Hédi Carlee is a new phenomenon in the worldy music scene of ecstatic chanting, mantra music and healing songs. Her unique harmonies and fresh indiepop approach to her chant performances have proven a pleasant surprise to many fans of the genre.
“Listen to this remarkable woman, her mantras will sooth your soul (Ilse DeLange) ” and “It feels like your soul’s getting into a bath” (Yoga Magazine) are some of the initial reactions to her work by critics of the genre.
People know you as Charlie Dée. You’re known for the fresh, yet sometimes melancholic, pop songs you’ve put out in the past. You gained a lot of praise from Joni Mitchell, no less. You won the Grote Prijs van Nederland contest, you took an Essent Award and also had Tiesto record a remix of Have It All. Then there was the release of your beautiful duet with Huub van der Lubbe – written and composed by you and we also saw you take the stage at festival grounds like Lowlands, Oerol and Appelpop.
Now though, you’re coming out with something entirely new. Tell us, please, who is Hédi Carlee?
“That’s me!,” she beamingly replies. Hédi Carlee is an anagram of Charlie Dée. I was in a serious car accident in 2017 and suffered whiplash injury as well as some mild brain damage. It took me quite a few years to recover from that. You learn a great deal about yourself in those situations. I was left hypersensitive to light and noise for quite a long time. It isolates you and the only thing I was really able to do, was turn inwardly. I began asking myself the big questions in life, and venturing along that road, I encountered mantra music and sacred chanting. I immediately noticed the positive effect it was having on me. It not only helped me on my inner journey, but also aided my physical recovery. I’ve been able to get back to making music again with some of my old band. And then I thought, well, I had a bit of a bang to the head, which then lead me to undergo this transformation I mentioned earlier – which was also a musical transformation in many ways, – perhaps it’s also time to give my stage name a bit of a shake-up. And that culminated in the name Hédi Carlee.
What is it about mantras that you find so appealing about them?
A mantra is a positive message you keep repeating over and over. Most of the time mantras are in Sanskrit. That repetitive nature is what I was able to latch onto. Singing pop songs had become too difficult for me to do. There’s a certain rigid structure to them and you have really be with it the entire time in order to do them well. And because of the brain damage I’d suffered, I was no longer able to maintain that focus. Plus, my memory and my ability to find words had also been affected. Mantras, on the other hand, generally have existing lyrics to them. Now, that, I could handle. And not only could I handle it, it changed me. They cracked my heart open and it became a necessity to sing these healing songs. I always had an urge to sing. It’s just something I was born to do. And so when I’d eventually found a way after the accident to express myself again through singing and music, I really committed to it. I gave it everything I had.
Many of the mantras you sing are in Sanskrit. I would imagine that would take quite a bit of getting used to.
Oh, you bet! That really did take me quite a while of soul searching, but surely, I grew more accustomed to them. Sanskrit is a language we don’t speak anymore. It’s not a language for the mind, it’s a language only the cells of your body seem to understand. Turns out that it’s quite close to my heart after all.
How did you come by mantra singing in the first place?
Well, long before the thought had even come to mind, I had a friend tell me, “You’re going to be singing mantras. I can see it now. This is the new road you’re going to be taking.” I remember when this friend took me to see Snatam Kaur perform, a famous mantra singer , I was quite hesitant at first, apprehensive even. I’m a spiritual person, all right. Sensitive. But more in an “earthly spiritual” sense of the word. But upon hearing her sing her very first lines, the tears started rolling down my cheeks and I knew then that I’d begun a new journey.