Laraaji | A Rediscovery, A Sonic Rebirth

Via Issue 185, The Cocoon Issue, out now!

Photographed by

Daniel Ramos

Styled by


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HOMME PLISSE BY ISSEY MIYAKE coat and talent’s own shirt, pants, hat, and scarf.

Laraaji, born Edward Larry Gordon, sits across from me via zoom in his living room in Harlem, NY. We laugh about how I wore an orange shirt to match his famously bright aesthetic. He has a deep laugh that makes me genuinely feel good. We seamlessly jump into our conversation about the path that brought him to this point in life, befitting the title of Laraaji’s latest album to be released this month in collaboration with Numero Group, Segue To Infinity. The 4-LP boxed set was rediscovered after a student won a bid in an eBay auction in 2021. The track list includes previously unreleased work dating back to the late 1970s.

Laraaji spends time experimenting with the new-age sounds that technology can bring to his zither and autoharp. Although, during the pandemic, he was able to collaborate with musicians around the world rather than get lost in nostalgia. He explains, ”I was invited to do what I do today and collaborate and remix people’s tracks…it was a big boost.” As someone whose background likens him to a modern-day renaissance man, Laraaji’s work encompasses such a global array of sounds, instruments, and categories that hesitate to label the kind of music he makes. However, one thing one can quickly pinpoint that the music works to transport and mirror a softer inner place.

"Music can mirror the quiet inner places,” Laraaji tells me as I ask about his past, growing up in Philadelphia, working his way to New York, and becoming a teacher of the meditative arts. “It brings you peace as much as it mirrors your inner peace waiting to be recognized.” There was nothing easy about his musical path, even at times sleeping in the subway station for warmth and performing on the sidewalks for anyone who would listen. Laraaji never gives the impression of regret or sadness, though. His past and every detail of his actions led to this moment—the flow. “It felt like a gift—a miraculous gift. When you do these recordings, you don’t know what their future will be, and to have this future is unique,” Laraaji reminisces about recording these original masters when he was still known as Larry to his friends (one of whom is the famous avant-garde sound pioneer, Brian Eno). “That music came together organically and spontaneously…There are no music sheets and no real directions given to me. I just turn on the recorder and let my inner inspiration bubble into the music.”

HOMME PLISSE BY ISSEY MIYAKE coat and talent’s own shirt, pants, hat, and scarf.

Questions about what a composer meant or intended with the music become arbitrary in moments like this, because the focus is on the music and how it makes the listener feel. Laraaji’s music explores the journey from the finite to infinity, and it’s not enough to call it the music of meditation. Some tracks like “Celestial Vibration” and “Koto” have unique, clanging, harsh sounds like those made for waking Tibetan monks from their slumber or trance. Laraaji explains,“ Jazz influence does come into my live performances, and you probably heard some in the album. I was shy about letting too much of it come into my performance style… but more and more, it’s coming up, and I’m finding it’s more acceptable. By that,I mean it doesn’t distract from the intention of my music.”

Laraaji and Numero Group’s Douglas Mcgowan left the tracks untouched, including keeping the engineer notes and comments in some of the masters. It creates a juxtaposition that, for now, Laraaji feels, is naked, “Exposing myself and letting all that in—let’s see where it goes.” Looking back and seeing the trajectory of Laraaji’s work adds to its importance and strife. He says, “I kept the name Laraaji, which serves many people and me very well. Sometimes it runs its difficulty…but I get along with it. And it still is a symbol of the sun and continual and purposeful service.”

Laraaji closes our conversation with a reflection on the album itself, “The idea of releasing this album against what I’m doing now, with high tech effects on my zither—I thought there would be a very big annoying contrast. But it turned out to be a compliment.” If you get a chance to step out of your daily routine, this album might help cocoon you in some much-needed you time.

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