In my weekly Honolulu Advertiser column, What I’m Reading (WIMR), a short selection of my interviews with local ‘notables’ is printed in Q&A form. Sometimes it reflects most of our conversation, but most often I talk with people for longer and ask many more questions. So I’ve decided to begin posting on Literary Lotus the full interviews of select WIMR features, especially those that can only be accessed in the Advertiser archives, starting today with musician Makana. For those of you who’ve asked why longer interviews aren’t printed, you may be interested in the full transcript of our conversation. With some exceptions, these interviews are always fascinating and instructive–it’s one of the most enjoyable ways I learn about myriad ideas and approaches to life…and reading.
Makana’s interview did not appear in the online version of the Advertiser, due to an error by the online staff, and is now only available through purchase in the archives (see link on the right, under the WIMR column to search for it). We talked for about an hour at his Black Point studio apartment (though he is now relocating to the mainland), sweating in the November heat, my ancient tape recorder competing with the turn of the fan blades. The ellipses below represent places where the tape is inaudible. Enjoy.
What I’m Reading | Makana
Published December 24, 2006 in the Honolulu Advertiser
Q&A with Christine Thomas
-What are you reading?
I never read one book, just because I’m a pretty moody person, so depending what mood I’m in… Now I’m reading Rumi: “The Book of Love,” Colin Barks translation. I’ve read other translators but the thing about translating poetry is that you can’t translate it literally because the languages have different ways of thinking.
Then, “The First and Last Freedom” by J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti is a speaker and guides the reader through their own mental process. What I enjoy about the way he guides is that it really is free of associations and assumptions and projections and it really is a clear view into how we think. And it’s amazing, from reading his works I’ve really changed a lot, in a profound way, and it’s affected my whole perception because I’ve become a lot more responsible with my perception and being able to understand the root of my thoughts and the difference of thoughts and feelings, and really understanding love and that love is not a thought or feeling or emotion. The difference of all these things and how they work to serve the way that I see—that’s what I get out of it.
Then, this is like a really awesome book: it’s called “Aikido and the Harmony of Nature,” by Mitsugi Saotome, who is a student of the founder of Aikido. I’ve always been a fan of aikido and I just really am interested in being in harmony with nature, and so their teachings and philosophy are all about transcending the self and separation of man from nature, and just allowing the flow of nature to come through you. That’s what I do when I play music, so there’s a relationship there.
-To try to make that connection more visible?
To function from that connection, to function from that place instead of functioning from the mind, to leave the mind and to function from…allowing action to arise through you. Like when I play music I think it just arises through me because I’m so open to it.
-Are these books you’ve had for a while or are they recent purchases?
I just was walking through Shirokiya and they had this book sale and I was like, oh cool. And then I was turned on to Krishnamurti by a friend a while back and his book “Freedom from the Known”—it really, really had a profound affect on me. This goes a little more into detail. … Some of the things that I pull from Krishnamurti are, like he talks about how our concepts separate us, like we attach to these defining concepts, be it a religion or a diet or a race or a country, a nation, and all of these things are the roots of violence. Even for me after reading Krishnamurti I started to feel like naming something is a beginning act of violence because all of these processes are things that cut us off from the whole, from the one—they separate us. They distinguish identity, and once you distinguish identity that which is indistinguishable disappears. …
-Is that connected to what you get from the other books you mentioned?
All of these books are connected. That’s why they’re all by my bed, too, because playing the game during the day, of you know, success and work and career and all those things, when I lay down I really like to empty of all that because it’s just an illusion, and free myself from the binds of my own motivations and these really bring me to a center. It’s really important for me to center at least once or twice a day, otherwise I totally lose myself. What I love about Rumi is Rumi is just so in love with the one. We fall in love with some part of God, but Rumi’s in love with every aspect and manifestation of god. It’s really ironic because Rumi is from Konia which near where Baghdad is, and with all that’s going on over there in the world, this most incredibly profound and clear enlightened view of love came from that region, and I really love connecting with that—it influences a lot of my work.
It’s really fun. His poetry is really fun. . .(Makana recites some). He talks about going totally the opposite of everything we’ve been taught in society with the media and our culture. Instead of gathering more and more which equates to success in the western view, he’s saying burn, become light and heat—help. That is the deepest inspiration to me, to use your life as a light to help others, whatever your gift is. For me it’s my music.
-Rumi doesn’t offend, he includes; does that connect to your aim as a musician?
It connects to me in every way. I don’t believe in exclusivity or clubs. Like Groucho Marx said, any club that would have me as a member, I certainly don’t want to be a part of. That’s my whole thing—I’m not part of any club, I’m a world citizen. I’m not Hawaiian, I’m not haole, I’m not any of these things. I’m in touch with the whole spectrum because I love the whole spectrum. It’s all about going beyond the five senses. All of these books are really about transcending the information that’s coming through your senses and going to a deeper place of being informed, you know whether it’s your intuition or listening to the voice of god or whatever you want to name it. Determining your reality from a place that comes from inside of you, not from outside. That’s I think the underlying, common denominator of these books.
-Is it difficult to keep that balance in public life?
The challenge that I have in my life and why I turn to books a lot is because I’m dealing with people on multiple levels, you know whether it’s intimately, business-wise, you know bands, and staying centered is really important. Staying centered is not only important for me but it’s important for me to be that for other people as well. What I read is crucial to that process.
-So these books feed the giving process that you see as your music?
Totally. And whatever comes into me through whatever I read comes out through my music. Like my new album is all original lyrics, so like one of the songs, Throwing Stones at a Mirror, was inspired by a Rumi poem. So there’s a direct relationship there. … I never let economics or opinions shape my art. I listen to my heart. That’s I think what sets me apart is that my art is not my means for survival in the sense that it needs to be consumed for me to be. I never have that attitude. My art is my nature. And so it’s not dependent on the end result of how the public receives it. My art is determined by how I interpret the world and my feelings and my perceptions. And so my job is to constantly open, to be as open as possible and inclusive as possible. I want my art to reflect the diversity of the world. That’s why all my albums are different.
-What’s the source of your interest in diversity?
Part of it is a reaction to the history of the industry and how so many musicians are known for one kind of music, and I have a natural ability to play many different kinds of music, so it’s following that nature. But also it’s a deep will to reflect the beauty of diversity in life, and show that diversity isn’t what separates us, it’s what allows us to be. …
-Then by focusing on diversity you’re breaking whatever name or category someone could assign to you?
Well I love freedom; freedom is my passion. I love unpredictability, I love freedom, I love being like the nature of life and life is uncertain. … I love having the freedom of being able to be authentic. That’s really what it is. There’s so much going on inside of me, that if I feel I need to express something I want to have the freedom to do it without being bounded by the listeners mind or expectations. And it’s taken a lot of sacrifice and a lot of years of cultivating the audience to where all they expect is to be touched in their heart, that’s it. They don’t know what I’m going to do. To get to that place is really, really—it’s an effort.
-So music is your language?
That’s what I do. I use music as a vehicle to share about the flow of nature, the flow of life. It’s really that simple. Music is my way of expressing harmony with nature. I wish I could only play music and not do business. I would love it. I love playing music so much—it’s so natural for me, it’s so easy. It’s total Zen for me. It’s completely like my nature. When I’m playing music—that’s it. I’m a tree, I’m a sun. It’s hard to get pulled away to do e-mail or something. To talk on the phone. I just want my guitar. That’s my lover.