Home: Where Everyone is Welcome (Grand Central Publishing) by Deepak Chopra, MD, Kabir Sehgal and Paul Avgerinos is a small book with a big heart that features a collection of thirty-four poems, accompanied by a CD of twelve songs inspired by immigrants who have made a significant and lasting cultural contribution to the United States. The book evokes a soulful discussion and musical meditation on the core values that the United States has always represented as a destination created by those who have sought a new life and the freedom to thrive. Among a few of those immigrants who served as inspiration for the poems and songs in the book are Khalil Gibran, Audrey Hepburn and Albert Einstein.
The CD offers sonorous and relaxing, meditative tone poems, each themed by a specific cultural luminary who either immigrated to the U.S. or happens to be a first-generation citizen. The mood veers from jazz-inflected to introspective, with each track beautifully layered in an uplifting groove. Combined with the book, Home is a thoughtful tribute and contemplation of what constitutes the essence of feeling welcome and truly at home, both literally and spiritually.
Deepak Chopra is well-known in the New Age movement as an American author, a licensed physician and an alternative medicine advocate. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that he is also a musician and songwriter who has collaborated with a number of notable pop stars, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, George Harrison, Lady Gaga and Ravi Shankar. For this album, Chopra contributed vocals and performs on the tanpura drone, shaker, drums and percussion.
Chopra, who grew up in New Delhi, India and graduated from medical school just as the Viet Nam war was coming to an end, describes his arrival in the U.S. in 1970. “There was a shortage of doctors in the smaller community hospitals within the U.S. at the time and we were being recruited to help out,” he says. “I traveled to Sri Lanka to take the American Medical Association exam required to practice in the U.S., and I passed. We were allowed to leave India with the cash equivalent of only $8.00 because they didn’t want a brain drain. My uncle who lives in London had given me $100 and, in India, the number 108 is considered to be very auspicious. Accordingly, I felt that I ought to do something auspicious with this sum so I celebrated by spending the entire $108 at the Moulin Rouge in Paris!
“When I arrived to take up a clinical internship at Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey, I came with nothing. I made a collect call to contact my administrator, who sent a helicopter to pick me up from JFK airport to New Jersey. I was earning $4 an hour, working overtime.” Chopra’s first view of Manhattan was through the windows of this unforgettable helicopter ride, which conveyed him over the city at night.
“As soon as I arrived, I reported to the emergency room, where I was to start my shift. My training at this point was mostly theoretical and I had not yet seen many patients. During my first week, there had been a bank robbery with a shoot-out in the news and some of the policemen were brought into the hospital. A nurse said to me, ‘Dr. Chopra, we have an expiration.’ I had no idea what that word meant because I’d never heard of it. I didn’t want to let on so I said, ‘You bet! I am on it!’ She lead me into a room where there was a dead body. I looked at the patient and made my first diagnosis. I said, ‘He’s dead.’ I felt relieved because this meant I didn’t have to do anything. So she said, ‘That’s what I told you! We had an expiration!’ I thought, okay, now I know what that word means. I told her, ‘Well, if a patient is dead, why do you need a doctor? I can only treat the living!’
“She pointed her finger like this and said, ‘Your job is to pronounce him dead!’ I’d never heard that, also. Your soul cannot leave your body until a medical doctor says you can? At this moment, I realized I was going to have to go through a ritual, like examine the patient’s pupils. Every doctor has their own ritual. Not having learned English here in America, we used the British term for a flashlight, which is ‘torch.’ I asked her, ‘May I have a torch?’ She looked at me peculiarly and another nurse stood outside the door, was looking in as well. They were watching me and exchanging glances. The nurse standing outside the door said to the other, ‘He wants a torch?! Maybe he wants to do a cremation.’” After this initial week, Dr. Chopra adjusted quickly to his new life in the U.S.
Chopra explained the inspiration for this collaborative project, “I think a lot of people in the United States are currently feeling a certain backlash–racism, prejudice—basically fear,” he says. “This country is built by immigrants. 99% of us are all immigrants. The strength of the U.S. comes from maximum diversity and creativity and shared vision, a bond that we share, the realization of our own greatness.”
Kabir Sehgal, who sings and plays bass and percussion on the album says, “The book and album is an act of spiritual activism, which we created when the election was turning. It’s mostly an instrumental album. Deepak sings and plays percussion. We turned poetry into the music. What is it about music that is a better vector than pure prose?”
Sehgal is a jazz bassist, composer and GRAMMY-winning producer who has produced albums for guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Dr. Chopra, Argentine nuevo tango artist Pablo Ziegler and Cuban composer Cucho Valdés, to name a few. He is also a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of seven books. He is a first generation American whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from India and he is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve who has served on active duty.
Paul Avgerinos, who plays the 6- and 12-string guitar, electric and slide guitar, bass violin, piano and synthesizer on the album says, “The three of us were talking since last winter about doing something together and this project felt right to us all, being so timely in addressing a big issue of the day. We worked together to pick the poems that we all turned into music together. Avgerinos, who won a GRAMMY in 2016 for his New Age music album GRACE, is an American composer and producer who has worked with Aerosmith, Jewel, and Willie Nelson. He is a first generation American, whose father has a particularly harrowing story regarding his arrival in the U.S. from Greece in 1938.
On the subject of creativity, Chopra says, “We have to share our vision for what is possible and there is no better medium than art. Share your art. Creativity is the best use of your imagination. Human beings have the capacity to imagine anything they want. Stress is the perception of a threat. Whether it be physical stress or emotional stress–it creates a biological symptom and does harm to the body. Inflammation is the background of all chronic disease.
“The questions one must ask are, ‘Who am I? What do I want? What kind of world do I want to live in? How will I share my vision with others?’ Creativity,” he insists, “is a radical shift in meaning, context and story and with it, you can write a new story for yourself that moves you into harmony, love and joy.
“Music helps people learn and its intention is subtly embedded. That’s the idea of music,” Chopra says. “Poets and musicians are the rebels and troublemakers. They are the conscience of a society. Despots can hire scientists but artists create ultimate ideals. They are aware of the zeitgeist and offer a charismatic presence. They speak to emotions, heart and soul. Read the poetry of T.S. Eliot, , Shakespeare or Rumi to take your mind out of your mind out of these dark alleys. You’ll get closer to truth and beyond contradictions.”
Of his other musical collaborations, Chopra says, “George Harrison was an amazing lyricist. I remember when I first wrote my book Quantum Healing, in ’88, he visited me and then I stayed at his home. He took every chapter title of that book and created a song from them, called, ‘Rising Sun,’ which he recorded at his home in the U.K. The song wasn’t released until after his death. I have the original napkin he had written the lyrics on and I sent the music and lyrics to his wife.
“I also knew Michael Jackson for over twenty years,” Chopra says. “If you visited his home, you never heard pop music. You heard Beethoven and classical music. However, in his theatre, he had everyone on a jukebox, from The Beatles to a wide range of pop music. Michael did ask me to write several songs with him. One of these was, ‘Heal the World.’
Regarding their collaborative effort on the book and the album, which was recorded at Studio Unicorn in Redding, Connecticut, Chopra says, “I had a terrific time working on HOME with Paul and Kabir in the recording studio. There was a feeling of family and friendship in the room. We wanted that to come across in the music.”
Sehgal, is a longtime friend of Deepak Chopra and they collaborated together on past projects, notably on the 2016 release of the Ted Nash Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom (Motéma Music), which was produced by Sehgal. For this album of presidential speeches set to music, Chopra contributed as a reader.
“We had a great, heavy vibe in studio during recording, working with Paul and producers Will Ackerman and Jeff Oster on the title track of the album,” Sehgal says. “In creating this project, we’ve struck a note, as people have shared their immigrant stories with us. I’m a jazz musician and New Age is about staying on one chord and letting it flow. I had to chill out and go with the flow.”
Paul Avgerinos concurs, “This project was very exciting and intense collaboration, with a healthy and robust exchange of ideas and concepts. No idea was too large or difficult and we found a way to allow all three of our voices to be heard in different ways, both in the music and book.
“It was fabulous working with Deepak and Kabir, as they are both mighty talents in different yet complimentary ways. We are all proud and happy with the results of our collaboration as we feel it expresses our hearts and souls quite eloquently. Our producers, Will Ackerman and Jeff Oster, fulfilled their duties admirably helping to make all the countless decisions that go into a large and complex project like this one. Jeff Oster and I go back about ten years and Will Ackerman and I go back to the beginning of the New Age music genre. Amazingly, this is the first time we have worked together formally.
“From the beginning, we were all clear that we wanted the music CD portion to be a New Age music album, so we let this style guide illuminate each choice along the way,” Avgerinos says. “The selection of the immigrants celebrated in the poems was a team effort as was the poems themselves.”
Each guest artist who contributed stories to the project can be viewed on the official website for Home.