Love, loss and the healing power of music
Edo Kahn is the co-founder of A Sound Life, a charity bringing music, yoga and meditation to at-need sectors of the community. But in the early 2000s, he was on a very different path as the singer and guitarist for indie rock outfit Gelbison. “I always had the deeper intention of music being a spiritual modality, a spiritual art form,” he says. Gelbison were playing alongside the biggest bands in the country and touring internationally, but Edo longed for something more. “I was at the point, in terms of being in a music career, where I just was feeling empty and I was kind of searching for that success and everything… when you get into music, and especially just in the whole indie music scene, you can become a real snob about music and dissecting music,” he says.
A tide of unrest including a breakup and changes to the band lineup led Edo to look beyond the music scene for something more meaningful. “I was spiritually opening up and feeling way more vulnerable, but didn't know how to be vulnerable on stage,” Edo recalls. Ironically it would be music – a CD lent by his old school mate Ben Lee – that would open him up to a whole new world. “When I was on tour in America after Ben had his first trip to India, he gave me this mantra… It was very powerful, all this kind of physiological stuff started happening to me. It felt like someone was rewiring my brain and my heart was just like being torn. It felt like my chest was being torn open,” says Edo. “Sometimes you see there's this perfect order to the universe and portals open which just show you that everything is part of a much larger design than we can conceive of, and I guess this was one of those times where everything just opened up. I was just listening to the mantra nonstop, and I just knew I had to go. It was kind of like the calling card to go back to the place which is my spiritual home.”
In India, Edo connected with Ben’s spiritual teacher Sakthi Amma . It was a trip that would change the course of his life. “I didn't even want to take a guitar, I guess I'd lost contact with why I started making music in the first place but going to India just reignited the spark,” says Edo. “At the end of the trip, I asked, ‘How can I be of service to the world?’ And my teacher said, ‘Just sing, it brings joy.’ And it was like, ahh yes! That's why I do music! For something bigger, to be of service, to bring joy.”
After the trip, another chance encounter would help sow the seeds of what would eventually become Edo’s charity A Sound Life. “ I was in New York and we were looking for a manager, and I saw at the bottom of this guy’s email, there was a thing called Musicians On Call... It was a charity that offered free music at the bedsides of patients in hospitals,” he says. Edo wasted no time volunteering and on his return to Australia, his began playing music for at-need sectors of the community. “It reconnected me with the essence of what the power of music is. It wasn't about performance, it wasn't about being the star up there on the stage, it was just about connection and no inhibitions,” Edo says. “It wasn't about singing a song from beginning to end, it was just about creative expression. Being in those sessions really made me connect with the essence of music, and with kind of people who weren't judging or weren't looking at music from a critical space.”
Gelbison broke up in 2007 and Edo focussed on volunteering and playing Kirtan (mantra-based music). He met his first wife Jo Mall on a yoga retreat and the couple immediately bonded over their shared love of music. “I remember my brother's wife saying to me, ‘Maybe you'll meet someone on that retreat.’ And I was like, ‘I don't think so.’” Edo was wrong. “I heard her sing and play the flute and I was like, "Okay, she's the one," you know? She was a management consultant at the time, and she wasn't even doing music.”
But she soon would be. The couple formed Edo and Jo, touring the world for the next seven years playing mantra music and doing volunteer work, from teaching yoga to helping build orphanages. “In 2013 we were living in India and we were sitting in our little apartment in the village and we were kind of conceiving of it all. Jo had been a management consultant, so within two days we had a business plan for A Sound Life, a website, and we bought the URL,” he says. “We took it into the temple, got the whole blueprint blessed, came back to Australia and set it up.”
But A Sound Life’s mission would hit a heart-breaking roadblock. In 2015, Jo was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She died seven weeks after receiving her diagnosis. “Watching somebody whose spiritual practice and belief in mantra, in meditation, all these things, literally carried her through her disintegrating body to a realisation where, one day while her mum and I were nursing her, she turned to us and said, ‘This is just a body, you know, it's not who I am.’ So even though she was in pain and all these things, it became a very real realisation that she was a soul,” Edo says.
“All our spiritual practice together enabled us to make death a very profound experience. We had all our friends come on the last day and just chant by her bedside continuously, and we read, you know, just from spiritual books, like Bhagavad Gita. And when she passed, the transfer of energy from her to me, just things happened that I just never could have anticipated. And so there was the pain and loss on the physical level, but there was a lot of bliss on a spiritual soul level as well, which was something I could have never imagined. If you asked me how would it feel to lose your wife, I would have said just horrible. You know, I couldn't have said there would have been kind of light and an incredible path to it.”
Four years later, Jo’s legacy lives on through A Sound Life which continues to service the community with music, yoga and meditation. A Sound Life launched its first pop-up this year at Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter, hosting yoga, meditation and kirtan with all profits helping fund community outreach projects. “We'd love to take A Sound Life national. That's still the dream. The Dome is the social enterprise to fund the charity. The hardest thing with charities is you get a bit of funding, you grow, and then funders leave you. And then you're kind of stuck,” says Edo. “I'd love to see A Sound Life create a whole well-being academy or permanent structure, which is bigger where we can host international kind of leading well-being advocates and teachers and healers, and run trainings.”
“When Jo passed…there was the pain and loss on the physical level, but there was a lot of bliss on a spiritual soul level as well, which was something I could have never imagined.”
And on a personal level, Edo has found healing through surrender once again. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I'll never be in a relationship again. Why would I put myself through that, opening up to somebody and possibly losing them again, and then Emily turned up in India, and it was just like this boom,” Edo says of meeting his wife Emily.
The couple welcomed their first child in 2019, and opened the Bodhi Glow Sanctuary, an experiential space hosting retreats, yoga and providing solace to rescued animals. “I never thought I'd be a step-parent and have a child and a farm sanctuary. – all just kind of a whole new chapter just opened, and I just surrendered to it and opened to the love. It's been amazing.”
A SOUND LIFE DOME runs until June 24 at Sydney Entertainment Quarter. For a full listing of what’s on check out their gig guide.
A Sound Life brings yoga, meditation and music to at-need sectors of the community. “We visit hospitals, people with disabilities, women's refuge…We feel that everyone needs it, so why limit it?” says Edo. “We run regular info sessions, so yoga teachers, meditation teachers can come and learn more about volunteering. If you're not a musician or a yoga teacher or meditation teacher, you just want to help, we always need people with different skillsets. Graphic designers, filmmakers, people with admin skills, there's just always things that we need help with. So yeah, just register just through the website.