One of the most interesting metal releases of late is Sanatana’s Brahmavidya. Dedicating an album to “Yoga, vegetarianism, healthy lifestyle, strong family, love of God and harmony with the Universe” may not be the first thing that comes to mind if we speak of Ukrainian metal. Not only is the concept original, the whole of the music, saturated with ethno-instruments and brilliant metal somewhere between black and heavy, is truly spectacular. We caught up with Jurgis by e-mail, for a fairly in-depth digital Q&A. Enjoy and support!
First things first. Tell us something about your musical and/or spiritual background, and how these led up to the founding of Sanatana?
We’ve been interested in the Vedic culture for a while, and it was nearly impossible for it not to affect our musical self-expression! I was always attracted by Eastern teachings, and when I went deeper, studied carefully and in detail, I realized that it is a bottomless well of ideas and inspiration.
What can you tell us about the conceptual framework of Sanatana? It is clearly “Hindu” (Vedic being the proper adjective) oriented, and as far as I can tell quite earnestly meant.
We are fascinated by Vedic culture and traditions, we have brought them as a foundation to Sanatana.
Vedas are the ancient knowledge that could and should be practiced today. And it’s gaining in popularity. Yoga, veganism, vegetarianism, Ayurveda, trance, meditation, many modern people around the world integrate these concepts into their everyday life. Often these ideas are associated with the Indians, but it’s not them who came up with the laws of the universe! This knowledge has always been here, even before the pyramids were built, but in India it has been preserved. Nevertheless not all the people in India realize the value of the culture that they inherited from their ancestors.
You have a background in the black metal milieu. Is it difficult to shift gears from a style of music which certainly is “spiritual” in some sense, but also heavily founded on aggression and negativity, to something perhaps more constructive? Anger and violence are of course very powerful aestetic tools, but must probably be restrained and repurposed for a concept such as yours to be convincing.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter what kind of music it is. We can perfectly express ourselves in various directions and energies! Music may sound aggressive, but bear a meaningful, positive and constructive sense. It is not about the sound, but the ideas expressed in it. And as the saying goes: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
I know that ISKCON has a long history in Russia, reaching back into underground work in the Communist era, but I don’t know what the situation is in the Ukraine. Are you involved with them, or any of their later offshoots?
I have a lot of friends with very diverse background, including those that are members of ISKCON. As far as I can see, the situation in Ukraine is quite acceptable for a lot of spiritual and esoteric schools. Speaking about myself, I don’t belong to any organization, but have a positive attitude towards some of them.
Onto the music. You use many traditional instruments from many different cultures, as far as I understand things. Tell us a bit about them, who plays them and how.
Yes, we used a lot of instruments! And some guest musicians helped us on the album: for example, Shakuhachi and bansuri have been recorded by the master Alexey Shutko – he manufactures them and even does some flute teaching. Also there is a lot percussion, which is mostly performed by myself. I’m also playing sitar, an ancient Indian instrument, you can check it out in one of our videos. Two years ago my wife offered me a djembe, and since then little by little I’ve started to collect various ethnic instruments. I have a didgeridoo, sitar, two djembe, cajón and karatalas.
What musical sources of inspiration have influenced Sanatana? There are traces of everything from black metal (obviously) to world music, folk and heavy metal, but are there specific bands that have helped shaped your sound?
We are often asked about that, but unfortunately it’s difficult to cite something concrete. I don’t listen to music often ,but rather spend more time playing instruments and composing. The only thing I can say for sure is that metal and traditional Indian ragas influenced us a lot.
There are plans to develop the concept of Sanatana beyond being “just a band”. There has been talk of poetry, film and I believe even theater. How far have these plans progressed so far, and how specific are they?
All in all our project is a big organized improvisation. As I wrote earlier, we invited a lot of people to take part in the album creation, and they recorded everything on the first try without any preliminary session. That’s about 60% of the music that was born on the go. It was interesting to observe the process, and after all everybody enjoyed it and is happy with the final result. We have plenty of ideas and Inspiration, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just say that Santana won’t be a typical metal band.
How does something like Sanatana fit with “the scene”, if there is still such a thing in the Ukraine?
I do not know bands similar to ours in Ukraine, we work in several directions: metal and new age. But I don’t think that the absence of a Vedic metal scene is currently a problem. Eventually our music is for everyone. Anybody can discover something for himself and metal stays always metal!
Speaking of “the scene”: do you have any opinion on the state of the international black metal, or metal in general, scene at the moment? Is it still relevant to you?
I don’t really keep an eye on the metal scene, still less in the context of black metal. But I have noticed a great interest in the occult, mysticism and other esoteric ideas among the groups and their audience. Many bands have started to use the “dark” side of Vedic culture: the Goddess Kali, Shiva and even the Sanskrit… I believe it looks quite mystical in a way and understand why people are attracted. But not many of them actually know that Shiva and Kali are projections and parts of the Organic Whole, the Source: Vishnu (Narayana). And if you dig further, you’ll find a lot of interesting things. So I can conclude that the Vedas have become more and more popular, and I’m happy about that!
I assume that live gigs would present a problem for you, given the complexity of your arrangements and the diversity of instruments being used. Still, is this something you have considered? It seems live performance would offer many possibilities to develop your concept in all sorts of directions.
Everything is possible if done with inspiration and desire. Of course it’s too early to speak about any live performances. And it won’t be something easy to realize but we’ll manage.
Is Sanatana, as a band, something you work consistently with, or does it have the character of a project? Will there be fairly regular releases, or will we have to wait a long time for the next album?
We have big plans and a lot of ideas to put into practice! There will be a few surprises and we’ll start working on the next album.
What are your plans, immediate and long-term, for Sanatana?
The plans are to finish the current work, and after… Let’s keep our cards close to our chest for a while.