The arts uniquely connect hearts to the divine and ease the burden of souls, say musicians Eric Dozier and JB Eckl.
But when Baha’is get together, they say, the community’s otherwise awe-inspiring diversity presents a dilemma: How to craft a shared worship experience?
Enter the Badasht Music Project. Through its recordings, website and visits to communities, Eckl and Dozier aim to nurture a mutual exploration of artistic expression.
“Baha’is are craving a higher intensity level in their activities and a richer worship and community life,” says Eckl.
Dozier concurs, pointing to the “common cultural language of the heart, language of worship” of the church he grew up attending in Tennessee.
“I could go in there and start a song and people understand, ‘It’s OK for me to sing, it’s OK for me to clap, it’s OK for me to say Amen, it’s OK for me to stand up and shout if I want to.’ All of these things are OK and everybody in the room understands that that’s OK.”
Stimulating vibrant worship
The same dynamic has not emerged yet in many Baha’i communities, he says, but it’s not for lack of example from the Faith’s writings.
“‘Abdu’l-Baha says, ‘Lift up your voices and sing out the song of the kingdom. Spread far and wide the precepts and counsels of the loving Lord, so that this world will change into another world,‘ quotes Dozier.
“He tells us to sing. He tells us to shout. He asks us, why are you leaden and dull? Why are you silent?
“Because this is the day of days. This is the great day of the Lord. This is the day that all of humanity is looking for. So you can’t just fold your arms and receive it.”
How, then, do the pair hope to stimulate a more vibrant worship experience?
“When we explain and share these things with the community, we don’t just extemporaneously get up and say, ‘Everybody throw your hands up.’ We incorporate the Word in what we’re doing,” explains Dozier.
“We don’t necessarily know exactly what that is going to look like. But if we proceed from the standpoint of the Word of God, it will look like what it’s supposed to. It won’t look like what somebody thinks it’s supposed to.”
The genesis of the project goes back several years to when Dozier and Canada native Eckl met up in Victoria, British Columbia.
In collaboration with the Baha’i institutions they began to experiment with the arts in core activities.
Capacity ‘nobody was really accessing’
“We went around and bugged everybody … and asked what capacities were out there that we could bring into this thing,” Eckl recalls.
“It ended up being this really cool thing where we found there was a ton of capacity in a small region that nobody was really accessing — people who can paint, people who can sing, storytellers.”
Dozier says they did a devotional where “this guy actually painted a picture as we played and there were quotes being read concerning the arts.”
“You couldn’t take your eyes off the painter,” Eckl adds. “It was happening right in front of you.
“To me that whole original experience that we had in Victoria is still resonating with me as something that we need to carry into the rest of the community,” he muses.
“That was way too good to just have as a little episode of our history. I just wish that every person I know could have been in those rooms.”
They can’t, of course. But Dozier and Eckl are taking the experience to Baha’is every way they can.
Two Badasht Music Project CDs released since 2007 have been the primary resource.
On them are songs that Eckl says you can listen to once or twice and “probably drive around singing.”
“It’s really encouraging when we get emails and Facebook comments from different parts of the world where people are saying, ‘This is what I do during the Fast. I get up in the morning, have my breakfast and then I put on that CD.’”
Legacy of a hundred years
A number of musical genres are represented on the discs. Dozier and Eckl are particularly proud of its rendition of “Benediction.”
The song, written in 1909 in the Protestant hymn tradition by Louise Waite, was well loved by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. “They even sang it in Persia,” exclaims Eckl.
The duo weren’t sure how to approach recording the song for a new generation until Eckl “made this little beat.”
“Eric and I listened to this beat together on the phone and started to rephrase the melody without actually changing any of the notes,” Eckl recalls.
“You can actually feel the last hundred years in the development of the music that we know. It was too good to be true, almost.”
Dozier and Eckl are experimenting with Web delivery of content as well.
A friend uploaded to YouTube a number of guitar lessons on how to play songs from the first Badasht album.
A delighted father later told Eckl his young son begged to get a guitar just so he could learn to play the songs in his youth group.
“The dad was so happy,” says Eckl. “He’d just go up to his [son's] door and listen to him learn how to play these songs.
“It was the coolest ever.”
Unique talents, unique experience
Then there are the visits to communities. Their hope is to uncover the talents that lie within believers — talents that differ in every community and make for a distinct experience in each one.
For economic reasons Dozier and Eckl often pair their Baha’i activities with paying gigs as the roots Americana band Moanin’ Sons.
“The way Moanin’ Sons evolved was we were playing ‘Whither Can a Lover Go’ at a conference and what came out was kind of twangy, it was kind of gospelly, it was kind of rock ‘n roll, it was kind of soul,” recalls Dozier.
“The idea is you can get out there and play blues festivals and bar gigs and church gigs, and not alter your message and not change who you are,” adds Eckl.
“We’ll go out and we’ll sing civil rights songs and Baha’i songs and Bob Dylan or Bob Marley. And it all works.
“And the fact that it’s the two of us” — one African-American, one Caucasian — “playing it together sends a pretty powerful message to people.”
A message akin to what they are telling Baha’i communities:
“We can’t pick and choose. We have to teach, we have to serve humanity, we have to pray as individuals and we have to engage in collective forms of worship,” says Dozier.
“And we have permission to be boisterous and jubilant and vibrant. The writings tell us so.”
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