Can an American DJ turn eastern mysticism into a mainstream dance floor hit? Alyson Calagna thinks so, and has set out to prove that music can be transformed into devotion through a unique interpretation of spiritual sound.
Calagna, who gained international recognition playing for sold-out crowds at events in the United States, Europe and South America, has recently moved in a decidedly more intimate direction. Her new collection, Omtronica, which mixes mantras, devotionals and poetry with house and tribal beats, has quickly garnered her a new following online ... and has caught the attention of the world-renowned Buddha Bar franchise, which will showcase her sound for its New Year's celebration in Washington, D.C. (Her appearance there follows her performance at Miami's recent arts concert for Haiti, which sought to raise awareness of the continued tragedy unfolding in that country.)
The Buddha Bar locale is the perfect physical intersection to cap off a year of spiritual and personal journeys that have driven Calagna to re-examine, and re-invent, her music.
Growing up in Dubai, Calagna says she was drawn to spirituality as a child, always finding herself "going into new age stores and not really knowing why."
"It was interesting growing up American in a country that worships Allah," she recently said. "I was very curious about people's beliefs and often wondered how one God can truly be different than another."
That belief in the commonality of spiritual experience has now manifested itself in a collection that features chanting monks, Church choir divas and, even, a sampling of actress Demi Moore reciting the poetry of the Sufi mystic Rumi.
The title of Calagna's new sound is based on the Sanskrit word "Om," representing Source, God or Light. "Musically," she says, "it is said to be the sound of the universe, the most sacred mantra."
It is also a personal mantra for the DJ, who is an avid yoga practitioner and whose new website charts not just her musical journey, but also her spiritual one, too. In addition to offering her latest set as a free download for visitors, it also includes a tribute to Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (who, she says, "has been an inspiration to me in so many ways") and information on Bodhi Day -- the day Zen Buddhists honor the Buddha's enlightenment.
Now, on the eve of a new decade, Calagna also stands on the verge of a career breakthrough, too. As she helps to ring in the New Year at Washington's Buddha Bar, the moment will also signal her arrival on a whole new stage. As she breaks into that new territory, she is bringing her very Zen message -- of dedication, compassion and the transformative power of dance -- to bear on an industry where "trance" used to mean something else entirely.
Following in the foot steps of so many of the spiritual teachers she admires, Calagna is melding ancient spirituality and contemporary life to bring those teachings to a new audience and generation through music, a medium with universal appeal.
"With complete humility and service," she writes on her Omtronica site, "I pass along this knowledge with the wish that it inspires and enlightens you to awaken even futher."
For Calagna, 2011 promises to be a year of wishes fulfilled.