Ancient traditions world wide have utilized sound as a journey space to induce trance-like states. The Australian Aborigines speak of a heightened state of consciousness known as “Dream Time” in which the mind becomes so focused and clear that revelations, spontaneous healing, and infinite knowledge can be accessed. “Dream Time” is not achieved through sleep but rather induced by the meditations of chanting, drumming, and dance.
Concerts these days could be considered a highly modernized version of our ancient ancestors’ sound rituals, though factors like drug use and intoxication lessen our potential for experiencing these deeper states of awareness. I’ve had many a marvelous time on the dance floor at concerts under the influence, but my most profound experiences have occurred at a different type of music gathering – one that encourages sobriety.
There is a booming global community of music & dance enthusiasts that come together at something called Ecstatic Dance. Ecstatic Dance is a 2-4 hour dance journey where there is no substance use and no talking on the dance floor. This movement journey grants the space for attendees to physically express themselves as they wish, and make any communication without the use of words.
I’ve been to countless Ecstatic Dance communities all over the world that weave their own creative ideas into the dance. Some encourage bringing food to share at the end. Some have a movement or meditation workshop before the dance. There are varying ways each Ecstatic Dance community creates a safe container for radical expression and collective expansion.
A crucial element to the success of an Ecstatic Dance is, of course, the music! I view the DJ’s and musicians leading the dance as a modern-day shaman, guiding us through a progressive journey into the “Dream Time”. Our muses for this season have each created countless hours worth of music intentionally designed to give listeners the experience of breakthroughs, healings, and activations of the body, mind, & soul. Amani Friend of Desert Dwellers & Liquid Bloom, and Patrick Kiebzak of Momentology, are also both frequent facilitators of Ecstatic Dance, and they each produce music that bridges ancient traditions with modern electronics. Below, we hear from Amani Friend.
Shakti Journal: Amani, how would you describe your music to those who have never heard of you before?
My parents owned a metaphysical store in Santa Fe called ‘Sacred Spaces’ in the 80’s. When they traveled internationally for business, they would always take me with them, exposing my young ears to many exotic forms of music wherever we went.”
Amani Friend: Usually I say it’s electronic-based music fused with a lot of world music elements like traditional vocals, flutes, and earthy percussion. Layered and intricate soundscapes that grab your attention and take you on journeys through ecstatic dance and meditative states. Sonic incense for the body and mind. Music beyond borders.
SJ: You are a part of several musical projects – clearly you are a highly musical person. Describe to us your musical foundation.
Amani: My parents owned a metaphysical store in Santa Fe called ‘Sacred Spaces’ in the 80’s. When they traveled internationally for business, they would always take me with them, exposing my young ears to many exotic forms of music wherever we went. My father was also a musician himself, and amassed a massive collection of instruments from all over the world. I began taking piano lessons and participating in youth ensembles starting at age 5, and continued all the way through college.
I remember when my dad took me to the music store in ’88 (I was 12 at the time) and bought me an Ensoniq workstation. It was basically a keyboard with thousands of different sounds and effects, with a built in sequencer. I got hooked on music programming immediately on that Ensoniq, and eventually upgraded to a more fully functional computer music station in ’94.
SJ: After that, how did you foster your interest into something bigger?
Amani: Well, by the time I graduated from college in ’98, I had been focusing my studies on computer music, studio engineering, theory and composition, and world music ensembles. Plus I was playing a lot of didgeridoo and percussion. During my last year of college my mom asked me to make some meditative music for her healing work. The trance music project that resulted was a deep exploration for me, and it eventually turned into the Liquid Bloom project.
Directly after graduating from school I started collaborating with Treavor Moontribe of Los Angeles, a talented DJ and electronic music producer who complemented my background perfectly. The alchemy between us was instant and long lasting. We founded the Desert Dwellers project together in 2001, and our music label Desert Trax in 2005, both of which have generated a long list of incredible collaborations over the years!
SJ: What are your intentions for making music? Do you feel they’ve evolved since you first started?
Amani: During college I was always focused on bridging the ancient worlds of music with the futuristic electronic realms of music, as I found myself to be one part desert-techno raver and another part hippie world-traveler. That initial drive to unite people, bridge worlds, and mix ancient wisdom with the tools of the future has stayed with me and continues to be a central theme in my creative expression.
What’s evolved over the years is my subtle perception of just how important one’s intentions and inner worlds are in the creative process, especially when it comes to creating music that is meant for healing and contemplation. For me this awareness came though my devotion to anchoring in the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and the Bodhisattva vows, which are a dedication to work for the benefit and happiness of all sentient beings. As such, I try my best to create music that benefits people’s awareness, becomes a part of their daily practice, and has a lasting positive impact on their lives.
SJ: So often you provide transformative experiences for others with your music. Can you recall and describe a moment that your music gave you a transformative experience?
Amani: Yeah, actually for the past several months I have been listening to the deep ambient tracks of Desert Dwellers and Liquid Bloom while I meditate in the morning. I’ve just been leaving them on all day long in my bedroom, creating a very peaceful sanctuary to come in and out of throughout my day. The compilation album Vajra Mind is a great ambient soundtrack, as well as the ‘Cacao Ceremony’ set I recorded in Boulder (it’s on the Liquid Bloom SoundCloud page).
I think in general it’s hard for artists to hear their music too much, as we grow quite tired of it by the time it’s finally completed! I think the most transformational experience for me is in the actual writing in and composing process, in getting out of my own way to make room for what wants to manifest through me. I do have a lot of fun playing Desert Dwellers sets though, as I am adding a lot of our earlier vocals, instruments, loops and effects in Ableton live, and it’s very spontaneous and in the moment for me. It creates a psychedelic layer of live textures on top of the DJ set that Treavor is playing, and is part of what makes our sets always a different experience for us and for the audience.
SJ: I see Ecstatic Dance communities as a modern version of our ancient ancestors’ ceremonial dance circles. As a frequent facilitator of Ecstatic dances, can you share some insights that have come from creating journey space for e-dance communities specifically?
Amani: It makes so much sense why these Ecstatic Dance gatherings are so powerful for people. First, it offers them the direct experience of an intentional community gathering, a kind of ritual we have lost in our modern culture yet is so vital to who we are. Second, it nourishes people deeply, allows them the space and freedom to be who they are in their unique way, and offers an important outlet for movement that brings forth full presence and awareness.
I like how deeply people are listening to the music at these dances. It’s a joy for me to prepare 3-hour long journeys for Ecstatic Dance, as it offers a chance to flow through many different moods and styles of music, from deep ambient meditative tracks to very high energy rhythmic tracks at the peak of the dance wave. I love so many kinds of music, so it’s a perfect outlet. The funnest part for me is making it all flow seamlessly as one long journey. Some of my favorites sets have been for Ecstatic Dances!
SJ: Listening to music can be a meditation, but creating the music is an entirely different aspect of meditation. I imagine at times it’s effortless, and at other times more structure is needed to complete songs. What is this like for you?
Amani: When I am actually able to sit down in the studio without any distractions, the creative flow is like an endless waterfall of inspiration that moves through me effortlessly. After a few decades of making music on a computer, my brain is pretty well adapted to manifesting sonic alchemy in that domain. For me, that musical flow state I feel when I am in the studio is like speaking directly to God.
The most challenging factor I face these days to my creative process is the constant touring and traveling for gigs. Creative projects do have their own natural ebb and flow to them, and they come in waves. It’s good to know when to give space, and when to push a project forward, and to be able to multitask many projects at the same time always comes in handy.
SJ: When putting together a setlist for a show, do you choose a theme, or have a basic outline and leave space for improvisation? How do you weave your intention for creating music that you shared with us into each set?
Amani: Well, it depends entirely on what the show is and what the vibe is. Is it an Ecstatic Dance, or a music festival, or club? What other artists are playing, and more specifically, what kind of music are they playing right before me and after me? It’s important to help make the evening flow well! Once you look at all the various factors, you can start creating the journey you want to create.
It’s good to have a plan, but to also have other options on hand in case you have to go a different direction for one reason or another. Some of my funnest DJ moments are not knowing what I am going to play but just getting up there and flowing with the audience and the vibe of the room.
SJ: With so much accessible to us through technology, musicians have more room to expand in the area of performance. How do you envision expanding your live performances in the future?
Amani: We currently offer a version of Desert Dwellers called BEYOND that includes our main vocalist Meagan Chandler, live musicians, stage performers, and aerialists. We have performed this show about a dozen times over the past few years. The last time we performed it in Denver was alongside the amazing Quixotic Circus collective, and we plan to continue working with them. I have also been experimenting with evolving my solo project Liquid Bloom to become more of a live set and include musicians like Poranguî, Kaminanda, and Shaman’s Dream. In 2018 we did many shows together, and we are definitely looking forward to to continuing this exploration in 2019.
SJ: What projects do you have in the works currently? Tell us a bit about the creative process fueling them.
Amani: Treavor and I are currently wrapping up production of our newest Desert Dwellers album called Breath, which is the fourth ‘Elemental’ album in the DownTemple Dub Series after Waves, Flames, and Roots. The concept of the album was to first record a variety of ancient languages and traditional folk songs as the foundation, and then work from there to flush out the tracks. We primarily worked with our main vocalist Meagan Chandler, who sings in 5 different languages, and brought in some other vocal collaborators like Deya Dova, Ricadin, and Madi Sato.
We explored what the concepts of breath and “space” meant to us in all stages of production, from the “breathy” and open way we recorded the vocals, to the spacious and deep effects, which created very cinematic and dynamic song arrangements that take their time to unfold. We wanted the album to go into new stylistic territories for us and be something fresh. With mid-tempo, downtempo and pure ambient tracks, it is much less of an electronic album than our others, and more natural sounding.
SJ: That sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to hear this more downtempo album! What’s on the plate after it’s released?
Amani: Once this album is complete in September, I will then be finishing up a Liquid Bloom & Kaminanda EP. Stephen (of Kaminanda) and I are working on 4 tracks that will also be featuring Poranguî on vocals and various instruments. For this EP we are exploring more upbeat global dance grooves that are fun and lively. We have been enjoying dropping one or two of these tracks into our sets over the summer and they definitely went off at BOOM in Portugal!
Besides that, there is also a remix EP of the Liquid Bloom track Whispers of our Ancestors coming out later this year, featuring remixes from Erothyme, Momentology, Drumspyder, Master Minded, and many others. We are also constantly releasing new music from other artists on our label Desert Trax. So much good music!
SJ: The lifestyle of a traveling artist is one that provides such varied experience. This diversity of experience inevitably brings about wisdom. To close out our interview together please share a few pearls of wisdom that have come to you on your life journey.
Amani: When life gets challenging, come back to gratitude again and again. That, and a good sense of humor! Love is always the right choice. One fully open heart can open many other hearts. Don’t forget to take care of yourself if you are someone who gives a lot to others. Be present with each moment, even if it’s an uncomfortable moment. This too shall pass. In the end, all that matters is how much you loved and experienced. Every one of us will end up taking our last breath some day, so be grateful for this moment, the people you meet, the opportunities you do have, and follow the synchronicity. Collaborate with others – you will often learn something new!
Shakti Journal: Where can our readers stay in tune with you?
Amani Friend: You can find my music and more information about performances and shows at the following sites:
Desert Dwellers: www.desertdwellers.org. We are on SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Facebook as ‘Desert Dwellers’ and Instagram @desert_dwellers_music. We are also on Patreon as ‘Desert Dwellers.’
Liquid Bloom: www.liquidbloom.com. I’m on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook as ‘Liquid Bloom’ and Instagram @liquidbloom.
Desert Trax: You can find more on our label Desert Trax on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook as ‘Desert Trax’ and Instagram @deserttrax.