These days most of us need our daily dose of introspection and spirituality to cope with the trying times. Considering music in itself is therapeutic, what better could be than the music that helps you introspect and connect with your spiritual self? The Ray of Light in these gloomy times comes from Madonna. Her album, Ray of Light, was released in 1998. More than two decades thence, it still remains powerfully evocative with strong mystical undertones in the music and the lyrics. Both, the lyrics and the music, were the products of Madonna’s study of Eastern religions — Hinduism and Buddhism, her embracing Kabbalah and the daily practice of Ashtanga yoga. It was also Madonna’s motherhood album — the first one she composed after giving birth to daughter Lourdes.
Madonna is said to have gone great lengths to prepare for this album. For starters, she identified some of the lesser-known Indian spiritual texts for the lyrics. Take for instance, the Yoga Taravali hymn of Adi Shankaracharya. Madonna used the opening shloka of Adi Shankara’s lesser-known hymn that poetically and metaphorically summarises the highest teachings of yoga. These were the lyrics of the song Shanti-Ashtangi. And when she was told that her Sanskrit pronunciations weren’t up to the mark, Madonna went on to take classes from the scholar from Varanasi, Dr Bhagirath Prasad Tripathi (Vagish Shastri) — the eminent Sanskrit grammarian, linguist and yogi. And she took her classes over the telephone (organised by the BBC) that changed her pronunciations that would put most native Indians to shame.
Madonna collaborated with electronica producer William Orbit for Ray of Light. She wanted to create a sound that could blend dance music with pop and British rock, and by her own admission, she liked Orbit for “fusing a kind of futuristic sound but also using lots of Indian and Moroccan influences and things like that.” The expression was unfortunately clumsy. The sentiment behind it and the album resultant of the collaboration was an indelible upstroke impression on history. Orbit ended up co-producing 12 of the 13 songs in the album, and that gave Ray of Light the unified tonal consistency that created a masterpiece.
So much was Madonna’s commitment to the metamorphosis, that each song had a touch of unique philosophy. If Shanti-Ashtangi was all about yoga and venerating the Guru, Nothing Really Matters was a Buddhist-lite song about living in the moment and discarding the selfish motives of stardom. It is so hard to not believe her in these songs that she sang with the kind of soul that one rarely sees in popular music.
With large dollops of ambient, trip-hop, Middle-Eastern music and Madonna’s vocal genius, Ray of Light brings with it the hope of a better world and renews the power of one’s faith.