Various Artists

Gardens of Eden

by Barbara Flaska


Allow yourself to be whisked away to some of the most beautiful places ever imagined by the music from Gardens of Eden . Surely all who hear this will eventually surrender to the charm of this music. Obviously, much care was devoted to this thoughtful compilation. The result is an enchanting selection of music that flows from regions regarded as natural paradises, from the verdant rainforest to tropical islands, and even Shangri-La. If you long to spend time in a lovely world where all is in balance, or should you desire transportation to extraordinarily beautiful places, even paradise, then the graceful music from the Gardens of Eden may take you there.

Without exception all the selections are stunning, so deciding which to outline becomes a challenge. After listening to the collection many times over many months, a surprising number of songs shifted towards favorite status and those favorites varied from day to day. But this container shaped by words simply cannot hold every rare and beauteous flower for today’s bouquet.

cover art

Various Artists

Gardens of Eden


Ana Rita Simonka is a Brazilian singer and dancer who also heads Sao Paulo’s Arte Simbolo. An arts center focusing on the symbolic relationships between mankind, art, and nature, the Arte Simbolo offers classes in music, dance, visual arts, and biology. On “Mais Filhos de Gandhi” (More Children of Gandhi), Simonka blends the smooth melodies of bossa nova sung in Portuguese with Indian tabla, sitar, and Hindi singing. If you think that might not work beautifully together, best take a listen.

One of the most celebrated singers of contemporary Hindustani vocal music, Shweta Jhaveri began training as a classical vocalist at the age of six years. Her specialty is the khayal , an elegant style famous for romantic lyrical content. Jhaveri composed this song in Hindi in the classical style in rag bageshree , a scale that sets a mood of longing. Accompanied by a quartet of San Francisco Bay Area musicians, the song is drawn from her critically acclaimed album Anahita . “To a Beloved” tells about a woman who asks a bird to bring the message to her loved one that she is singing his name in her mind.

Yungchen Lhamo’s name means “Goddess of Song”. During the same year that the exiled Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Lhamo left Tibet. She made her way with a group of 60 friends, walking for a month across the Himalayas until reaching India. There, in the refugee camps of Dharmasala, Llamo began finding her voice. She soon began performing in Tibetan refugee camps all across India, a vocation she pursued for four years. After applications with several embassies, Lhamo received permission to settle in Australia. The Buddhist Dharma center she attended there asked her to sing the prayers for their meditation sessions. That material found its way into her debut album, Tibetan Prayer .

Soon after, Lhamo was invited join Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld Records and has released two well-received albums through them. Her original album, re-recorded featuring the Gyoto Monks and released as Tibet, Tibet , carried her into the international music scene. She performed at the Day for Tibet celebrations, Carnegie Hall, the Free Tibet concert, and the traveling Lilith Fair. Lhamo has become one of Tibet’s most internationally well-known artists. She also returns to Dharamsala for several months at a stretch to work among the refugees and has set up the Yungchen Lhamo Foundation, a non-profit aimed at funding refugee projects.

Drawn from Coming Home , her second album with RealWorld, “Happiness Is . . .” an original composition by Yungchen Lhamo. “Find your path and follow it,” is the message of this song. “Often, the things we think make us happy have no real meaning in our lives. There is a way of thinking, of living that has meaning, and it is the happiness found on this path that we really should be searching for.”

“Happiness Is . . .” an achingly beautiful song which most certainly will touch every one who hears it. Lhamo’s pure, otherworldly vocals ride above an erhu-sounding cello and steel-stringed acoustic guitar. There are the slightest accents of a deep pulsed drum and a light touch of metal percussion doubling the belled notes of an amplified guitar. As the lyrics end, the song fades with the inspiration of an electric guitar solo. Soaring with sustained notes and echoing with tasteful feedback, all to better symbolize the delightful reverberations that can shake the soul when even contemplating such a journey through life.

Gardens of Eden is an excellent, affordable collection that I can’t recommend enough. In addition to those noted above, this beautiful presentation includes music from New Guinea, Madagascar, Guinea, New Zealand, Hawaii, Costa Rica, and even a track from Big Sur, California. The expansive liner notes include gorgeous color photographs of the musicians and wonderfully informative text.

Yet throughout, the liner notes also remind us there’s trouble in paradise. The very regions we consider as heaven on earth have been subjected to environmental devastation, war, cultural assimilation, and economic distress. Putumayo recognizes it is up to humanity to rescue and resuscitate paradise, by working to create approaches for humans to live in balance with nature. They’ve provided some information on a few of the organizations that are protecting the world’s gardens of Eden. In addition, they’ve provided music to help remind people to imagine a beautiful, perfect world, because thinking about such a world is the first step to bringing such a place into being.

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