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World Music and Religion - Baaba Maal's song

The Numen Symbol - World Music, description and definition

NUMEN MUSIC CENTER was started in 1990 after I had felt the need for a place like this for many years. A place where one can find good music - that is, carefully selected and evaluated music - from all over the world.

Jack Donen
NUMINOUS MUSIC is music for those who need to journey beyond the limits of their own culture. But it's more than just that. Numinous music is music played with love and care, with creativity and perhaps with a certain daring. Music that reaches out with the highest sense of mankind's aspirations, to bring us in depth, to new areas of consciousness and awareness. Numinous music is "music for conscious listening". Archetypal experience is what I would hope to be mediating with this music.

NUMEN is a Latin word which means "divinity". It comes from the older Latin word, "nutare", which means to nod, to give one's token of assent.

And what's the connection between the two words? Perhaps the meaning of the word numinous has best been illustrated by findings on the island of Malta, of the figures of gods with loose heads, so that they can nod, and indicate their divine approval. A numinous experience, then, is one in which one senses the closeness of divinity, a divine approval.

And that is just what can happen when we listen "consciously" to good music - numinous music: our awareness is caught up by it - we are caught up by it, brought into the dimensions of feeling and energy embodied by the sounds. Our consciousness is taken along on a musical journey, and there is a sense of both joy and of transformation as it follows a depth and expanse of human understanding that seems divine, while expressed through the medium of the musicians.

The choice of music you'll find in the catalog reflects my own background - my origins in Southern Africa and love of African and rhythmic music, my work with meditation, healing and massage, with depth psychology, with dreams and with fantasy.

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I like so many different kinds of music that I've been forced to look for a common denominator in it all, and what I've found is the numinous quality. Numen means "a divine figure", or "divinity", and the point here is that almost all ethnic music (see my description on this page), is actually religious music, or music that has developed from religious expression in a particular part of the world. As Mory Kante, a modern member of the musical caste in Guinea, West Africa, says: "We griots have a great spiritual power - a spirituality that can serve mankind".

In some parts of the West today we are so unused to open religious expression that we will often experience it with discomfort. As I see it, we in the West use music partly to discharge our more powerful emotions (in rock music), and partly to confirm ourselves in our most sentimental fantasies about love and life in general (in pop music). And then perhaps we listen to classical as a source of intellectual, and perhaps even spiritual sustenance.

All these functions of music are of course legitimate enough. The problem, then, is that we've distorted the balance of the system. So that we get almost none of the valuable supplement to daily life, that music can be - where it's not just emotional discharge or sentimental confirmation, but where it can give everyday life, and us, a sense of value and of meaning.

It's interesting that in the Orient, in the Middle East, for example, and in India, when they sing love songs, the loved one is to be understood as being both the physical person, but also God! So that the well-worn phrase "I love you" suddenly becomes multidimensional and - yes - numinous with meaning

Baaba Maal, modern singer from Senegal, describes his role as musician in the song "The Bird"

I am a bird from the Walo
A bird of the Dieri
I belong to God and to the skies
I'm no farm bird
Offer me a farmyard paved with gold
Or flowing with pure milk
And I will not be tempted
I am the pail that goes to the well
I serve not individuals
But the community as a whole
If you wish to drink
Come draw from me
But take care not to sully the pail
For you will cause hunger and thirst
In a land where water is scarce
What I have belongs
To you, to him, to all of us - African music
Can't you feel my music, African music

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The original Numen symbol
The new Numen symbol
About the old symbol, people used to ask, is it a Jewish star? No - much older. The star is a symbol of the ideal union of the opposites, it's a masculine and a feminine triangle joined together. (Note that symbols must always be understood psychically, psychologically, as qualities, not physically, concretely, as flesh and blood or substance).
And the symbol in the center - the new symbol - is that some kind of Islamic moon? No again. The symbol comes from the alchemy of the Middle Ages:

The moon is the feminine, here in the form of the enclosing womb, from which we are born, as physical, i.e. material beings (mother = mater in Latin, from which comes our concept of the material, as a birth to the physical level, from a more mystical and non-physical place. At birth we materialize!). In the symbol we see the opposite movement, where the physical, the most basic level of existence, is warmed by the alchemical fire, which will transform it to the gold that the alchemists sought to produce - symbolically meaning transformation to a spiritual treasure.

Numinous music is powerful, creative, beautiful. Music that can change you and your consciousness. Numinosity is what I look for in music, and the numinosity of the music is what I, with all my words, try to describe on these pages. The world is full of wonderful music - you'll find some of it here.

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What is this thing called world music? The concept can be understood in many ways. I divide it into 3 categories, and you can find many examples of all three on these pages.

1) Usually in Denmark "world music" means rythmic, especially modern city music, from Africa and Latin America. Gradually this geography is being expanded to include "ethnic" European music, that is, mostly from Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and from there towards the Middle East.

2) World music as "ethnic" music is not necessarily rhythmic. In this category I place the relatively pure versions of traditional music, from relatively well-defined geographical areas, but from all parts of the world.
This can include both more "localised" music, for example played and sung by Native Americans, but also more "classical" music, for example shakuhachi flute played in the Zen tradition of Japan. Or in fact, in my definition, it could include classical European music! They're all parts of smaller or greater cultural traditions.

3) World music as "fusion", or "cross-cultural" music is nothing other than a blend of different traditions. This is where I see the really ground-breaking role of music today. Where musicians move beyond their personal historical and cultural limitations, and, together with other musicians, from other cultural backgrounds, create new ways of being together. For themselves as well as for the listener. The monopoly of TV and the media in making the whole world accessible to us, is broken. So that we can meet the world in a very different way here, a way that's filled with joy, with attention and respect for each other.

So that's what we mean when we say world music. There's lot's of wonderful music in all three categories, and Numen Music Center has, of course, something for you in all of them.

Jack Donen

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