Mixed tape: Shantaram author Gregory David Roberts sings a new tune

Gregory David Roberts — best known for the bestselling book Shantaram (2003) — has a music album out. Released in December, it’s called Love & Faith, with lyrics inspired by characters and themes from Shantaram and the author’s recent six years of spiritual seclusion.

It’s an unusual turn in an unusually eventful life. In his novel, readers got a fictionalised glimpse of the Australian’s years as a heroin addict, a prisoner sentenced for armed robbery and then a prison escapee who spent a decade on the run. There were reams on his time in Bombay in the 1980s, when he worked on the fringes of a gang, as well as his eventual capture and return to prison in Australia.

It was in prison, while writing his book, that he began composing music. These aren’t those songs, he says. These are songs he began writing in 2015. It took him from 2018 to 2020 to line up all the right collaborators.

Watch: The author of Shantaram has a music album out

All 16 tracks on the album have been composed and written by Roberts. The album features collaborations with Jamaican artists D’Yani, Saine Rapley, Janeel Mills and Ch4se. Musically, the album is a mixed bag. There’s some pop, some R&B, country, house and reggae.

“These songs come from the constant experience of my life that, with love and faith, anything is possible,” Roberts told Wknd. Excerpts from an email interview:

How did your years in prison yield a book and music?

I spent two years in solitary confinement as punishment for escaping from prison. In the first year there was a fair amount of whining and moaning to myself. In the second year I came to grips with the real truth, which was that I was ultimately responsible for my actions and their consequences.

 I realised that all the pain and humiliation I’d suffered was really just a beast of my own creation. And with that understanding, I began to shape my destiny, so that when I completed the two years underground and returned to the general prison population, I created a literacy program for lifers who couldn’t read or write.

My time in prison passed more quickly and I began to write again. Today, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have experienced isolation for the first time. My simple and humble advice is to like yourself. You don’t have to love yourself, but find a way to like who you are, or who you are becoming. Isolation means being in the good company of your Self, or in the bad company of your Self.

What can you tell us about the six years of seclusion that have yielded this album?

I went off the social grid about six years ago. I began my devotion of Maa Kali, blowing the conch shell twice a day. The experiences in devotion changed my life. I am more connected to my loved ones. There is an expression of love and faith in everything that I do. This was a very intense period. Both my parents were struggling with health issues, so I could devote my time to them too. When my parents passed, I continued my creative work, away from the social world. Now I’m back on the grid, or on a happy little corner of it [currently in Jamaica], and I hope to establish a company here to create TV content and movies with partners from Hollywood.

How did Love & Faith come to have this sound?

The genres on the album cover a fairly wide range because I’m fascinated by all forms of music, I listen to everything I can, and receive inspiration from all of it.

Is music your main focus currently?

I’ve always got several projects on the go. Right now, I’m working on a collage, designing some clothing, working on a new novella, and shooting and editing videos. I move from one thing to the other easily, and it has always been that way.

What can we expect to see from you next?

There’s a lot of new music this year, lots of new videos, the Shantaram TV series is likely to be released at the end of the year. The new book, The Spiritual Path, will be published in September, and we are developing a script for a movie set in Jamaica.

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