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Goa has gone commercial, feels Psytrance pioneer Goa Gil

Grand daddy of Psytrance in India, Goa Gil reminisces about the early days and why he isn't a fan of today's gigs

Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Last weekend witnessed some serious stomping at an Andheri five-star, when the city's psychedelic cats flocked to catch Goa Gil in action. A pioneer of Psychedelic Trance music that he personalised with his style in the early 1970s, "babajee" was in a nostalgic mood as he reminisced about Goa of the '70s and '80s, the evolution of Psytrance, and his brand of dance-healing called 'active meditation.'

Search for music
"I grew up in the 1960s in San Francisco and came to India in 1969," said Gil (born Gilbert Levey) seated in the hotel prior to the gig. His connection with India was established at a young age; his grandfather, who lived in India, was a photographer, who showed Gil pictures of India that caught his attention. "I took a one-way ticket from the US to Amsterdam, from where I reached Kabul. I hadn't heard of Goa, but was told about it by a friend (who was in Kabul at the time) who was heading to Colva." The duo took a boat to Karachi, and then arrived in Mumbai. Finally, they took the boat to Goa. "There was nothing in Goa — we waded through the river(s) with our stuff over our heads. I turned 18 here," he says. Recalling his early friendships formed in Goa, Gil reminisces about the days he, Mushroom Jack, and Eight-Finger Eddie would shack up together in Anjuna.

However, realising that his spiritual journey was seeking a higher calling, Gil travelled across India. After a lot of tapasya — mostly in the forests — he became a Baba. "It was ritualistic to meet up in Goa during Christmas. Around 1972, I attended a beach party where I picked up a guitar and strummed it; the songs just flowed through me. That is when people I realised music's power to affect people's consciousness and take them to higher levels. I call this 'active meditation' — where you dance to the beat, even if it is the apocalypse." By 1977, Gil and his friends would host such parties in Goa's forests, or on its beaches under a full moon; they set up a music house in Chapora, where musicians jammed with various instruments.

A different Goa
"Goa has gone commercial. No one plays the kind of music I do," he claimed. "I am the cutting edge of the underground." According to Gil, it was the trend of DJs/artistes paying party organisers to play sets that led to the downfall of Goa's psychedelic culture, turning it into hotchpotch of teens, drugs and sex. "We had something special in Goa. Music was our religion. They [the underground mafia who runs the psychedelic show in Goa now] ended it such that we could not play without paying at parties. They took our religion and turned it into their personal moneymaking machine."

He isn't a fan of today's gigs as the "sound and setting is not right." A lack of open spaces, flak from the cops and his dislike for alcohol are the other reasons. When asked about the evolution of Psytrance from its early days, into niche genres like Hi-Tech and Psycore, he said, "I find Hi-Tech too formula-based; every track sounds the same, which is why I got bored."

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