Barbara Markay,
Shambhala Dance
(My Thing, 2005)

Shambhala Dance is Barbara Markay's third release, an ambitious new age effort that attempts to blend spirituality, movement and music.

The album embraces spirituality because that is the goal and orientation of the work. In the artist's words, "I did create it with a higher purpose. ... If you simply sway to the rhythms, that can be enough. But I think of this music as meditation with movement. I tried to create a musical atmosphere of intense, vital emotions that are sensual and pulsing, but also meditative at the same time. In addition, I wanted the music to exude a healing energy." She adds, "My intent was to create music that would give the listener a boost in the direction of higher consciousness, whether they know it or not."

Whether she achieved this noble goal is up to the listener. I found the CD a little too scattered to raise my consciousness.

Likewise, the artistic element of movement runs through the CD as Markay's considerable involvement in dance issues forth. A long-time studio musician, she also has been in the music scene as a supporting beam to the efforts of others across a broad spectrum of venues, from singing backup with Bruce Willis's blues-oriented Accelerators to singing the Great Invocation at a gathering at Mount Shasta, a location significant in Buddhist America, for a celebration of the Tibetan Wesak Festival. She has also made her own mark with proprietary works of considerable successes overseas. For example, a European label released her single, "It's Alright," which went to a #17 on Billboard's Euro pop charts.

There is much to delight in her most recent work. While the sum total lacks focus and is somewhat scattered in terms of achieving her stated artistic conceptual theme, it isn't as if it doesn't achieve something. Her words speak of a unifying theme in the liner notes, but the work itself taken as a whole seems a little less cohesive. Still, the album is imminently listenable. My personal favorites are her well-sung "Common Ground" and her version of the "Gayatri Mantra."

Regarding that mantra, did you ever wonder why we call it "new age" when everything about it is generally based in some ancient tradition? Still, there is a touch of authenticity to Markay's efforts. Certainly, the most significant spiritual strain within its bounds is the authenthic voice of Satya Sai Baba, the notable Indian holy man dubbed into Markay's version of the "Gayatri Mantra." Markay was at his ashram and was asked to be the musical director for their annual Christmas play, which included composing music for the event. This is a considerable honor for those who know Eastern philosophy and religion, as Baba is a significant spiritual figure in the modern era.

The voguish practice of attending sankirtans and listening to chanting in Sanskrit of Hindu mantras has ushered in a growing number of musicians who combine elements of Hindu holy music (bhajans, mantras, etc.) with rock instruments and motifs. One such musician is Jai Uttal, certainly one of the princes of such amalgams of rock, electronics and mantras. Markay's mantra version and some other strains on the CD made me think immediately of Uttal, whose work some 10 years earlier is worth noting. I was not surprised to read in Markay's publicity that "Barbara has been influenced more and more by world music artists including Jai Uttal...."

It should, however, be pointed out that mantras being modified should probably be best categorized as bhajans, or songs. For example, a Hindu-oriented site about mantras states: "The Mantras must be recited as they are, without any addition or alteration, otherwise they lose their power & cease to yield the desired effect."

I point this out as a lifelong student of such things. I hate to see the dissipation of the ancient wisdom traditions in the midst of trendy, faddish amalgams in new age packaging combining elements of this and that and watering down what was already perfection. (Consider an infomercial for a Yoga Butt Ballet video with which one is supposed to reduce the size of one's bottom. No kidding! Sheesh!)

On another note, flamenco has become my pick for listenable music to replace the electronic histrionics of rock and jazz. An appreciator of all music, still I can neither eat solely plain Saltine crackers every day nor listen to only one kind of music. Flamenco has emerged as my new rock, my "new hot lead guitarist" to marvel over. The difference? I quickly shut down the flashy rock or jazz guitarist (John McLaughlin, Joe Satriani, etc.) but crave to listen over and over to flamenco. So I am pleased to see the introduction of flamenco onto a work such as Markay's. Kudos for noticing flamenco, Barbara, and including Alberto de Almar on the album. Brilliant, too is the electric guitar work of Tim May. Between May and de Almar, there is considerable enjoyment to be had by the aficionado of a good wailin' rock lead.

Still the CD has little core cohesiveness when listened to objectively, but seems, rather, a smattering of this and a smattering of that. And there is the occasional gaffe in either musical content or continuity. For example, what a surprise, right there at the beginning of the CD is the mandatory electronic jungle noises and low bass drone heard at the outset of so many new age works as to become trite.

This low point in her steadily issuing waveshape is followed by a peak when, shortly thereafter, her marvelous, steady, confident and sustaining voice enthralls and promises more such talented achievements on "Metamorphosis." This album jumps around! One could argue that spontaneity and eclectic blending are in and of themselves creative. But my English teacher, Dirk Kuyk, said once that "creativity without control is nothing." I feel the best gift a critic could give Markay, whose work promises to gratify us throughout years to come, is to consider this motto.

Markay's work is adored by the new-agers, compelling it to No. 3 on the national New Age Reporter charts for a while. And while obviously the work of a talented professional, I would rather see this grouping considered more as a variety of works than supposedly tied to a consistent theme. The observation is that it doesn't come through strongly enough in that regard.

by John Cross
27 May 2006

Buy it from