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July 10, 2009

Tina Turner records album with Swiss friends

Swiss urged to aid Sino-Tibet dialogue

When Regula Curti rang her Zurich neighbour Tina Turner's telephone number, she wasn't expecting the Queen of Rock and Roll herself to pick up the receiver.Curti wanted to ask if Turner would lend her voice to an album of Christian and Buddhist songs she planned to record with her Swiss-Tibetan friend Dechen Shak-Dagsay. To her surprise, the singer, a Buddhist herself, agreed.

The result is Beyond Buddhist and Christian Prayers, which has so far been released in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The title track, also called Beyond, is a spiritual message written and spoken by Turner.

"I called her and it was really pure luck that she took the phone herself and she felt my emotion because it came from a vision I had in which I heard her talking into a soundtrack, not singing," Curti told swissinfo.ch over a cup of ginger tea at her Seeschau yoga and music therapy centre at Erlenbach on Lake Zurich.

"We met three hours later and I told her what I felt and she looked at me and said that she had waited a long time to spread her spiritual life to the world and to her fans," Curti said.


The 69-year-old Turner, whose career spans more than 50 years, shot to fame with her husband as part of the Ike and Tina Turner review.

Turner split from the violent Ike in the 1970s and went on to build a highly successful solo career. She has lived in Switzerland since 1994 with her German music producer partner.

Born a Baptist in the American deep south, Turner later converted to Buddhism, which she has credited with helping her get through the difficult patches in her life.

"In Beyond she is speaking a full message. It's like her own prayer to the world. It's based on holy scripts and [Persian poet] Rumi poetry and she made the text herself, it really comes from her deepest heart," said Curti.

In the background, Shak-Dagsay, a Tibetan mantra specialist, sings the tara mantra chant and Curti, a trained singer, a text from German medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen. "I called Tina, and it was really pure luck that she took the phone herself."

Regula Curti Spiritual side

The indefatigable Turner, known for her strong voice and energetic stage performances and who was still touring earlier this year, shows an entirely different side to her personality in the song.

She invites listeners to go beyond fear and revenge, to listen to their feelings and to love. "Start every day singing like the birds," she says. "Singing takes you beyond..."

At one point she says, "what does love have to do with it?", echoing the title of one of her most famous songs What's Love Got To Do With It.

"Beyond means that if you go underneath hatred and anger and the negative emotions, you find yourself in a field where love and peace prevails," explained Curti.

Religious inspiration

Curti and Shak-Dagsay have been friends for six years and have often collaborated together.

The two women were inspired to create the album after they attended a ceremony on interreligious dialogue hosted in 2005 by The Dalai Lama and Abbot Martin Werlen, head of the Benedictine Monastery in Einsiedeln in central Switzerland.

Both religious leaders have since given their blessing to the project, whose proceeds go to charity.

The idea, said Shak-Dagsay, was to reach people no matter what their beliefs are. "Our main message is to tell people that there's something really deep inside you which everyone has, and we are all the same.

"It's not explicitly a Buddhist project or a Christian project, it's a universal one," she told swissinfo.ch.

Dechen Shak-Dagsay Mix of styles

The two friends sing the other eight songs on the album. That Buddhist chants and Christian songs, seemingly in very different styles, can mesh together is very much in evidence on the CD.

In Connecting Hearts, Shak-Dagsay sings a Tibetan mantra. "It's a universal compassion mantra so millions of Buddhists in the world recite it with the genuine wish to cultivate compassion for all beings," she explained.

Curti sings the Swiss alpine blessing Ave Maria. "It's really very similar to the Buddhist prayer, it's generally asking for the connection to God, and you also talk to God from that prayer, from mountain to mountain," she said.

Since the album has been launched, the two women have lived through a whirlwind of publicity and interviews often without Turner, who is only making a few appearances.

It is quite a new experience for Curti and for Shak-Dagsay, who came to Switzerland as a toddler after her parents fled Tibet in the 1960s.

Positive message

The feedback they have had from the public so far, they say, has been very positive.

"When we started the project, people were not quite sure if it would work when we were talking about interweaving Christian and Buddhist prayers and Tina's voice," Curti admitted.

"But what we realised was that when three strong women from different upbringings and different cultures are all in that same vibration, in that inner space where humanity lies... the voices blend so beautifully," she said.

Shak-Dagsay hopes that people will be inspired through the songs to sing and pray. For her, the album's message has a particular pertinence in these times of economic crisis and uncertainty as it encourages people to look beyond materialistic values, to what is within themselves.

"This is where actually our true value lies," she said.

Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Erlenbach on Lake Zurich, swissinfo.ch

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