Yahowa 13 – Sonic Portation

January 01, 1970





In late 2007 the publication of The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, YaHoWa 13 and the Source
(Process Media) revealed for the first time the inner workings of
early ‘70s cult commune the Source Family, founded by the charismatic Jim
Baker, a/k/a Father Yod. The group came far closer to achieving the utopian
ideals of similar collectives of the era – had the Source Family managed to
supplant the Manson Family in the eyes of the media, perhaps the term “cult”
wouldn’t have had such negative connotations – and among music aficionados, Yod
& Co. had the additional cachet of featuring an impressive house band that
released ten LPs in its lifetime (and actually recorded scores more), many of
them under the name YaHoWa 13, sometimes spelled Ya Ho Wha.


For the most part they were all private pressings, so
they’ve become highly prized over the years by collectors of underground
psychedelia and nascent freak-folk. It wasn’t until 1998 when Japan’s Captain
Trip label stepped up to compile the bulk of those recordings (including
unreleased material) in an elaborately-designed, limited-edition 13 (natch) CD
box set, God and Hair, that the
general public was even made aware of the Source Family and YaHoWa 13. More
recently the all-digital Anthology label began reissuing some of the albums as
well, so with The Source book also
serving to revive the YaHoWa 13 name, the next logical step was for some of the
erstwhile band members to get back together for some performances


That they did in November of 2007 for several West Coast
shows (the Los Angeles Times said that the band “makes Devendra Banhart look like Don Rumsfeld,” further comparing
their tribal trance-rock to Animal Collective and Soft Circle), which was
followed in April 2008 by a concert at NYC’s Knitting Factory. Call it a long
overdue coda to the shuttering of the hippie dream. And as these things happen,
in rock ‘n’ roll there are always additional codas – hence the CD at hand. Sonic Portation features original Ya Ho
Wa 13 members Octavius Aquarian (drums, percussion), Sunflower Aquarian (bass) and
DJin Aquarian (guitars), now going by the slightly more streamlined Yahowa 13,
and its creation was born of serendipity: two days of studio time were donated
free of charge to the band, and when it came time to mix the tapes, through
connections stemming from one-time Source Family member Sky Saxon and Ya Ho Wa
13 fan Billy Corgan, veteran drummer and producer Kerry Brown stepped up and
volunteered to assume mixing duties.


The first thing you notice, particularly if you’ve heard any
of the original seventies recordings, is how tight and disciplined the trio
sounds. This is psychedelia rooted in the jam aesthetic, yes, and it’s an
understatement to say that Yahowa 13 gets suitably “out there” from time to
time – isn’t the whole point of psychedelia to strive for the musical
equivalent of out-of-body experiences anyway? But where the old Ya Ho Wa 13
sometimes veered off into highly indulgent free-form wankery that could leave
even the most dedicated student of psych frustrated (much of the blame for that
could probably be laid at the feet of Father Yod, a non-musician who fancied himself
a musician and vocalist), this contemporary incarnation really understands that
if you’re gonna set the controls for the heart of the sun, keep going until you
reach the fiery source; don’t take a detour around Uranus.


To that end, Sonic
is alight with such tuneful gems as “Raga Nova,” thrumming slice
of motorik rock which DJing describes
in his delightfully extemporaneous liner notes as “a ‘new’ type of Raga” (but
which you or I might simply feel free to file alongside our beloved Neu! Records);
and “Traveling Ohm,” powered by a relentless choogle rhythm and liberally
spackled by shards of cosmic twang fretwork (pardon the less-than-cosmic
comparison, but to me it suggests Creedence Clearwater Revival and Quicksilver
Messenger Service jamming together). Even the lengthy 12-minute opening track
“E Ah O Shin” is intensely focused despite progressing through a complex,
suite-like arrangement, from the opening vocal chant (which resembles a Native
American prayer) through an effects-strewn, dissonant midsection to the luminous,
melodic, almost Savage Republic-like conclusion.


Thematically, of course, the members of Yahowa 13 have
brought the Aquarian age tenets that initially nurtured them to the recording
studio, although for the most part the record is instrumental with occasional
vocal interjections; Djin’s liners help outline the underlying philosophies
embedded in their material. In that regard, listening to Sonic Portation – and it’s strongly recommended that it be heard
from to from start-to-finish – is akin to an extended sonic yoga lesson.
Breathe in deeply, and then exhale very slowly, and at length. For despite numerous
peaks and valleys in some very dynamic musical arrangements, this is ultimately
one of the most relaxing, and therefore gratifying, musical travelogues I’ve
heard in ages. Most reunions happen due to nostalgia, a need to care of
unfinished business, or simply in order to cash in. Happily, the Yahowa 13
reunion happened for the best of reasons – for the brotherhood, and for the
inherent spirituality of the music itself.


Standout Tracks: “Traveling
Ohm,” “Raga Nova,” “The Big Kundalini” FRED MILLS


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