Mohenjo Daro
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Mohenjo Daro

Band World New Age


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""Rhythm in the City" by Alisha Woolery"

Sitting in a semi-circle in a small room in Sayler Park, surrounded by exotic instruments and their cases, the three members of Mohenjo Daro play hypnotic blends of Indian and Middle Eastern music.

Jim Feist plays the tabla sitting on the floor, his fingers and palms alternating on the drum face in a mesmerizing beat. Next to him is Zach Mechlem, who nimbly picks and strums a guitar, and Johnny Ruzsa, who sways rhythmically while playing his flute. The sounds spin around the room in colorful circles, the music lyrical without the use of words.

Technically, this is called North Indian Classical Music. Its origins are thousands of years old, and listening to it conjures ancient people dancing in faraway places. Feist has traveled to India to learn the complexity of playing the tabla, an instrument steeped in tradition.

This kind of music has no harmony, Feist explains, so the melody and rhythm qualities are richly embellished.

What is created is a layered and often haunting sound that can either urge a listener to his feet or provide a soothing focus for relaxation or meditation. The group brings many world influences to its Eastern-style music, including Hindustani Raga and devotional music, Arabic belly dance and North African trance.

While Mechlem plays the guitar, a banjo-mandolin hybrid or a type of drum known as a doumbek, Ruzsa plays the flute and alto flute. A recent addition to the band, Ruzsa heard Mechlem and Feist playing at the Aronoff Center and was immediately drawn to Mohenjo Daro's style. He played with the group's latest CD "Rajdhani Express," due out in September. Like Mechlem and Feist, Rasza has a diverse musical background that includes rock and roll bands and classical training.

With Ruzsa in the group, both Mechlem and Feist are excited about Mohenjo Daro's future. Their first CD, "Baksheesh," released in 2000, received positive reviews, but Mechlem says this second round of music is a more accurate representation of the group.

"Simply put, it's way better," he said. "We've matured so much as a music group."

One of the songs soon to be released, "Chappelwallah," is rooted in Feist's experience in Bombay when his sandal broke. He took the shoe to a man who fixes sandals, and waited while he quickly patched his shoe. When he went to pay the worker, the cost translated into mere cents in American dollars.

The discrepancy in wealth between Feist, an American, and the Indian man deeply affected Feist, and is translated into an emotive, swaying song. In contrast "Mesmerdo," an earlier composition, is wildly stirring, the music building into a frenzy of dancing notes.

While it might seem odd for a world-music group to live in the foothills of the Ohio River Valley, Mohenjo Daro has found a receptive audience locally, as well as in Canada. They often play at York Street Café, and are experiencing a growing interest from yoga centers.

"We're constantly getting new audiences as we progress," Mechlem said.

With the Sept. 11 attacks and the anti-Muslim sentiments that exploded in the United States, the group members were initially concerned about the reception of their music. Surprisingly, the event actually spawned more interest in Indian music, as people reached out to learn more about their world neighbors. There are no lyrics, no political ideas or religious persuasion. Feist believes it is simply music that stirs something deep inside you.

"What we do transcends politics and religion," Mechlem said.

-Alisha Woolery

- The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Review & Interview by Billy Donald"

Mohenjo Daro is bringing a sound very rare to the midwest United States. The sound of authentic Middle Eastern culture right in your backyard. As the Trio's master Tabla player Jim Feist explained during a recent show before one of the band's new tunes entitled "Rhajdani Express", "imagine yourself on a passenger car on India, taking in the sights of the native land and it's people, close your eyes and imagine the rhythmic sound of the train on the tracks and breathe in the warm air." Throw in some masterfully crafted instrumental pieces featuring the talents of Feist, guitarist Zach Mechlem, and woodwindist Johnny Ruzsa, and you have transcended into the heart of India without leaving your chair. The members of Mohenjo Daro undoubtedly take their music very seriously and have meticulously nailed down the complex time changes and odd passages of middle eastern music, to bring a little of India to everybody.

Part 1 - Interview with Jim Feist
Q: Jim, thank you so much for joining me here for this interview. I wanted to start off by asking you about the origins of Mohenjo Daro. What was it that brought yourself and Zach together initially to form this trio?
A: We had a mutual friend who need "exotic" musicians for a dancer that he was accompanying. He rang me on the tele and said he was coming over with a dumbek player..This was around 1996 and the day I first met Zach.

Q: Mohenjo Daro are somewhat self described as three Rock and Roll musicians who have basically unlearned everything they knew about music and yourselves, and you have let the music guide you down this new musical path. What, to you, is the biggest difference or adjustment between playing the traditional (and non-traditional) middle eastern music from playing in a standard Rock and Roll band ?
A: Rhythmically, there may not be that big of a difference.. A lot of the things we are doing now actually still have somewhat of a "backbeat" or a "frontbeat" The big difference is "listening". Playing this kind of music that we are doing now requires a lot of inter-band awareness at any given moment. If you are a drummer slamming a groove to something in a rock n roll context, you don't even have to hear what else is going on. My listening chops really came into their own when I was playing and studying Jazz-fusion music in the 80's. The band I was in has a site still on Mp3...
There I am playing drums in a power fusion trio.

Q: You have described that the initial reason that you began studying the Tabla was to simply supplement your drumkit playing. What were the circumstances of your first trip to India many years ago? Was it solely to seek out knowledge in middle eastern percussion?
A: Yes it was. But it was to learn exclusively the Tabla. I have always been a fan of anything John McLaughlin has done. I was just digging my teeth into "Birds of Fire" being totally blown away by it, when a friend said "check this out". It was "Shakti", McLaughlins Indian group. I had been interested in Indian rhythm prior to that but that just sealed my fate. Once I found a teacher (by calling indian names in the phone book and saying "Tabla") I fell in love with the art of Tabla and Indian Classical music in general.

Q: You have made several return trips to India to further your studies in the Tabla, and in fact, I know you are getting ready to leave again just days away from this writing. What exactly is the setting like during your studies? Do you study privately with a guru or do you study in a musical dojo-type of setting with many other students?
A: My first trip there in '93, I studied with Ustad Allah Rakkha Khan and it was at his small school in Shivaji park. There were other students there too. Now since he is no longer with us, I study from his best disciple, Yogesh Samsi. These lessons are private and one on one. The setting is...Very very hot, sweat all over, smell of incense in the air, acute awareness of what you are doing (due to no distractions i.e. phone, tv, work ect ect).

Q: Do you still get behind the drum kit from time to time?
A: Hardly ever....I do miss it though.. I had studied from the time I was 11 years old and was totally devoted to Jazz and Jazz-Fusion. There were very few people to play style of music in Cincinnati at that time.

Q: If I'm not mistaken, I believe that Mohenjo Daro has just finished a new album? When and where will the new CD be available for purchase?
A: I think the international release date is February. You can check by going to the label's website.

Q: Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to join me here for this interview. I sincerely wish you the best of luck with Mohenjo Daro and your Tabla studies. Are there any other projects you have lined up after your return in a few months?
A: Thank you Billy for putting me in the same company with the very best players on the planet. It was an honor to do this interview. I have a solo c.d. that will be released that I will have to put a band together for... On mp3 it is
Part 2 - Interview with Zach Mechlem
Q: Zach, thank you very much for joining me here for this interview! In my earlier interview with Jim, I asked him about the roots of Mohenjo Daro, and how the trio was born. What do you remember about how Mohenjo Daro came to be?
A: I first met Jim through Brian Gomien, founder of Mohenjo Daro. Brian was hired by a Kabuki/Modern Dance performer named Marc Morozumi to gather two other drummers to supply a percussive backdrop for his dance piece, "Twins Seperated By Time". It was performed at the christening of the Aronoff Center for the Arts in Downtown Cincinnati. The performance went great and the chemistry between the three musicians was incredible so we continued working together until we worked up a live set.

Q: You actually have been rooted for many years in this genre of music. At a very young age, your mother was a belly dancer, so you were always around the middle eastern music scene. Has that always been your passion or did you explore many different musical styles?
A: My passion for this music was always in the back of my head. It wasn't truly realized until 1992 when someone in our family discovered our extensive Romany Gypsy roots. Needless to say that this fueled my passion for Middle Eastern music as well as European Gypsy music. Until that time I was performing in a funk/jazz/rock outfit called the Rottweilers. I am a classical bassist by training and have performed and recorded many different genres of music.

Q: I was really blown away not only by your skills on the different guitars and mandolins, but also your playing of the doumbek. I know you are actually self taught on the stringed instruments, but how did you go about studying the doumbek?
A: I took 3 lessons from a local percussionist when he told me that I picked it up so fast that he had nothing left to teach me. So I turned to my mother's old belly dance records and absorbed rhythms from most of the Arab Nations.

Q: Tell me about the time you spent in the folk-gypsy ensemble Europa. How did your time with them help you to further your knowledge of the different genres of World Music?
A: Europa was an incredibly educational experience. Their focus was Eastern/Western European music and I was completely taken aback by their extensive repertoire. They were so amazing to play with. I struggled a little to get out my inherent western framework but when I finally got it it was a real blast.

Q: Knowing that Jim is getting ready for another extensive trip to India, undoubtedly, Mohenjo Daro will be on hold until he returns. What other projects will you and Johnny be involved in during the hiatus?
A: In the meantime I will be working on my solo project. I recently released a Wild West concept album called "The Haight Gang" ( Right now I'm putting together a Country/Western outfit to perform pieces from that disc as well as newer concept material within that genre. And Johnny always has a gig so I'm not real worried about him. Everybody loves Johnny!

Q: Zach, thanks so much again for your time to join me here, and I wish you all the best and continued success with all of your endeavours. Let me wrap up here by asking you what other goals you would like to accomplish in the future, based on what you have learned in the music industry thus far?
A: I just want to continue doing what I love: writing, recording, and performing. I have learned not to let the business end of music interfere with my desire to create or perform. Thanks a lot for the interview!
- Music Dish

"Sur La Tabla - Jim Feist helps to bring traditional Northern Indian music to Cincinnati"

Sitting cross-legged opposite Jim Feist, watching him manipulating the tabla, I'm mesmerized by the array of sounds he charms from the instruments. When it's my turn, the only noise I can coax from the drums sounds like hitting a cardboard box.
"Many students give up after one lesson," Feist reassures.

By the time I'm finally able to produce a nice ringing tone now and then, it is obvious how precisely the heads must be struck to create the proper sounds, underscoring the dedication tabla players have to their craft.

Tabla are the traditional percussion accompaniment to North Indian classical music. One is wooden and one copper, covered in goatskin with a special coating in the center. Its sound is familiar, but you're not going to find any tabla instructional manuals. The art of playing them is passed strictly by oral tradition. As Feist strikes the tabla in different places, he vocalizes the corresponding notes. "Na, Tin, Tita, Theri, Ghe ... every note on here is a syllable. It's the drum language."

Thanks to New Agers co-opting Indian music, the sound of the tabla is often associated with mysticism or Eastern religion. While the drums are used in Hindu and Islamic worship music, studying them does not require a profession of faith.

"Music itself is spiritual for me," says Feist.

In the early '90s, Feist became interested in the complex rhythms of Indian music to augment his Jazz-Fusion drumming. "When I first heard it, it was like trying to catch a greased pig ... where's the downbeat? But once I started getting into it, something in my head clicked: I had to learn this music."

Learning posed a fundamental challenge to the Saylor Park native: Finding a teacher. "I wanted to learn so bad, I started calling Indian names in the phone book and asking, 'Do you know anyone that plays tabla?'! Finally somebody gave me the number of a local player."

Eager to expand his mastery, Feist visits India when he can. "I'm at a severe disadvantage because I didn't grow up there. As much as I practice and play, it's not in my blood. The more I'm around the music and the players there, the more of the vibe and feeling I can absorb."

His first visit was in 1993 to Bombay, where he learned from Ustad Allah Rakkha. "I spent all my waking hours in doing 'riyaz,' an extreme meditation that includes practicing an instrument for long hours. I also provided accompaniment at a school that taught Kathak, a classical Indian dance."

He went again in 1999 and continued his studies with another guru. "This was a bit intense ... I can remember him sitting across from me scolding me not to move one muscle in my face as I was playing. He would grab my hands and stop me. This went on for a couple of hours until I could detach myself from the situation enough to just move my hands, which can be a tad difficult when you are dripping sweat and being eaten by mosquitoes."

On his last trip to India in 2002, he studied with Yogesh Samsi, the foremost disciple of Rakkha. He also met his wife, Shubha, a civil engineer.

"A girl's reputation can be spoiled if she is seen a lot with a man who is not her husband or fiancé, so the engagement happened after a month," Feist says. "Imagine when I had to meet her father. Most people in India know about America the way we know about India, via the TV. Just for the record I have traveled to 10 major cities and many small towns in India, and I have never seen a cobra ... but I digress. After convincing her father that I was OK, we had a beautiful three-day traditional Maharashtrian wedding."

Feist plans to buy a flat in India in order to travel there more often. "Internally, I was swayed by the food, the people, the landscape, the culture, the chaos, the music ... my god, the music. It touched me in a way that I will never try to put into words."

While his focus on tabla to the exclusion of drumset distanced him from many of his old Jazz-Fusion partners, it set the stage for Mohenjo Daro, his collaboration with guitarist and Eastern instrumentalist Zach Mechlem. Along with flute player Johnny Ruzsa, they are World Music fixtures in Cincinnati and beyond. They have released a couple of albums on Canada's Tandem Records and played the 2002 Montreal Jazz Festival.

Feist also has his own studio project, Indus Red. A combination of Indian influences and Western music, it is more groove-oriented and trance-inducing than Mohenjo's material. He plays all of the percussion plus harmonium and the droning, stringed tanpura. Being a drummer, Feist focuses on rhythmic embellishments, resulting in a sound that is equal parts drum corps and opium den. The album is also enriched by guest appearances, including Mike Belperio's flowing bass and a searing violin performance from Paul Patterson. There are even remixes of two of the songs by Bill Alletzhauser and Ric Hordinski.

"I'm lucky to have friends I can call and just have them cut loose," says Feist.

Feist has a busy schedule teaching mostly Indian children in the Tristate whose parents want them to have a connection to their cultural heritage. But he admits there is much more even for him to learn.

"After 12 years, I have literally just scratched the surface of the art of tabla playing."

-Ezra Waller - City Beat Magazine

"All Aboard!"

On Monday, the local masters of World music, Mohenjo Daro, celebrate the release of their sophomore effort, Rajdhani Express, with a free show at the Northside Tavern. The trio of Jim Feist (tabla), Johnny Ruzsa (flute) and Zach Mechlem (guitar, darabuka, banjo-mandolin) has been playing its Middle Eastern/Indian "Fusion" for eight years, and in 2000 the band inked a deal with Canadian label, Tandem Records, which released their debut album, Baksheesh, around the same time.

Since most people's experience with Middle Eastern music comes through Western artists' usage of it in popular music (thank you, George Harrison), the interloping of some Western concepts into the music feels natural. But Mohenjo Daro doesn't pander: Their exotic, mesmerizing journey has a distinct mark of authenticity, largely because the band members have a firm grasp on the mindset, spirituality and construction of the genuine articles. On the instrumental Rajdhani Express (named after an Indian train-line that runs between Mumbai and Delhi), the group fluidly roams through progressive, unfolding arrangements (like on the title track), serpentine flute melodies ("Cairo"), percussive workouts ("Drum Jugalbundi," featuring Feist's trademark "dak-a-dah, dak-a-dah" vocal additives, which mimic the tabla flow) and sitar-like, sliding guitar balladry (beautifully displayed on the spellbinding cut "The South"). Combined with their debut, Rajdhani Express gives Mohejo Daro a flawless discography. Their robust, magnetic display of musical exploration and influence-translation is some of the more fascinating music being created in the Midwest.

-Mike Breen - City Beat Magazine


Mohenjo Daro - "Rajdhani Express" CD (Tandem Records)

Mohenjo Daro - "Baksheesh" CD (Tandem Records)

Mohenjo Daro - "Self Titled" CD (independent)

Zachary J. Mechlem - "Sameera - Modern Music for Belly Dance" solo CD (independent)

Jim Feist - "Indus Red" solo CD (independent)


Feeling a bit camera shy


"It is because of surprises such as Mohenjo Daro that we have the reputation of excellence that we have."
-Dan Behrman, Program Manager, Montreal Jazz Festival.
Mohenjo Daro delivers a powerful presentation of original, yet traditional Indian and Middle Eastern inspired music. The group's inherently western methods blend with elements ranging from Indian raga and devotional music to Arabic trance and belly dance music.
Mohenjo Daro has developed a unique repertoire that realistically combines their Western influences with their shared knowledge of Indian and Arabic music.
Mohenjo Daro's performance history includes appearances at the 2003 & 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival, opening act for Fareed Haque Group (Garaj Mahal) in Cincinnati, and several tours throughout Eastern Canada in support of their Tandem Record (Quebec) releases, "Baksheesh" and "Rajdhani Express".