Mandala is Christian music with a world beat–Indian and Turkish rhythms swirled with jazz, Klezmer and Gregorian chant. Sometimes driving, sometimes ambient, always unique. Christian music with a Sufi groove!
Scott Robinson has studied Greek, Turkish and North Indian music, and studies tabla (North Indian hand drums) with Ustad Shafaatullah Khan. He also sang in a Gregorian chant choir for two years. Andi Hunt is a music therapist, and brings the pure vocal style of Renaissance choral music into her work with Mandala. Paul Butler, a former Jazz Ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, brings years of jazz and Middle Eastern improvisation on the clarinet and sax. Musically, we have been influenced by Gregorian and Vedic chant, modal jazz, klezmer, kirtan, Qawwali, Mevlevi, Alevi and other Sufi musics, though our lyrics are all Biblical or Bible-inspired.
It all began when a Rumi scholar friend sent me a verse he had just translated and asked if I could “do something with it” for an interfaith devotional gathering in his home. I didn’t have much time, so I took a bit of Gregorian chant, added a couple extra phrases and put a rhythm to it, fit the Rumi words to that, floated some chanted psalm verses over it, put a tabla solo under it, and left a place for a horn solo over a repetitive rhythmic zikr on the word Halleluyah in the middle of it. It was more of an assemblage than a composition.
The audience loved it—it remains one of our “greatest hits.” The message was clear: God wants me to write less music. So that’s what we’ve been doing: write simple melodies over drumbeats and drones, float some Gregorian chant through them, and leave plenty of room for spontaneity and improvisation. Bring all the influences in our backgrounds to bear–Gregorian chant, Hindustani music, klezmer, jazz, Renaissance vocal music, European classical music, Balkan folk—and let something grow that, far from being an eclectic hodge-podge, is (if we can believe our audiences) something cohesive, unified and utterly unique. That’s Mandala.