We live in a time of tragedy and upheaval. From global terrorism to the war in Iraq, from the tsunami in Indonesia to the violent storms along the Gulf Coast, the dawn of the 21st century has brought uncertainty and apprehension to every corner of the globe.
Flautist Nestor Torres, a Latin Grammy winner and Grammy nominee, has witnessed this swirl of confusing – and often frightening – world events. Like the rest of us, he has struggled to make sense of it in whatever way he can. Armed with nothing more than his creative muse and his passionate vision for world peace and a heightened level of human understanding, he has crafted a new album that transcends his persona as a mere entertainer and casts him in the role of artist as an agent for change. Dances, Prayers & Meditations For Peace (HUCD 3111) is Torres’ musical appeal to humanity, his call for people everywhere to rise above the petty distractions that separate us and embrace the universal elements that unite us.
Consumed by a mixture of shock and grief in the aftermath of 9/11, Torres traveled to New York City in September 2001 to meditate and perform in various houses of worship near Ground Zero. "It was my intention to be a conduit for whatever energy was present in the city at the time, and channel it into music that could transform grief to acceptance, anger to courage, and despair to hope," he recalls. "From those improvisational performances emerged the songs included in this album."
The journey begins with the highly rhythmic and subtly Middle Eastern-shaded "Human Revolution," a title that has more to do with a change of heart than with the overthrow of political systems. "It’s a song about the change that has to happen from within," says Torres, who revisits this theme with the hip-hop backbeat of "Peace with Myself," a composition that explores peace as an active rather than passive state. "There’s a certain aggressiveness in achieving peace," he says. "It’s about confronting your own sense of self and making peace with that."
The multi-dimensional "Let There Be Light" was initially inspired by a two-week power outage in Torres’ Miami home during the brutal hurricane season of 2005. "You hear classical elements in this song," says Torres. "Then you hear pop, then reggaeton, then Latin. You’re listening to four completely different styles blended into a single cohesive piece of music. It’s diverse, but it’s accessible at the same time."
"Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law" is a cross-cultural piece that was composed for a performance that Torres gave in conjunction with a lecture in Florida by the Dalai Lama. The piece opens with a well known Buddhist chant that segues seamlessly into a blend of Middle Eastern and Western pop sensibilities.
"Dance Because You Can" is a generally lighthearted track built on a solid rhythmic groove, although Torres sneaks in a few poignant passages here and there. "It may seem contradictory," he says. "We grieve, and we face whatever hardships we must face, and then we go dance, because we have the capacity to move on, and it’s important that we do that. I can grieve when I have to, but that shouldn’t hold me back from living my life."
"Medicine Man" is another cross-cultural experience, one that borders on the mystical in its nod to ancient cultures. "I evoke the percussiveness of Native American drumming and Native American flute," says Torres. "But then in the background, I develop a sense of that Middle Eastern, sufi kind of mood. And it all blends perfectly. Here I am, living in a culture at war with another culture, and yet I can merge these two philosophies in a single piece of music."
Torres is admittedly treading on new ground in Dances, Prayers & Meditations For Peace, but he does so with confidence that longtime fans and newcomers will embrace his vision and follow him. "This recording is different from anything I have ever done," he says. "But at the same time, it is the truest and most honest record I have ever made. The essence of Nestor Torres is very much intact, but my entire recording career has led me to this moment. I’m taking off the gloves, I’m taking off the mask, I'm baring it all. This is what I am. The music speaks for itself."