Album: Atma Bhakti
Artist: Manish Vyas

Atma BhaktiOver the past decade or two, there has been a tremendous explosion in what has come to known as “world music.” Some of it encompasses a fusion of diverse cultural influences into an international musical melting pot, while others strive to maintain a strict devotion to a particular ethnicity or cultural lineage. The music of Manish Vyas (pronounced Mahn-ish Vi-us) on his latest release, Atma Bhakti, is the latter. While at various points in his long music career, he has played in a variety of musical settings that drew from various influences; here he is maintaining more of a purist perspective with this recording project.


In my interview with Manish, he shared a bit about wanting to uphold the integrity of Indian music. As he describes: “My inspiration is the vision of protecting genuine Indian music using good compositions and good musicians. Nowadays, many people create mantra-music just to make money. So a motivation for me is to represent and keep the legitimate conception of this music and transmit it to those who are still capable to distinguish and appreciate it. I don’t compromise with ‘marketing’. Indian music culture is very ancient and as such, very complex. But I cannot say my genre is only mantras or devotional music. I also sing, play and compose other styles, like Sufi, ghazals, classical music, folkloric music, love songs (in the ‘Bollywood music style’ direction.)”


Manish & Snatam Kaur

Manish & Snatam Kaur

One of his most illustrious projects was his fifteen-year collaboration with world-famous fusion maestro Prem Joshua as they recorded together and toured through Europe, America, India and Asia. In another phase of world travels, Manish joined Snatam Kaur; and a compilation of those concerts was released as Snatam Kaur: Live In Concert. As a composer, Manish’s ostensibly most-notable contribution is to mantra-queen Deva Premal, as he is featured on many of her recordings.  Manish’s remarkable musical abilities have brought him to the eye of world-renowned celebrities in the music field, such as when he had the opportunity to participate in Sir Paul McCartney’s 2002 wedding as part of the Celtic Ragas band.


But whatever style of music Manish is involved in, it always flows from the deep well of his inner being. In his words: “My music is done from the heart, it is hundred percent genuine. I am not commercial in that sense. I am very detailed about everything in a musical piece: that it is balanced, that it has the right spices, the right ingredients – like a good Indian dish. Authenticity is key. Also most of my music is conceived based on what I am going through in my life, my emotions, my experiences, being in love, etc. Like Atma Bhakti, it was born from my state of being, from the most silent stage of my life, an amazing inner growth period. I think that gives a lot of real feeling to the melodies, mood and the singing itself.”


This deep devotion to his spirituality and his artistry has evolved over many years. Manish grew up in family ofa15295_87280ff40f264a5db3b6e4361309128a musicians in Gujarat, India. Music was woven into the fabric of daily life and at the tender age of nine years old, he began to learn to play the Indian tabla drums. One of his teachers was the famed Ravi Shankar accompanist Ustad Allarakha. Manish now also plays also plays swar-mandal (a harp from India), tanpura (a long-necked plucked stringed instrument from India), keyboards, gong, and a variety of bells, in addition to singing and chanting. For Manish, it is impossible to separate his music and his spirituality: “I grew up around Osho and he taught me that music has a purpose, vibration, energy, space, and is not just entertainment. Through the music I try to pass on the space I feel, that I live in, of meditation, silence, grace, joy, bliss, all the way to celebration. So my experiences with Osho are reflected in the music and this is his gift. He was one of the few masters who experimented with both music and meditation. And my other spiritual teacher, Gurudev, had a great musical sense and intuition, so he was a great inspiration as well.”


For a good part of his life Manish was focused on organized meditation groups, ashrams, structured rituals, and the like. However, a couple years ago he explored a different direction, which played a part in the evolution of this music. In his words: “the CD Atma Bhakti happened in a stage in which I discovered more the ‘silent’ approach to meditation or connection to God. Not listening to anyone or following any ritual or technique… simply ‘being’ in silence with myself got stronger as a way of prayer. So this music is the bridge, and I wanted to share it.”


The album is comprised of two multi-sectional half-hour-long tracks plus a separate five-minute piece of chanting. First is “Atma” which means “soul or the divine” and is based on the mantra “mangalam.” Manish says, “There is a very meditative atmosphere in the music.” At nearly a half hour in length, there is more than ample time for the listener to be drawn in and deeply immersed in the mystical musical flow. Listening with headphones and eyes closed I felt like I was merging with something that was very ancient, yet beyond time and space. It flashed me back to the memory of first hearing the music of Ravi Shankar in the late 60’s. It was unlike anything I had ever heard; exotic, alien, the sound of a far away place and time. Yet as unfamiliar as it was on one level, on another it felt like the sound of my soul, and was a key to unlock something deep within my being.


Millind Date

Millind Date

On this track, in addition to chanting, Manish plays swarmandal, tanpura, keyboards, and bells. His beautiful clear vocals were recorded with a bit of echo, which added to the mystical ambience. Manish is accompanied by the haunting Bansuri bamboo flute playing of Millind Date, who also plays on the next track, entitled “Bhakti.” This word means “devotion or worship” and is based on the mantra “shivaya namaha om.” “The track is dedicated to Lord Shiva,” explains Manish, “and the bells have a wonderful effect of bringing the listener into the moment where they are cut off from the world outside and instantly brought into here now.” Opening with the sound of a gong, sweeping harp glissandos, and drones, the effect is transcendental. As the song evolves, ambient synthesizer pads and studio effects on the vocals add to the meditative magic on this nearly 34-minute piece.


The third chapter of this trilogy is considerably shorter at 5 minutes in length. Entitled “Vedic Chanting,” it features Manish on vocals, keyboards, and tanpura, as well as the additional devotional singing of Jay Dave, Krishna Jani, and Snigdha Pious. The intro is quite interesting with its sonic collage of Indian street sounds, chanting, bells, the drone of a tanpura, and more. It reminded me a bit of some of the Beatles studio recordings in their psychedelic period. Once it moved into the main part of the song, it was interesting to hear the music following chord changes, giving it more of a song-like quality in contrast to the extended meditative spaciousness of the first two tracks. According to Manish, “’Vedic Chanting,’ is a very powerful form of chanting done in India by the priests or as a group ritual or prayer.”


As mentioned, this is not music intended for entertainment. Perhaps the word “entrainment” would be moreManish Vyas appropriate. Atma Bhakti is a powerful meditative listening experience that is rich with the sacred heritage of an ancient culture. Manish Vyas is a skilled musician and vocalist who uses his considerable talents and deep spirituality to illuminate this inspirational recording. In conclusion I’ll leave the final words to Manish who shares: “From meditation to celebration, this spectrum is covered in the music I like to do. The music has to have a fragrance of love and devotion. If the understanding of the music and words can come to the listener, it lifts them up. I bow to the magic of the divine sounds. The essence is always peace and thankfulness.”



Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: