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Soundscapes of India and the Karma spa treatment

India is full of noise: the hustle and bustle of the market, caterwauls bouncing off city concrete, crickets under the stars, the night interrupted by car horns and the rumble of engines. A rich tapestry of sound, scent and colour greeted musicians Simon Richmond and Sheema Mukherjee on their travels to India in search of musical inspiration. Little did they know that their experiences here, captured in stunning sound diaries, would form the beating heart of a new Lush Spa treatment.



As Sheema explains, “Our remit was simply to take pictures for my album and to see if we could find something new and inspiring for Lush.  We had no idea at this point that we were going to create this treatment.”

Performance was a gift Sheema and Simon exchanged with those kind enough to play for them. As they travelled through the different regions of India, the musicians exchanged music with desert-dwelling Manganiyar musicians from Rajasthan, heard the Pulluvan Veena played by the forest people of Kerala, and listened to classical vocalists, instrumentalists and schoolchildren. These experiences were to have a profound effect on the musicians.

Sheema recalls, “We were driven into the Rajasthani desert for a traditional performance, and seated under the only tree for miles when musicians with their instruments started to arrive. Each tribe performed their own traditional songs; songs about their environment, songs of loss, religion and culture, and, of course, love songs. Groups of musicians continued to arrive on various modes of transport throughout the day, as word got out that we were also musicians.”

Yet, Sheema and Simon also wanted to experience different cultural approaches to wellbeing and so they took many different types of massages, met with perfumers and Ayurvedic doctors, and took a course in Ayurvedic theory and practice. These experiences would gradually shape the development of the Karma spa treatment.

“In Rajasthan”, Sheema explains, “the treatments and massages we had were part of the day-to-day methods used to treat locals for medical conditions and common health complaints. Kerala, by contrast, had a lot of spas that were geared more towards tourists, and it was harder to find authentic treatments. However, with a bit of local knowledge, we ended up having some amazing and unique treatments.”

She recalls one memorable visit to a marma doctor recommended by a local: “We eventually found the consultation room after much wandering back and forth on the same road. The place was set back through a walkway between huts, behind an earthy yard where chicken and dogs roamed free. A health and safety field day ensued! I was surrounded by whisky bottles full of home-made oil compounds, birdlike mosquitos and buzzing insects like drones! Thank God, I was on my front at the time!”

Yet the sounds surrounding the treatment rooms formed part of a unique soundscape. In a treatment room in Jaipur, Simon recalls “The ceaseless noise of the traffic poured through the walls while the sounds of the next door beauty parlour came through the plasterboard partitions. The therapist took calls on his mobile and had daytime radio on quite loudly. Nevertheless, in the middle of all of this, I had one of my most profoundly calm massage experiences, where I saw beautiful blue and emerald visuals through my closed eyes and drifted off far away from the concrete world. I realised that it was not necessarily about the beautiful, ‘authentic’ surroundings, but about the touch of the masseur and the strength of the tradition, which can transcend even the most unlikely environment.”

There was beauty and music in the chaos that Simon also remembers in the pronounced contrasts between old and new, religious and secular, and wild and cultivated. He recalls, “We visited a centre for Rural Development and Female Empowerment in Kerala, and in the space of a half-mile of dusty, dirt-red track that ran past a huge lake we saw communist Hammer and Sickle flags sticking up from the rainforest bushes next to a vivid pink Catholic church. Meanwhile, in the background, we could hear lions roaring from a nearby national park mixed with a distant call to prayer as we were shown intricate leaves that the women in the centre had painted to raise money. The sun set as we were leaving and the lake’s water turned fiery orange and red through the palm tree silhouettes.”

He continues, “These contrasts kept coming wherever we went, whether it was meeting Abhradita Banerjee - a virtuoso Bengali singer - and seconds later leaping into a taxi to follow her as she gave Sheema a backy on her motorbike, or sitting in a wooden houseboat on the Keralan waterways of Alleppey, surrounded by the sounds of washerwomen on the bank, hearing tinny speakers blare out festival music and seeing a gleaming modern DVD player on the open deck of the boat.”

Writing and recording music in India with the people they met proved to be a further study of opposites: an enriching collaboration of folk instruments and studio technology.

When Sheema and Simon visited an orphanage, the children were enthused to see traditional sitar used in combination with digital recording equipment. They also recorded Manganiyar musicians, who travelled for 15 hours without sleep to reach the makeshift studio in Jaipur. Two days were filled with their raucous and irrepressible music. For some of the musicians it was the first time they had played in front of microphones or used headphones or even sat separately from each other as they played.

Sounds of the vibrant outside world permeated everything, including the small house in Kerala which Sheema and Simon turned into a recording mobile studio. “Sitting in the diffused light of the shuttered room while we played keyboards and sitar”, Simon muses, “we could see the Keralan rainforest stretch to the horizon. The ceiling fans turned lazily in the glow of the computer screen as we put down our ideas to develop holistically when we got home.”

Finding harmony and peace in chaos resonated, and formed the bare bones of a new treatment built on the music captured in India. As Simon explains, “The teeming cities of India, the backwater villages, the hillforts and desert outposts - everywhere we went was a crowded flurry, whether it was a throng of birds, elephants, children, commuters, train passengers, tuk-tuk drivers and street hawkers. The dirt and the noise and the music and the beauty and the ancient and the modern were all inseparable and seemed to belong together in boisterous co-existence.

“And like an umbrella over all of this were all the traditions - the temples and the festivals, the principles of everyday health: the maintenance of balance, of keeping the body in tune and of finding calm within the tumult. It all ties into the ideas of everyday balance, awareness and inner calm that the treatment tries to evoke.”

Get a taste of the Karma soundtrack here.


"We could hear lions roaring from a nearby national park mixing with a distant call to prayer." Simon Richmond

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