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Hidden Meditation Mantras in Pop Music: Enlightening

Paola_Bassanese_itcher_contributorFancy getting a side of enlightenment with your next music download? Did you know that some pop songs are hiding a few interesting messages? I am not talking about subliminal satanic messages; quite the contrary, these songs may even feel uplifting or inspiring. ~ Paola Bassanese
You may think: mantras, meditation, chakra stuff… I’m not into New Age.

Well, fear not. I am not here to promote anything, I am simply fascinated by the power of mantras and how listening to them may have an effect on your mood.

I am obviously not the only one who thinks that, otherwise pop artists wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of adding hidden meditation mantras in pop music.

Of course, I am curious to know why so many music artists have used meditation mantras in their songs.

From The Beatles in the 1960s to rappers in this century, mantras have this tendency to pop up when you least expect them.

Have I triggered a bit of curiousity in you, too?


What Is a Mantra?

Alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra defines a mantra as follows:

The word mantra has two parts: Man, which is the root of the Sanskrit word for mind; and tra, which is the root of the word instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation.

You may also be asking yourself what meditation is.

To summarise the different definitions available, meditation is a practice to induce relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. It quietens the mind and reduces anxiety.

In Buddhism, chanting is the traditional means of preparing the mind for meditation” – Wikipedia

To me, meditation and chanting meditation mantras are ways for your brain to reboot the system, making space in the mind for clearer thinking.


Mantras in Popular Music

When you do a search for pop music with mantras, you get a whole host of results from commercial Bollywood musicals to meditation CDs and podcasts; however, we are not looking for a straightforward source of meditation music or guided visualisation, but a central list of music containing mantras.

This search for mantras in popular music is more like a treasure hunt to find some hidden meanings.

Oh, and then there’s a whole debate about conspiracy theories and brainwashing via hidden messages in music … yawn.

As I was doing research for this article, I found out that Alanis Morrissette‘s brother Wade is a joga teacher, musician and recording artist. Both siblings have been influenced by Eastern traditions including meditation.


Let’s Start with The Beatles

My colleague Roxanne has already talked about The Beatles and her favourite songs.

The Beatles became influenced by Indian music and culture when George Harrison met sitar superstar Ravi Shankar (Norah Jones‘ and Anoushka Shankar‘s father) in 1966.

Shankar wrote music for film including Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy (1951-55) and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982).

The Beatles met guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 and he taught them Transcendental Meditation. Although Maharishi‘s image was tarnished by scandal, The Beatles‘ members continued to practice meditation and credited it with inspiring them to write new songs.

This song contains the mantra Jai Guru Deva Om, which means: “I give thanks to (Maharishi‘s teacher) Guru Dev”.

‘My Sweet Lord’ (George Harrison, 1970)

Before we move on to other artists, let’s stay with George Harrison, who chanted Hare Krishna at the end of his song My Sweet Lord.

He also dedicated a whole song to the Hare Krishna mantra, recorded with the London Radha Krsna Temple.

The Hare Krishna focuses the mind on the pursuit of pure love.

A mantra is a mystical sound vibration”. “It’s hypnotic and it’s kinda nice”. – George Harrison

‘Give Peace a Chance’ (John Lennon, 1969)

John Lennon chanted “Hare Krishna” too in Give Peace a Chance.


More Mantras in Music

‘Be-In (Hare Krishna)’ (Hair, the Musical, 1967)

The musical Hair features a song called Be-In, where the cast chants Hare Krishna.

‘Frowning Atahuallpa’ (T-Rex, 1968)

More Hare Krishna chanting, this time courtesy of Mark Bolan

‘Pastime Paradise’ (Stevie Wonder, 1976)

Pastime Paradise, famously re-worked by Coolio for the Dangerous Minds (1995) movie soundtrack, features chanting by Hare Krishna devotees.

You really need to concentrate as the chanting is layered with the main chorus and goes on in the background (talk about hidden mantras!).

‘Spend a Little Doe’ (Lil’ Kim, 1996)

This song features a Buddhist mantra (nam myoho renge kyo).

Warning: Strong language. (Talk about mixing sacred and profane…)

This leads me seamlessly to another rap artist, also using the same mantra.

‘Concentrate’ (Xzibit, 2006)

Warning: Fruity language.

Non-controversial lyrics include:

Meditate, levitate – Greetings from the Golden State” and “Breath control, touch yo’ soul just maintain don’t lose control”.

The hypnotic rhythm of repeating a mantra works incredibly well with rap.

If you cross-reference the number of beats per minute in Xzibit’s tracks, they are on average 100 beats per minute.

Author Jonathan David Hill (Keepers of the Sacred Chants: The Poetics of Ritual Power in an Amazonian Society, 1993) quoted that chanting is done at approximately 100 beats per minute.

‘Bow Down Mister’ (Boy George, 1990) (Hare Rama, Hare Krishna)

OK, not quite hidden mantras, but here’s a bit of Boy George chanting “Hare Krishna”.

A bit of gospel mixed in with chanting. What’s not to like?

Oh, I thought up of some more connections.

Boy George sang Everything I Own, a cover of reggae artist Ken Boothe.

So, putting 2 and 2 together, I give you: a reggae version of Hare Krishna chanting.

‘This is Soul Kirtan’ (C. C. White, 2011)
‘Govinda’ (Kula Shaker, 1996)

The lyrics contain the devotional chant Govinda Jaya Jaya (aka Krishna, glory glory).

‘Shanti-Ashtangi’ (Madonna, 1998)

Taken from Madonna‘s Ray of Light album, Shanti-Ashtangi is a song composed by Madonna, William Mark Wainwright and William Orbit containing a sanskrit mantra.

Madonna repeats “Om Shanti” which means peace throughout the song.

You can listen to the original sanskrit mantra here.

‘Hallelujah Hare Krishna’ (Pizzicato Five, 1993)

The Japanese 80s band enjoyed a twenty year career globally – their most famous hit was Twiggy, Twiggy which was used in these movie soundtracks:

• Old Dogs
• Charlie’s Angels
• Lightning Strikes
• Ready to Wear

The group also featured in 2002’s Austin Powers movie Goldmember.

Here they combine the Christian “mantra” Hallelujah with an invocation to Hare Krishna, all blended in with a pop-jazz sound.

‘Maha Maha’ (Lana del Rey, 2013)

Maha means ‘great’ and is used in various mantras.


So Many Mantras, so little Time!

Have you enjoyed this quick tour of mantras in music?

Have I missed the glaringly obvious?

Make sure you add your comments at the end of this article.

In the meantime… namaste!

I am Paola Bassanese, and I love twitter – I think in slogans! I am a contributing author at itcher mag covering mainly quirky movies that I like and that I hope you′ll like too. [n-e-x-t] I have written a few books including The Foraging Home Cook, and also write about health and lifestyle for the Huffington Post. I consider myself to be a Londoner even though I was born in Italy. I love 80s music and foreign language films, but I also enjoy going to the opera and ballet.
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