Monday, June 30, 2014

Stormy Weather: Amanaska and "Wonder of the Storm"

Storms are something that I'm both fascinated with and frightened by. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved the rainstorms that would blow from the ocean through my northern California town. The wind bent the trees, and the air got thick with water and the smell of conifers. They weren't often thunderstorms, but when a thunderstorm did blow through, then I would get frightened. Occasionally, that huge thunderclap that signaled that a lightning strike was close by would scare the hell out of me. Once, such a lightning strike killed our neighbor's pig. It was those incidents that reminded me of the power of storms and weather.

When I moved to Milwaukee after college, a new element added to my fear of storms.  For the first time, I was in a tornado area.  I remember one night when the television announced that we were under a tornado warning, which meant that a tornado was likely or imminent.  We were advised to get into our basements and so I dragged my girlfriend down into ours and made us stay there until we got the all clear.  Later, when I lived in New Orleans, storms took on an even different and more sinister presence - the hurricane.  I remember my wife and I making the determination to not evacuate in the face of an oncoming category 2 hurricane, only to see it blow up to a category 4 and heading straight for New Orleans.  We went to bed not knowing what to expect, but woke up the following morning to find that it had shifted course, had weakened to a category 2 again, and would pass to the west.  However, the tension was palpable.

I am still fascinated by storms, but the power and destruction they can wreak is incredible.  Even a seemingly innocuous storm can suddenly turn into a demon, like the one that came ripping through Albuquerque two years ago, downing trees and causing widespread damage throughout the city.

Clearly, Simon Lewis was thinking about weather when Amanaska recorded Wonder of the Storm, a down-tempo, mellow and lush piece of music.  Amanaska was started by Lewis in 2001 as a project to explore the mixture of jazz, funk, electronica and what he calls "musical languages from around the globe."  They have released two albums, Panorama and Circles, and have contributed music to collaborative projects and compilation albums, such as the Buddha Bar compilations.  Lewis spends a lot of time in Southern India and records with Indian musicians, which adds to his sense of world fusion.  Amanaska concerts can be a solo Simon Lewis affair, or feature other musicians such as Stephen Joyce, Tania Doko, Lynelle Moran, and Janine Maunder as well as local musicians and dancers.  On their website, Amanaska describes themselves as "a supreme mix of female and male vocals and ethnic harmonies, with beautiful string arrangements, alongside earthy percussive elements and moody hypnotic rhythms and beats."  Wonder of the Storm can be found on the collaborative album Buddha Bar Ocean (2008), by Allain Bougrain-Dubourg and Amanaska.