In 2008 MC Yogi (Nicholas Giacomini) leapt into the burgeoning fusion of music and yoga with his debut album, Elephant Power, a record rooted in hip-hop but sporting a Ganesha sized, yogic heart.
The music was sprinkled with guests (Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das) from the world of modern kirtan (devotional yoga chanting) and was recorded on a minimal budget. Elephant Power became an instant success and continues to appear near the top of the iTunes World music chart.
While some outside of the yoga world may raise a skeptical eye toward the idea of combining Hindu deities with break beats and rhymes, Giacomini is the real deal. A Northern California kid raised on pop culture, he became mired in a troubled adolescence and managed to be kicked out of four schools by the age of 17.
The graffiti-punk, chasing drugs and stolen cars was suddenly introduced to yoga and experienced a complete self reformation. Through dedicated study and practice of yoga he never lost his love of hip-hop. Giacomini grew into part spiritual warrior, part conscious head and all creative beast.
His follow up album, Pilgrimage, is a musical map and love letter that recounts his travels through India. While searching for the root of yoga in nature, philosophical study, and meditation Giacomini funneled his inspiration into these resonant tapestries. The production value is robust; songs are diverse, meticulously composed and defined with style by a brass section that works overtime throughout the album.
A hypnotic whirlwind of diversity is bonded together by the melodic yet rugged underbelly of dub reggae. Hip hop is the freight train barreling forward, carrying traditional and modern Indian musicians (Mahesh Vinayakram, Karsh Kale) with the added flair of scratching records, samples, sound effects, Banghra, and mantra expanding the rich and colorful palette.
MC Yogi’s lyrical proclamations are uber conscious, focusing on deities, breath, meditation and God, some are explicitly positive. Some are explicitly positive and rigid hip-hop fans may be thrown off by the heady brew Giacomini cooks up, but he is the real deal. Rhyming about personal reality is the embedded ethos of hip-hop and he preaches from the heart of a devotional yoga practice.
No fly-by-night yogi who catches a periodic asana class on tour, he is a dedicated student of the ancient texts, meditates daily, and a teacher and studio owner with his wife, musical collaborator and partner in consciousness, Amanda. Giacomini is committed to following Gandhi’s humble practice of not speaking a word on Mondays. Creativity is the expression of this heart digging deep roots.
The music on Pilgrimage will make you sway, dance, smile, and inquire. The prominent horns are the driving force behind “Ganesha (Sound the Horn)”—a brass declaration that kicks off the album with a flourish. “Born to Fly,” another in the ranks of hopeful, inspired and alarmingly infectious singles, is in line with last year’s one-off release for Yoga Aid, Give Love, which appears at the end of Pilgrimage. These tracks showcase a distinct knack for big hooks that seem to reflect the post yoga state of bliss.
“Hanuman,” released as a preview single is ablaze with horn stabs and a blaring mix of sounds that audibly reflect the claustrophobia of Indian street culture. In praise of the monkey God, this is a sweaty workout that reflects a little Paul’s Boutique era Beastie Boys. “Jai Sita Ram” is a laid back groove with modern kirtan emperor Krishna Das on vocals, and is one of the tracks on Pilgrimage that can be considered a remix of traditional Hindu chants. The rhythm and melody of these intoxicating words tastefully float atop the solid ground of hip-hop break beats.
From their beginnings in 1980′s Brooklyn, MCs have really created improvised mantras, longing for a way out of cultural oppression and poverty, just as they longed for something more than limited day to day experiences. “Throw your hands in the air, wave em like you just don’t care” is not a far cry from “Jai Ganesha.”
“Shedding Skin>Pranam >Sun Light” is a stunning triumvirate of tracks. With Karsh Kale providing the musical structure on “Skin,” Giacomini rhymes in his heartfelt and hypnotic tone. The sonic equivalent of a deep back bend, Krishna’s flute playing appears from the ether and a vulnerable, mysterious and vibrant groove echoes with the eerie refrain “How long must I long?” The groove abruptly falls into ambiance with “Pranam” before organ, violins and brass begin to dance on “Sun Light.” All hope and wonder, this is the very ethos of MC Yogi.
In his integration, MC Yogi represents a generation with limitless influences and big dreams of changing the world. His ability to express a vividly detailed and utterly unique identity is the heartbeat of a new paradigm that calls upon the wisdom of ancient Eastern tradition but stays firmly planted in the creative language of postmodern culture. Through this dialectical pulse we remake ourselves on a Pilgrimage toward consciousness.