Ami Dang Makes Meditations Mixtape to Harness the Healing Power of Music

In April, Ami Dang’s family held a gathering on Zoom as both an observance of the Sikh holiday Vaisakhi and a prayer session for her aunt and uncle, who had both contracted COVID-19. Dang’s mother requested that she sing a hymn.

“It was an especially troubling time because my aunt and uncle were getting sick,” the Baltimore-based singer, sitarist and producer explained by phone. The request to sing for her family, which Dang had done many times in the past, reminded her of the power of “healing music and religious music,” though sadly, her aunt later died of the illness.

Dang says that, in the beginning of the pandemic, she hadn’t quite known what role a musician should play during this challenging moment. “I get into the technicalities, or the day-to-day of the logistics of being a musician, whether that’s being on tour or whatever, and I forget sometimes how uplifting it is for other people,” she says.

As a result of this experience, Dang was moved to make Meditations Mixtape, Vol. 1, an EP released on May 22 via Leaving Records, comprised of four tracks that were recorded over the course of ten days. It was a project that she wanted to get out into this world quickly. “I think that everyone is feeling their own anxiety during this time,” she says. “That drove me to do these.”

Dang first learned music via the Sikh community and gurdwara, and went on to study sitar and then electronic music and technology. Over the course of three full-length albums, the most recent being last year’s Parted Plains, she has earned critical acclaim and fans for developing a sound that incorporates elements of both North Indian classical and experimental electronic music. Her process of creating music, she says, has evolved a lot over the years.

“I started out processing my sitar and vocals through a handful of guitar pedals and playing these live experimental, distorted, noisy, avant-garde synths,” she says. “I was doing some of those loops live and then moved into using a sampler. For a couple albums, my process started with samples, making patterns out of them and then using those patterns as the basis for the songs.” More recently Dang says she’s become increasingly interested in a variety of different kinds of synths.

With Meditations Mixtape, Vol. 1, though, Dang worked in a different way, given the current pandemic-related circumstances. “It was a very interesting exercise in using what I had at home,” says Dang. “When I work on music, there are a lot of different equations that I think about. I often think about the live aspect of it because I do love performing live. I typically perform live a lot and I’ve toured a lot, but, without any future touring in sight, I was thinking that I don’t have to worry about that right now.” Instead, she says of the EP,  “These are just songs for people to listen to on their own.”

On “Tension Tension Release,” released earlier in May, Dang sings the syllables “ni, ni, sa,” a solfége in Hindustani classical music, to draw listeners into a possible moment of meditation. “I wanted that piece to be all around the breath and finding those moments of tension and really leaning into them and then releasing them either when you sing sa,” she explains. “If people want to sing along with it that would be awesome, or just breathe along with it.”

She adds that, while she did make this particular piece with classical meditation in mind, she had a different kind of experience while singing “ni, ni, sa” as she cooked. “It was just the most relaxing and really grounding cooking experience that I had ever had,” she says. “I think it’s nice to find those moments in your daily life.”

“I don’t want to put out music that dictates how people should listen to it,” says Dang. “If you want to meditate full-on with them, that’s great, but, also, don’t beat yourself up for not being someone who meditates in the very classical sense of the word.”

Elsewhere, Dang says, she composed less for traditional meditation. On “Simplicity Mind Tool,” she incorporated lyrics from Sikh scripture that are meaningful to her. “In the scripture, it says specifically that focusing on the divine is the way to find peace and stability. I interpret that a little more widely. My interpretation of the divine is more about universal consciousness and collective understanding,” she explains. “My feeling is that if you focus on yourself, your spirit and the context of this collective – our community, rather than our stuff – that’s a way for people to find tranquility within ourselves.”

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LIVE REVIEW: Lower Dens with Ami Dang @ The Roxy

Indie pop band Lower Dens has built up a loyal following since its 2010 inception, with hits like 2015’s ’80s-inspired “To Die in L.A.” and 2016’s introspective “Real Thing” not just providing catchy music but also making people think. They released their fourth album The Competition in September and have since been touring with ambient sitar player and vocalist Ami Dang. On Thursday, February 27, they stopped by LA’s famous Roxy Theatre to perform for an intimate but enthusiastic crowd.

Dang prefaced each of her songs with an explanation of what inspired them, revealing deep meanings behind each. One song’s lyrics came from an old Muslim poem about “how we can not only respect and tolerate one another but find places where spiritually we align,” and another was based on One Thousand and One Nights, setting the stories to music with no lyrics to reclaim whitewashed translations. Behind Dang’s soaring, dream-like voice was a thunderous electronic sound that made my body vibrate. Her huge sitar and passionate, chant-like singing against a background of synths and electronic beats provided a sound that was both modern and spiritual.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

The setting was as quirky as the performers themselves, with blue lights cast by a disco ball and confetti sprinkled across the ground. The light on the stage turned from red to purple to orange as Lower Dens performed.

The main act played some of the songs off its latest album, including “Lucky People,” a mellow but dark ballad reminiscent of The Cure, and “I Drive,” an honest and relatable ode to troubled family relationships. The show also featured music from 2015’s Escape from Evil, like the slow, pleading “Ondine,” as well as the haunting “Brains” all the way back from 2012’s Propagation.

Lower Dens have built up their following through their innovative music and artful, poetic lyrics as well as lead singer Jana Hunter‘s outspokenness on issues like gender identity and racism in the music industry. But not all of these appeals translate well into live performances. Hunter’s style of singing often involves swallowing his words, leaving the audience unable to glean their intricate meanings.

The heavy backtracks made it even more difficult to make out the melodies and lyrics, and the band’s performance style was understated, with little movement or displays of emotion, which made the show feel low-energy. While this shoe-gaze style has been done to make a statement in the past, the way the Lower Dens presented themselves felt more like an attempt to play it safe, an unwillingness to commit to any statement — a surprising contrast to Hunter’s boldness in his writing and interviews.

Nevertheless, the band played for an excited crowd of people, who cheered when hits like “To Die in LA” came on and swayed along to the music throughout the performance. As someone who was familiar with Lower Dens but had not followed them closely, I wished they hadn’t buried so much of their music’s profound meaning and emotion. But the show did inspire me to listen to and research their music online when I got home, and perhaps that was the best way to experience its full depth.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

Event Preview: Ami Dang, Unitard: Badassy! on 1/29 @ Joe’s Pub

Ami Dang @ Joe’s Pub

January 29, 9:30 p.m.


Since the 2011 release of her debut album, Hukam, Ami Dang has carved out a singular career as a sitarist and electronic music producer. The Baltimore-based artist is classically trained, having played sitar since the age of 12 and studying voice and sitar in both the U.S. and India. She’s also a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she studied music technology and composition. All these influences come together in a sound that connects the deep history of North Indian music and 21st century electronic music.

Dang’s solo work has ranged from the experimental pop of her early releases to the ambient exploration of her acclaimed 2019 album, Parted Plains. On Parted Plains, she focused on instrumental tracks, creating rich, emotional narratives without words.

On her journey, Dang has collaborated with equally forward-minded artists like Animal Collective and Pearl and the Oysters. Live, she has played alongside an eclectic array of artists, including Grimes, for whom she opened in 2013, Lil B, Dan Deacon, Bonnie Prince Billy and Beach House.

Tickets are available for purchase here


Unitard: Badassy! @ Joe’s Pub

January 29, 7 p.m.


For 20 years, the trio Unitard has chronicled modern life in New York and beyond with sketch comedy that has tapped into everything from street petitioners to Harvey Weinstein to Donald Trump’s hemorrhoids.  Mike Albo, Nora Burns and David Ilku are boundary-pushing comedians, unafraid of digging into the darkest corners of 21st century politics and culture. Their bold stage shows have earned Unitard critical acclaim and high praise from fellow wits like Parker Posey and Jennifer Coolidge. Their work has appeared on NPR, CNN, Logo, Comedy Central and other national outlets.

Unitard has performed across the U.S., from Wigstock to SF Sketchfest, but Joe’s Pub has become a frequent haunt for the trio. They’ll return to the venue on January 29 with their current show, “Badassy!,” which initially ran at Joe’s Pub in spring of 2019 and returned in the fall for an extension of their residency.

Tickets are available for purchase here