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In "the pit"

The return of The Hanumen — the testosterone-driven ensemble band created by John de Kadt, Benjy Wertheimer and Gaura Vani — has been one of the most anticipated events in this kirtan addict’s year.  Who could resist this combination of three exquisite musicians, each with a heart as big as Hanuman’s (and humors to match)?

We caught up with the multi-instrumentalist mantra revolutionaries at a true hotbed of revolution, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., near the end of their short, sweet tour up the East Coast (don’t worry, West Coasters: The Hanumen are coming your way in September).  Afterward, we got to sit down with all four of the current incarnation of this band of bhakti brothers — bassist Purusartha Dasa being the fourth  — for an interview that turned into more of sit-down comedy routine at times:

from thehanumen.com

The Hanumen played in “the pit” at Goddard — fitting, perhaps for revolutionaries whose publicity photos show them covered in mud? — an acoustically correct sound stage from which the college’s community FM station, WGDR, audiocast the concert live to the world.  (A recording of it may be forthcoming, we’re told.)

Their concert covered a lot of sacred ground in mantra music…

delicious drum poetry from John de Kadt, beginning with the dreamily invitational, “Come Dance With Me”…

 

 

 

an Alleluia solo in the 12th century Gregorian Chant tradition from Benjy Wertheimer that took our breath away…

 

 

 

Gaura Vani’s inimitable playfulfulness, sacred story-telling, and powerful call-and-response leadership…

 

 

 

and even a little dance lesson in the “Swami Shuffle” from quiet, dimunitive Purusartha Dasa.

 

The evening was packed with pleasant surprises, beautifully showcasing the master musicianship of each individually and melding them seamlessly into a smooth flow of original compositions, ancient chants, reincarnated gospel songs, and instrumental interludes.  Luscious.

This is one perfect example:

 

Check our YouTube page for the latest uploads from The Hanumen @ Goddard!

See also: 
www.thehanumen.com
www.johndekadt.com
www.benjymusic.com
www.gauravani.com

 

 

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MC Yogi: All that and more.

MC Yogi’s new CD, Pilgrimage, topped the World Music charts from the moment it was released in mid June, so it should be no surpise that his performance at Wanderlust Vermont June 23 was off the charts as well.

The Saturday evening set was an extravaganza of psychedelic lights, special effects and floor-shaking bass, rife with the get-off-your-asana dance beats and heart-thumping, tongue-twisting vocal riffs MC Yogi (aka Nick Giacomini) has come to be known for.  Silhouetted against a larger-than-life multi-media backdrop in the shadow of Stratton Mountain, the man who put conscious hip-hop on the charts cranked up the volume and raised the roof on the outdoor tent filled to the brim with Wanderlust revelers.

Buoyant from an East Coast CD-release tour and No. 1 chart ranking, the superstar yogi appeared to command a larger crowd (by our nonscientific method) even than Ziggy Marley, the festival headliner who played later that night.  Which is probably not surprising, being that this was Wanderlust (these are yogis, after all, not potheads — well, at least for the most part).  “MC” had big praise for Ziggy, whose message of love, freedom and tolerance resonates with Giacomini’s own “Give Love” anthem-for-the-masses.

We were kind of hoping he would break out in a hip-hopped up version of “Love is My Religion,” but alas, it was not to be.

Instead, he focused on the high-powered, horn-happy, bass-driven raps from Pilgrimage, a tour de force of an album that has been four years in the making.  Anyone who fell in love with his debut CD, Elephant Power, has been waiting for this one — and, full disclaimer, that includes us.  We weren’t disappointed.  Right from the first music track, a tribute to Ganesha subtitled “Sound the Horns,” it grabs you and practically propels you to “Rise Up”– the first of the disc’s many anthem-like calls to wake up and be the change.

And now that you’re up, MC Yogi invites you to “fly away home” in the soaring, trumpet-punctuated rap, “Born to Fly.”  At Wanderlust, acro-yogis converged on and in front of the stage during the song and wowed the crowd with some gravity-defying moves that drove home the tune’s inspirational message:  “You know we…are born to fly, spread your wings and touch the sky.”

We also fell for Giacomini’s funked-up “I Am That,” with its twangy electronic beat and classic Indian-style “scat” sprinkled throughout.  “Sunlight” is a feel-good, let-the-sun-shine-in anthem with a message of hope, love and letting go — with (you guessed it) lots of horns.  How can you not love a song that reassures you repeatedly that “It’s a brand new day,” and “Everything is gonna be okay”?  One Light baby.

And then there is Hanuman.  We didn’t think it was possible to outdo “Rock on Hanuman,” the Elephant Power track featuring Krishna Das, but this just might do it.  This time, Giacomini takes on the legendary “story that must be told” from the Hindu sacred text, the Ramayana,  In it, Hanuman, the monkey god who is Ram’s most beloved servant, leaps across the ocean to save Sita from the evil king who has kidnapped the good Queen.

Amanda Giacomini, MC Yogi’s artist wife, perfectly illustrated the tale with an array of carefully choreographed cartoonish images, animations, and old video clips.  “Hanuman” is  Big Sound, befitting to a Hindu Superhero who can leap across oceans and hold whole mountains in the palm of his hand.

Sadly, there was no trio of trumpeteers on hand on the Wanderlust stage to add the perfect punctuation.  And that bass?  It really did shake the floor — so much that the mic on our camera couldn’t handle it.  But the “floor show” with Nick’s moves and Amanda’s graphics, along with the turntable wizardry of Robin Livingston, was so engrossing we just had to share (with soundtrack provided by Pilgrimage’s “Hanuman” track, which you can download free for yourself here).  Watch below and tell us what you think of the new MC Yogi.  Listen right to the end.

The only thing else we can say about “Hanuman” by MC Yogi is “God Bless that monkey, he made my day.”

hahaha.  Jai Shri Ram.

 

Also see:  www.mcyogi.com

 

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Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program in Marlborough, Mass. on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 –  Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)

Prelude to Darshan: Fire & Flowers

After her radiant arrival and stirring satsang, Amma sang bhajans with us for over an hour, lifting her arms to the heavens, gathering energy and sending it out, laughing heartily, and crying out “Jai Ma!” throughout it all.

The final rite before darshan with Amma began was the “waving of the light” (Aarthi), a traditional ritual in which camphor is ceremoniously burned on a platter before the guru.  Pairs of devotees waved a silver platter with little brass-colored pots of smoking camphor back and forth in front of Amma as she tossed handful after handful of flower petals onto them.

By the third round, Amma’s lap was strewn with petals, and the devotees in the front had petals in their hair and all about.  Each aspect of this sacred ritual has deep symbolism; camphor leaves no trace as it burns and is symbolic of the dissipation of the devotee’s ego in order that they may become one with the Divine.

About that Hug…

When it was time for darshan to begin, Amma moved to the floor in front of the stage, where she was situated at the end of a two-lane darshan line consisting of rows of chairs.  If you’ve ever been to see Amma, you know the drill. You get a token at the beginning of the evening with an assigned letter/number combo, then you wait for it to be your turn.

I had number U-1,  which meant I was in for a long wait as they made their way, slowly, through the alphabet.  Nothing to do but sit and soak up the bhajans, which continued throughout the night by a changing cast of musicians.

Finally, around 3:30 a.m., my number came up. The hall was still quite crowded, and Amma showed no signs of slowing down or taking a break, even though she had been hugging people for over five hours nonstop. The “chair line” was moving quite fast when I entered it: no sooner did I sit down when I had to stand and move to the next chair. It was somewhat comical, like a game of musical chairs on the way to receive the Guru’s graces.

As I got closer to Amma, I could feel the frenetic energy rising, as volunteers, aides and devotees crowded around her. Others were waiting for a turn to ask her a question, or were just lingering in her energy as long as possible. At the front of the chair line, volunteers gently push you to your knees, and you inch forward the last few feet, sandwiched tightly between the person ahead of you and the one behind you. It’s what I imagine it must be like on a crowded train in India.

Then, suddenly, you are there. Kneeling before Sri Mata Devi. The frenzy of the scene around me dissipated, the noisy hall quieted to a dull hum. There was only me and Ma.  I was enveloped in her sheer white veils, smothered by her embrace, lulled by her deep whisper: “My daughter, my daughter.”

A Hug and A Kiss

And then it was over. A Hershey’s kiss was pressed into my palm as volunteers implored me to stand up quickly and make room for the next. A bit dazed, I was ushered to an area to the left of Amma, where it was possible to bask in the bhav of the Guru for a few moments longer. People were rotated through the dozen or so coveted spots rather quickly, depending on how quickly the hugs were happening. Each move of the line got you closer to Amma.

When I reached the front of this “post-hug” line, about three feet from where Amma sat, the line stopped moving. I was graced with a close-up view of her as she continued her embraces, even while a devotee stood next to her feeding her prasad (cut fruit, in this case) and imploring her to eat. I was mesmerized to witness this extraordinary woman up close, in all her Divine Humanness, eating fruit, chatting animatedly, and hugging her beloved “children” all at once.  It was as if she had developed six arms, just like the legendary Hindu goddesses she evoked.

At that moment, she glanced in my direction. Our eyes met. Hers sparkled; mine teared up. She smiled. Then she went back to her hugging, and a gentle tap on my shoulder told me my time near Amma was up.  That glance will stay with me.

Post-Script: Venus, Jupiter & the Moon

The program ended soon afterward.  I left the cavernous, echoing hall at around 4:30 a.m., just as the night sky was giving way to the deep indigo tinge of pre-dawn. There was a crowd outside staring at the sky and chattering excitedly. I looked up to find a perfect planetary conjunction: Venus below, Jupiter above, with a sliver of the moon smack dab in the middle of them.

Wow, I thought. The planets really did line up.

 
Please also see the other articles in the series:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Video/Photos)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
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Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:

Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 

After Amma’s teaching during Satsang, it was time to sing.  Amma settled in, her swamis took their positions, and more musicians appeared from the wings.  Suddenly the monstrosity of a convention hall was echoing in every corner with the joyful nectar of traditional bhajans, or devotional songs.

Amma began singing quietly, prayerfully.  Her eyes were closed and hands in her lap, or clenched in prayer at her chin.

Then suddenty, she would cry out exuberantly, lifting her arms to the sky. She had a way of bringing her hands to the crown of her head, then sweeping them up to the heavens and out to the people before her. She repeated this over and over, as if gathering up her own divine energy and sending it out to “all beings in all worlds.”

 

 

 

 

She drummed on her platform with a stick…

 

 

clanged on hand cymbals…

 

and clapped her hands in time with the musicians.

Periodically she would throw her head back and laugh heartily, or cry out “Jai Ma.”  The crowd sang and clapped and “Jai Ma-ed” right along with her.

But let’s face it, words and still images only go so far when it comes to bhajans.  Experience a little taste of Amma’s bhajan bhav live in this video by James Luce for The Bhakti Beat.


To continue reading “Blessings, Bhajans & Bear Hugs,” please see:

The fourth article in the series: Pt. 4 – A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 
Also see:
The first article in the series: Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
The second article in the series: Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
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Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)
Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 

 

Thankful for Amma’s grace and the planetary alignment that enabled me to capture the Devi’s arrival to “AMMA Central” in Marlborough, Mass., I rushed back into the stark trade center for the start of the program.  Inside, the padapuja was underway, a traditional Hindu ceremony worshiping the feet of a guru. Amma’s senior disciple, Swami Amritaswarupananda, bathed her feet with blessed water, anointed her arches with oil, placed blossoms between her toes, then piled loose flower petals high on her feet.  Devotees adorned her with long garlands of brilliant blooms, one after another, until she seemed to be covered in flowers, then waved burning incense and oils before her.  All the while, chanters recited the 108 names of Mother.

(We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the padapuja, but check out this video of the ritual from Amritapuri TV, the Amma organization’s broadcasting network.)

‘Compassion Is Becoming Extinct’

When it was time for satsang, Amma delivered her teaching in her native language of Malayalam, and Swami Amritaswarupananda, one of her earliest followers, translated it.  A Spanish translation was shown on monitors mounted throughout the massive hall.  Amma would speak passionately and animatedly for 10 minutes or so, then Swami would interpret, and so on for about an hour. A combination of poor sound, an echoey hall, and Swami ‘s slight accent made it difficult to discern all the words, but the overall message was a familiar one.  Amma spoke of a society reeling in chaos and heartache because of a creeping lack of compassion, kindness and respect for one another.

“Compassion is becoming extinct,” she said. “Society without compassion is like a spacecraft without a booster rocket.  We need a booster rocket of compassion.”

She implored us to turn away from negative habits and cultivate an attitude of gratitude and understanding for all beings. She urged us to not “become our emotions,” and to practice meditation to control our reactions to life’s challenges.

“Emotions are like clouds in the sky,” she said. “They are always changing from moment to moment. We are not those fluffy clouds. We are the sky they pass through.” Meditation, she said, helps us be the sky.

Amma’s message is encapsulated in the oft-repeated Hindu prayer chant that has become the motto for her humanitarian organization (Embracing the World):  “Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which translates roughly to “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.”  Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

7 Amma-isms to Live By

Speaking gently but firmly, with liberal sprinklings of parables, metaphors, and personal stories from her life, Amma spoke of love, intellect, ego, karma, and grace. Here are seven of our favorite quotes from the program:

“We are not individual islands, but links in a common chain.”

“Ego brings us bad karma. All of our actions should bring joy and happiness to others.”

“The intellect is like a sharp pair of scizzors cutting through the heart. Humility is more important than intellect.”

“Love gives meaning and sweetness to life.”

“We must all become lights in the lamp of the world.”

“Just like food and water, spiritual understanding is necessary for life.”

“Without grace, nothing is possible.”

When the satsang was over, Amma settled into her seat and her swamis took their places on stage around her.  Musicians appeared from the wings and joined the “band” on stage.  It was time to sing…

To continue reading “Blessings, Bhajans & Bear Hugs,” please see:
The third article in the series: Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)
 
Also see:
The first article in the series: Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
The fourth article in the series: Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
View a short video of Amma singing Shyam Devi.
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.

 

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Amma in North America 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of blogs from our evening with Amma on July 14, 2012.  Please see the links at the end for the rest of the series. 

There is something surreal about driving into “AMMA Central” at the Best Western Royal Plaza and Trade Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  I was there to see Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the spiritual leader and global humanitarian known simply as Amma (aka the “Hugging Saint”).  It was the first Public Program in the last stop of her annual US tour.

The first thing you see upon arrival is a huge flashing marquee declaring “NEW ENGLAND WELCOMES AMMA.”  This somehow reminded me of the signs you see in convention towns, like “San Diego Welcomes CPAs.”

The trade center itself  is a cavernous industrial space with concrete floors, bright flourescent lighting and stark white-tile walls reminiscent of a train-station bathroom.  It felt a bit incongruous with the spirit of satsang (spiritual discourse) and darshan (blessing) from a woman revered as an avatar of the Divine Mother herself.

The Amma Phenomenon

Whether or not you buy into that belief, to sit with Amma in satsang, to sing age-old bhajans (devotional songs) along with her and to witness her darshan — hugging 1,000+ people of all ages, colors, and religious backgrounds for hours on end and straight through the night — is to witness a contemporary Spiritual Phenomenon, unfolding before your eyes.  It’s hard not to be spellbound by it all.

This was only my second time being hugged by Amma, a plump brown-skinned South Indian woman with smiling eyes and the compassionate, nurturing nature of everyone’s favorite aunt.  I have to admit, the first time I went to see her — last year in Marlborough, for Devi Bhava, the extravagant ritual that caps off each of her multi-day tour stops — I went mostly out of an innate fascination with this kind of “spiritual spectacle” (no disrespect meant).  It’s the same curiosity that has drawn me to events like John of God at Omega or even Deepak Chopra conferences; the sense that something’s happening here — the seeds of societal transformation perhaps? — that seems really important yet is unknown to the vast majority of society.  I had gone to Devi Bhava with my reporter’s cap on, determined to objectively review this “Amma Phenomenon” and see for myself what all the fuss was about.  (That story is coming soon…)

That was last year, almost to the day.  This time around, I went with a lens cap as well as my reporter’s cap, packing a press pass from the Amma organization and my new Nikon D3100 SLR with a 300 mm zoom (almost a real camera!).  My goal:  immerse in the bhav of Amma’s blessings, and come out with a few good photos, maybe even a little video.  I was particularly excited to experience Amma singing bhajans, something she didn’t do at the Devi Bhava I attended.

Graced by the Goddess

Clear on what I could and could not shoot (press operate under specific restrictions), I headed outside to try to catch Amma’s arrival to the center.  With no time to spare, I situated myself at the far end of the red carpet that had been stretched between the parking lot and the side door to the hall, and proceeded to set up my shot through the viewfinder.

Instantly, a staff person approached me.  He greeted me cordially (“Om Namah Shivaya”), inspected my (way-too-small) press-pass/nametag, and politely asked who had “authorized” me.  (Anyone holding a camera at an Amma event gets scrutinized — I was approached two dozen more times over the next couple hours). The staffer scurried back to the orange-robed swamis — Amma’s senior disciples — and a discreet conversation ensued as I watched, somewhat trepidatiously, from the other end of the carpet.  After some consultation among the group, I was given a decidedly unenthusiastic thumbs-up, but with a smile that assured me all was okay.  Whew.

A moment later, Amma pulled up in a white sedan.

The planets aligned and the crowd parted just long enough for me to snap a few clear shots of her coming down the red carpet, radiant in a gown of pure white, arms outstretched to touch the hands of the devotees who reached for her from both sides.  She looked straight at me and smiled, gracing me with The Perfect Shot — and taking my objective reporter’s breath away.

 

I put my camera down as she neared and reached my hand out to meet hers.  An indefinable warmth settled over me, a feeling that all really was okay…

Amma in North America 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comBut I didn’t have time to bask in it for long.  Inside, the padapuja was underway…

Read Pt. 2 of the series:  Spellbound by Satsang With Amma
Read Pt. 3 of the series:  Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Video)
Read Pt. 4 of the series:  A Hug, A Kiss & A Glance
View a short video of Amma singing Shyam Devi.
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
 
Also see:
www.amma.org
www.amritapuri.org
www.embracingtheworld.org

 

 

 

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Nina Rao, known for her Chalisa

Have you noticed a growing fascination with the Hanuman Chalisa, the 40-verse ode to the Hindu monkey-god who embodies the heart of devotional practice?  We’ve noticed it cropping up in more and more live kirtan sets, and Bhakti Fest Midwest was no exception.  Both SRI Kirtan and Brenda McMorrow offered rocking original versions of this long and fairly complicated chant during their respective sets on Saturday and Sunday.

Brenda McMorrow

Krishna Das and his long-time assistant (and chant leader in her own right) Nina Rao might take credit for helping make the Chalisa so popular.  KD’s “Flow of Grace” CD is  devoted completely to the Chalisa, with six different versions of the prayer.  The one by Nina Rao, the sweet “Nina Chalisa,” has formed the foundation for her own Chalisa chanting in her home ‘hood of Brooklyn, at KD workshops and at Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree.  Her morning Chalisa sessions have become a fixture, and are well-attended despite their early-morning hour.  She continued this trend in Madison, Wisc. at the Midwest fest.  Her traditional Chalisa is featured in this video from Vermantra 12-hour chant fest last fall.

SRI Kirtan (Sruti Ram & Ishwari)

Kirtan geeks that we are, we get pretty excited when wallahs mix the Chalisa into their sets — typically with an introductory warning that if you don’t know the words, have no fear, there’s a nice simple chorus that everyone can join in on.  Imagine our delight when this scenario occurred with not one, but two of our favorite up-and-coming kirtan wallahs at Bhakti Fest Midwest — SRI Kirtan on Saturday at high noon and Brenda McMorrow on Sunday afternoon.

Check out both shakti-shaking versions below.  Warning: the videos are long (did we mention it’s a 40-verse prayer?), but we think this is one of those chants that needs to be seen, heard and felt in its entirety.

(I have no idea why YouTube is not putting up a thumbnail on this, but I assure you, there’s a beautiful picture of Sruti Ram and Ishwari that SHOULD be coming up.  Please watch despite the blackness.)

 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 
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The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest:  There was heat on the stage Saturday night at Bhakti Fest Midwest, and it wasn’t just from the fire-spinners.  Backed by an all-star cast of musicians, Shyamdas lit up the late-night crowd in Madison, Wisc. – already primed after three hours with Krishna Das – with his inimitable style of Hari Katha (sacred story-telling). He masterfully weaved classic stories of Krishna and Radhe inside crescendo-building chants that went straight to the heart of the bhav and engulfed the sea of chanters in a blur of ecstatic joy.  It’s a wonder the stately old weepers on Willow Island, where the main stage was situated, didn’t pull up their roots and join the lila.

Shyamdas’s talents as Sanskrit scholar, translator of sacred texts, revered teacher, and wallah extraordinaire were on brilliant display.  He enthralled with stories of the passionate love affair between Krishna and Radha, slipping in bits of wisdom amidst a slowly climaxing “Radhe Krishna, Radhe Krishna, Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam, Radhe Shyam, Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe” chant.  Breathless.

He told of the Sadhu in India who was inching his way around a sacred mountain, bowing to Krishna in full prostration (with the body laid flat out on the ground) 1,008 times before he would take the next step on his yatra. The man was 5’2” tall, and the journey was 14 miles long.

“He was not in a hurry,” Shyamdas deadpanned with one of those killer expressions. Then, the segue.  “And this is what he sang all day long…” Music up.  Voices together. “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare….”

He told the story of Krishna as a young boy toying with his mother about “eating dirt,” a Hindu metaphor for worshiping false gods, then busted into a 17-minute-long Gopala raga that peaked in a tidal wave of fervor on stage and off.  Brilliant.  (Video below.)

The stories and the chants flowed seamlessly for two hours, one deep sacred river of bhav.  By the end of it the crowd of bhaktas were eating out of his hand and eager for more nectar.  We’re guessing Shyam-Ji could have gone on like this for hours longer, swimming in the vibestream and taking us all along for the ride.  But alas, Emcee Shiva Baum was waiting in the wing, and that was the signal to wrap it up.  Sigh.

Shyamdas let us down ever so gently with the final morsel of young Krishna’s miracle-making and one last sweet round of “Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala.”  It ended in a whisper and a deep silence that was broken only when Shyamdas, with a look of sweet satisfaction, uttered simply: “That was exquisite.”

In the Bhav with Shyam

The crowd punctuated his sentiment with a roar.  He wasn’t patting himself on the back.  It was more an acknowledgement of the quality of the bhav, the delicious flow of energy from “caller” to “responders” and back, then all as one — the depth of the emotion of devotion we had all just shared.  Long exhale.

Joining Shyamdas for this luscious Bhakti Fest lila were: Nina Rao on kartals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla, Yehoshua Brill on electric guitar, Sruti Ram and Ishwari of SRI Kirtan on vocals, break-out violinist Samuel Salsbury, and Hanuman Das on sitar.

Who needs fire-spinners when you’ve got Shyamdas and this band on the stage? (No, really, we love fire-spinners…)

Here’s the video.  What do you think?

See also:
The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal of Shyamdas’s set at Bhakti Fest Midwest
www.shyamdas.com
www.bhaktifest.com
 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 

 

 

 

 

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Pascale LaPoint: "It just comes through me."

To witness the Bhakti Fest debut of Pascale LaPoint and her band, Kirtan Path, was to witness the unfolding of a bhakti dream coming true.  Having just begun leading kirtan a mere three years ago, the Minneapolis-based chantaholic found herself sitting center-stage at the biggest bhakti bonanza the Heartland has ever seen, singing her heart out and basking in the bhav flowing from her own soul-stirring vocals.

You know how some singers’ voices just touch you deeply?  That have that indefinable something that goes right through your skin, leaving goosebumps on the way, to resonate deep within?  Krishna Das has one.  So does Pascale LaPoint.  (There’s a video below to prove it, but keep reading.  Please.)

Big Love for Newbies

Kirtan Path: (L to R) Mark Baker (percussion), Deana Downs (vocals), Pascale LaPoint (harmonium, lead vocals), Nancy Lemke (violin)

We were not alone in our surprise at this break-out performance.  The German-born LaPoint had the mid-afternoon crowd in the palm of her hand.  Chanters gathered tight to the stage, huddling in the little bit of shade that offered refuge from the blistering sun and giving the set an intimate feel, like one big family.

Pascale LaPoint and the Minneapolis kirtan crew, after Sunday’s morning set with Sitara, Kalyani and Pavan Kumar, the other Mpls band making its Bhakti Fest debut.

The Minneapolis kirtan community — which chanters like Pascale and fellow Bhakti Fest debuters Sitara, Kalyani & Pavan Kumar  have built with tireless effort — was in full force, dancing and cheering on one of their own.  They twirled and whooped and Hari Bol-ed the crowd right into a standing ovation for the little band from Minnesota.  Folks, Krishna Das didn’t get a standing O at Bhakti Fest Midwest.  Emcee Shiva Baum raved, calling the band “a definite highlight of day one.”  He asked the crowd if they wanted to see Kirtan Path back at Bhakti Fest, and the people roared their approval.  You couldn’t help but get a swollen heart from this outpouring of love for a newbie.

Shortly after her set, she told us:  “I’m not a singer.  It just comes through me.”  Huh?  You’ve never been a singer?  She said she attended David Newman’s Kirtan College in 2009 and started leading chants soon after, getting her feet wet at Sacred Rearrangements, a healing center/shop owned by Sitara and Pavan Kumar (aka Susan Shehata & Keith Helke of www.raisingtheconsciousness.com) that had become the “hub of the kirtan scene in Mpls,” according to Sitara.

On The Bhakti Fest Radar

In the Bhav at the All-Star Finale

Pascale had traveled to Bhakti Fest in California, and was beyond thrilled when they announced a Midwest Fest.  When she “applied” (along with perhaps 1,000 others) for one of the coveted slots on the main stage, she was told the line-up was already set.  The following day she got an email from Bhakti Fest Founder Sridhar Silberfein inviting her to be part of said line-up.  Kirtan Path was already on the radar.

Well, their blip on the bhakti radar map just blossomed.  Their set was full of classics:  KD’s Baba Hanuman, The One I Love ballad Gina Sala and Shantala regularly play, traditionals like Govinda Jaya Jaya and Jaya Mata Kali, and original melodies for Sita Ram, Rama Bolo and a skin-tingling Hare Krishna Maha Mantra that Pascale said is her favorite chant.  See if you can feel the energy flowing in the rousing Hari Bol near the end of their set (below).

Something tells us we’ll be hearing more from Kirtan Path and the Minneapolis kirtan crew.  Just watch…

See also:
www.KirtanPath.com
www.raisingtheconsciousness.com
www.bhaktifest.com
 
See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!
Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos)
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 
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Krishna Das. Like a rock...star.

The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest (June 30-July 1, 2012)  The grand All-Wallah Finale has become a Bhakti Fest closing tradition.  It’s also become one of those love-it-or-leave-it affairs, depending on who you ask.  Over the course of attending five of them since 2010, we’ve observed a lot of mixed feelings about the inevitably raucous everyone-gets-to-be-a-wallah jam-out that officially closes out each Bhakti Fest.  Some wallahs avoid it altogether, as Krishna Das has managed to for three years running at the West Coast Fest in Joshua Tree.

A pillar of stillness in the cacophany of the Bhakti Fest Finale

But there he was stage center at the Madison, Wisc. fest, a pillar of maroon-shirted stillness in a sea of bhaktified motion, his gravelly repetition of the Maha Mantra standing out even amidst the cacaphony unfolding all around him.  At least 50 musicians, yoga teachers, workshop leaders, staff and volunteers jammed the stage, dancing, leaping, twirling, and conga lining in ecstatic joy as everyone chanted as one.

The Bhaktified Gratitude Dance

Bhakti Fest Founder/Executive Producer Sridhar Silberfein with Shyamdas.

Sridhar Silberfein, the founder and executive producer of Bhakti Fest who is rarely seen on stage until this finale, poured out gratitude to his staff, the wallahs, teachers and everyone who made Bhakti Fest happen.  He somehow maintained order in the chaos of celebrating the successful completion of The First Ever Bhakti Fest Midwest, assuring the cheering Heartlanders that Bhakti Fest would be back.

Sridhar did a gratitude dance across the stage with one person after another.  He sashayed with Shyamdas, rapped with Ishwari, got down low with DJ Lakshmi, and spun circles ’round Ragani.  But when it was time to reach out his hand for KD to join him, KD wasn’t going for it.  He responded — playfully of course — with a certain arm gesture that fellow New York native Sridhar was sure to understand.  Did you catch that?  Yeah, he gave him “the arm,” the Italian salute. We can’t prove it with a picture but we saw it with our own eyes.


But Sridhar wasn’t about to give up.  He pulled on KD’s arm while Ragani pushed from her seat next to him on stage.  Finally, the kirtan rock star gave in, reluctantly rising to receive the thunderous approval of the crowd.  He did not dance a jig across the stage.  After barely a moment he gave a look to Sridhar that seemed to say, “Can we get this over with now?” and went back to his lotus, back to his chanting.  Classic KD humor, legendary humility.

It’s moments like that that make us really glad we hung around for the Last Hari of Bhakti Fest.

 
See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!
Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos)
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
Krishna Das, Bhakti ‘Rock Star,’ Keeping It Real
 
www.krishnadas.com
www.bhaktifest.com

David Newman and the moon.

 

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