Arno Adelaars did not play any instrument before his life became entangled with the ayahuasca vine. In the early ’90s he started drinking, which soon turned into assisting at ceremonies and organizing conferences and seminars on shamanism and psychoactive plants. He organized the very first international conference on ayahuasca worldwide and wrote a book about this very special plant together with two scientists. You can buy the book under the 'merch' tab in this website.
At those first ceremonies in the Netherlands recordings of indigenous shamans or nature soundscapes would set an atmosphere, but a visiting taita told Arno that the music has no real significance until you play yourself. So, Arno started with a maraca, which was a present from Jan-Frank. Twenty years later he still has and plays this very instrument, also on these recordings. The huaira (chakapa) followed, then drums of different kinds and Arno realized he was blessed with an inner metronome, that would help him set a steady beat and keep it going. A true gift during chaotic nights. He would often play with Jan-Frank and learn from him, but what really deepened Arno’s musical exploration was the birth of his daughter. She was six weeks old and cried a lot. The young family went to the island of La Palma and every morning Arno would take his daughter out into nature, carrying her in a sack on his chest. In the company of the sun, the ocean and the earth he started singing while shaking the maraca.
Over twenty years Arno accumulated many instruments from all over the world. He never learned to play them in the conventional way, instead he lets the plants play through him. ‘When I pick up a drum, I don’t know what is going to happen and sometimes when I’m singing I don’t even recognize my own voice. It’s not me doing it.’
Jan-Frank Gerards once was the guitarist of the new wave band No Feelings. ‘Just for fun, we only played for ourselves in the basement of a squat.’ In the ’90’s he took up playing bagpipe, but: ‘that didn’t combine too well with smoking cigarettes.’ His first shamanic instrument was a drum that a friend made specially for him. The night before he received this present, Jan-Frank had dream about a drum with four feathers, so there are always four feathers on it. ‘When I’m in a ceremony and I don’t know what’s up or down anymore, I grab this drum. It’s really a matter of keeping at it and at some point the drum takes over. Through the instrument something happens.’
Another instrument he’s very fond of is his bandola, which he bought on a flea market in Belgium for 80 euros. It’s a small guitar from the Colombian jungle and a rare find. He tuned it in a pentatonic scale, as are almost all of Arno and Jan-Frank’s melodic instruments. That basically means you’re always in tune, which makes it easier to let go and just follow wherever the instrument is taking you. Jan-Frank: ‘The trick is not to tighten up when you make a mistake, but simply repeat it three times and you will have a new melody.’
Though every night is different, Jan-Frank is generally the one who starts to experiment on an instrument, rebelling and shaking things up. Arno joins him. As they play together, going softer and reaching a delicate harmony, or going crazy and barely hearing the other, the rhythms just come. Jan-Frank: ‘sometimes I connect through the instrument to indigenous people who are playing the jungle. This, or any other feeling that may come up is not something to try and grasp. Once you do that, it’s gone.’
Bart Engel is the initiator of this double album. He organized the recordings of the original Sacha Huasi Ayahuasca music and remixed the second album from these takes. At his first ayahuasca ceremony in 2014, Bart was enchanted by the drumming and melodies of Arno and Jan-Frank. After the ceremony participants are encouraged to join in and play music together, but not until the sixth time Bart felt confident enough to bring his guitar and express his gratitude to the plants through music. He was cheered on, some people even got emotional, but Jan-Frank told him not to play ‘that jazz stuff’. Bart: ‘He meant I was playing very technical. The way I learned and practiced since I was twelve. Nowadays I feel more comfortable to let go and play what comes up, instead of what I know. It’s exactly what I appreciate so much when I listen to Arno and Jan-Frank. A freedom and spontaneity that’s rare to find in our organized world.’