INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Vogue SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 - by Rachel Hahn
NEW AGE ICON LARAAJI EXPLAINS WHY HE ONLY WEARS THE COLOR ORANGE
For those well-versed in the history of New Age music, Laraaji's origin story is elementary material. The account goes something like this: Brian Eno, walking in Washington Square Park one day in 1979, came across the Philadelphia-born, Harlem-based multi-instrumentalist hammering away on his signature instrument, the zither. Captivated by Laraaji's celestial sounds, Eno tapped the artist, born Edward Larry Gordon, to contribute to his ambient music series. The following year, Eno produced and released Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance, which has perhaps become Laraaji's most widely recognized recording and a fundamental piece of New Age music.
Since then, Laraaji has continued to release seminal recordings - just last week, he launched his second album within the span of two weeks. The first, Sun Gong, is composed of two extended gong and electronic drone pieces; the second, Bring On The Sun, finds Laraaji crafting hypnotic, swirling ambient sounds alongside more straight-laced numbers like album standout Change, which crystallizes certain poetic phrases that have been percolating in his mind for years. Though there has been much renewed interest in Laraaji's music of late, far less attention has been paid to one of his most visible quirks - his penchant for the color orange. His Harlem apartment is filled with orange garments on hooks, orange tapestries line the walls of the room where he experiments with his wide collection of instruments, and a quick Google search verifies his longtime habit of donning the surprising shade.
At the root of Laraaji's fascination is a spiritual practice that deepened over time. In the mid-'70s, he started to devote more time to studying Eastern philosophy and meditation, in particular. "My questions about life started to get deeper and I started to pay more attention to anything of a spiritual nature," he says. Back then, he was already in the habit of wearing all white, which he considered a sanctified color. Then one day in 1979, Laraaji was enjoying the $5 all-you-can-eat deal at a Hare Krishna restaurant in Midtown when the orange garments in the adjacent store caught his eye. "One day I said, 'Gosh, you know, I feel like experimenting with this color. It's such an unusual thing to do, to wear all orange.'" he says. "So, I just bought a few pieces of orange clothes and started to experiment in combination with the white that I was wearing." Ultimately, his monochromatic uniform crystallized after a teacher at an ashram in upstate New York suggested he fast-track his spiritual trajectory by sticking to orange, the color of fire and transformation. "[To] put the sunset on your old way of knowing self and the sunrise of the new way of knowing self, as a cosmic being," Laraaji explains.
Swamis, or Hindu spiritual teachers, also don the hue, but for Laraaji, it became a long-term, ever-changing pursuit of a color that he calls "highly stimulating." "It's a cheerful color; it's energizing; it's a color that drives the energy toward creativity and self-realization," he says. He adds that he focuses less on the color of his clothes than how that color catches the sun's rays, which is appropriate given that Laraaji, his self-assigned name, celebrates the sun as a divine entity in service to the solar system.
Now, he searches for orange pieces wherever he goes. He'll check thrift stores, Gap stores, United Colors Of Benetton stores, and even hunting stores for new varieties of the shade. "When I travel by car around the country, if I pass by a university whose color is orange, I'll go look in there," he says. "[Like] the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Syracuse upstate." He's had some luck overseas as well. "I had a field day in Holland with the color orange," Laraaji says. While the shocking hue is a risky move for most, it's hard to imagine Laraaji wearing anything else - his energy and music emanate warmth, just like his colorful clothes.