Ayahuasqueros: A Trip

Amazonian Shaman Soundtrack Stephan Crasneanscki's New Ayahuasca Documentary

Enchanting tribal songs lead Canadian anthropologist Jeremy Narby and French filmmaker and Soundwalk founder Stephan Crasneanscki through the psychedelic ayahuasca experience, in this clip from Ayahuasqueros: Recordings from the Amazon, Peru. Famously sought out by beat writer William S. Burroughs as a miracle cure for his opiate addiction, ayahausca is a hallucinogenic plant brew containing DMT used by Amazonian shaman in their tribal ceremonies since at least the sixteenth century. On their psychoactive trips, shamans claim to see and hear the essences of plants and animals as melodies called “icaros,” and learn the songs to give them the knowledge and power of the jungle. Setting off from Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, Narby and Crasneanscki traveled by boat up the Amazon, joining shamans in their ritual inebriations, and later combining collected footage and field recordings with world-renowned expert Narby’s radio essay on the ayahuasca experience for their documentary. “People are increasingly dissatisfied with the modern world and ayahuasca is a kind of counterpoint,” suggests Narby of the intoxicant’s increasing prevalence in Western pop culture—evidenced by the availability of package tours to visit the Amazon and take it first hand. “It’s seen as an embodiment of nature, of everything that the modern world isn’t and as a way of reconnecting with your body.” Here Narby and Crasneanscki expound.

Crasneanscki: Ayahuasqueros was the idea of going up the river of the Amazon, deeper and deeper into the forest… I’m a newcomer. I arrived here because Radio France asked me to embark on a project about poetry—poetry in its active form, not a dead poetry. I thought that the icaros, the songs of the ayahuasca ceremony, were a form of poetry, a poetry that’s alive and has a function in society today.

An icaros is a melody that an ayahuasca shaman gets from his or her visions. In their visions these practitioners see what they consider to be the essence of living beings, of plants and animals, which is a melody. If you can learn that melody by singing along with it as you perceive it in your visions then you can see like these entities, and gain their knowledge and power. That’s what these icaros are: songs of knowledge and power. You judge the knowledge of a shaman by the number of number of icaros that he or she has, just like you judge a university professor by the number of books that he or she has published.

For me the icaros has something really special in the quality of the voices, the rhythm and rhyme. It’s all a cappella, there are no instruments. It’s extremely pure. It has a vibration, initially in the ear, that really takes you on a journey. Icaros is what you use to ride through the experience of Ayahuasca.

The melody works as a kind of lifeline that you can grab onto if you’re drowning in your visions. It’s true that these are songs of drunkenness and they are made to navigate drunkenness, so you can only fully appreciate their effect if you are yourself in that modified state of consciousness, and they are precisely tools for finding your way in that discombobulating space.
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