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Monday Night Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Mondays have always been a little gentler for me because of Monday Night Kirtan.  The little weekly community kirtan* in my home ‘hood of Burlington, Vt., has been a welcome ritual for several years.  But this past Monday night it was the last place I, Vrinda, wanted to be.

(Wondering who the hell Vrinda is? Read to the end.)

A series of incidents — small and large, local and global, personal and collective — had left me in a funk: discouraged, disillusioned, disgruntled…generally feeling “dis”ed on many levels and definitely not feeling social. The introvert in me wanted to hole up in my woman-cave and try drowning out the dis-es with a very dry vodka martini.

Plus, it was snowing.

Winter had descended on Northern Vermont in the 48 hours since I had been kayaking on the lake in 60 degrees at sunset.  One more reason to sulk inside.

Alas, I had an obligation to be there.  So I forced myself off the laptop and away from the sickening newsfeeds of Standing Rock protestors being blasted with tear gas and water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, of a new tsunami warning at Fukushima, of the latest xenophobic cabinet pick by Trump, and 10,000 other bits and fragments that suck your energy straight through your eyeballs and into the World Wide Web of Propaganda, Manipulation and Fear.  I dragged a comb through my hair (not really), dabbed on some Javadhu powder in a lame attempt to mask the fact that I hadn’t showered all day (okay two days), packed my to-go altar with extra sage, and raced out the door, last-minute as usual.

But, it was snowing.

I spent the next 10 minutes scraping snow-covered ice off my car. Now I was late AND agitated. I got to Sacred Mountain Studio barely in time to throw some blankets and cushions in a semi-circle before the room filled in for the kirtan. I was all business, head down, task-focused, fairly daring anyone to engage me in conversation.  Nonetheless, this being kirtan, I was hugged. More than once.

As the room settled down and the night’s guest wallahs started to Om in, I assumed the cross-legged position on my purple cushion, scarf over splayed knees, spine straight, eyes closed, ready for lift-off from this hate-filled mundane material world. Take me away Calgon…I mean, kirtan.

Ha!

My mind refused to catch up to the present. It was still racing back and forth from one situation to the next, replaying each interaction like a stuck tape,  re-creating each perceived slight or awkward confrontation, playing its slide show loop of Images One Can’t Forget.  The group was on the third Om by the time I dropped the mental mind-f*ck long enough to tone in to the sound frequency.

The chanting started with praise to Ganesha, remover of obstacles. Immediately, up welled another round of bogus inner chit/chat about this/that followed predictably by self-flagellating loathsomeness for not dropping my over-analzying, self-conscious judgmentalist ego at the door and just sinking into the mantra. And on we went…me and my monkey mind, while the mantras played on.

Then I noticed something.  I noticed myself noticing the mantra.

Hari Ommmmm… Hari Om.

You know how a radio station fades in and out if you’re not quite in full range of the signal? The mantra was coming through in fits and starts amidst the background static in my brain of everything that was not mantra.  It was breaking through the mental orgy. I wasn’t even singing it — that’s how distracted I was — but it was breaking through. This is the power of mantra.

I felt a little inner smile for the observation, for the noticing. Then quickly as it came, I lost myself back into the static.  And I noticed that….with an inner roll of the eyes.

Then came Kali.

Oh boy, I thought with a bit of trepidation, here we go. Kali, with her bloody sword drawn and severed head in hand, poised to cut through the ego’s bottomless pit of judgment and self-conscious blather.  The head-talk flooded in:  Do people even know how powerful Kali is? Do they have any clue what they are invoking when they start calling out to Kali? Are they even remotely prepared for the kind of energy this formidable warrior goddess can whip up?  And then I was chanting it.

Kali Ma, Kali Ma, Kali Maaaaa.

Chant by chant, the layers fell away. I noticed the mind chatter subsiding as my chanting became steadier, less intermittent. The monkey mind was gradually but inevitably losing ground to the mantra. The chanting was misplacing the chatter.

By the time we got to Radhe, I was all in.

It was the trio of Krishna-Radha chants that got me up on my feet and spinning in the corner of the room, inhibitions shed. Not caring about anything or what anyone thinks for at least one blessed moment in time. Letting my freak flag fly. Feeling the world fall away with each repetition of the Name, each spin of the feet…

Tara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, brought me back to Earth, her mantra like warm milk taken before bed. Cradled in the current of Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha, I felt at home, at peace, aware, present, content, unafraid. The monkey mind quiet at last.

This is the power of mantra.

After the kirtan ended, after the goodbye hugs, after re-folding the blankets and repacking the altar and taking out the garbage, I was dropping off a young man who lived near me, Kyle, who was fairly new to the Monday Night crew. Unprompted, he confides to me that when he had arrived at kirtan this evening he was not in a good headspace, that he wasn’t sure he even should have come.  Over the course of the night, he said, he felt his emotional state shift, leading to what he called a “huge release” toward the end.  He said he felt sure that “spirit” was in the room healing people.

I just stared at him. I felt like I was looking in the mirror…except the face looking back was that of a 20-something hipster dude with old-soul sapphire eyes and an unruly beard twisted into dreadlocks that stuck out of his chin like little goat horns.

That is the power of mantra.

 

Here’s a peek at the last chant of the night, a mashup of the Maha-Mantra and an old Gospel hymn called “Sanctuary.” The perfect cap to Thanksgiving week kirtan.

*Monday Night Kirtan in Burlington, Vt., is currently funded by the Call and Response Foundation as part of their initiative to kickstart recurring community-based gatherings that make the practice of kirtan accessible to all.  Contact them if you’d like to start your own community kirtan.

___________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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Editor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is an occasional first-person series on TheBhaktiBeat.com in which I, Vrinda (aka Brenda Patoine) say what I’m thinking, whether you want to hear it or not.  Call it op-ed, editorialism, commentary, satire — hell, call it whatever you want.  Vrinda is opinionated but open, largely unfiltered, at times irreverent, and sometimes downright sassy (don’t say I didn’t warn you).  She’s pure Gemini, part wise, part wise-ass; the good the bad and the naughty all rolled up into one messy, messed-up, hopelessly imperfect, doing-the-best-she-can kinda’ gal, er, woman. She — I mean, I — may offer two cents or more on subjects from the ironies of the yoga world to the injustices of the corporatocracy,  the ins and outs of the bhakti community, or the ups and downs of internet dating. She/I may even occasionally try to be funny, undoubtedly with mixed results. Vrinda really just wants everyone to wake the f**k up (I warned you).   For more on Vrinda, including why she uses that name, click here on this link…oops, you’ll have to wait until I get that piece written. *sigh*

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Bernie Rally 019
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How does one describe the sound of a soul’s yearnings?

That’s how it feels to try to describe “Radio Nada,” the latest album from the Maine-reared, Brooklyn-ripened singer/songwriter who is known simply as Devadas. The name, given to then Andrew Labrecque by his guru, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (aka Amma, the “Hugging Saint”), means Servant of God.

Somehow “Servant of God” seems far more fitting here than singer/songwriter, as “Radio Nada” seems to scrape a little dust off your soul with every track.

Released February 23 and now available in all the usual places (see links below), “Radio Nada” is a study in contrasts, standing out both for its striking simplicity and its unobtrusive intricacy.  It is  simultaneously stripped-down and complex. Dark yet hopeful. Its shadowy nuances reveal an understated, almost inexplicable radiance. Like light emanating from a dusty bulb.

With an even split of ancient mantras juxtaposed with inspired modern lyricism, Devadas guides us along an undulating river of slow, steady traditional chants interspersed with a Ferris wheel of English songs spun from swallowed moons and wretched roses.  If you really listen, “Radio Nada” will bend your mind, then crack open your heart. Then it will do it all over again.

“I don’t want to live forever, I’m just waiting for the sun. I have seen a million moons and I’ve swallowed every one…”

 

One of the things we love about this album is how Devadas has intermingled traditional call-and-response kirtan with original songs culled from the depths of his own seeking soul. He has resisted the overplayed urge to shoehorn English lyrics into the middle of sacred mantras and has instead effectively integrated the two forms while keeping them separate.  This lets these powerful mantras speak for themselves without being muddied up with someone’s English interpretation of them.  And it lets his fantastical dream-like poeticism shine, in all its shadowy spin-your-headiness.  This is a good thing.

We asked Devadas what compelled him to make a hybrid CD like this, which is not nearly as common as the mantra-fusion trend where English and Sanskrit try to coexist within a song.

“The songs seemed to fit together well with the traditional kirtan and I thought they might give a clearer picture of who I am and where I’m coming from, and maybe make the whole story deeper,” he said. “Not that my story’s so important; it just happens to be what I’m burning through and what I figure I ought to be showing.”

“Sleep sleep wounded child. Sun in your mouth, stars in your eyes. The world awaits like a lioness pacing, so dream dream dream.”

 

It could easily fall apart into a disjointed mumbo-jumbo of maniacal musings mingled with mantras, but somehow it all works.  Maybe it’s the steady underlying rhythm and bass that reappears track in and track out like an old friend greeting you, whether the subject is Radharani, Queen of the Gopis, or a wounded child with the sun in her mouth and stars in her eyes.  Maybe it’s the recurring soundscape of hypnotic electronica and understated guitar.  Or maybe it’s the constancy of Devadas’ haunting vocals, rife with the earnestness of a young Bob Dylan or a less raspy Tom Waits.  Something, somehow, keeps the brilliance of these disparate tracks from dissipating into the brooding dreamscape on which they appear to be built.

It’s one of those things that’s hard to put your finger on, but in the end it really doesn’t matter because you know it’s in the right spot by the way you feel afterward…

“Through darkest shadow I disappear, through smoke and dream I ride. Where all angels fear to move in the wastelands I do hide. Built up a fire and I burned it all down. Slept in a bed built under the ground. Waiting still, this weary heart…the wretched for the Rose.”

 

There’s an unmistakable darkness to this album, a ruminative mood that bleeds through on every track. Even the chants to Radharani, Narayana, and Amma, with so much potential for ecstatic abandonment and joy, are grounded in a heart-felt melancholy, a yearning that seems never quite fulfilled, a seeking not quite satisfied.  One cannot help but be affected by it.

Does “Radio Nada” represent the dark side of this urban Jedi hipster-wallah? Here’s how Devadas responded to that query: “To me, they’re songs about searching, about questioning, about falling down, trying to get back up, trying to figure things out. It’s hard to say if that’s a ‘shadow-side’… Maybe it is? To me I’m just trying to show my ‘human side’ in a truthful way.”

Ah, authenticity.  How very refreshing…

All we can say is Bravo, Devadas.  You’ve done it again.

 

We say this because his last album, “Brooklyn Mellows,” is one of our all-time favorite kirtan CDs.  So much so that it literally got stuck in our car CD player from playing it so much.  “Brooklyn Mellows” is pure bhakti brilliance — a thoroughly delicious double-disc set that devotes an entire CD to iterations of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra in the style of the late great vaishnava Aindra Das, who famously started the 24-hour kirtans in Vrindavan, India and published an epic series of live CDs called “Vrindavan Mellows.”

“Radio Nada” picks up where “Brooklyn Mellows” ended and dives deeper, revealing more of the humanness of the God-Servant than even he may realize.  We even detected a subtle sonic nod to the carnivalesque theme of “Brooklyn Mellows,” which featured soundbites recorded at New York’s legendary amusement park, Coney Island.  Listen carefully and you’ll hear the tinkle of the carnies’ bells embedded in “Radio Nada’s” tracks …

“Rain …it keeps falling it’s filled the canal where we used to play, tossing coins in a well. All of that’s gone now, it’s a different world changing. It’s midnight and soaking, the streets are all empty.”

 

Devadas has just launched a rare little tour in Northern California before he heads back home to the East Coast for gigs in his home ‘hood of Scarborough, Maine and other New England hot spots.  If you get a chance to sing with him live, don’t miss it: it will be some of the most moving kirtan you will experience.

But don’t take our word for it, take this for as example, recorded a few years ago at Vermantra:

See also: www.devadasmusic.com
Buy “Radio Nada” at CDBaby, Amazon, or iTunes (way better for the artist than streaming!)

___________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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Awakening Bhakti
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Ever dreamed of having Jai Uttal sing the Names in your living room? How about a little kirtan lesson from Uttal himself? Or maybe you’d love to hear him retell — in his inimitable style — some epic scripture, like say…the Ramayana?  Well now’s your chance.

As part of his quest to “share my music, my heart and my experiences with people without being on the road all the time,” Jai Uttal is trying something new (to him anyway): offering an online course for fans and followers, webcast from the comfort of his own home to the comfort of yours.  It’s called “Awakening Bhakti” and you can register for it here.

We asked Uttal why this course, why now, why online? He said that traveling “has taken a bigger and bigger toll on me, physically and emotionally” in recent years, and that this course is part of his effort to create a “sustainable lifestyle” that lets him be at home with his family.

“I LOVE SINGING WITH AND FOR PEOPLE!!!” Uttal told us (in all caps, yes) in an email interview in between recording sessions for his album in-the-works, “Roots, Rock, Rama,” which he is making with long-time collaborator Ben Leinbach plus Jeff Cressman and Peter Apfelbaum, the horn section of the Pagan Love Orchestra, Uttal’s band for the Grammy-nominated 2002 album “Mondo Rama.”   Despite his obvious passion for live, up-close and personal sankirtana, Uttal says he just can’t take the travel. The online course is “a way for me to share with everyone in a deep, meaningful and relaxed way from my own home.”

‘Hang Out’ With Jai

There’s a full description of the course at www.whereismyguru.com, which is hosting it.  Uttal told The Bhakti Beat that it’s a chance “to learn about bhakti and how it can became the central core of our lives and how some of my life experiences have deepened my own relationship to this path; to hear where some of the songs come from, and stories about my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba; to receive never-before-seen videos of my live performances; to hear the entire Ramayana in five chapters; to receive audio recordings of many live kirtans, and to just hang out with me and get to know me a bit better…”

Jai Uttal at Bhakti Fest 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Awakening Bhakti” takes place over three weeks beginning March 1.  At the core are four live, interactive web-conferences with Uttal that can be downloaded and viewed at any time.

The $99 price includes everything.  Seems like a reasonable investment to bring Jai Uttal into your living room, no?  Sign up here.

Call & Response Scholarship Available

Still, not everyone has an extra 100 bucks lying around waiting and available to awaken their bhakti, we get that.  That’s why we were so happy to hear that the Call and Response Foundation is offering a scholarship to one lucky bhakta in need of some financial support.  All you have to do is write to jen@callandresponsefoundation.org before March 1 and tell her why you need the scholarship. One winner will be randomly chosen from the entries and announced on the Call and Response Foundation’s facebook page.

Do check out all the good work of the Call and Response Foundation — under the expert leadership of Jen Canfield, this non-profit organization is taking the healing power of chanting into places you wouldn’t expect, like prisons and psychiatric centers and recovery services.  Plus, they’ve just launched a new program to support and maintain community kirtans across the country. In short, they’ve got your bhakti back.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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Radhanath Swami Bhagavatam class 2.25.16
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In advance of the release of his long-awaited second book, “The Journey Within: Exploring the Path of Bhakti,” Radhanath Swami met with thousands of followers in Nabadwip, India tonight for satsang (spiritual discourse).

“If we were diagnosed with cancer, and the doctor prescribed medicine that would cure it, and said we must take the cure regularly, we would take that very seriously,” he said in a characteristically down-to-earth teaching before the large gathering of devotees, which was livecast on Mayapur.TV.

“The diseases of envy and forgetfulness of our eternal nature are limitlessly more dangerous than any disease of this Earth,” Radhanath Maharaja said.

“Caitanya’s message was: ‘I have the medicine. Take the Names of Krishna.'”

 

Nabadwip is the birthplace of the great Vaishnava saint Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a social reformer who rejuvenated the bhakti movement in the 1500’s.  Devotees believe that Caitanya was Krishna himself, incarnated as a disciple so that he could taste the sweetness of his most beloved devotee, Radharani.

“There is no more powerful medicine in this age of Kali Yuga, with its ocean of bad qualities and faults,” Radhanath Swami said, pleading with the gathered devotees to chant the prescribed 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra each day or risk falling victim to maya.  (One round is 108 repetitions on a mala, which has 108 beads.)

“Our own personal sadhana is crucial,” he asserted. “It is the fundamental basis of our spiritual lives. We should fit everything else around our spiritual practice.”

Radhanath Swami is a revered spiritual leader within the Krishna Consciousness movement and beyond.  His first book, “The Journey Home,” has fast become a spiritual classic tells the story of his coming of age as American yogi in India and his discovery of bhakti yoga.  The forthcoming second book, which seeks to “demystify” the ancient practice of bhakti yoga, is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

He is in the Mayapur region as part of a month-long tour throughout India in advance of the International Yoga Conference in Rishikesh March 5-7.  He returns to the West in May for a retreat at Sivananda Yoga Ashram in the Bahamas with his disciple Gaura Vani, a beloved American kirtan wallah and prominent figure in the Western bhakti movement.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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Closing Out Bhakti Fest West 2012, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Is it just us, or does it seem like everyone is doing a “chant fest” these days? Or maybe it’s a “kirtan retreat.” By any name, big, little or in between, in your back yard or Bali, at the local yoga studio or a luxury spa, bhaktified music fests and mantra marathons are popping up everywhere.  Which is a good thing. Well, at least we think so…

When is a bhakti festival NOT a good thing, you ask? For starters, if it’s so expensive that only the wealthy can afford it, that’s a problem.  The mantra revolution that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (most famously) popularized in the 1500’s was about bringing yoga — which at the time was a means for spiritual salvation reserved only for the highest castes of society — back to the people. Bhakti yoga was the way. Its hallmark was that it was accessible to ALL.

That’s still the case of course.  Bhakti IS accessible to all.  Love and devotion can have no price tag, and all one has to do to reap the benefits of kirtan is open one’s mouth and chant.  But it’s a rare retreat that is offered up free, with good reason of course. These things cost money to run, after all. We get that. But a retreat that is only accessible to the wealthiest yogis has no business calling itself bhakti. There, we said it.

The point is, there’s a right way, and there’s a wrong way to run a festie.  And lots of ways in between.  We’ve seen ’em all. So, even though no one asked us, here are our unsolicited tips for how to do a chant fest right. (See disclaimer at end.)*

  1. Make it affordable. This is No. 1 for the reasons already stated. It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to get to a chant fest! Build work exchange and scholarships into the business plan. Line up sponsors to defray the costs. Set up systems so people can contribute toward “Kindness Passes” for those with limited financial means. Get creative and make it accessible to ALL, in the spirit of the bhakti tradition.  (ISKCON, by the way, has perfected the affordable kirtan retreat, largely by collecting donations to subsidize the costs; the rest of the bhakti world could take a lesson from the Hare Krishnas in this regard.)
  2. Give back. Work in a charity component.  Collect donations or have a silent auction, and offer the proceeds to organizations that are making a difference in your community or field of interest, or put them toward scholarships for people with limited financial means.
  3. Pay the artists. Not just the rock stars either. If it’s a local community event or a charity benefit and the artists have offered their services for free, at least cover their expenses.  Take care of their housing and transportation. And please feed them. Well.
  4. Give them time.  Resist stacking a schedule with one band an hour. Two-hour sets should be the norm. (Three if it’s Jai or KD.) This goes for festivals of any size, local community to national multi-stagers.
  5. Sound matters.  Get it right, whatever it takes.  And please amplify the musicians.  All of them.
  6. Aesthetics count. Light the artists, not the room. And please don’t make them pink or blue. Give them a nice backdrop and a place to store their equipment cases so there’s not a bunch of stuff littering up the “stage.”
  7. Build in breaks.  Have a short guided asana practice or meditation in between sets. Set aside an hour for meals if it’s an all-day or multi-day event.
  8. Don’t make us choose.  Until we all have the siddhis to bilocate, could you please not have two or six things going on simultaneously?  Festivals of thousands may need options, but still…the best fests we’ve been to do things sequentially.
  9. Feed people.  Bring in local vendors to offer organic, farm-to-table, ahimsa-principled real food and drink.
  10. Consumerism Lite. Please sell kirtan CD’s.  And go ahead and showcase local artists, crafters and conscious merchants who sell things of interest to your audience.  Just don’t let the materialism interfere with the spiritualism.  Give it its own space and keep it separate.  No one wants to hear people hawking Lululemons in that silent space after a chant.
  11. Don’t be a douchebag. Any event that calls itself yoga or bhakti has an obligation to rise above the business-as-usual model of event production and promotion.  Treat people right. Keep your promises. Set a new standard for conscious business and marketing practices. Cultivate community.  Be nice.

*DISCLAIMER: Not intended to be used in place of a professional event organizer’s advice. We actually have no experience in running a chant festival.  We just know what works from the participant’s point of view.

Okay, that’s our two-cents worth on how to build a bhakti festival we can all love.  What would you add or change? Tell us in the comments please.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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Bhakti Without Borders by thebhaktibeat.comThe 2016 Grammy nominations were announced this morning and once again, bhakti represents. “Bhakti Without Borders,” the 2015 debut release by Madi Das and 10 female vocalist collaborators, has nabbed the nomination for Best New Age Album, beating out more than 100 other albums in the New Age category. (Read our report on the full list here.)

Also making the short list of New Age nominations is 10-time Grammy-nominated pianist Peter Kater’s “Love,” produced by bhakti stalwart Trish Bowden of Mysterium Music.  “Love” is the latest in a long line of delightful instrumental CDs showcasing Kater’s maestro-esque chops on the ivory keys. Pure magic.

“Bhakti Without Borders” is pure bhakti in the Krishna tradition.  Every track is steeped in tradition straight from the Vaishnava temples in which Madi Das and every one of the female co-vocalists on this disc grew up. Madi Das’ parents met in a Krishna temple in Germany, and he was schooled in Vrindavan, India — “shaved head and all,” as he says. The female vocalists are all second-generation Krishna devotees as well, who grew up singing these bhajans and chanting the Names every day in and out of temple.

In stark contrast to a lot of kirtan out there today, which — for better or worse, depending on the track and one’s perspective — marries Sanskrit with English lyrics or lays ancient mantras over modern pop-influenced melodies, every track on “Bhakti Without Borders” stays true to its roots by sticking to traditional melodies and the original languages (either Sanskrit or Bengali, in this case).  But that’s not to say that these tracks are without modern Western flourishes. “Bhakti Without Borders” was, after all, produced by Dave Stringer, the veteran kirtan wallah who is known for rocking up his own concerts with anything-but-traditional riffs. Stringer plays guitar on every track, Matt Pszonak adds some country rock flourishes with the pedal steel guitar, and classical violinist Tulsi Devi brings some countrified fiddling to the mix.  Stringer describes the music as “a contagious mix of Indian, Celtic, country and bluegrass elements.”

We’d just call it pure bhakti joy, on every track.  Sweet, mellifluous, vocal nectar with just the right instrumentation to not drown out the potency of the sacred words, all imbued with a loving devotional mood that epitomizes what we mean when we say bhavalicious. It’s the bhava.

 

Incidentally, this was Stringer’s first gig producing an album other than his own works — and something tells us he’ll be doing more. Reached by facebook chat this morning just as he touched down in Los Angeles after a long flight from Australia, where he just wrapped a month-long tour, Stringer had not yet heard the Grammy news.  “I’m not even through immigration yet, and it’s gonna be a great day,” he said.  “I think I just started a new career as a record producer with a pretty big bang.” We’d have to agree.  Here on in, he shall be dubbed: “Grammy-nominated Dave Stringer…”

It’s a great day indeed, for all of bhakti.

 

Perhaps the best part about this CD, and the new wave of recognition a Grammy nomination will bring it, is that ALL of the profits from its sale benefit a girls’ school in Vrindavan, the Sandipani Muni School.  The school, a program of Food for Life Vrindavan, provides education, medical care, food and security to some 1,500 young girls who are among the country’s poorest of the poor.  Without the school, these girls would be sold into child labor or worse.  Every sale of “Bhakti Without Borders” benefits these children directly.

On a personal note, it’s taking every ounce of journalistic constraint I can muster to not be screaming this news in ALL CAPS with too many exclamation points.  Yeah, I, Vrinda, am pretty pumped about this one…and not just because this was my dark-horse pick for winning the New Age nomination.  It’s been a favorite go-to CD since the first listen. Because, you know, #ThisisBhakti.

 

The featured vocalists on “Bhakti Without Borders” include well-known Vaishnavis such as NYC-based powerhouse walli Acyuta Gopi and London-based Jahnavi Harrison (whose 2015 Grammy-deserving album “Like a River to the Sea” is a must-have), along with a host of new-to-us Vaishnavi voices, some of whom have never recorded professionally before. The full list: Chaytanya Nitai, Tulsi Devi, Sudevi Devi Dasi, Carmella Gitanjali Baynie, Amrita Ananda, Nalina Kaufman, Gaura Mani, Mallika Des Fours, and Gaurangi Auman. The tight-knit group of musicians who laid down rhythms in the studio behind Stringer’s L.A. home includes long-time go-tos in the SoCal kirtan world such as Patrick Richey (tabla, cajon, mridangam and every other percussion instrument you can name); Matt Pszonak (pedal steel), and Sheela Bringi, who graces most tracks with her angelic bansuri flute as well as harmonium.  Madi Das’ childhood friend Shree Shyam ‘Elton Bradman’ Das played bass, and Tulsi Devi added some countrified violin riffs. Krishan Khalsa did the mixing and Stefan Heger mastered the disc.

Listen to and purchase “Bhakti Without Borders” here.  Also makes a great gift for your bhakti friends — one that gives back to a worthy charity. What are you waiting for?

The Grammys will be telecast on February 15 on CBS.  (See the full list of nominees in New Age and all categories here.) New Age winners are generally not part of the television broadcast (BOO!) but will be on the webcast earlier the same day.  Krishna Das famously nabbed the New Age nomination in 2012 for “Live Ananda,” and also became the first kirtan artist to play at the Grammys.  Jai Uttal broke the ground a decade earlier with his nomination for “Mondo Rama.

Krishna Das, Jai Uttal…not bad company for the debut CD from a largely unknown wallah like Madi Das. Make that Grammy-nominated Madi Das.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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grammy nominationAnd the winner is….Mantra!

Grammys season is officially underway, and once again, mantra music represents — more than ever before. Nearly two dozen bhakti-flavored releases are among the list of contenders in early voting for the 2016 Grammys Best Album Nominees in the New Age and World categories, for which first-round voting by members of the National Academy of Arts & Sciences (NARAS) ends Nov. 4.

Judging by the breadth and diversity of the bhaktified music releases on the first-round ballots, the “non-genre” of kirtan/mantra/sacred chant is alive and well — from the vantage point of the commercial recording industry, at least. The albums that we would place under a broad umbrella of bhakti or bhakti-related mostly fall into the New Age category in Grammy world, though a few of the bhakti titles are found in the World Music category. (More on the odd categorization of kirtan here.)

I know what some of you are thinking…”Who cares about the Grammys?! This is BHAKTI. It’s not about commercialism, or winning awards, or being “the best” of anything; it’s about devotion and service!” I hear you. Really I do. The way I see it, if the Grammys help bring attention to the sacred practice of chanting and unlatch the gates for even one person, is that a bad thing? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Grammy 2015 contenders by TheBhaktiBeat.comWho Made the List?

First things first. One of the biggest surprises on the list — and perhaps the best news for bhakti purists — is second-generation Krishna kid Madi Das, whose charity album “Bhakti Without Borders,” produced by Dave Stringer, features duets with a host of female Vaisnava vocalists singing traditional Krishna bhajans. If we had to pick a favorite among all of these contenders, “Bhakti Without Borders” would be it.  We love everything about this album, and P.S., ALL of the profits benefit a school for girls in India (which is most of the proceeds, because ALL of the musicians on this record offered their time as seva). Now THAT is bhakti.

Also up for consideration are widely known artists like Deva Premal & Miten with Manose (“Songs for the Sangha“) and Russill Paul (“Mantra Magic“) alongside up-and-comers like vocalist Tina Malia (“Bridge to Vallabha“) and folkish singer/songwriter Brenda McMorrow (“My Heart Bows Down to You“). The many flavors of Sufism are nicely represented with “Sufi Kirtan,” from newlywed folk/world/rocker duo HuDost — marked by the otherworldly vocal magic of Moksha Sommer — and a new-to-us band called Rocqawali for “Sufi Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which seamlessly blends powerful Pakistani qawali music with 70’s-style rock. Representing the Jewish tradition of sacred chant is the Kirtan Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s “Nondual,” where ancient Hebrew prayers meet modern rock and reggae. Bhaktified dance music — yet another subcategory in the chant world (is that a sub-non-genre?) — is there too, with Marti Nikko and Dj Drez’s chant-dance fantasy “Dreaming in Sanskrit” and Desert Dwellers’ electronicized house mix, “The Great Mystery.”

In the Kundalini corner, Simrit’s “From the Ancient Storm,” White Sun‘s self-titled debut album, and Sirgun Kaur’s “Dayaal” are in the running along with the ever-popular duo Mirabai Ceiba (for “Sevati“). On the instrumental end, Bansuri flute master Manose, who has played for a decade with Deva Premal & Miten, is on the ballot for “Call Within,” and Hans Christian, master of too many instruments to name here, made the list for “Nanda Devi.” An Indian classical flutist known simply as Flute Raman is found on the World ballot for an album of traditional bhajans called “Krishna Lila.”

But wait there’s more. While we can’t in any stretch of the word consider them “kirtan,” a few others on the ballots are worth noting for their inclusion of mantras in some tracks or their ties to the bhakti world, including: Peter Kater, who has three — yes three! — albums in the running for the nomination in New Age (“Heart of Silence,” “Etheria,” and “Love;” Daniela De Mari & Breath of Life for “Awakening;” David Vito Gregoli for the ambient “Om Land,” and a Classical Indian instrumental disc featuring Saraswathi Ranganathan on veena called “Refreshing Raga Blues.”

All told, the bhakti-ish contenders represent roughly 15 percent of the total New Age list of 116 titles and only a few of the 122 entries on the World ballot. The full lists cover a lot of musical ground, everything from spoken-word meditations to ethereal shamanic ritual music to ambient instrumentalism to synthesized electronica. Among the broadly defined kirtan-related releases are some real gems that deserve a closer look, and The Bhakti Beat will be doing that on a weekly basis between now and Dec. 7, when the Grammy nominations are announced.

We’ll also give one Grammy-contending CD away each week, so stay tuned to our facebook and other social media pages to enter the contests. (Links below.)

With so many bhaktified releases in the running for a nomination, this year marks a new high for mantra music in Grammy world. But it’s certainly not the first time the chant community has gotten Grammy fever. Krishna Das quite famously snagged one of the coveted Grammy nominations in 2012 for “Live Ananda,” and made history by being the first kirtan artist to perform at the Grammys (aired on the webcast). You saw that, right? A decade earlier, Jai Uttal was the first in the kirtan “non-genre” to be nominated for a Grammy, for his pioneering record, “Mondo Rama.”

Last year, more than a dozen bhakti albums made the first ballot, and a record called “Bhakti” by Paul Avgerinos — a new-agey fusion of Christianized chants and ambient electronica that was about as far from traditional kirtan as you can get — made the cut to be nominated but did not win the Grammy.

What It Means

What does it mean to be on the first-round ballot? Essentially, it means that you met the eligibility qualifications and got your entry in on time. Ballots were sent out Oct. 14 to NARAS members, who have until Nov. 4 to cast their ballot for the album they’d like to see nominated for the Grammy in each category. There are about 30 Grammy categories altogether, including the biggies, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. In the New Age and World categories, only one Grammy is given: Best Album.

Let’s state that again so there is no confusion: the first-round ballot voting is to decide who among the contenders will be NOMINATED for a Grammy in their respective categories. It’s the first step. The nominations will be announced Dec. 7, then NARAS members vote for one nominee in each category to receive the Grammy — the music industry’s highest award. The Grammys telecast this year will be on Feb. 15.

So tell us Bhakti Beaters: Who would be YOUR pick for a Kirtan Grammy?

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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The First Annual Shyamdas Foundation Retreat kicks off this weekend (September 25-27) at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, N.Y. for three days of intimate song and satsang with Shyamdas’ closest friends and followers.  You should come.

 

Why? Well, because it’s the FIRST ANNUAL SHYAMDAS FOUNDATION RETREAT.  Do we need to say more? Okay, fine. This is THE retreat in honor of Shyamdas, the beloved bhakti scholar, author, kirtan wallah, respected teacher and friend to all, who left his body — along with a huge hole in the heart of the bhakti world — in January of 2013.  His inimitable spirit and legacy endure thanks in part to the Shyamdas Foundation, which is hosting this intimate retreat at the Bhajan Belt ashram that was so dear to Shyamdas’ heart.  In fact, Ananda was often the first place Shyamdas would go to share kirtan and satsang when he returned to the States after winters in India.

“One of the most important things Shyamdas imparted to us was to keep good association. Part of that is in the kirtan, but part of it is hearing the teachings.  This is an opportunity for a more intimate setting to get fully immersed in not just kirtan, but in the teachings.  There is a particular vibe at Ananda because it is an Ashram, so this has that energy with all of these people coming together to really get drenched in the nectar.” 

~ Ishwari of SRI Kirtan

Need more?  Did I mention there will be kirtan — lots of kirtan — with Shyamdas’ tribe of musician-gopis.  We’re talking Gaura Vani, Adam Bauer, Prema Hara, Steve Gorn, Nina Rao, SRI Kirtan, Devadas, Karnamrita Dasi, David Newman, Vrajdevi from Vraj, India, Arundhati and Prema from Woodstock, Yogi P from Vermont for starters…and we imagine there might be a surprise or two in store.

But wait, there’s more. Jivamukti yoga co-founder Padma Sharon Gannon herself will be leading asana practice, along with her nephew and protegé Jules Febre.  There will be stories and teachings and satsangs with Shyamdas’ dearest scholar-friends, including Radhanath Swami and David Haberman, and Vallabhdas, Shyamdas’ student/co-author and the founding director of the Shyamdas Foundation. There will be readings from Shyamdas’ books.  There will even be an “enchanted forest walk” with Gaura Vani and Vallabhdas that is sure to be…well, enchanted. We’re hoping Gaura brings his flute…

“I see this gathering at Ananda Ashram—a place Shyam loved and where I remember countless great moments shared—as a chance to continue deepening and nourishing what I love best about my experience with Shyamdas and indeed the broader Bhakti lila: meaningful time with friends and family, practicing the Bhakti yogic arts, joining hearts and voices together in the Divine Names, and enjoying the inspiring company of other seekers of love and truth. Plus, a bunch of good prasad! What’s not to love?”

~ Adam Bauer

But wait, you haven’t heard the best part of all. What makes this weekend realllllly special is the rare opportunity for satsang with one of Shyamdas’ own gurus, Shri Milan Goswami, grandson of his original Pushti Marg guru, Shri Prathameshji. These teachers are direct descendants of the 15th century bhakti philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Path of Grace, who is considered by Pushti devotees to be a manifestation of Krishna and Radha, as well as a witness to the divine couple’s loving plays. Shyamdas was the first western initiate into the Pushti Marg and devoted his life to translating and sharing Vallabhacharya’s teachings.

Did you catch that?  That’s satsang with a living, breathing soul who is believed to be a direct descendent of Krishna & Radhe incarnate.

 

Go ahead, take a moment to wrap your brain around that concept.  We are.

 
Then check out this YouTube playlist of Shyamdas kirtans and teachings.


—————————————————-

Here’s the latest schedule of what’s happening (subject to change of course).  Learn more and get tickets at www.shyamdasfoundation.com

COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

FRIDAY:
4pm Check in
5:30 pm dinner
6:30 pm  Welcome/Shyamdas video
7 pm Pushti Kirtan: Vrajdevi, Ishwari & Vallabhdas
8 pm Bhakti Satsang: Radhanath Swami w/ Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Prema Hara

SATURDAY:
9 am Kirtan: Nina Rao
10 am Kirtan:  Devadas
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Kirtan Workshop: “Singing for the Beloved” w/ Karnamrita Dasi, Vallabhdas, Martin Brading
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Bhakti Lecture “Life Lessons & Vedantic Love” by Prof. David Haberman
3 pm En-chanting forest walk w/ Vallabhdas, Gaura Vani et al.
3:45 pm Bhakti Satsang: Shri Milan Goswami w/ Vallabhdas
5:15 pm Dinner
6:15 pm Kirtan: Arundhati w/ Prema
7:15 pm Shyamdas Archive audio clip
7:30 pm Kirtan: SRI Kirtan
8:30 pm Kirtan: Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Karnamrita Dasi

SUNDAY:
9 am Indian Classical Music: Steve Gorn
10 am Kirtan: Yogi P
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Satsang Workshop: “Find the Beloved” w/ Ishwari, Vallabhdas, Premdas
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Yamunashtakam Dance: Aarati Spadea w/ Vallabhdas, Ishwari, John McDowell
1:45 pm Pushti Bhakti Satsang: Shyamdas book readings w/ Padma Sharon Gannon, Vallabhdas, Ishwari
2:45 pm Kirtan: Adam Bauer
3:45 pm Kirtan: David Newman (Durga Das) w/ Mira
5 pm Multi-musician Finale

BONUS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! USE CODE “BHAKTI” AND TAKE 15% OFF YOUR WEEKEND PASS OR DAY TICKETS!

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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Kirtan Wallah Krishna Das announced today that he will take a lengthy pause from touring in 2016 to rest and “chill.”

“This body has got to stop,” KD said in a video message published on his YouTube channel May 16, noting that he has been touring the world for 20 years nonstop, since he was 47. (See the video below.)

“Starting in 2016, I have to find a way to take some time off — maybe 6 months, maybe a year, I don’t know —  to really quiet down, because it’s not just the body but the mind,” he told fans. “It’s really time to slow down for a while.”

Rumors have been flying for months in the bhakti world about KD’s health, as bits and pieces leaked out about his plans not to tour in 2016.  In February, KD told participants at his annual retreat at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas that he was going to take some time off (but indicated that he would be back in Sivananda in 2016).  The Bhakti Beat has also heard from event producers who have tried to schedule Krishna Das kirtans for 2016 and were told that he will not be touring, which has fueled the rumor mill.

‘Healthful Recharging’

The announcement does little to quell rumors about the health of Western kirtan’s biggest “star,” as there was no specific information about his overall wellness in either the video message or the email newsletter in which the sabbatical was announced. The email stated that KD will take a break from touring and traveling for the purpose of “healthful recharging.”

Krishna Das spokesperson Nina Rao confirmed to The Bhakti Beat in an initial email response that KD’s “Vitals are in order, just needs rest.” (We will update this article as soon as more information is available.) In the meantime, KD’s choice of words in the video message indicated the sabbatical was not an optional choice.

“I have to take some time off, to try to rejuvenate, rest and try to get some juice back in my system,” he said, while noting that chanting with other people is “the greatest seva I can do for myself, for others and for my guru.”  The sabbatical, he said, will allow him to “have time to be quiet, take care of my body, eat good, and just breathe. I forgot what it’s like to not be planning to go somewhere, like, in a week.”

Krishna Das, photo by TheBhaktiBeat.comIt’s unclear as of yet whether Krishna Das will attend bigger retreats and festivals such as Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, where he has headlined since its inception 12 years ago, or Bhakti Fest, though he did say he “might do a couple local things around New York,” where his home is, and possibly some online programs that can be done from his home.  KD’s annual Memorial Day weekend retreat at Yogaville Ashram in Virginia will continue as planned, as will his summer tour in the Northeast United States and Southeast Canada (see full tour schedule here).  He also is making appearances this month at benefits for Nepal earthquake victims (May 16 in Princeton, NJ, in concert with GuruGanesha, with other dates to be announced) and at a benefit for tigers produced by longtime KD manager/assistant Nina Rao (May 19 in New York City).

Beginning in February or March of 2016, all dates are off.  “I’m going to kind of just chill,” KD said.

The news was accompanied by the announcement of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation, the Kirtan Wallah Foundation, which is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Krishna Das’ guru, the late Neem Karoli Baba.

Clearly addressing the rumors and questions, the “Rock Star of Yoga” ended his video message with typical understatedness: “That’s the story for now. Take good care. Bye.”
  _____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
 
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015
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Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015

Wait a minute, kirtan at Jazz Fest? THE Jazz Fest?? The one going on right now in New Orleans, featuring Elton John, the Who, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and a long list of luminaries from a genre-blending spectrum of rock/jazz/blues/gospel and more?

Yep, that’s the one.  You can add Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band to that lineup of musical legends.

So, what’s the big deal about kirtan at a mainstream music festival like Jazz Fest?

The Bhakti Beat asked Sean Johnson this in an interview shortly after the band’s set.  He paused, contemplating the question, then offered this: “I feel like kirtan music gets put into a box by people who are not familiar with it.   People who aren’t into yoga or meditation don’t even really give it a chance; there’s a prejudgement about what it is.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comEven kirtan artists, Johnson observed, have a hard time describing what they do in words that resonate with someone who doesn’t already relate to the bhakti world. Playing a mainstream music festival, he said, “is an opportunity to put mantra music right in front of a general audience, so they can bypass their own judgments about what it might be — to really be able to experience it in their bodies rather than judging it with their minds.”

“We in this kirtan subculture create these experiences and events where we can get together and be inspired by each other, but I think there’s value in the magic of what we share that can really be a gift to the wider culture,” he continued. “Mantras in and of themselves are really powerful, so if we can create experiences that bypass the boundaries that are put around certain cultural experiences, even certain kinds of art, it becomes an opportunity for the labels to become unimportant, to no longer separate us from each other.”

Any way you look at it, a kirtan band at the epic New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest is, well, epic.  And this little bhakti band from NOLA has been invited back to Jazz Fest three times so far.  We’re tempted to call them a regular.

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest TheBhaktiBeat.com

Parmita Pushman, the founder of White Swan Records and herself a pioneer in bringing mantra music to the mainstream, had this to say about the Wild Lotus Band’s Jazz Fest participation: “Jazz Fest features the colors and creativity of New Orleans; artists like Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band are part of a vital new future for New Orleans. Kirtan music and yoga are bringing peace and music to people, but wherever it happens they also bring along their own musical influences and tastes which are seen in the expression of their song.”

The trio of Johnson (vocals/harmonium), Alvin Young (bass/guitar), and Gwendolyn Colman (vocals/percussion) has become somewhat of a legend in their own right, at least in the bhakti world.  Their brand of funked-up, bluesy, soul-tingling mantra music is a favorite at chant festivals and yoga retreats, where they never fail to whip the crowds into a frenzy of ecstatic free-dance.  But this band consistently delivers much more than rock-out dance mantra.  They will take you deep, lift you up, and crack you open with soulful sprinklings of bhakti poetry and tear-jerker gospel classics like their signature set closer, Fly Away.  Gets us every time.

Apparently we’re not alone.  Even at Jazz Fest — a big, boisterous, outdoor, party-scene festival with a dozen stages plus parades, pow-wows and pavilions — the band moved people to tears, Johnson told us. Performing on the first day of the two-weekend Fest, the band had their biggest crowd yet in their three years at Jazz Fest, with lots of kirtan newbies plus a dedicated group of hard-core fans, friends and family, who held the response.

“Many people were crying at one point or another,” Johnson said of the band’s Friday afternoon set. “I don’t know how often that happens at a big music festival, so I was really grateful that even in that outdoor, larger-scale environment with a lot of people who were not familiar with kirtan, people had such an intimate emotional experience.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest ThebhaktiBeat.comWith less than an hour to play, the NOLA native said it was challenging to find a way to make the experience as accessible and comfortable as possible to people new to kirtan.  He told the crowd that the language of bhakti might be a little different than what you’re used to, but what happens in kirtan is really not that different from what happens in the gospel tent across the field or even at the main stage.

Connecting Through Music

“I don’t want people to think that kirtan is this strange esoteric form of music from another place and time,” he said.  It’s just another way of connecting through music, he said. “The most exalted moments of a stadium rock concert are when everybody knows the song; there is this communion between the band and the crowd.  The essence of what happens in that experience is the same thing that happens in kirtan.”

Unity Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comBased on the reports we heard, there was a whole lot of communion between band and crowd going on at Jazz Fest’s Lagniappe Stage during the Wild Lotus set.  The band led just four songs in their 50-minute set, all from their brilliant 2014 CD, “Unity,” with a little intro to each to offer some context for the mantras. (You’ve got “Unity,” right? If not, get it here.)

They opened with the exotic, rollicking tribute to the Remover of Obstacles, “Ganesha’s Belly Dance,” then moved into the CD’s title song, a mash-up of original lyrics around the theme of oneness fused with Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, the Hindu prayer of peace for all beings. Next, their powerful, primal Kali chant, “The Way of Love,” had the crowd leaping over hedges to dance in a grassy area near the stage in what Johnson called a “little bit of a Bhakti Fest moment…but with grass.”

Then, with the revelers securely in the palm of their hands, the trio knocked it out of the park with the soulful song of hope that they wrote for the city they love in the wake of the hurricane that nearly destroyed it.  “I Will Rise Again” is a moving tribute to the band’s beloved NOLA rising from the floodwaters of Katrina.  It gives us goosebumps, and we’re pretty far removed from the Big Easy…

We imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

Jazz Fest photos courtesy of Bonnie Gustin Photography.

 

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