Toronto-based musician Darren Austin Hall is breaking out of the Southern Ontario cauldron where he’s been cooking up his unique ecstatic improvisational music for years and taking it on the road at the end of April and through May 2015 to destinations in Northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The so-called “Sacred Heart Tour” will allow this local artist the chance to expand his audience and workshop a style of live performance that will play out on international stages in Europe and India next fall.
Hall and I go back a few years, and making music is only one of several interesting activities he’s mastered that make him a kind of spokesperson for the Archaic Revival that Terence McKenna used to talk about, for which Hall’s music is like a soundtrack.
I first met Hall at a weekend consciousness workshop where he led a group eager to learn all about African shaking medicine. This form of ecstatic dance allows adepts to attain a direct connection with the Divine, somewhat akin to the end goal of long-term meditation or other spiritual practices. Hall is a graduate of the two-year training in this led by American shaman Bradford Keeney who, in addition to authoring many books, lived for some time with the San people in the Kalahari Desert. Keeney learned the sacred teachings of the bushmen — who have the longest unbroken shamanic tradition on earth — and Keeney in turn transmitted it to Hall.
At that time Hall was earning a living practicing Chinese medicine, which he also studied extensively, but I noticed a shift in about 2012 or 2013 when Hall ramped up the number of gigs he played performing crystal bowl music and shamanic singing to yoga classes all over Toronto. (At the time I lived in the part of town where these yoga classes were concentrated, and on more than one occasion saw Hall loading or unloading his delicate crystal bowls, wearing his alternative-looking clothing.) Along the way Hall became a certified yoga teacher himself and opened a yoga collective studio with partners.
It was after a trip to India (not surprisingly) that Hall decided to concentrate on his music, and began playing to larger audiences, first in really big yoga studios, then churches and rented spaces. The crowds grew as Hall added electrified acoustic guitar and other instruments such as tanpura and lyre-harp and to his repertoire, and began releasing CDs that were very well received. The live performances include not only music but poetry and wisdom teachings. Hall is a gifted writer on New Age and spiritual themes. (He publishes a newsletter called The Druid to keep in touch with his growing audience.)
With the advent of his Sacred Heart Tour, I decided it was time to talk with this talented individual about his life, his themes, and his new plans.
Guy Crittenden: To start, tell me a bit about your family and childhood. I’ve always wondered what environment formed you into being this interesting dude.
Darren Austin Hall: My folks were amazing in their own right, and wounded like all of us on the other hand. They really gave me space to develop creatively, and all the adversities we faced as a family made me the empowered person I am today. Also, I’m blessed with a twin sister!
Guy Crittenden: I didn’t know that!
Darren Austin Hall: Well that’s a long story! As a child, I had an eccentric proclivity of going into musical trances every night in my bed where I would sing wordless melodies and bang my head on my pillow as a drum. I was always this life-line for some kind of cosmic music! I didn’t know until years later while training with a shaman that I was indeed exploring a shamanic gift!
Guy Crittenden: When did the fact that you were on some sort of spiritual journey occur to you?
Darren Austin Hall: My spiritual path happened with a definitive awakening during my final year of university while writing a mammoth paper on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that exploded my mind with convergences of Eastern philosophy, chaos theory, esoteric mathematics and many other mystical insights. One night in the culmination of a week or so of hardly sleeping and being in utter ecstatic expansion, I stared at water coming from the kitchen tap with moonlight slipping in through the window and wondered at its magnificence and asked who created that? BOOM! An image came to mind of a hermaphroditic magi creating water in their cosmic laboratory and laughing in celebration. That laughter rang through me as my own and in that moment I became aware that each of us has some divine aspect.
Guy Crittenden: Whoa! That sounds like a psychedelic experience, without the drugs. Do you still practice Chinese medicine?
Darren Austin Hall: I don’t practice Chinese Medicine and acupuncture that much anymore as my other endeavours in music and spiritual workshops and retreats have become so consuming. However, the tradition of the medicine will influence me for the rest of my life. I completed a three year diploma in acupuncture at The Institute of Traditional Medicine in Toronto and it was the first step for me on my path of being a healer. The school was wondrous and also introduced me to shamans and native elders from around the world whom I worked with deeply. The Taoist perspective on well-being and reality in general is deeply grounded in natural science and observation and offers salvation for our disconnected-ecological culture at present. The wisdom is timeless.
Guy Crittenden: I recall you mentioning once that you’d studied with some First Nations elders. What became of that?
Darren Austin Hall: I did some serious work for two years with native elders near Toronto, doing sweat lodges, ceremonies and other spiritual disciplines. It was a definite high point on my path as my teachers were really walking their talk.
However, not by mere coincidence, following the emergence of my conviction that this path was going to be the one I walked for the rest of my life, I ran into a conflict with the community that I just could not resolve as I became aware of beliefs in their community around sexuality that I found deeply repressive. Sacred sexuality and healing is very important for me and for all of humanity I feel. Perhaps their path works on it differently but a rift was created that could never mend. I honour and love them still, though. They provided inspiration for an integral part of my evolution.
Guy Crittenden: Tell me a bit about your work with Brad Keeney and the shaking medicine. I loved your workshop years ago and went on to take a workshop myself with Keeney in Connecticut last year, which was awesome. It was so… experiential.
Darren Austin Hall: Bradford Keeney is legendary in my eyes. He was the first shamanic teacher I had who recognized my eccentric musical gifts as part of a shamanic tool set. Moreover, the ecstatic shaking sessions I did with him blew away many ramparts of social conditioning that were keeping my soul’s expression suppressed. So much of the work nowadays is challenging what society has programmed into us. Bradford is a master anarchist and holy fool. He brought bowling over laughter and dancing with the profane into the path for me in true tantric fashion.
My father was South African and African music has always had the most powerful affinity to my soul. The drums, the joyful melodies — it’s so earthbound in a mystical way and vitalizing. I think there’s a reason why European culture has been so fascinated and influenced by Black culture: it rouses us in defiance of outmoded religious norms that have for too long strangled the wildness of soul. If only we could realize this collectively and give the final blow to racism (that is hopefully now being brought so disgustingly to the surface in recent events) to be forever transmuted.
Guy Crittenden: Your newsletter is called The Druid. What’s up with that? Do you relate to the Druids?
Darren Austin Hall: The Druid is the archetype I connect to foremost. In my final year of Chinese Medicine studies, I had to write a paper about the healing traditions of my ancestry, which took me to Wales and Scotland. When I stumbled into tales of these Druids, these ancient bards, healers and philosophers of old, my heart lit up in acknowledgement. My challenge has always been that I’m quite multi-dimensional, if you will. I believe all of us are and there’s so much panacea in the ancient world where humans were often fostered in holistic ways, becoming very well-rounded. It flies against the narrow-mindedness of Western culture that fits people into seeming convenient compartments of ability.
The Druids harnessed all of the gifts I explore and provided salvation for me to witness an ideal to shoot toward.
Guy Crittenden: Cool. I relate to that. In some of my ayahuasca experiences I’ve been visited by a green dragon. It has a very Celtic vibe. I was really focused on the Amazon and going to Peru at that time, but the medicine was telling me to build community and to be of service in the northern world, the land of pine forests. I’m friends now with some interesting people who feel the same way, and are taking action.
So tell me about India. What happened there?
Darren Austin Hall: My trip to India was one of the most special experiences of my life. I traveled with my dear friend, Megan Marie Gates, and the unfoldment of our friendship was so sweet. We primarily went to visit Auroville, an incredibly spiritual community near Pondicherry. It was there that I was quite mundanely playing a spiritual board-game one morning in a workshop and stumbled upon a teaching in the text we were using called sudharma. It’s a sanskrit word that means “following your bliss” as your life path.
It was worded in this way: whatever comes easiest for you, that you are most gifted at, follow it for it will provide the lessons and trials to evolve you best as you will be so captivated to follow it.
In that moment, I had a huge epiphany that I had to give everything to music. When I returned to Canada, I immediately contacted my friend, Stephen Bahnesli, whom I talked to about producing my next album. We worked lovingly through the winter, spring and summer and gave birth to The Tantra of Truth album, which I feel was my first essential statement as an artist.
Guy Crittenden: I love your music, as you know, but I like the original combination of readings and insights and that other stuff you throw in. I assume and hope you have your sights set on reaching a bigger audience now!
Darren Austin Hall: Most journeys start humbly and I’m grateful to all the yoga studios and people who allowed me to play when I was first finding my voice. Now, it’s all evolving so fast. I definitely have big dreams as I feel I’m humbly pioneering both an ancient and innovative paradigm of the sacred musician, where music is shared as a mystical act, integrated with spiritual teachings and story-telling, much as I imagine the bards of old performed. My goal is to definitely reach a global audience as I feel the music pouring through me has important messages for humanity and the music seems to touch something universal in people. Here’s to the sacred music revolution!
Guy Crittenden: Yes! Now I don’t want to leave this conversation without letting readers know how they can experience and buy your music, and learn about the Sacred Heart Tour.
Darren Austin Hall: All my music can be found on my website, www.darrenaustinhall.com, with links where to purchase it. I do most online selling through Bandcamp, which gives a great cut to artists: https://darrenaustinhall.bandcamp.com
The Sacred Heart Tour will be in Canada in late-April into May and then I;ll be playing some dates in Europe and India in the fall. I’ll put up the dates on my website when they’re known.
I’m also just putting finishing touches on a collaboration album with Megan that Stephen has masterfully produced (our first single is on my bandcamp page). This fall I hope to begin work on my next solo album and aspire that it will be very big and powerful. The music just keeps growing so fast and I’m ready to serve the biggest dream possible!
Sacred Heart Tour dates
(If you’re interested in inviting Darren Austin Hall to play other dates and locations, contact him at [email protected])
Sudbury, Ontario at Myoga (www.myoga.ca)
Saturday April 25 — Sacred Music Concert
Sunday April 26 — Restoring Radiance Workshop
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario at Jade Wellness Centre
Monday April 27 5:30-6:45pm: Crystal Bowl Yoga Class
& 7:30-9:00pm: Vibrational Source Sound Healing Workshop
Tuesday April 28, 10:00am: Crystal Bowl Yoga Class for 50+
Wednesday April 29, 7:30-9:30pm: Sacred Music Concert
Thunder Bay, Ontario at Kula Yoga Studio
Saturday May 2 3:30-5:30pm: Meditation in Motion (Gentle Flow) with Jenelle Thacker. Using the breath this class will connect one posture to the next in fluid movements inspired by the sounds of the healing crystal bowls. Class will begin with movements to warm up the spine, hips and all major muscle groups. Then continue with slower deeper stretches to increase flexibility then moving toward a guided relaxation. Enjoy an extended Savasana as Darren creates a healing sound bath designed to align your energy centers.
Sunday May 3 3:30-5:30pm: Yin Yoga & The Adrenal Glands With Pamela Balint. Sitting on top of the kidneys are the adrenal glands which provide immunity, vitality and a healthy stress response. Balance of these glands are critical to feeling rested, energetic, and resilient to stress. We will focus on healing the adrenals through a combined practice of yin yoga and sound healing. Live music will be played to enhance the healing effects of our practice.
Winnipeg, Manitoba at Prairie Roots
Monday May 4 6:00-7:00pm: Crystal Bowl Yoga
7:30-8:45pm: Restoring Radiance
Regina, Saskatchewan at Yoga Mala
Friday May 8 7:30-9:30pm: Sacred Music Concert
Saturday May 9 10:00am-12:00pm: Yoga Workshop guided by Megan Marie Gates with live music by Darren Austin Hall
+ 4:00-6:00pm: Sound Healing Workshop
Sunday May 10 4:00-6:00pm: Restoring Radiance: Sound Healing + Acupuncture + Reiki
Monday May 11 7:30-9:30pm: Sacred Music Concert at 439 Avenue C South (Kevin’s House)
Tuesday May 12 12:00pm: Crystal Singing Bowl Yoga class at Yerrama Yoga Sanctuary
Wednesday May 13 6:00-8:00pm: Vibrational Source — A Sound Healing Workshop at Yerrama Yoga Sanctuary
Friday May 15 7:30-9:30pm in Sacred Music Concert at The Zen Zone
Winnipeg, Manitoba at Prairie Roots
Saturday May 16 10:00-11:00am: Sound & Healing Family Class
7:30-9:30pm: Sacred Music Concert
Sunday May 17 1:00-3:00pm: Vibrational Source Sound Healing Workshop
Thunder Bay, Ontario at Kula Yoga Studio
Friday May 22 – Saturday May 23, details TBA