Monday, July 8, 2013

Interview with Nichiren Buddhist musician Ife Sanchez Mora

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I will be doing a Skype interview with alt-rock musician and fellow Nichiren Buddhist Ife Sanchez Mora. After overcoming a few technical and scheduling challenges, I am very happy to finally be able to present the interview here. I hope you will enjoy it.

Before you see the interview, I should say a few things about Ife. In her work, Ife blends several different musical genres, including rock, blues, country and funk, to create her own unique and refreshing sound. To give you a taste of her work, here's a video from her recently released album:

In addition to her musical career, Ife is also a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, and has been a member of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International (SGI) from birth; both her parents, prominent Detroit musicians Francisco Mora and Teresa Mora, have been practicing Buddhists since before she was born. In addition to Buddhism, Ife also practices Bikram yoga, and credits both her Buddhist and yoga practices with helping her to stay grounded amidst the vagaries and stresses of the highly competitive music industry.    


I should probably just shut up and let you see the interview already. But there are still a couple more things you need to be aware of (please bear with my long-windedness). I had originally intended to do the entire interview as one long Skype video session. Unfortunately, I only had the trial/demo version of the Skype recording software: Because of this, I was only able to record two five-minute-long segments of what was actually a 30-minute-long interview. So, in what follows, you will only be able to see 10 minutes of the actual Skype interview. The missing part will be filled by me below in text form. My apologies for this inconvenience. I have just purchased the full Skype recording package, so hopefully, you will be able to see the full length of all future Skype interviews on this blog (Moral of the story: Don't be a cheapo. Get the full version of whatever you have.). 

Here's the first segment of the interview. Ife talks about her early life and how she came to choose the path of music:

In the second segment, Ife shares how her supportive family, her Buddhist practice within the SGI, and her Bikram yoga practice have all helped her to grow and develop as a musician:

What follows below is the subsequent part of the interview that was not captured by the Skype recorder:

Nobel: It's interesting that you mention that you practice Bikram yoga, and the place of alignment within this practice. Since this is a yoga blog, I would like to ask you a technical question. I have heard a few stories of people who have injured themselves while practicing Bikram yoga, either because the heated environment of the Bikram studio causes them to push themselves beyond reasonable limits, or because the fast pace of the practice causes them to be less aware of what their bodies are going through. But you also seem to be suggesting that alignment plays an important role in Bikram yoga. This is something I am not aware of, since I have never practiced Bikram yoga. Can you tell us more about the place of alignment in Bikram yoga?

Ife: Sure. In every class, my instructor takes care to ensure that students pay attention to proper alignment while moving through the sequence of asanas. It is unfortunately true that people have injured themselves in the course of the practice. It is also true that this may have something to do with the fact that Bikram can be done competitively. But ultimately, the practice isn't just about pushing yourself physically; it is ultimately a therapeutic practice, and many people have healed themselves on many levels through doing Bikram yoga.

Nobel: Thank you for sharing your yoga practice with us. Sometime last year, you gave a very beautiful interview to Tricycle magazine. In that interview, you said:

"I really feel that Buddhism has taught me how to have appreciation. I think for every human being, appreciation in daily life is key. Through having appreciation for everything, you're able to expand so much as a human being, with your heart and your spirit and your mind. As a creative person especially, you really look to that expansion in order to be able to create, because the creative process is so intense. It takes a lot of digging deep within yourself and pulling things out while you don't really know what you're digging for or what you're pulling out."

What a vivid and beautiful description of your internal creative process! But I also wonder whether, in the course of this expansion and digging and pulling, have you ever pulled out certain unpleasant things from your life (painful past experiences or memories, etc.)? How have you been able to use your art to transmute these painful experiences? I ask this question because a lot of your music touches on the experience of women who are in painful or addictive relationships. Can you share this part of your creative process with us? 

Ife: Definitely. In Nichiren Buddhism, we have the concept of transforming poison into medicine (Japanese: Hendoku Iyaku). The idea is that through the Buddhist practice, any painful experience ("poison") can be transformed into something that helps you to grow as a human being ("medicine"). This concept definitely applies to this part of my creative process. For example, when I was working on my latest album, I was going through a difficult time in my marriage. Through renewed dedication to the Buddhist practice and a serious process of reflection, I was able to transform this painful experience into something that helped me to find new grounds for expressing myself creatively in my music. As a result, many people who have listened to my latest album have told me how much the music speaks to them personally and touches them on a deep level. I believe this is possible because of the process of transformation that happened within myself as I made the music.      

Nobel: Wow, thank you so much for sharing this deeply personal part of your experience as an artist and human being. Before I let you go, I have one more question for you. In order for you to become who you have become, there must be mentors and formative influences in your life that have shaped who you are today. Can you tell us who your mentors are?

Ife: Absolutely. My grandmother Elizabeth Catlett is a big source of inspiration in my life. She was a renowned political painter who has received honorary degrees from more than 70 prestigious universities and Ivy League institutions in this country and around the world. Her work has been featured in the most prestigious African-American art collections around the world, and she has also been named one of Oprah Winfrey's legends. She accomplished all this at a time when discrimination against African Americans and women was rampant. Whenever I find myself stuck or facing a deadlock in my life, I would ask myself, "What would Grandma do?"

Heidi Pollyea, an Atlanta, Georgia based singer and songwriter is also a great influence in my life. When I first started out as a musician, I was shy and did not have a big voice. I took voice lessons with Heidi, who taught me how to find my voice and give expression to my potential.

Don Lawrence also helped me to develop my musical abilities, and use it to productively further my career in the music industry.   

Nobel: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I hope we get to speak again soon.

Ife: Thank you. 


  1. I agree - Bikram can be a therapeutic practice! I teach it as therapy and am studying to become a yoga therapist in the Viniyoga lineage. The heat does represent life obstacles - and standing in it burns the seeds of suffering.

    Love to hear the thoughts on Buddhism. I liked to hear about building faith in the practice through engagement with the community.

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