Mickey Hart - ramu, percussion; Rebeca Mauleo'n - keyboards, vocals; Sikuru Adepoju - talking drum, percussion; Jenelle Burdell - soldido, percussion; Jorge Bermudez - congas, percussion; Bob Bralove - ramu; Guests: Charlie Musselwhite - harmonica; Hamza El Din - vocals, oud, tar; Reya Hart - dancing
For nearly four decades, the Seva health service organization has served people around the world who are struggling for health, cultural survival, and sustainable communities. A Sanskrit word meaning "selfless service," Seva was co-founded in 1978 by Dr. Larry Brilliant, Dr. Nicole Grasse, Ram Dass (former LSD pioneer Richard Alpert), and Hog Farmer and Woodstock icon Wavy Gravy (aka Hugh Romney), along with many dedicated individuals from the spiritual, music, and public health communities in and around Berkeley, California. Seva's fundraising efforts have been directly responsible for restoring eyesight to millions of people suffering from cataract blindness in India, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and throughout the African continent. Seva additionally has created programs to support agricultural and refugee relocation work in Guatemala and helps to combat health issues among Native Americans.
Wavy Gravy has been directly responsible for organizing benefit concert fundraisers in support of Seva's programs, and nobody has been more successful at mobilizing the musical communities than he. One of the most memorable benefits occurred in conjunction with Seva's 20th Anniversary in 1998, when David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, members of the Grateful Dead, Odetta, Iris DeMent, Dan Bern, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Charlie Musselwhite, John Trudell, and various supporting musicians and friends took the stage of the intimate Berkeley Community Theater. Performing several hours of primarily acoustic music that featured plenty of extraordinary collaborations, this benefit, billed as Sing Out For Seva, would not only raise nearly $70,000 for medical aid in Third World countries, but also provide attendees with a musical experience not soon forgotten.
One of the most intriguing and exotic sets of the evening was provided by percussionist Mickey Hart and his Planet Drum ensemble. Hart, along with a couple of choice guests, provided a listening experience unlike any other that evening.
Following Wavy Gravy's introduction, Hart's set begins with his opening monologue, which sheds light on the ambitious first piece performed that evening. Titled "Offering for Luna," this spiritual number was created as a tribute to Julia Butterfly, who at the time of this performance was five and a half months into her two-year protest atop a 180 foot ancient redwood tree (which she named Luna) in Humboldt County's Headwaters Forest. She would single-handedly lead the peaceful protest that put an end to the Pacific Lumber Company's harvesting of ancient redwood trees. A poem that she wrote serves as the lyrical basis of this composition, delivered by Rebecca Mauleo'n, whose haunting vocal glides above the ensemble's percussive groove. One of the elements that make this impromptu performance so intriguing is bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, who provides beautiful improvisational harmonica fills throughout. Although the visual element of Mickey Hart's daughter Reya, who added improvised dance to this piece, is not a factor here, the audio alone remains a deeply moving listening experience as these musicians tap into the spiritual connection between man and nature.
The second and final piece of Hart's set is equally fascinating as he invites the pioneering Sudanese musician, Hamza El Din, to the stage. Twenty years prior, Hamza had paved the way for the Grateful Dead's legendary performances at the Great Pyramids in Egypt and collaborated with the band on a composition titled "Ollin Arageed." Here these musicians revise this traditional Nubian percussion piece with new instrumentation. Originally played only to celebrate first wedding vows, here the piece becomes an improvisational vehicle with Hamza's expressive oud (a lute-like stringed instrument) and vocal leading the way. The first half of the piece is the most melodic, with everyone involved responding to Hamza's lead. Again, Charlie Musselwhite is a standout factor and despite being far out of his usual blues element, he proves what an outstanding musician he is by responding with great sensitivity throughout this piece. Midway through, Hamza switches to tar (a single-skinned hand drum), and as the piece becomes more focused on the percussive groove, it also becomes more seductive and hypnotic, until it fades to a gentle close to end the set. This is a remarkable performance that manages to convey thousands of years of Nubian history into a little over 10 minutes. Traditionally, the oud is an accompanying instrument and before Hamza el Din, the instrument was never used as a lead instrument or for improvisation. This performance is a testament to these musicians, who maintain the integrity of Hamza's traditional musical heritage while innovating and improvising simultaneously.