In his hometown near the Kathmandu valley, bamboo flautist Manose Singh remembers purchasing his first instrument for two rupees, from a street hawker. At the time, it shared space in his backpack with a slingshot.
Decades later, the musician known only as Manose has toured the world and mastered genres ranging from raga to samba to Celtic to fusion rock. He’s performed with everyone from bluegrass maestros to children’s choirs to the Doors’ drummer John Densmore, who said, “the sound of Manose’s flutes are the sound of the gods; there is a direct link. If you are open to it, they will speak through him.”
But his most fruitful musical collaboration has been with Deva Premal and Miten, a duo, of German and British descent respectively, that ranks among the new-age genre’s top-selling groups. On no less than 28 albums since her 1997 debut, vocalist Premal has brought ancient Buddhist and Sanskrit mantras to the world-music masses, finding both beauty and healing powers through their intoxicating repetitions.
In most of these releases, Miten—a disillusioned ex-rocker who drifted into meditation and Eastern music—is her partner and bandleader. A 2009 profile in Yoga International praised them as “the Johnny and June Carter Cash of sacred music,” and their fan base includes Cher and the Dalai Lama.
Manose often joins them, both in the recording studio and on their international tours. On Saturday, the trio—aided by three additional musicians—returns to Miami’s Olympia Theater. Earlier this week, from the confines of a Japanese restaurant in Canada, Manose took time away from his busy schedule to speak with me about his longtime relationship with Deva and Miten, and about what to expect at this weekend’s performance.
How did you become introduced to Deva Premal and Miten?
I met them about 14 years ago. I was born in Nepal and started playing the instrument when I was a kid—8 years old. I started playing because the spirit told me to play, and that’s what made me feel good. I was just playing on a simple flute.
By the age of 16 or 17, I had started to travel doing festivals, and going to Europe. I also got to go to the United States when I was 20. I landed in San Francisco, and the yoga boom was happening. People heard me, and they wanted that new sound. I got a call from Miten. They were doing a CD called Embrace. I had no idea what kind of music they were making. I went to this studio, and [soon realized] I grew up around these mantras. For me, to come to the west and listen to western versions—I’m more used to my monk versions—it was eye opening for me.
The music I played was very compatible. We were trying to give peace to people. That’s what I did when I was playing that small flute in the fields of Nepal, with the cows. It was a wow moment for me. We became instant friends.
It sounds like the three of you hope to achieve similar goals through music.
Yes. For me, to meet them, it was like, they’re singing for Buddha, they’re singing for Krishna, they’re singing for Allah, they’re singing for Jesus. It didn’t have any particular boundary. Even since I was a kid, I felt not in one place. I remember being a teenager, and I was very much open to Bahá’í Faith. It brings all the religions together. It doesn’t have any separation. For me, even though I was born right at Buddha’s feet, I don’t feel bounded to one particular organized religion. It was eye-opening for me to meet them and to see the modalities of different healing ways.
How structured are these concerts, and are you able to improvise at all?
I improvise all the time. It’s never been structured. Now we have an amazing band, with Joey Baker on bass, a Grammy nominee; Danish Rishi, a genius drummer; and other amazing musicians. You come in with a song, you have over 2,000 to 6,000 people in the audience, and everyone is included. Music is not exclusive. It’s not about us. We are not separate from the audience. This stressful world … the speed is really killing us. How can we rest? How can we lean against each other in trust? We’re making music as a tool.
For me, my background is in Nepali classical music. It’s all about invoking the spirit. So you’ll hear me, each time, play the song differently. I play in the moment.
Isn’t it more interesting that way than to be a robot and play the same thing every night?
That would make me very bored very fast! As a musician, it’s all about phrasing—how you phrase those notes. Especially music intended to bring peace to your audience. It’s all about how you put that note in a way that fits in perfect alignment.
My goal is to become one with the instrument. There’s no Manose, there’s no Deva, there’s no Miten. It’s become one big ball of oneness. I don’t want to make it too holy-holy, but it’s like if you to a rock concert. You want to feel that catharsis of the screaming and letting go. It comes from our origins from jungle times, when we were hunters and gatherers. We went around the fire and drummed and danced. That’s what we lack in this modern society. I feel, when we are in that place, we try to go there without any alcohol, any drugs.
So is it possible when you listening to your music, especially live, to feel an effect similar to certain drugs—in other words, an expanding of the doors of consciousness?
If you’re open to it, you’ll have an experience you’ve never had before. But you have to be open to it. Because imagine—when do you have a chance to have 1,000 or more people sing together with the same intention? If you’re open to it, it will change your life.
Are the mantras projected behind the band, so we can sing along?
Exactly. The ancient text—these are the sound bites. It’s a very evolved time in a meditation world. All this yoga—it is recognized, people know about it. We also do chants from Africa, the Middle East, in Hebrew. We are recognizing and amplifying the wisdom the last many generations have passed along to us.
People come from all over to see us, and it’s beautiful. We went to Moscow, and 6,000 Russians were chanting with us! I’m an American citizen. To see those intentions of love, you don’t see that on CNN, do you? What you see is the threat—the Russians are trying to get us. To meet the people, we’re all the same. To go to Santiago or Brazil or Japan or India … we all want to feel loved.
You’ve collaborated with John Densmore of the Doors. I happen to love rock ‘n’ roll. But some might say that there is a huge gap between spiritual music and rock music that should not be crossed. How would you respond to that line of thinking?
I don’t feel that way. Because when you go to a rock concert, you want to feel that pulse in that ground. I used to be a rock musician in Nepal. It’s all about feeling life.
The Olympia Theater will probably want to sell a lot of beer on Saturday night, but it sounds like you won’t need one.
But if you want to have one, it’s not a problem! If it helps you. When you go a shaman, they’ll smoke. It makes you feel present, to feel out of that box and into a different place. They smoke to enter a different vibe, not the office vibe or the computer vibe. It’s a different time zone we’re in. So if you feel like drinking some beer, please do!
Deva Premal, Miten and Manose perform “Soul of Mantra—Live!” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Olympia Theater, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets run $35-$108. Call 305/374-2444 or visit olympiatheater.org.