Unlike most musicians of his generation – he was born in 1940 – Robbie Basho was not very fond of psychedelic drugs. LSD, he had tried, but fell off his balcony, after feeling the effect of “Pomegranate on a carpet of flowers”. Also, if this elusive figure of American folk was an important influence on New Age music, especially through one of its most fervent admirers, guitarist William Ackerman, his mysticism belonged only to him; an impossible, delusional syncretism of Far Eastern, Indian and Native American spiritualities which nevertheless made his music absolutely fascinating for those in American sixties and seventies, who were lucky enough to have heard of him.
Guitarist John Fahey, leader of the “primitives” – this movement which intended to recast blues and country in the crucible of minimalism and Indian ragas – was both fanatic of this illuminated from a lost tribe “Of which he was the only member” and allergic to its strange intensity. Undeniably, it is this sweet madness, audible in his indescribable voice of an antediluvian stentor, which makes us the dozen albums which he left us so nourishing. Robbie Basho had become the most die-hard of open tuning masters after his discovery of Indian classical music, but it was his chaotic inner life like no other – which made him speak to spirits during his concerts – that makes his music so deep and universal. Made up of unpublished tapes found by documentary filmmaker Liam Barker, author of a beautiful film about the musician in 2015, in the archives of the Sufi sect he had joined in the latter part of his life, Song of the Avatars takes us in the furrows of one of the most fascinating journeys of the underworld of the Americana, unrolled from the mid-1960s until his death on the table of his chiropractor in 1986.
A multidimensional quest, both virtuoso and archaic, which binds Robert Johnson (If I Had Possession) to the poetry of Omar Khayyam through an oversized musical mandala. The beauties that are concentrated there are incomparable, and will delight both bluesmen apprentices and lovers of the environment in search of slices of music with healing properties. Because if there is no longer any doubt that Robbie Basho’s legacy is immense for American culture, his music is less essential than it infuses and transforms the mind over time, like a gift whispered from the sky, or rather of a human brother tormented and lost in his life and his time, but who had a lot to teach us about the hidden networks of existence. Note for neophytes that a compilation, Selections from Song of the Avatars, avoid getting lost in this labyrinth spread over 5 CDs.
Song of the Avatars : The Lost Master Tapes (Tompkins Square)