Ben Lee's “Welcome To The Work” – New Release Reflects Profound Inner Journey
Singer/songwriter and recording artist Ben Lee has been obsessed with music and performing since he was a child. No wonder; he comes from a musical family. His great uncle was the official violinist in the Russian court of Czar Nicholas.
As obsessed as he's been with music all his life, he's been equally drawn toward esoteric science – the workings of the human mind and spirit. Together, these have informed the core of all his work.
Perhaps the most significant turning point in his recent career – and one that brings us to his new album, "Welcome to the Work" – was his meeting an Indian avatar – a spiritually enlightened master – in 2003. He is Sakthi Narayani Amma – called Amma (not to be confused with Ammachi, the hugging saint).
Amma told Lee, "To be born into this world is good karma. And the way we repay it is to do service."
"What is your message, Amma?" asked Ben.
For Ben, this required no thought. In the past, the joy and laughter of Ben's music had been ridiculed by more cynical critics. Amma opened the door for Ben to make his expression of joy not just acceptable, but laudable.
"Now, I'm trying to bring my music and my performances closer to my spiritual experience and practice, " he points out.
In no Ben Lee album has this been clearer, or deeper, than in his new release, "Welcome to the Work."
"Welcome to the Work" is a reflection of Lee's spiritual journey with Ayahuasca, the South American vine, known there as the "death vine, or "vine of souls." In their spiritual practice, the indigenous people brew the plant into a tea, which they drink ceremoniously. What ensues is a journey into the depth of the one who's drunk the tea, illuminating the soul's contents, and often facilitating a soaring journey of the spirit. This ritual has existed among the people for thousands of years.
"Welcome to the Work, " refers to the process of discovering what's inside, and the active transformation of turning our darkness into light. That ongoing process of discovery is called "the work."
"I know this is volatile subject matter, " Lee reflects, "but my commitment as an artist is to present who I am, as well as my experience, as authentically as possible. All my work is becoming more consciousness-based."
Each of the tracks in "Welcome to the Work" is a moment in Lee's ayahuasca experience. "One has to be intimately vulnerable to make art, " Lee muses. The depth and breadth of Lee's vulnerability in these moments is apparent on the album.
Ben's learned that some of his fans are ayahuasca enthusiasts. Others have never heard of it but resonate with the energy of the music.
"Ayahuasca" was co-created by Lee and Jessica Chapnik-Kahn, an Argentinean-Australian actress and musician. She is also the female voice on the album, performing as the artist, Appleonia.
"I wanted to make music as a gift to the medicine, " Lee underscores, " in love and gratitude. It's more devotional music than anything else, but not easy listening. It's demanding music, experimental music, just like 'the work' itself is demanding."
Ben chose to crowd-fund the production of the album through pledgemusic.com (http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/benlee). Each pledger receives blog entries and other "insider" perks. "This relationship I have with these pledgers is more meaningful to me than 40, 000 more traditional album sales, " Lee enthuses.
Lee's subtler goal with "Welcome to the Work" is to help break the taboo that exists around these non-ordinary states of consciousness. Tools such as ayahuasca are usually pushed underground.
Among the organizations addressing this issue is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit research and educational organization. Lee is donating half of his royalty income from "Ayahuasca" to MAPS.
The other half is going towards the Amazon conservation team. Ben felt that donating 100% of the album's artist royalties to charity was a way of keeping all aspects of the album's release in alignment with the healing nature of the medicine itself. Ben and his wife, Ione, reside in Los Angeles with Ione's daughter, Kate, and their daughter, Goldie.
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