The last time the
(pick any three above, or invent your own label) band Aradhna played Columbus the room was filled with Ohio State doctors and professors from New Delhi and a few bemused music majors. Last week the band played to rooms full of blissed-out American yoga devotees in Canton and Toledo (who knew? But apparently they exist). And yesterday, in front of 400 people at Columbus’s Xenos Christian Fellowship, the band played to a mixed audience of curious white suburbanites and Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees.
All of them would have seen a strange sight: three white men from the U.S. and Canada who grew up in Asia, equally at home and strangers wherever they travel. It was fitting that yesterday’s concert took place at Xenos, a church named after a Greek word meaning “stranger” or “alien.” I suspect that Chris, Pete, and Travis – the members of Aradhna – understand the concept all too well. Welcome to their fractured world, guaranteed to puzzle and delight every observer. If the sight of Zondervan Jesuses in long robes doesn’t throw you, wait until you hear those sitar runs and wailing vocals that inevitably manage to find the cracks between what Western ears like to think of as “notes.” There is cognitive dissonance everywhere you turn.
There is also great beauty that manifests itself in all kinds of musical and non-musical ways. Chris Hale, who plays that sitar, and who is primarily responsible for the microtonal wailing, is one of the most gifted and humble people I’ve ever met. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the classical music of India and Nepal. But I know a shredder when I see one (a concept, no doubt, that is foreign to one brought up in the mountains of Nepal), and Chris can hold his own with any blindingly fast guitar slinger you’d care to name. He’s also a fabulous singer who can inject a miles-deep soulfulness into every song.
No matter. What he’s primarily interested in is befriending and serving a bunch of disenfranchised people who have recently arrived in the U.S. The worship service that Kate and I attended yesterday morning – the guys from Aradhna and about a hundred dirt-poor Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees – was remarkable in every way, a little foretaste of heaven. The concert was musically satisfying and uplifting and joyous. Believe me, I’ll take that. But the worship service was pure gift, something that was a privilege to witness. I’ve seen a lot of good concerts, and I’m not complaining about yesterday’s. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like the sight of three white men in long robes surrounded by a sea of people singing and dancing.
There was much more. There was a wonderful, hours-long dinner and conversation Saturday night with Aradhna and a group of friends. There was an extended time with Pete and Travis, who stayed at our house and entertained us until the wee hours of the morning. There was the concert itself, which started off with small expectations (50 people if we’re lucky, Travis told me) and ended with friends calling friends, and a laughing, swirling, singing mass of people that filled a large room. And there was friendship – good people Kate and I have known a long time, and new and deeper connections with the band we both love, and new connections with poor but not desperate people who amazed us with their joy and their sense of inclusion and hospitality.
It was a damn good weekend. I’ll have another, please.