Story & Photos David Bolling
I am sitting in René Jenkins’ bedroom with my eyes closed, listening to the soft, swishing rustle of what I later learn are turkey feathers sweeping past my face, when the whisper of a flute, as fine as the trill of a tiny bird, floats through my ears and into the cavity of my head, which is hollow now but for the voice of that tiny bird, hovering in the stillness, its vibrations lighter than pollen on the wind. I—or some part of me—leave the bedroom briefly, apparently afloat somewhere, and then I am back because sometime during my absence the sound has changed to a driving baritone cadence that pulsates through me, weaving a rhythm of ancient vibrations in a primordial voice as old as stone. I recognize it as a didjeridu, but the recognition is not cerebral, it’s strictly autonomic, and it’s alive and vibrating in fiery circles that tremble on my chest, on my stomach, on my shoulders and then, somehow, inexplicably, on my back, which isn’t possible, because there’s no room between the back of my chair and the wall behind me, no space for René to stand, the didjeridu is long, has to be 6 feet, how is it behind me, the fiery circles are pulsing physically on my back, touching me, not painfully but powerfully, passing into my torso, and somehow he is not breathing, there is no intake of breath, just the constant mesmerizing drone that now carries me swiftly to a remote colony on the Cape York peninsula at the northernmost tip of Australia, an aboriginal enclave where years before I encountered a man so ancient in the bearing of his face, so primeval, so original, that eons of history shone from his eyes, his face so dark and weathered it swallowed the sunlight, so knowing I thought somehow he knew me. As the didjeridu droned on, I thought of Moses, of Methuselah, and slowly the droning disappeared, swallowed seamlessly by another flute.
I have known René Jenkins for less than half an hour and already I have traveled great distances, far back in time and deep into myself. When I open my eyes, slowly, he is standing before me, smiling, expectant and kind.
I think he asks, “How was it?” But I’m not sure. It is like emerging from a dream.
René Jenkins plays a virtually limitless range of instruments, including the ones I have just heard, the majority of them fashioned from clay, bone, feathers, cactus, and other organic materials, mostly artifacts of ancient Mesoamerica from a culture of mysticism and deep connection to the earth. Some of them are linked, he tells me, to the rituals performed by Q’ero shamans, high up in the province of Paucartambo in Peru. He plays these instruments effortlessly, as if he were born with them. Of course, all great musicians practice relentlessly and we can assume René does too, but it looks like the instruments have grown out of his hands, or sprouted from his mouth. He handles them like friends and calls them, “My instrument allies.” They include: more than one clay whistle; a Pututo (conch shell); a Peruvian ritual flute; a Native American flute; a Chimu Water Vessel—called a Silvadora, from the Chimu culture; a Mayan Drone flute; several didjeridus; a Condor Quill Antara (harvested sustainably by a shaman from a condor graveyard); a Condor Bone flute; a Peruvian Ocarina; Hawaiian Bone flutes; a Zapotec Quad Clay flute; a Native American Spirit Chaser; a Dan Moi (vibrating metal reed); a wind wand; Shakshas (pod shells that make shimmering sounds); and Shakapas (Bamboo and Indian corn rattles).
Then, parenthetically, he also plays piano, trombone, and other conventional instruments in contemporary musical genres, including big band jazz, funk, R&B, reggae, salsa, brass ensembles, and pit orchestras. He has backed numerous established artists, including Natalie Cole, Johnny Mathis, the Temptations, Mary Wilson, Joe Williams, Jah Levi, and Gregg Allman. He is currently the trombonist for Dick Bright’s SRO, a 19-piece soul-rock band with a repertoire ranging from Motown to hip-hop.
But it is the transcendent allure of the ancient instruments, and the shamanic tradition from which they spring, that resonates most deeply for René, as well as for his ever-growing international audience.
He refers to himself as “a sound healer” and a “ceremonial sound practitioner.” He doesn’t so much touch people with his hands as with the vibrations from the multiplicity of instruments he deploys in healing services for single clients or groups small and large. The instruments themselves are mesmerizing, the didjeridu perhaps most of all, and with it he has mastered the sometimes daunting technique of circular breathing, which allows for long, uninterrupted performances without stopping for a breath.
“As soon as you play it, you are instantly connected to its healing properties,” says René. “It’s a very ancient instrument.”
And because, as he points out, “Music has the ability to transform emotions,” René has, over the years, moved his music more and more off the concert stage and into living rooms and churches and more intimate venues where he often does “sound blessings,” and where, he says, “true healing can take place.”
He calls this, “vibe therapy,” and describes it on his website as “ceremonial sound healing akin to shamanic journeying, based on Peruvian cosmology, ancestral wisdom, and modern healing principles. Beautiful sounds of ancestral instruments are played rhythmically and melodically around and upon the body, inducing an introspective, ecstatic or altered-state of awareness for promoting greater insight and healing.”
For this gift, René repeatedly credits his teachers, partners and inspirations, including Tito La Rosa, himself a musician and curandero de sonido, (a sound healer), and descendent of the Quechua Indians in Peru, with whom he has performed.
Also in the circle of his healing collaborators is his partner Janet Janay Cipriani, herself a healer and certified Angel Therapy Practitioner. And for his most recent CD, Weya, he credits Lorin Smith, a Kashaya Pomo elder and healer who taught and inspired René with the spirit of Weya, a Pomo word for nurturing healing energy.
Describing the intentions of his work, René writes, “I offer a safe and sacred space for participants to shut off the everyday world and go inward to reach a personal place of surrender and power. Recipients access their own inner resources of peace and vitality, and strengthen their connection with Source. In this personal place, mental and emotional barriers to creativity, freedom, well-being, and joy can be recognized and healed.”
You can access the work of René Jenkins on his website, vibetherapy.com, where CDs of his music are available. He can also be reached by email at HealingVibes@sonic.net, and by phone at 707.939.9827.
You can access the work of René Jenkins on his website, vibetherapy.org, where CDs of his music are available. He can also be reached by email at HealingVibes@sonic.net, and by phone at 707.939.9827.