Surrounded by gentle sounds
In his songs, every note lives its own life and at the same time lives for the piece as a whole. Woschek takes time and allows a note to swell up slowly, and then die away again. His music thus takes on a very spatial effect, so that the listener genuinely feels surrounded by gentle sounds. He himself seems to tremble, in body, mind, and spirit, in harmony with his music while he is singing or playing his many different instruments. With Woschek, even the silence into which he releases the notes – and which is never interrupted by applause – takes on a special significance. He believes that it is an integral and elemental part of the music. „The divine reveals itself in silence,“ he explains.
He brings the various world religions together in his music, and believes that they all exist together as one entity. His repertoire thus includes Buddhist mantras, Gregorian chant, and Indian and Jewish folk music. Despite his spiritual subject, Woschek remains very free, so that his guests can easily be carried along in the joy of joining in the singing.
Interview with Felix Maria Woschek
We are in Felix Maria Woschek’s studio, at the Portuguese Algarve, I see fig trees, roses and honeysuckle. It is a wonderful day, and we enjoy a great view over valleys and mountains.
Kailash: Felix, you are a master of mantric songs and we would like to learn how you have come to make music. What has inspired you to sing these sacral songs that you share with the world on meanwhile 11 CDs, and to walk along this path?
FMW: I started to sing when I was still a child, in the minster choir in Aachen. This gave me deep insights into Western spiritual music at a very early point in time. To sing the works of the great masters and the entire Gregorian liturgy affected me deeply and allowed me to make certain mystical experiences very early in my childhood.
Later, I lost this inner contact, and was put off by the Catholic religious practice. In my youth, I lived through a phase of rock, blues and jazz music and also learned to play the e-guitar – skills that I increasingly use today with my music.
When I was about 22 years old, I was so frustrated of „professional“ music that I quit guitar playing, since I missed satisfying contents.
Then I experienced a phase of serious illness, and for a few years, I struggled with life – and death. In my quest for healing and recognition, I went to India, where I met Sathya Sai Baba . For the first time, I listened to the Indian bhajans, mantric temple songs of devotion that touched me deeply. I bought an Indian reed organ and started to sing these songs myself. I felt as if I had never done anything else in my life, and I felt how this music touched me and healed me. This was, so to speak, the backdoor that brought me in contact with music again – this time without any expectations and overblown pretensions. My only desire was to make music of the heart.
You say you do not want to be a professional musician, yet all your productions are very professional. You invest a lot of energy and time and work with renowned musicians?
Well, to explain what I mean with „professional“ requires me to go further back in time. When I started to make this music, my only desire was to experience joy and to share it with my spiritual friends. Then I recorded my first cassette „Sai Love“ – in a living room and with very simple equipment, and this cassette became an insider tip right away. I invested the money I had earned with this MC to buy a microphone and a four-channel recorder, and the next cassette was produced with more sophisticated means. Today, I have my own 48-track digital studio and work with some of the best musicians of the world. This is the human drive towards perfection. Very early, I had a vision of this music that connects all cultures and religions and sings about the One God who, for me, is Love. Although in the beginning no records label was interested and no music publisher could do anything with „mantric music“, I continued on my path and have produced my music myself.
For more than 20 years, I have developed my own music, and I think I have succeeded in combining the simple devotion of the early days with the highest musical level of quality, leading the audience into an inner space where they can have mystical experiences of the heart. In a way, this was a sort of pioneer work. Today, „mantric music“ is an established musical direction, and there are very nice productions by other musicians.
Among the musicians that have participated in your recordings are famous people such as Ustad Sultan Khan or Alice Coltrane . Maybe you can tell us something about these people and how you have met them?
The stories about how I met these people are extraordinary and funny and I might title them „Meetings with Remarkable Men (and Women)“ , as Gurdjieff did, but that would be going too far. All I want to say is that this was part of my inner vision, and that all of these people have come to me, attracted by my music and the desire for God. The idea to praise the One God in various languages and forms through songs of devotion as well as the inner and outer quality of my music have attracted masters from those individual traditions.
Today, Sultan Khan is the most famous sarangi player in India and a wonderful singer.
The sarangi is the ancient Indian violin, an incredibly soulful instrument. Sultan Khan was a close friend of George Harrison and has made music with him as well as other famous rock, jazz and classical musicians. He is the most ingenious musician I’ve ever met, and a great Sufi master!
How many recordings have you made together?
… and this has evolved into a close friendship over the years?
Yes, we are very close, true Sufi brothers.
In a way, he is the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan of the sarangi.
Yes, and that’s a good keyword. Sultan has been involved in Nusrat’s last recording, before he died, „Pukaar-The Echoe“. I have also played the piece „Pukaar“ with Sultan on my CD „Karuna“. We have always wanted to work with Nusrat and George Harrison, that was a dream of mine, but both died rather unexpectedly. We have dedicated our album „Blessings“ to George Harrison and have also interpreted some of his pieces.
Would you like to also talk about the other musicians in your group?
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda is the wife of the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane and played the piano in his band. Today, she is regarded a realized master and runs her own ashram close to L.A., and she is an exceptionally gifted singer with a wonderful voice. Mirabai Henderson accompanied Mahalia Jackson’s legendary Gospel Train, when she was a little child, and later, she sang with Tina Turner . Her husband Panduranga played the keyboard in Ray Charles‘ band for twelve years, and he is not only a gifted piano player, but also has a very touching voice. As a little child, Sandhya Sanjana learned the classical Indian singing, and later, she also turned to jazz and rock music, as I did myself. This is very uncommon for an Indian woman, and her unusual stylistic variety goes very well with my kind of music.
For me, it has always been the voice that is in the center of my music, and I am very happy to have such a strong vocal group. But I would also like to tell you about the instrumentalists: Raimund Engelhardt has studied the tabla and the bansuri in India for 15 years, and he is also very good with the santoor (dulcimer). Harida Quinteros is from Chile; he is a percussionist and santoor player. Together with Deuter, he was one of Osho’s „court musicians“. There are a lot of other musicians that have been involved in my CD recordings, but these are the ones that belong to my current group. No matter how famous a musician is, the most essential is his or her education of the heart, devotion and humility, and in this regard, all of my friends are true jewels, and I am always very happy to make music with them.
I have been to some of your concerts myself, which was a very impressive experience. You do not only build musical bridges between the worlds, but also create spiritual and even political bridges. For example, on your album „Shalom Salam“ it is Judaism and Islam that come together.
In the past, the various religions have brought a lot of suffering to humanity. That does not mean that religion is bad per se. However, segregation and exclusion, in combination with doubtful morals and the hunger for power have contributed a lot to create a mental immaturity among people, and even today, religions create wars, which grieves me a lot.
My first (female) guru told me: Wherever you see people praying, no matter which language or creed, join them and pray with them. For me, this has been the key. Wherever so-called theologians discuss about God, they do it with their intellect, whose inherent nature is to seek for differences. This has nothing to do with spiritual experience, but with beliefs and with being right, the basic characteristics of the ego. Where we experience community and switch off our crazy monkey mind, where we experience unity, devotion and love, there is truth. Is there anything stronger than music to achieve this? For this reason, I live and experience the innermost essence in music, i.e., I sing Sufi songs with Sufis, Sanskrit mantras with Hindus, and Jewish songs with Jewish people. By making music with them, I quickly understand and experience the essence of their spirituality, without racking my brain on spiritual concepts conceived by some theologians. As I have found out, you can have a very direct experience, if you lead people to the essence through this vibration of the heart, while discussing about Allah, Nirvana or Buddha activates all prejudices and brings us into duality, which leads to conflict.
Music is a bridge between worlds, since you can feel it, but not seize it; it is something subtle and ethereal like fire, the most subtle of all visible elements. You can feel it, but not seize it. In the same way, it is not possible to define God. Music, however, comes very close to this indescribable and intangible quality, due to its presence and strong effect, and so it is a very good means to communicate with God.
Yes, that’s true, but it is also important to be aware that you can only communicate to the outside what you have experienced inside, no matter which medium you use. The depth of your own struggle for truth and recognition is what people feel and what touches them.
Your music is a beautiful means to experience how your presence and intention are transported through your songs and touch other people.
Yes, many people have told me so, and this encourages me to continue on this path.
You have asked me about the political dimension, which, for me, is simply to create peace, and I think that singing and praying together is the most powerful instrument to do so. Once you have prayed to God together and have experienced the unity behind it, it is not so easy to quarrel and fight again, and for this reason, I have tried to bring together two major religions in many of my productions, to tell fanatized people: Hey folks, look into your hearts, all is one, there is no reason whatsoever to quarrel about God.
Besides being musical masterpieces, your CDs are also characterized by great visual creativity and aesthetic design. Are you doing the whole design yourself?
Yes, basically, I do everything myself, from the music to the recordings and dubbing in my studio to graphical design. I get support from a very good graphical designer, but I design everything myself. For me, such a product needs to be a unity, and I can only achieve this by doing the design myself, this is all part of my creative process. I also receive very good feedback from my audience who tell me how much they enjoy the loving presentation. I am always upset to see the unloving and cheap products offered on the pop music market, where so much money is spent.
During the last years, you have given large concerts on the Rainbow Spirit Festival in Baden-Baden. Is this the only event where you give live performances, or can we expect you to give more live concerts in the near future?
I have withdrawn to Portugal to enjoy more tranquility and calmness.
I am sorry to tell you that traveling is very exhausting for me and disturbs my personal rhythm. Giving such concerts costs too much effort. Although I love to share my music with all these people in the concerts, I have not yet found a good, suitable way to do it. But there is all the more music available on CDs. And whoever would like to attend a live concert to listen to my music, may do so on the next Rainbow Spirit Festival on June 7, 2003.
Are you currently working on a new album?
Not really. Having published the two albums „Ganga-River of Love“ and „Jamuna-River of Joy“ , my creative potential has been spent for the moment, and I am not under any pressure to create something new. Those who like my music can choose among my 11 albums, which offer a great variety of music. Currently, I am more of a farmer.
Today, I watched you when you worked with your horses, a totally different part of your life. What does this work mean to you?
For people like me that are doing spiritual work, it is very important to have a good grounding and balance. My means to achieve this are my horses and nature and also my family. Living with horses has many different levels. For example, it is very beneficial and healing to do my „muck-out meditation“ in the morning, which gives me a chance to really understand the essence of duality and transience. I will soon publish a book on this issue. But seriously, horses are wonderful beings; unlike us humans, they don’t need countless satsangs, gurus or therapies to be able to live in the here and now. This is simply their natural way of being, and if I am sensitive enough and perceive them as a mirror that reflects my intentions and adapt to their natural flow of energy, they can help me a lot to become more aware and conscious and live in the presence.
For me, that is much better than hours of meditation or withdrawing to a retreat.
Thank you very much for this interview.
July 14, 2002, conducted by Kailash Kokopelli