Laraaji’s power is out. For someone who signs his emails with the word “light”—and who’s known for his love of orange clothes, a color he describes as “energizing”—it’s odd to imagine him sitting in the shadows. From his home in Harlem, the pillar of the New Age movement speaks carefully into his cell phone, pausing every so often and waiting for the right words to come to him, all while an electrician works on his apartment’s circuitry in the background.
Laraaji has spent nearly 50 years spreading a message of light, through his studies of meditation, mind science, mysticism, and the Vedanta, one of the six systems of Hindu philosophy. He’s continued to explore these spiritual practices through his equally luminous music, made on the electric zither, piano, and autoharp. Born Edward Larry Gordon, he grew up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey listening to gospel and church music, as well as the pop and R&B he heard on the radio. After studying music theory, piano, and composition at Howard University, Gordon moved to New York City in the 1960s, where he frequented nightclubs and dabbled in stand-up comedy (to this day, he facilitates workshops focused on laughter as a form of therapy and meditation). In his thirties, he began to cultivate his spiritual discipline through yoga and meditation, eventually weaving his newfound knowledge into his musical practice.
In 1978, Gordon was busking in Washington Square Park when Brian Eno chanced upon his performance and dropped a note into his zither case. They went on to record 1980’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, an album that established Laraaji as an inimitable figure in the New Age landscape and remains a classic of its titular genre. Though Ambient 3 exposed his mesmerizing work to a new audience, Laraaji continued self-releasing experimental cassette tapes into the ’80s. In the last decade, reissues on labels like Light in the Attic, Leaving Records, and Numero Group have caught the attention of another new generation of listeners. Today, Laraaji continues to evolve his sound: He just released Sun Piano, a collection of keyboard improvisations recorded in a Brooklyn church.