“There was something about the way he played his Stratocaster that made it seem otherwordly.” –Eric Clapton on Jimi Hendrix
My sitar flows in 19 bands of light: their names are baaj, chikari, and tarab. Its journey to my hand is a mystery, but its music-medicine came to my doorstep from an old land, gripped me from the eons, and pulled my soul into its orbit. It’s a path unlike any other, bending more than notes. A musician friend and professor said, “Its all angles.”
Saraswati dances, sitar bends, and because I’ve heard its music and felt it in my chest I participate in its step. This step is toward the depths and from them rises a watery siren-song of the fathoms.
Sitar music is a never-ending river, shepherding me to a place close and yet far away. My teacher speaks in common tones and offers up clusters of daring: “Consistency, consistency, consistency,” she says. Her words; the kernel of all learning, teaching, and the core of every guru’s curriculum.
I’ve seen the rivers of India, but I can’t put myself and my sitar on their banks; but once at dusk, on a hot July night, I made my way with this rosewood, gourd, string & steel riddle to the banks of the Salt River in east Phoenix to listen. There, I realized sitar will not accompany me without shepherding along a river of souls.
Looking to the Salt, I could almost see a funeral pyre float past; a desert inspired mirage bobbing with the current, like a lazy raft ablaze in flames, scented smoke and grief trailing behind.
In the desert, and on the Salt, my sitar smelled like burning incense and the hymnody it raised came from an earlier time. In trust, I follow its lead, though I don’t understand.
To play I release any thought of being a musician, for my round orbit needs a bending. I stretch to find an angle I can translate. I see water, move my hand to start over and hope to meet Saraswati.
If I endow my time with consistency, maybe she will open the gates of inspiration and I will find a corner – a crag in the rock – from which to behold the swan and golden orb in waves above her. I breathe deep and stroke the baaj. Tarabs and chikaris raise their vibrations: I hold the waves, and lean into angles.
Citation, The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the guitar-pioneering rivalry that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. Ian Port, Scribner, 2019