I met Ari about 7 years ago at a West African dance class in Encinitas. I was a dance student and he was one of the drummers. Sometimes Ari was in an ensemble of 8 drummers and sometimes it was just him; he would carry the complete beat and energy of the class. I could’ve attended his kirtans or read his book just to support him and thank him for drumming in class. But his music and writing stand up on their own and have been a quality way for me to spend time.
You’re from LA and now live in SD. What’s one thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in SoCal”?
I guess it’s probably people going into retail stores, grocery stores, even the post office with their wetsuits on- myself included! Happens all the time around here…
You frequently lead kirtans (devotional singing.) How were you first exposed to kirtan and yoga? And why have you stayed with it?
I first started practicing yoga in the late 80’s while in college at San Diego State and living on the beach (ocean front) in Mission Beach. We were all surfers and students. Our minds were open and we wanted to strive for greater health and awareness. Kirtan came later, like around the mid 90’s, in Encinitas. It was really rootsy back then, mostly living room gatherings where people in the yoga community shared songs or chants, or a visiting, traveling swami would give a talk or lead kirtan. Because I was a musician, I really loved the merging of music with yoga and devotion, spirituality really. Back then you could smoke indoors, so I never liked performing in smoke-filled bars or clubs. I preferred coffee shops. But this brought a whole new element of music into my life, in a context that was healthy and incredibly inspiring. I loved the idea (and still do) of people gathering and jamming and singing together. [click here to hear “He Ma Durga.”]
You know you’re a musician when…
What’s your favorite instrument to play?
Guitar. It’s so versatile. You can do so much with it, play all different kinds of music. It can pretty much express any mood. And it fits so naturally in your hands. And you hold it close, up against your chest, your heart. It’s absolutely an incredible musical invention.
You published a book a couple years ago. What else is on your bucket list?
My next book! As this whole Ebola outbreak has hit, it’s forced me to think about if my time were to come soon, what would I need to accomplish? And it’s clearly my next book project, which is a compilation of various travel stories, poems and personal adventures. Much of it is already written. It just needs to be compiled, organized, edited and finally published, which could take another couple years. Hopefully not that long.
What are some songs you like so much that you wish you wrote them?
My first thought is almost any Beatles tune (laughs.) Or at least their tunes from the late 60’s anyway. But more specifically I’d say “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” That’s just an amazing song written by George Harrison and it always blows me away. It’s so beautiful and original. Also “Across the Universe” written by John Lennon. And “Tomorrow Never Knows.” That’s such a cool song with lyrics inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Lennon wrote that one, too. It’s really deep and forces me to look at life in a different way. My newest musical project, a Beatles inspired kirtan trio, is named after that song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What else… hmm…”The Wind Cries Mary” written by Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, that’s a really great song and I can totally relate to the feeling of it.
How does your life differ from what your younger self envisioned it would be?
I guess I never thought I’d be such an alternative-minded, creative person living a completely non-traditional life. I surfed from a young age, but it was a more gradual process developing into a musician, vegetarian, spiritually-minded artist, with no children… and still living this way well into my 40’s. I just thought I’d somehow be way more traditional or normal, like a doctor with a wife and kids. Apparently not. But I’ve never wanted kids in my adult life. The world is just too out of control and chaotic for me to think about bringing children into the world and having to be responsible for their safety and well-being.
If you could tell something to your 12 year old self, what would you say?
Surfing and skateboarding are really good for you. Don’t give it up, keep it going. But find a way to earn decent money so you don’t spend the majority of your adult life living like a struggling artist with no money. Don’t go into teaching. Public education is going to completely melt down and you’ll find your degree and credentials virtually meaningless. Seize every positive opportunity. Really focus on your art- prioritize it! Don’t waste time. Don’t slack off, or don’t slack off too much anyway. Stay healthy, vegetarianism is good. Be kind to others, always. Make smart decisions. Don’t be cocky.
What charities do you support?
Amma’s charities. Amma is an Indian Saint who does work for the underprivileged all over the world. I do a lot of music and performance art in support of their charitable efforts. Also various environmental organizations. Museum of Tolerance. Surfrider Foundation.
What is your favorite early morning activity?
Sipping a warm batch of yerba mate (South American green tea) through a bombilla (traditional sipping straw.) This helps me wake up and come into the day slowly and quietly.
Favorite late night activity?
Probably playing music, working on songs. Late night is a great time for creative writing, too. For me anyway. When everybody is asleep somehow I can function really clearly and glimpse moments of transcendence.
Meet Ari in person by hanging out at Leucadia beaches. To get a signed copy of his book, go here: www.echoesfromthesun.com