Triptych Appreciation: Shanti Shanti Shanti/ To Love Is To Love Vols 1 & 2 by Bhajan Bhoy

If you took one of these albums in isolation, you could legitimately describe it as being both sprawling and full of ideas… a wonderful melting pot of musical genre that are in no way designed to be coherent, yet work incredibly well. When you multiply that by three to encompass the triptych of albums featured here, you get an astonishing feat which takes you on the sort of trip (in many senses of the word) that straddles genre, emotions and intellectual categories… it is around two hours of intense and frankly wonderful explorations that you can lose yourself in, and come out the other side wondering where you have been.

The songs here are as the result of an intense 18 month period as we were all emerging from the pandemic, a time which gave Ajay Saggar, the Dutch musician behind these records, the headspace to bring his ideas to life:

It was a highly focused and intensive period of work for me. The pandemic allowed me to go and work in the studio all day and into the night pretty much everyday. I’d never felt more focused in my pursuit of making a set of songs. It yielded a body of work that I am incredibly proud of, and think is some of the best stuff I’ve done. I was fortunate enough to have some incredibly talented players join me on some songs (Ab Baars, Gayle Brogan, Sheila Bosco, Holly Habstritt Gaal, Mees Siderius, Arvind Ganga, Aaron Lumley, Elsa v/d Linden, Ditmer Weertman). The songs evolved in a very organic manner and they are part of a journey, which is the reason why there are two separate albums [To Love Is To Love]…..the one album feeds into the other. “Shanti Shanti Shanti” was the album before these ones and was the first part of this triptych.” 

The central theme of the three albums is that of love, ‘Shanti’ being Sanskrit for peace or inner calm (and often repeated three times as an invocation for peace)… something which helps to locate the strong moral centre to this work… and perhaps the idea that love takes many different forms… hence the diversity found across this work.

‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ begins in a wonderfully meditative manner with ‘Cat on Arkengarthside’ its beguiling melody somehow preparing you for the journey ahead… it is not a tune which goes anywhere in particular… but rather represents the stasis that then turns into the dubby inertia of ‘Red, Green and Gold’… and it feels like we’re away… the sound system pumping and the body finding its rhythm to match the mind… the bass line and beats underpinning the track and driving it forward before fragmenting into a clashing mist…

…to be replaced by the political awareness of ‘Stokely’s Rebellion’…, referring to prominent civil rights activist and key leader of the Black Power movement Stokely Carmichael… with samples spoken word from Carmichael himself as well as news reports from the day… laid over the top of loops and drones, which accentuate it… it is a formidable track which I find myself listening to time and again, Carmichael’s voice providing a powerful driver for speaking truth to power…

After that ‘Kosmos Club’ is a short, funky and spacey number which in many ways feels too short, but does act as a palette cleanser to ‘Won’t You Wait’ which, like every tracks so far, is different again… and actually is a pretty unique mash-up of all sorts of musical tangents which, like the albums more generally, seem to be held together by something that you can neither see nor hear… but somehow feel… ‘Won’t You Wait’ is like dreaming that you are being led through giant maze of wind chimes by siren voices… it takes you a while to find your way, but when you get there it feels like there’s a real beauty to it…

’I Love You So’ also begins in a dream like state… but somehow more lucid and focused… this gradually melts away for me into something that still feels random… but more wakeful as the sound of free jazz replaces the more abstract elements… actually it’s almost like one dimension of abstraction is replaced by another… and the drone mid-track just added to the whole wonderful weirdness of it… before the two dimensions combine in a way that I am gradually getting my head around… until the whole thing just disappearing in a poof of anti-matter (or something).

The last think I was expecting after that is ‘Van Cleef Dub’…. which feels like the positive to the previous track’s negative (in a photographic sense)… this is like Morricone on weed… a Technicolor track which feels like such a celebration of both elements on show here… an absolute joy, and a fine way to end this first album of the three…

‘To Love Is To Love Volume 1’ starts with ‘The Guiding Light’ with it’s overture of Indian music which dubs into a dreampop/ shoegaze track that, once again, I was not expecting… although this is certainly evident in Saggar’s earlier work… anyway this psychedelic offering feels almost mainstream compared with what has gone before… this is not a pejorative comment since I really like the dynamism and energy of this track, which is certainly making a statement that, although thematically linked with its predecessor… this album will be going its own way… I’m excited.. especially at it fades back into the Indian music that was there at the start…

This is followed by what has been my favourite track on these three releases to date (although that will have probably changed by the time you read this)… the anticipation built up at the beginning of ‘On A Higher Plain’ is, for me, quite seducing… a series of what feels like false starts off some sort of forbidden promise… a promise that, you begin to wonder, may not be fulfilled… and in a sense it isn’t since it feels like a series of moments… but weirdly within that reminded me how the journey is more important that the destination… which I feel is something that is inherent in all the music here…

‘Raga Shanti’, by contrast, feels like an acceleration of that journey… and reflective of it’s title… I love how the music and vocal soars in different directions like an explosion of peace… calmness and excitement competing together… a wonderful track to zone out to… which is exactly what I did here…

By now I’m well into Bhajan Bhoy-land… with ‘Oh Seeker’ just sending me further in… this album seems to have a cumulative effect which has you tapping into some sort of natural force… perhaps it’s the calming and increasingly meditative nature of the music… which here feels like being merged with different layers of sound which seem to drift into you…

…and once you are in that state, what could be better than a ‘Lovely Day For Cricket’… here the love turns towards the game, which seems to abstractly combine the music of the different nations who take part in this most cerebral and, in it’s long incarnation, laid back of sports… bringing the second album of this triptych to a close.

…and on to the final record. ‘To Love Is To Love Volume 2’, which opens with ‘Hari Om Sharan’… which may well be named after the Indian devotional singer of the same name… if so it is certainly the sort of music that you imagine he would approve of as we float along on a cloud of unknowing…. as the music intensifies almost imperceptibly… it is a wonderful ten minutes that you wish would take you off into infinity… the drones and flute conspiring to get deep inside your soul…

After that ‘Abshaku…The Ecstatic Trust’ maintains mood but through a more electronic medium… a haunting backdrop accentuates the beats up front as you pick up the eddys of sound that take you along… as the track gradually morphs into something darker… almost bleaker… there’s certainly mystery here… and I’m not sure that the ecstatic truth is every revealed…. but maybe that’s the point…

Again, this is proving to be a different album… with tracks more ambient and strung out… and is the right position as the third of three… again, with ‘Accordi-Ohm’ there is a melange of sound here… and to start with you are not sure there they are complimentary or competing… gradually, however, they become resolved… the different elements finding their place… the melody… the fragmented percussion… and the flautal drone… all then broken up and dissected… not quite a breakdown, rather something being re-born. This is a track that seems to become more complex as you go along… a test of the mind and senses…. and ad lib to fade…

…until we reach the final track of this odyssey… ‘Elaine’s Conch’ being a slow and laidback number that deposits you gently back into the land of the living… its subtle ambient sound bathing you in the sort of chilled feeling that can only be good for your well-being…

Together these three albums represent an amazing body of work that feel far more coherent when you listen to them in a concerted fashion back-to-back and uninterrupted… it feels like there’s a gradual move towards the ambient as the albums stretch out before your ears… but however you dice it these together are an amazing triple-set which challenge and cajole with equal measure…


‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ is available on cassette and download direct from Bhajan Bhoy here, and will be released on vinyl at a later date.

‘To Love Is To Love Volumes 1 and 2’ are available from Bhajan Bhoy, Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube.



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