September 7, 2013

13 Hands: Socially Conscious Music For Awakening Times. ~ Kathryn E. Livingston {Music Review}

Daniel McBride, aka Dalien/13Hands, has released a new album called Thumbs Up High Five: A Collection of Socially Conscious Songs and World Chant Explorations.

What strikes me about this Grammy-nominated world chant artist/singer/songwriter is his honesty, authenticity and commitment to using music as a vehicle to promote light, direction, and goodness in the world.

Remember back to the socially conscious musicians of the sixties? I’ll never forget the words “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” In many ways, we still haven’t embraced that answer.

It’s a relief to know that some musicians are still asking and answering the hard questions.

The CD’s title song “Thumbs Up High Five” speaks to the state of today’s music biz. Influenced by the era of Zeppelin, Rush, Billy Joel, Springsteen, Sarah McLaughlin, and other greats, Dalien takes an incisive look at contemporary pop music.

As a yogi, he often works with families through yoga, music and sound therapy, helping people reduce their stress,

Photo credit: Bill Bernstein

and improve their sleep, health, diets and life style. In his travels, he reports, many parents, musicians, psychologists, and others have voiced concern about where we’re heading musically in this country.

People across various industries are complaining and worrying about the deteriorating state of pop and certain rap/hip/pop music and its hyper sexual undertones, degradation of women, violence, immaturity, over-computerization and over use of “auto-tune”, Dalien says.

What are the long-term effects on our society and youth? If you saw the recent MTV Video Music Awards footage of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, then it’s impossible not to, on some level, explore and reflect on these concerns.

Dalien tackles some of these issues in his original composition “Thumbs Up High Five.” He offers six versions of the piece, including rock, folk, soul groove, acoustic neo soul, swamp rock, and a club mix.

I love the song because it’s fun and spirited while also making some profound points. Do we really want to glamorize violence and/or substance-less music and lyrical messages?

Dalien’s lyrics comment, “I don’t want to hear songs by guys who like to hit girls; there’s better quality humans that have music to be heard.”

Within the piece he pays homage to some legendary musicians: Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Doors, Pearl Jam, Diana Ross, and a host of others. And with today’s music being so much about video and social media exposure, I should note that at the time of this review, the video for the lead single, “Thumbs Up High Five” was off to an impressive start with upwards of 70,000 views.

Thumbs Up High Five

Somewhere, somehow, music has to take a stand and Dalien is willing to do so. He is the musical equivalent of Mountain Pose—or maybe Tree Pose—standing tall, unwavering and strong, as the winds of pop culture swirl (sometimes all too violently) around him.

Another song on the CD that hits home (and yet is funny as hell) is called “Wolverine.” Dalien addresses Monsanto and the GMO labeling/food mutation issue by enlisting and pleading to Wolverine, the X-men, comic book super hero for help.

In this parody, Wolverine, who ironically deals with his own issues of being a mutated being with super powers, has decided to become an organic farmer, to stand up against Monsanto, GMOs and food mutation: “Can you help rid the world of GMO seeds? Because I reserve the right to decide who mutates me.”


Think Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and others who have used music to fight the good fight and educate. Often humorous, always to the point, Dalien asks important questions and through his music, asks us to search within.

We don’t have to buy the genetically modified food and in some ways, the “so-called music” we’re being fed. Nor do we have to accept violence against women.

“Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” is a track that addresses Chris Brown’s behavior and sends a sincere message to other men to go get personal help so this inexcusable and unfathomable behavior can stop.

Moving on to the rest of the album (which includes 14 tracks on iTunes and 18 tracks on Bandcamp with some special mixes and a bonus Americana song, “Wheels Of Love”) Dalien puts on his Kirtan Wallah hat and offers a number of beautiful chants. (As an added bonus, he plays 21 instruments, many of which you’ll hear on this CD.)

His rendition of “Namah Shivaya” is absolutely magnetic; this song really gets to the heart of kirtan, to the place in your soul where you can just feel peace, quiet, and the song of the sacred. “Tryambakum” with voice and vibe drum (steel pan drum) is also a stunner.

Namah Shivaya

Dalien hails from Montclair, NJ, a mecca for yogis in the Garden State, and a place where I practice and where his work is based.

Like his music, Dalien’s yoga reaches into varied avenues of life.

In addition to being a multi-talented musician/kirtan wallah who has released six CDs and performs/tours regularly, he is an E-RYT 500 level Yoga instructor, sound therapist, PTSD/ holistic trauma facilitator, “urban” shaman who inspires others with his journey of curing Crohns/Colitis.

He serves as adjunct Professor of Yoga & Meditation at Montclair State University, presents at conferences, festivals, retreat/yoga centers and recently returned from sharing his gifts and new album at the Sounds True Wake Up Festival in Estes Park, CO, alongside Jack Kornfield, Anne Lamott, Shiva Rea and Seane Corn.

I hope his audience will continue to grow and spread, along with his message that music should be uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-healing and real.

In another star track entitled “Do You?” Dalien asks, “Do you love the world? Do you see everyone as the same? Do you realize that love can set you free from all your pain?”

As yogis, most of us do see the world in this way, and we believe and know that music can be a language of love. It’s mind-boggling to see how harsh, devoid of awareness and cynical so much of our popular music has become.

Can we turn this around? Dalien/13Hands’ new “socially conscious” album, Thumbs Up High Five is a great place to start. Find out more at their website.

The CD is available on Bandcamp and iTunes worldwide.

(Author’s Note: This music review is my opinion—I’ve been to several of Dalien/aka13 HANDS kirtans and purchased his latest CD because I believe his message and music are powerful.)


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Ed: Dana Gornall

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Kathryn E. Livingston