Goa Gil Interview

Goa Gil is to trance music what Lee Scratch Perry is to dub music. Gil moved to Goa, India in 1970 from the Haight Ashbury, where he'd been a roadie for the Sons of Champlain, one of the earliest acid rock bands. In India, he became the lead guitarist in the local jam rock band in the 70s, and later, in the 80s, helped pioneer a form of DJing using cassette tape edits of electronic body music and early techno brought by European tourists to India. His particular flavor of trance- which combines his spirituality as a Hindu Sadhu and Western psychedelic shaman- is called Goa Trance and is known worldwide. He is always seeking the most cutting edge psychedelic electronic dance music on the planet. At parties, he prefers to DJ all night and into the next day unassisted, with a focus on the spiritual side of the experience for all those gathered. He's DJ'd in more places than one can list, and defines his role as "uplifting people's consciousness." We spoke on the phone as Gil prepared to return to Goa, the place where he spends most of his time.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Goa Gil.

Better Propaganda: How would you explain Goa Gil and the Goa Gil Experience to the uninitiated?

Goa Gil: What I do I call: "Redefining the Ancient Tribal Ritual for the 21st Century," that's been my slogan for many years. I use trance music and trance dance experience to help uplift the consciousness of the people who are participating. Well, you have to go into my whole background- growing up in the Sixties in San Francisco, hanging out in the music scene at that time with all the big names, then going off to India in the end of '69/ beginning of 70, then living with Yogis in the Himalayas, being a musician all my life- and then all of these things came together and kind of gelled into my concept of "Redefining the Ancient Tribal Ritual for the 21st Century." When I come to the party, I first set up my altar, I sprinkle some Holy Water from the Ganges, and say some mantras, make my offering to the cosmic spirit, and then I start the music, and then the whole party and the flow of music is an offering to the cosmic spirit, that the cosmic spirit should come there and bless everyone. I play very long sets, almost 95% of the parties I play, it's just me all night and all day, because it works much better that way, because I have a very individual concept and other people seem to be on a pretty much different trip. I lead the music on through the night and day, to get the vibration where I want it to be and take the people with it. And having so many years experience of doing it, because I started doing this in Goa already even before techno music with other kinds of music, already in the mid-70s I started to DJ in Goa all night and all day after flea market every week, with a kind of similar feeling and concept, although the music was different then. I also had bands in that time and we had live music. Already in 1974 I was called Goa Gil because I was Gil who lived in Goa. And then everything has kind of evolved from there. In the end of the 70s, I got tired of all the old music from the 60's and 70's and whatever, the first roots of techno and electronic body music was coming out at that time, I got turned on to it, got completely into that, and it's been kind of an evolution from that ever since. Although pretty much the concept of the party and how I work the night and day, that's kind of stayed the same.

BP: I've been familiar with your work on a personal level for well over a decade now, and in my mind, you're a figure that is similar in the way Lee Scratch Perry is to dub music, you are to trance music. There's all these young kids now that are coming into the electronic music culture- I mean some of these kids that listen to the music you play were still in elementary school when you were doing this already as 'techno trance' music. Do you think it's important for these kids to have an elder, and then, what is your job as an elder, with the young people coming up through this sort of music?

GG: I don't know about all of that. I know that I just do what I do and I know a lot of people get inspired by it, and I get a lot of emails from people all over the world and after parties, and I get so many people coming up to me, and nearly every party I get somebody who says "it's the best party of their life" and they've never heard music like that in their life and blah blah blah. I think it would be good for people to listen to what I'm putting out there, and see what kind of life I've lived, and maybe take that as an example, but I don't want to force my trip on anybody. And on top of it, there's many kinds of trance out there, it's all a question of taste, it's so individual from each person, you know what I mean, but of course, for some people, I'm sure they're really glad I'm there, a lot of people around the world. Other people probably don't give a damn, you know what I mean, so I don't know. (laughter)

And I'm not trying to be up on a throne. Listen, my gurus wanted me- when I was in India in the early 70's and I did heavy tapasya and yoga sadhana and learned every asana and every pranayama and was raising my kundalini every day and all this kind of things- my gurus wanted me to- you know- they were expecting me to be a guru and come back to the West and bring teaching and this and that. But me, I didn't want to put myself on a pedestal, and I'm up here and you're down there, but at the same time, I wanted to spread the message, and somehow- for me- being a musician all my life, music was the perfect vehicle of transmission. So, one thing led to another and my music evolved and you have what you have today with my concept.

BP: You're a Sadhu, is that correct?

GG: ... Yes!

BP: And you'll be going to Kumbha Mela this year in April?

GG: That's right.

BP: Can you tell us about Kumbha Mela and how that relates to your spirituality and your music?

GG: Well, I go back every year to visit my Gurubhais and people that I've known in India for more than 30 years, I mean, now most of my gurujis have all passed away because, you know, I went to India when I was 18 years old, and I took sanyas in Kashmir from a great swami when I was 18 years old, and then I lived with Yogis in the Himalayas and all kind of thing. And I belong to an akara. In India, they have these... like they're Sadhus, but most of the real Sadhus, who are initiated in a tradition, belong to certain organizations of Sadhus called akhadas. And these akaras assemble when there's a Kumbha Mela. Kumbha Mela is a large religious fair- I mean millions of people usually come depending on which place it's in- it happens in four different places, once every twelve years in each place. So that it means it happens once every three years, the Kumbha Mela, because it revolves around four places and comes back to the first place after twelve years as its gone through the other ones. So on these Kumbha Melas, the akhadas assemble, and new chelas and nagas are initiated, and all of the babas who belong to the akhada come, because the akhada is assembling. So... being a member of the akhada, and knowing all these people for some many years, and I feel like they're my brothers, then it's always a joy to come into Kumbha Mela and meet them all again and stay in the Akhada with them by the fire, and do that trip which I love so much, and I know it so well, and I feel so comfortable in it, because I did it for a long time, and it's really a big part of me, and I couldn't really do everything else that I do without having experienced all that. It's only by the grace of Lord Shiva and my gurujis that I'm able to do the things I'm able to do today.

BP: There's a lot of music at Kumbha Mela, isn't there? There's a lot of drumming and singing?

GG: Oh yeah, all kind of things, I mean it's like a cacophony of all kind of sounds and at some point at some time there's so many loudspeakers coming from every camp with somebody giving a sermon, or somebody playing some holy budgens or this or that or whatever, and sometime all the cacophony kind of blends or melds into one sound, OM like, it's a pretty intense experience. Actually, this Mela this year, the Ujjain Kumbha Mela which is like the third biggest one, you know. The biggest, biggest one is the one that happens at Prayag, which the last one happened in 2001 at Prayag, and that was where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers meet, that's the one in terms of numbers that's the most populated. This one, being in the hot season in the spring and in the middle of India, and this and that, it's not as crowded as the Prayag one or the Haridwar one. The other thing I want to say is that the origin of the Kumbha Mela in mythology is that in the beginning of time, the gods and the demons churned the ocean of milk, and many things came out, including Goddess Lakshmi and the wish giving cow- and so many things- and what also came out was the nectar of immortality. What also came up is poison. And, Shiva drank the poison- because otherwise it was going to burn through the universe- and by his yogic power, he managed to contain it. And then, when this Amrit, the elixir of immortality came out, one of the gods grabbed it and started flying and all the demons were chasing after him, and for twelve years he flew around the world, and four drops of this amrit nectar of immortality dropped out of the thing he was carrying, and they fell in the four places in India where the Kumbha Mela happens. And when the proper astrological configuration comes, for twenty four hours, in the river in that place where the drop fell, the nectar of immortality, the amrita, comes alive again in the river. And that's what the whole Mela thing, Kumbha Mela is all based around, that twenty four hours, that's the big day, and everybody wants to have a bath on that day, because bathing on that day, you're bathing in the amrita, the nectar of immortality, and it has very big purification powers. So that's what the whole origins of Kumbha Mela is.

BP: Just a little more follow up on Kumbha Mela. The cacophony you're talking about there, must have some effect on your trance DJing. Have you played trance music for the people there at Kumbha Mela, and what do they think of it?

GG: Not really.

BP: Not really?

GG: No, I keep those two things separate. Listen, modern life is.... When I went India in 1970, it was a much different place. Many places were like hundreds of years ago, it was like in another time. Now, modern life has come in, and TV and so many things, and India is changing at a rapid rate. And traditions are being... you have to go further and further to find some of the really heavy stuff that was much easier to find in that time. And it's changing enough already, you know, I don't want to be responsible for changing the Sadhus more. I like that tradition, I go there in a humble way, I don't go as Goa Gil, I go as my sadhu name, and I go as a gurubhai, and a chela, and I come in a humble way, to be able to be there with them, and share the energy and gain knowledge and wisdom and live that life. I leave all that western stuff behind when I go there.

BP: It's kind of encouraging to know that someone a lot of people would look up to as an elder like yourself, also has elders that they look to.

GG: Right, of course.

BP: You've played in more countries around the world than you can probably even list off right now, and you've seen more parts of the world than most people will ever get a chance to, and you've been able to survive off of your work and your music, and you've made a fairly big name for yourself in the communities that you interact with. I mean, you are a musician for a living- that is your job- which is pretty rare in the global society, I mean, you are doing this...

GG: Yeah, but I mean, we don't own a house, we don't own a car, we don't have health insurance, we're not part of the system. We live apart from the system, we live between the cracks of the system. And we manage to get by. I mean, I live like I've always lived, like- I don't know- a jet set nomad.

BP: So that was the exact point I'm trying to get to, you're able to live outside of the big corporate structure that pushes music on the populations in the major industrialized world.

GG: I mean, we just get by. I'm not expecting to like... I mean, if you want to call it a living, yeah, it is a living, we have a lot of fun, what can I say, you know? (laughter)

Some people might be scared to live how we live, because they're too worried about security for the future, you know.

BP: Right.

GG: Instead of living in the moment.

BP: In the moment, right.

GG: So that's a big step, you know, that's a big jump. But I started hanging out in front of the psychedelic shop in Haight Ashbury in 1965 when I was like 14 years old, and kind of like the whole thing started... kind of went on from there and it never stopped. You know, and I missed all that- like a lot of my friends- when it became the 80s or late 70s, everybody became yuppies and started to worry about accumulating a lot of things, and whatever, and having a big house and a BMW and this and that, and me, I missed all that. You know, what can I say. (laughter)

we don't need all that shit.

BP: "It's okay, I'm just a Sadhu" he says, "I don't need all that shit"

GG: (laughter) I mean, when it comes along, I use it like a tool, it's okay.

You know, I can enjoy it and use it, but, you know, it's not mandatory.

BP: What is your take on the big corporate structure that pushes music on the world? Is there any way for the sort of experience you have created to fit into a media structure with all of these big businesses and TV?

GG: I don't think so. Me, my thing is completely underground... but the thing is that a lot of the people in trance tried to put what we did in Goa into a... I mean, now some of the people who are supposed big names in trance or whatever- you know- when there was just an underground scene in Goa, they enjoyed it, and then they went back to the West and tried to put it into a box and market it and sell it as the next big thing, you know what I mean, because everybody wanted to make a living off of it and get rich off of it, and you know me... I've always kept evolving, it's always been new sounds and new beats, and for that reason I've stayed underground... even though I have a big name, I still consider myself very underground.

BP: Right.

GG: You know, the parties that I do are very underground. There's not a really big commercial potential in what I do, except that people come on the party and hear the most cutting edge psychedelic electronic dance music on the planet and have this experience and feel this vibe that I'm trying to give, and then it's all over. But people like it so much, and it's so different, that I get asked back to all the places again and again. But because it's such an underground scene, I mean, I'm not making big big money or something, I just usually just make enough to keep kind of chugging along and get by.

BP: It seems really clear that the quality of a spiritual moment, with people in an appropriate setting is far more important to you than anything else.

GG: Yes. That's what's more important, of course. I'm not in it for the money, I'm in it to uplift people's consciousness through the trance dance experience. That's the whole reason I'm into this thing, is because all those things that I learned in India, I felt it was my duty to pass it on by any means possible, and this seemed to be the best means to reach the youth of today. And being a musician all my life.... anyway, that's the way I reach people. In the 70's I used to write spiritual songs and sing and play guitar: "God's Children Are Everywhere", "Mother Earth", "Towards the One", "Welcome In The Dawn Of The New Day", I had so many songs. And then it evolved to bands and then DJing and then into techno and then into what it is today. And you know- what can I say- the Music has always been a medium for the message, and the soundtrack of my Life...

May the Light of Love shine in your hearts and in your minds, and may you always walk in peace, Om Shanti.

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