“A thousand candles floating down to the sea
Won’t set the sea on fire
But like a lovely wind, the breath of Love
Lifts up the wings of pure desire...”
How often does music make you stop in mid-motion, catch your breath and become perfectly still so that you don’t miss a note, not a word, an inflection? It’s about to happen right now...
Serah is an award-winning vocalist and lyricist with several hit songs and a cache of critically acclaimed albums. But her inner glow emanates from a much deeper place than sheer talent and recognition, and lights the songs of A Thousand Candles. The album, which follows up the conceptual Late Harvest of 2003, is Serah’s love letter to the world. The imagery is worthy of Thoreau and Emerson, all nature, romance and peace in “Scene from a Dreamer’s Gaze,” “Wind in Their Manes,” “Oysters and Stars” and “Mountains of Luberon,” while the music, sometimes angels’ wings and sometimes rhythmic hooves, transports us to those places where she beckons us with her voice.
Renowned as a world music artist, Serah remains loyal to the Africa that has been her muse since dedicating a year-and-a-half of her life to working a drought area there. The continent that inspired the wild beauty of Flight of the Stork and the magical Senegal Moon ignites A Thousand Candles with the exceptional musicianship of Serah’s longtime friend and Senegal native, Wasis Diop (vocals, guitar), Richard Bona (a.k.a. Bonayuma) (backing vox, ad-libs) of Cameroon, and famed Ethiopian singer Gigi, who contributed backing vocals and wonderful ad-libs.
Serah co-produced the album with Dan Marnien, with additional co-production expertise from Diop and David Sancious (Sting, Eric Clapton, Seal). A Thousand Candles sparked the return of Serah stalwart and session player extraordinaire Michael Landau (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell), who not only plays guitar on every track, but who studies the graceful-voiced goddess’ lyrics as if they were poems from an anthology, drawing from the language that his six-string will speak. New arrivals to this considerable circle of musicians, bassist Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell) throws some heat, while Steve Tavaglione brings his wistful saxophone along with the exoticism of the ewi, deduk and Turkish clarinets. A rising star in her own right, Serah’s daughter Grace brings beautifully textured backing vocals to several of the songs.
“Artists need artists,” Serah theorizes, not specifically in reference to the gathering of this tribe of vibe, but speaking directly of the big picture. “We’re wanting connection; we’re wanting the Great Spirit to make us feel meaning and value, and there’s no one who doesn’t feel it.”
A Thousand Candles is just such a connection, and through its songs, such as “Epiphany, “Red on Green,” and the generous outpour of the rest, we feel the meaning and discover the value that too often elude us.
“Through art, I look for light and to love the world, to heal, to inspire, to comfort. And humor,” she laughs.
Two years in the making, Serah says, “I wanted every song on the album to kill me. Me. And I didn’t want to listen to the record three years from now and wish that certain songs weren’t on it – which is what I do sometimes,” she admits. “I tried to bring the record to a level where every time I thought that a song was the best one, I would keep working on the other ones until they all reached that level.”
This is as much a commentary on the superlative quality of the music as it is on the quiet but unwavering perfectionism of the perfectionist. If A Thousand Candles is good enough for Serah, then it will exceed all expectations of fans and neophytes.
A Thousand Candles is a thousand different things, defying tidy genre categorization with a willful and imaginative eclecticism. Yes, its proud foundation is world music (itself a category as broad as the globe), but it’s painted in rich hues of folk, pop, spirituality and inspiration, each and all a telling facet of the diverse artist who personifies them.
“My mission is inspiration, comfort, healing and artistic quality, but they don’t have a category for that in the record store. But a sharing, a connecting and healing, comfort and gratitude are the things that I hope to give people through this music.”
Where we find these gifts, they are light in the darkness, and A Thousand Candles burn.