Monday, July 12, 2010

Anthar Kharana and Khantara

Five months after DLA Rhythms’ Fiesta Fusion, Head of Press Mark Selby caught up with Anthar Kharana, front-man of the event’s headlining act Khantara. A formidable advocate of enlightenment through culture, Anthar discusses his mission through music, and dreams to help South America’s disenfranchised indigenous people.

“In London you can experience any culture imaginable… suddenly you are in a train or a bus, and it’s full of Indian; African; Chinese people – it’s a thing that will never happen in Colombia. So the dreaming picture I had in my mind became a daily thing that I lived. That was the end of the cycle – that straight away made me go back to my roots; it was like ‘Ah right, okay, so this is it’.”

Anthar Kharana is remembering his first experiences of London’s melting pot of culture, and the new light they shed on his Colombian upbringing. Reared on Latin American and indigenous traditions since early childhood, Kharana hails from a family of musicians, with an upbringing based in the music of rural Colombia. His band, Khantara, is a mesmerising roots act, fusing Arabic and Gypsy influences with different vocal techniques – from mellow female voice to harmonic Mongolian throat singing.

Having spent the last five years travelling back and forth between his native Colombia and the UK, he is now a resident of Bristol - the cultural and artistic Mecca of the UK’s West Country. He considers his mission nothing less than to effect change in his homeland through the universal voice of music.

Colombia is a perfect place to do many things. It’s like raw clay ready to be shaped – just ready to mould,” Anthar says.

“The big difference is that the money situation is very bad. We are in a government that doesn’t really support social development – unfortunately they are mostly focused on the paramilitaries and guerrillas, which means our indigenous people and farmers are the most directly affected people. So if you really want to do something, one of the best things is to be in a country really interested in culture, and really supportive in that way.”

Kharana’s musical traditions are a direct lineage to the indigenous people of Colombia, and fuel for the philanthropic zeal that underlies his music. He speaks of his father, the former member of a Bolero guitar trio, who played a form of traditional music called ‘Papayera’ in front of the cathedral in the town square.

“My father was really keen on preserving the traditions from our town, Ocaña, in north-west Santander. He had a sort of restaurant which he converted into a kind of museum with very old pictures related to the traditions,” he recalls.

“The name of the place was Yamori, which was one of the caciques (tribe leaders) from the Hacaritamas tribe. They disappeared from the map; they were conquered. But I have learned some very interesting things about our traditions over the years. For example, papayera is actually the leftover from a German military band. They left their instruments there somehow, and people got these instruments and then made up something completely different. You can see that the trumpets have the thing to rest the sheet music on, so the traditional brass has that military style.”

Like many rural Colombians, Anthar and his family were forced to move to Bogota due to the violence wreaked by Colombia’s guerrilla groups. There he maintained his links to the indigenous community, working with people with plans to communicate their message and gather all the tribes in Colombia. Simultaneously he continued his process of developing as a musician, remembering the bootleg cassettes he picked up at the Sunday market in Ocaña as the beginning of his fascination for world music.

His ambitions brought him to the UK capital after years of dreaming about the world outside South America – a world where, in his words, “You can make a workshop or attend a performance, and the ideas that you get out of those different cultures are very deep and close... to the point that you actually forget about your own culture.”

“I started Khantara about four to five years ago with a different concept. It was more spiritual, more about finding spiritual connections. But then I started to bring up more traditional elements music-wise, and it became what it is now,” Kharana says.

“What I’m trying to do is to trigger some consciousness. I have come to a point where working for myself has no meaning. I am not working for money, or playing music to give myself publicity. Basically the idea is that I have to say thank you to life for bringing me the opportunity to have met so many interesting people, because that makes the message I’m trying to transfer a little more fluent.”

Anthar Kharana considers Discovering Latin America to be “one of the good branches of focused help” for Latin America’s needy, adding that any possible aid that involves supporting culture – and potentially triggering help for a third party – to be an invaluable support.

“In Colombia, saying that we are working for indigenous people is actually putting up a political position. I personally think that’s the way, because you have to assume the consequences of the position that you are planting. You have to face it as it is, fully,” he says.

“My main project at the moment is creating a foundation to work for the indigenous children and rescue and rebuild the ancient traditions based in art and music in Colombia. The project has different phases, but the dream is to cover the north of Colombia to the south and the Amazon. It will start in the north in the Sierra Nevada.”

For Anthar, response is everything. With Khantara as his vehicle, Kharana’s stage persona is shaman, Hari Krishna and indigenous cacique all rolled into one.

“Normally in the concerts I speak a little about supporting indigenous people and where the music comes from. I’m just encouraging the people to go out and fight, to go and find organisations to help – just find your mission and find the way that you can help, because at the moment the world just needs help,” he says.

“At the last few concerts the response has been amazing. What I’m really happy about is that when people come to me or send me emails it’s about how much they felt when I was talking about the problems. Then, they say, the music comes into context; they finally understand the context of what they are hearing.

“It’s very touching to see how people respond to that. So then for me the music really becomes meaningful – because that’s my meaning you know, that’s what I want. I’m really glad that people are getting in deep. The last two concerts we had in Bristol, people were coming to me and saying you know what, I was just feeling so emotional, I was just feeling like I wanted to cry by the end of it all. I knew it wasn’t sadness but it was just like inspiration – it’s really amazing feedback.

Kharana’s mission, both personal and musical, continues to spiral into ever more complex permutations. But with Anthar now engaged in the formation of a philanthropic organisation to support Colombia’s indigenous population, the importance of London as a link in his journey is clear:

“I really needed to see, to explore, to play, to learn, to develop – until I reached the point where I could go back and see how people really value our culture.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gary McKinnon

Don't forget about this man:

And if you didn't know anything about him to forget, then know about him now! Here!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In with the Nu, out with the Olde

Like me (by 'like', I mean a person of able mind living in London), you might once have been under the impression that you lived in a city of history, culture and community values. I moved back last May after a couple of years in the west country, looking forward to launching myself headfirst into what, from afar, had appeared to be something of a cultural renaissance. Brick Lane was thriving, distilling the froth of London's international and artistic community. Word of mouth recommendations showed me where the best parties were; independent business people and imaginative collectives had set about organising movements that created a sense of celebration and spontaneity. The moment was all that mattered, free of corporate pressure or marketing strategy, profits be damned.

But what with the recent cultural theft of the Spitz, one of London's best and most distinctive independent music venues, and the destruction of Camden's last true historical centre - the Catacombs - I sense an unstoppable and ugly march over what has made London a unique cultural centre for so long. That other bone of contention - the smoking ban - has also been taken too far. Why is it so hard for the authorities to realise that smoking shisha in a cafe is simply not the same as lighting a fag in the middle of a restaurant? I fear it's only a matter of time before Brick Lane loses its distinctive, independently owned coffee shops and restaurants in favour of the likes of Aberdeen Angus and Starbucks. If the Catacombs mean so little in the face of corporate pressure, then what chance does the Truman Brewery stand? The city is losing its soul, anachronism is being ironed out and I'm getting the fear.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


"At the present, our whole thought process is telling us that we have to keep our attention here. You can't cross the street, for example, if you don't. But consciousness is always in the unlimited depth which is beyond space and time, in the subtler levels of the implicate order. Therefore, if you went deeply enough into the actual present, then maybe there's no difference between this moment and the next. The idea would be that in the death experience you would get into that. Contact with eternity is in the present moment, but it is mediated by thought. It is a matter of attention."

- Bohm

Monday, November 05, 2007

Language, the Word Virus

Q: Do you think there is a word for everything? Do you think there is stuff which doesnt have a name yet, or there isn't a word for?

A: I think you have to change the question: words are a replacement for, rather than a reflection of what they attempt to describe. Language is the greatest barrier between us and what we experience: as soon as we put a name to something we change it, and as soon as you start thinking about life in terms of language you negate its objective qualities: its everythingness. Words take on their own identity, ultimately usurping the very thing they were intended to represent. Burroughs called it the 'Word Virus'.

"My general theory......has been that the Word is literally a virus, and that it has not been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with it's human host....The Word clearly bears the single identifying feature of a virus: it's an organism with no internal function other than to replicate itself."

Think about why writing is so effective: is it because the words literally contain meaning, or because of what they stimulate in you? Everyone interprets everything differently, and all language is ultimately inadequate.

So, in a word.

Friday, May 25, 2007

San Agustin and the Mayan Calendar

Short story submission for the Bradt Travel Guides Travel Writing competition 2007

The fire crackled and licked, conversing wordlessly with the crystal messengers in the night sky above. I had gathered the wood myself, erecting a teepee of twigs over a humble candle flame until a ravenous fire took shape. We sat around it under the stars, my teacher Ernesto beating a drum softly, chanting the words of the shamans. His strangely distorted voice echoed out into the darkness as a huge fireball burst across the sky, startling me with its brilliance. It looked like a spaceship crashing to earth; the most unearthly Christmas of my life.

A week earlier I was wandering down a muddy, sun-scorched path to the Pelota archaeological site, blissfully unaware of the surreal turn my journey was about to take. The warm-hearted people and simmering political undercurrent of Colombia had given me a wonderful taste of South America, but it wasn´t until I reached the south that I discovered the place that was to have the biggest impact on me: San Agustin.

An oasis of tranquility, the cosy town´s environs were all dirt tracks, low-lying mountains and elusive, unique archaeological sites: one-of-a-kind in a country with very little indigenous presence. After six days of relaxation I set out on a long walk to the Pelota - a set of standing stones excavated from the neighbouring hillside, daydreaming of Mayan and Inca temples. Arriving lethargic and craving good coffee, I entered the cafe next door and sat beneath the shade of a deck umbrella.

A long-haired guru sat in the shade of the veranda, surrounded by colourful, arcane charts. He glanced in my direction, stood up and lurched towards me with a huge grin on his face holding a chart. "Would you like to know your Mayan sign?" he said, his accented voice musical. "How much does it cost?" I asked cautiously. "Nothing," he said, still grinning from ear to ear. Taking my birthdate, he sat behind his desk intent on some kind of formula, his long hair framing his Hispanic features. I soon discovered that I was Yellow Rhythmic Seed, or ´Uac Kan´ in Mayan.

Introducing himself as Ernesto, the maestro produced various scraps of paper bearing Spanish explanations of my sign´s characteristics. It seemed that this was no mere tourist attraction: this was a place of Mayan study. “You know what the Mayans called themselves?" he asked rhetorically as we sat shaded from the hot morning sun. "Earth wizards. They believe they came to this planet to improve it. In 2012 much change will occur, the Earth is getting ready to do some exercise.”

For the next three hours Ernesto and his companions taught me the workings of the Mayan calendar: the 13 months of 28-day cycles perfectly synchronised with the lunar and solar orbits, the Tzolkin key, the spellwaves of the body and the order of the 20 elemental seals of creation. We invite people to stay with us and learn," he told me at the end of our chat. "Some people stay for seven days, others stay for 28 days. It is up to you." He showed me around the guest cabin: beautiful, secluded and rustic. Unable to resist, I decided to stay a week.

We spent much of the following seven days slumped in hammocks, discussing the Mayan schools´ beliefs; their goal was to reharmonise with the planet by synchronising with the natural cycles of the Mayan Calendar. We collected water, we gathered wood; on Christmas Eve we conducted the fire ceremony, a test of my hunter-gatherer mettle, scattering ashes soaked in sacred oil.

On my last day, Ernesto took me across town to another ranch. He had something important to show me. Making our way up a dirt path we emerged into a small field with rough, ploughed furrows. Ernesto excitedly explained that this was their main project, their path toward self sufficiency. I made approving noises but sensed his disappointment that I didn´t share his enthusiasm; I had been expecting something more than a small patch of farmland – perhaps a crashed UFO.

Later that night, Ernesto announced that we would be watching a documentary about the Mayan prophecies. As we sat waiting for the show to begin, Ernesto appeared behind me. "Would you like to see something interesting?" he said. I walked out onto the balcony and followed his gaze toward a mesmerising light, flashing red, green and blue in the night sky over nearby Pitalito. I couldn´t believe my eyes. "I asked a question at the fire ceremony,” Ernesto said gravely, “that is their response."

I´ll never forget the feeling of that moment, nor the day that I left the ranch, Ernesto´s words echoing in my ears as I walked up the path: "Remember, you are welcome to stay with us. When you decide to return, the doors of the time ship will be open."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Metro Blog Awards

Well, well! Since returning from South America I have been randomly informed by a friend that this site made it to the Brit Blog Awards 07 shortlist for best travel blog! Madness! Especially as no one from the Metro newspaper found the time to inform me; if it weren't for the tip-off I would never have known...

Anyway, watch this space for more on Colombia - you can take the boy out of South America but you can't take South America out of the blog...