they are part of Brooklyn Raga Massive. Although they are both traditionally trained, they make it a part of their work to interface with musicians who are not from their tradition, and I loved both of them, and what they did really brought a lot of beauty and integrity to the record, I feel.
For each person it was a different consideration, and putting together the personnel for a record is partly a combination of instruments, and partly a combination of traditions, and partly a combination of personalities, and the way people approach music and think about music. Those were some of the thoughts in going down that road.
WC: How is this album different from anything you have previously produced?
JS: In many ways this is one of the largest in scope, in that we involved a lot of instrumentalists, a lot of solo instrumentalists, we also recorded, for this style of music, a sizable string section, but I would say that the main difference, aside from my own records, it is one of the only records I have been involved with in which I have been a song writer. It is not unusual that when making a record I will bring some song writing or compositional ideas to the table, either in the form of writing and arrangement, or making a suggestion about a song. On this record Suzanne and Lisa came without preconceived notions and really with just ideas about what mantras they wanted to record, what lyrics. So the three of us wrote the songs together, so that I would say is the prominent main difference.
The main difference, aside from my own records, this is the only record I can think of where I have been involved with the songwriting from the beginning, and was a very big part of the songwriting. So that felt like a really different thing, it felt like building it from the ground up.
WC: In working alongside with Suzanne and Lisa to write these songs, what did you learn most from them?
JS: It is interesting, because I think everyone that I work with, in any sort of collaborative process. what happens is that you try, and usually succeed to share your different perspectives on music and music making, and it is a really deeply personal thing, how you hear music, how you hear harmony, or melody. how you weigh and value these things. Working on this record was really a process of learning that part of Lisa and Suzanne, how they saw music. Wherever you go through that process, when you gain someone's perspective, it's an education, because it causes you to reevaluate all of your assumptions, all the things you value, especially the things that you maybe think are not so valuable. I don't think of it in terms of what particular things I learned from them, but more that we attempted in the process of making the record to kind of mind-meld and get a sense of how the others saw music. That is revealing, that is education.
WC: Any challenges that you encountered, how did you resolve them?
JS: This was different in that I was involved as a songwriter from the beginning and on all the songs, and for any songwriting relationship, its finding that common ground, finding what you value and what you don't value, is different at first, because nobody is the same, nobody has developed in music the same way. With Lisa and Suzanne, coming from the classical world, although my early education is classical, most of the work I have done in the past 35 years is in improvised music form, in non-Western music forms. Building that dialog and finding ways of even talking about music was difficult at first, and the resolution was just doing more of it, doing more over and over again. We thought that we would have just a single writing session of about seven days, and we ended up having two, and doing a little bit of writing after those two. I think by the end of that process we found a way of communicating, sort of a way of common ground, musically, that we could use to grow the pieces, the compositions.
WC: What message do you want listeners to get out of Shunia's music?
JS: Aside from the mantras, which I am sure you have talked in great detail with Lisa and Suzanne about, the meanings that lie therein, the thing that I unconsciously or not, end up conveying in a lot of the work I do is that musicians have a huge amount of common ground, regardless of their training, regardless of their tradition. That does not mean that musicians are the same, because they are not, they are distinct from each other, but there is so much commonality in music making, one of the things that I find delightful as a composer, as an arranger, as a producer, is bringing those different perspectives together and seeing what happens. It is always, for me, delightful and enjoyable. I think that extends outside of music, the notion that people from different backgrounds can find commonality, and find transcendence together. I hope that it is a message that resonates with people at every level, not just in music making, but in all of their interactions. I think what is common to us is a lot greater than the ways we find that divide us.
I would like to close with a little more from the article published in LA Yoga (previously quoted, same citation), these are the words of Lisa Reagan:
"So, into this world we went. Together with Jamshied, we created our second album, self-titled Shunia. The music so perfectly sets the mood for each mantra. The musicians Jamshied brought in to play on this album gave a whole other level of intrigue, beauty and magic. The unique ancient instruments they played so skillfully, took us on a journey with every note. It was obvious that they were telling a story with their instruments. On to this rich sonic canvas we were able to lay our voices down. Singing the chants on this album often felt like flying, as if we were singing them on top of those stories that had been told by each musician with each individual instrument.
"One thing is for sure, these songs are definitely not boring. Just the opposite. They are filled with life. The creation of each song and the performance of each musician has filled them with pulsating life and energy. I’m personally so grateful for all the talented players that are on this album. They each brought their own talent, heart and soul to this project and you can hear it on every track.
"This was my prayer and desire for Shunia. The mantras that we are chanting on this album have been chanted for 5,000 years. The intention in each word has a vibrational energy to it, and the language (Sanskrit) is an ancient holy language that carries the seed sounds of humans. I wanted to create music that would lift you up, and give you hope and comfort. Music has the power to do that. I believe it is our most universal and ancient language.
"I feel honored and blessed to have worked with such incredible people to put this album together and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
Share our journey:
#Shunia #LisaReagan #SuzanneJackson #Mantra #NewAgeMusic #HealingMusic #YogaMusic #AwakeningArts #HassanHakmoun #JamshiedSharifi #Breathwork #SaReSaSa #BreezeAtDawn #Alleluia #Akal
Shunia with Hassan Hakmoun: "Har Hare Han Wahe Guru" Mantra for Creativity, with a strong fast-moving energy intended to awaken within you your own creative potential, it opens with a bass solo joined by Hassan Hakmoun's voice dancing through the repetitions providing a powerful delivery of the chant and spiced with subtle electronic effects. The dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of All is dancing within every cell, and is present in every limb.