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David Newman (Durga Das)

Project:  Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $25,000
Deadline:  Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
Raised as of 10/30: $15,257
 
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series (more article links at bottom) on crowd-funding, the new buzzword in the music business, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  

The Artist

In David Newman, aka Durga Das, kirtan meets singer/songwriter.  The marriage has been a prolific one, with Newman well on his way to album Nos. 8 (a remix due in early 2013) and 9 (the album currently being funded).  In the 11 years since his first self-produced CD, Soul Freedom, Newman’s visibility and popularity on the kirtan scene has risen steadily, each new release further showcasing his songwriting chops and talent for seamlessly mixing traditional Sanskrit mantras with original English lyrics evoking hope, unity, and devotion.

Kickin' it up at Bhakti Fest 2012

Today, Newman is one of kirtan’s most sought-after touring artists — he tours relentlessly worldwide — and, with wife Mira on percussion and back-up vocals, has become a favorite at chant festivals large and small.  He was a yogi before he was a bhakta, having opened his Yoga on Main studio in Philadelphia 20 years ago, long before yoga was the craze it is today.  He’s also an activist and master collaborator with a knack for circling the kirtan troops in support of environmental causes, as he has with Stay Strong, the popular single and video that raised funds for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill, and the soon-to-be-released Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me, which supports construction of “green” schools in needy communities (more on that below).

The Project

Newman has turned to IndieGogo, the popular crowd-funding website, to raise cash for the production of a new studio CD tentatively slated for late 2013 release.  The CD will include two or three original English songs, Newman told The Bhakti Beat, as well as “lots of chanting” in the more traditional vein.  In a departure from his last release, Stars, in which he and producer Bill Moriarty crafted the tracks and brought in musicians one at a time to add layers, the new CD will be recorded with a group of musicians playing together live in the studio. 

Axemen: with David Watts and Philippo Franchini

The band will include Brenda McMorrow and Emy Berti (vocals), Philippo Franchini (guitar), David Watts (bass), Corey Sokoloff (percussion) and Eli Salzman (keys), in addition to Mira on percussion and vocals.  Moriarty will produce.  A recording studio has been booked for early January to lay down the tracks.  Newman said most of the material for the as yet-untitled record is already written — and there are a couple pieces in particular that he is very enthusiastic to record — but he’s also leaving room for improvisation in the studio.  And with that group of musicians, improv is likely to spell magic…

Here’s Newman singing a solo version of the title track from Stars at Bhakti Fest in September:

Newman: Crowd-Funding is the ‘New Paradigm’

Long before he was a yogi or a bhakta, and even before he went to law school (yeah, he did that too), Newman worked for a stint in the L.A. music business — back when the music business was a very different animal. Today, he said, record labels no longer make enough money on physical CD sales to justify forking over a chunk of money in advance for an artist to make a new record. “This leaves the burden on the artist to foot that bill,” he told The Bhakti Beat.  In the beginning, he said he “definitely had a resistence to reaching out to my community to support me in this process,” but he has embraced it as a “new paradigm in the relationship between the artist and the listener.”

“This is a way for artists to say to the community: ‘If this music is important in your life, here is a way you can support its continued existence,'” Newman said.  “Ultimately, the music really belongs to the person who is listening to it and who is touched by it, so it’s like everybody is pooling in to bring forward this offering in all of our lives.”  Accepting the contributions from fans, he said, “has been kind of like a yoga for me, to just receive it and say thank you.”

More News

Remix Bliss: Newman just announced that Stars is being remixed by veteran composer and music mixologist Krishna Venkatesh and will be released in early 2013 as ReBliss: Stars Revisited.  Remixed releases are a growing trend in mantra music — Donna De Lory and Girish have offered remixes recently, and Srikalogy has a “Kirtan Sessions” series featuring funked-up remixes of mantras, to name just three — but this will be a first for Newman, who sees it as a “different vehicle for people to experience my music.” It will have a “trippy, groovy” feel, he said, that he hopes will appeal to a younger audience.

Banner for Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo (credit: Jenni Young)

Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me:  The sequel to the Stay Strong charitable project that Newman initiated in 2011 is imminent, with a single called “You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo” and video to be released in mid-November.  Newman gave The Bhakti Beat a sneak peek at the joyride of a jam session where the song and video was recorded (at L.A.’s legendary Village Recorder studio) with an all-star cast of mostly SoCal bhaktas — and believe us, you won’t want to miss this.  The song was written by Newman and Donna De Lory and features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans — yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike.  (See this video from Bhakti Fest West for a mellower version of the song.)  All proceeds from the digital-only single go to Global Green’s Green School programUPDATERead our article on the Stay Strong release.

A short sweet performance of “Like Rain,” (from To Be Home CD) at Shakti Fest in May:

Links and Deets

To contribute:  http://www.indiegogo.com/davidnewmanCD?c=home
Newman’s website:  www.davidnewmanmusic.com
Stay Strong website:  www.staystrongproject.com

 

Stay tuned for more in this continuing series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  Please contact bpatoine@aol.com if you have a suggestion for an artist to feature.

 

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Reason to smile...

Ed. Note:  Crowd-funding is the new buzzword in music production — and it’s taking off in the kirtan world right in step with other musical genres.  In this new model, artists are bypassing the traditional route of funding new releases — contracting with a record label — in favor of reaching out directly to their fan base to finance the high cost of professionally recording and producing a CD.  In return for their contributions, fans receive “perks” that range from an advance download of the CD (for, say, $10 or $15) all the way up to a private concert and Executive Producer credit (for $5,000-$10,000, typically).

In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the crowd-funding efforts underway now in the mantra music world.

 

Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band

Project:  Full-length CD
Fundraising Goal:  $30,000
Deadline:  October 29, 2012
Raised as of October 27: $28,745 (so close!)
Update: The band reached its goal one day ahead of the deadline!  You can still support the effort; all additional funds will go toward sharing the album with a wider worldwide audience and supporting an extensive CD release tour.

The Band

We have yet to meet anyone who has experienced the N’awlins-flavored bhav of this trio of musicians and hasn’t come away an instant fan.  For three people, they produce BIG sound.   Favorites at festivals everywhere — they were the first kirtan band ever invited to play at the New Orleans Jazz Festival — they are sought-after touring artists and hometown heroes in NOLA. 

Snake charmer Gwendolyn Colman

Bhakti yogi Sean Johnson leads with the harmonium and soulful vocals laced with dreamy poetry and original lyrical riffs deftly tucked into traditional chants.  Innovative percussionist and singer Gwendolyn Colman is one of bhakti’s most colorful characters, typically sporting a flourescent plume atop her fiery red braids and with a green rubber snake dangling from her mike stand (we know there’s a story behind that snake…).  And then there is tall, quiet axeman Alvin Young, a New Orleans institution who has graced the stage with jazz greats Wynton and Branford Marsalis and many others.  He plays with intensity, head down, resolutely plucking his bass and laying the foundation for rhythmic alchemy.

The Project

Alvin Young. Intense.

The goal is a full-length studio CD on a par, quality-wise, with the band’s last CD, Devaloka (a joy–get it if you haven’t).  Expected release date is fall/winter 2013.  The new CD’s title is as yet undetermined; Johnson told The Bhakti Beat: “We find that the name usually reveals itself once we’re in the studio, inside the process of creating the music.”  But, he added: “The theme is clear:  Unity — celebrating the connection between global cultures and spiritual traditions through music.”

If you’ve seen SJ&WLB live in the last year or so, you’ve likely gotten a good taste for the cross-cultural feast the new record promises.  The band’s fundraising page says it will include a number of songs from their current tours, including the anthem-like Unity (Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu), which was released as a music video this summer; the gospel classic I’ll Fly Away; the Sufi chant La ilaha illa Allah; The Way Of Love (Jai Kali Ma); I Will Rise Again; Hare Krishna; Ramachandra, and more.   All except for I’ll Fly Away (see video at bottom) are original compositions, and the lyrics include mantras from different spiritual traditions and the poetry of Rumi.

Here’s a live take of Unity that we caught at Shakti Fest this spring…

 

Message from Sean Johnson

“This year, after much thought and discussion, Alvin and Gwendolyn and I decided to make a leap of faith and to move away from the traditional music label model on our next album.  The biggest question in making this decision was how to fund a high-quality, full-length professional studio recording on par with our last release Devaloka and get it out there in the world without the support of a record label? We had heard encouraging stories from many bands from around the world who were having great success with a new model called crowd-funding, in which they invited friends and fans to make contributions toward the high production costs of their projects in exchange for gifts and perks, including downloads of the album once it’s completed. With an open mind, we launched a campaign on the popular crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com in July.  Can you help us rally to meet our goal?”
 
Here is the song that Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band typically close their sets with, and which inevitably gets a lot of people teary-eyed.  (It’s making me cry right now….read the comment on its YouTube page and you’ll see why.)
 

The Links and Deets

 
Stay tuned for more featured artists in this new series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  And please support your favorite artists by contributing and sharing the news.
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There’s a lot of talk these days about a “mantra revolution,” and enough action in the chant world to back up the premise.

Witness: chant festivals that attract thousands, “rock-star” wallahs, new music expanding in every direction, community kirtan rising…even mainstream media coverage of mantra music (gasp!).  Yet it’s an undeniable truth that the bulk of the action is coastal: California and the northeastern seaboard are leading the charge, with some kirtan hotspots scattered in the midwest and mountain states. 

When mantra mania hits Vermont, a state known more for maple trees and mountains than mantra music, you’ve got to believe there’s something to this movement.

Boundaries dissolving

Enter VerMantra, which for the second year now — thanks to the nonprofit Call and Response Foundation — has brought 12 hours of nonstop multi-flavored kirtan to a state that is just barely on the kirtan map.  No, there were not thousands of people in attendance, and no rock stars or divas on the bill.   Instead, there was a solid line-up of 10  great bhakti bands, each one having signed on for peanuts, driven the extra mile to be there, and bringing with them an attitude of genuine service and devotion to the spirit of the gathering. 

The ingredients for Mulligan Stew, VerMantra style

You had luminaries like Gaura Vani and SRI Kirtan. You had up-and-comers like Devadas and Kirtan Soul Revival.  You had mantra warriors Keli Lalita and Adam Bauer and regional favorites Dave Russell and Tom Lena.  And you had a taste of the local talent in Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti, and the incomparable kirtan jam collective, the Kailash Jungle Band

‘Where this Movement is Going’

The “stage” was the center of the room, and everyone circled ’round the musicians like bees to nectar.  Collaboration and community were key:  everyone — musicians and ticket-holders alike — was in everyone’s band.  It was, by design, the kind of environment where the boundaries between performer and audience evaporate.  Where callers and responders meld together in a circular flow of rhythm and song, united as one voice calling out in joyful abandon.   The kind of environment where magic happens.

Gaura Vani: Delivering Nectar

“This is grassroots community kirtan at its best,” Gaura Vani said during his set at VerMantra, adding,  “and that is really where this movement is going.”

Brooklyn-based wallah Devadas used the analogy of a “Mulligan stew” to describe the gathering — the idea that each band, each musician, brings something unique to add to the bhakti soup.  “We come from all these places — different paths, different teachers — and we each bring our own ingredients, our own styles and perspectives.  In the end we have something like Mulligan stew that feeds us,” he said.  

For a full review of the VerMantra line-up, read:
“Making Bhakti Soup: VerMantra Serves Up ‘Mulligan Stew’ of Mantra Music” (coming soon!)
 

Devadas, a devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) who has sung at her darshans in the Northeast U.S., warmed up the stew-pot early in the day with the recitation of the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother.   He stuck around to stir the pot throughout the day, playing mridanga or hand cymbals or just singing.  Twelve hours later, he was back at stage center to serve up the feast and close out the fest.  “To play clean-up,” the other musicians teased him.

Clean up he did.

Time to savor the stew...Devadas

With an unassuming grace, Devadas effortlessly elevated the delicious mood of devotion that had been simmering for nine sets to a whole new level.  Backed by a core band of Gaura Vani (mridanga & vocals), SRI Kirtan’s Ishwari and Sruti Ram (vocals), KC Solaris (tabla), Adam Bauer (bass), Richard Davis (guitar), Rasamrta Devi Dasi (cymbals) and Louise Ross (flute), he steered us right into a slow-building bhajan learned from his guru Amma that gradually but inevitably peaked in a tidal wave of ecstatic crescendo. 

The room was an ocean of motion.

People were dancing, clapping, spinning, singing out the Names like “souls crying out for our divine home,” in Gaura Vani’s words.  The mantra seemed to take on a life of its own, letting us surf the crest of the wave just…long…enough before settling us down ever so gently on the shores of our souls, as Kahlil Gibran might say. 

And then we did it all over again.  And we soared even higher…

Soaring...

Radhe Govinda Bhajo, the first chant Devadas led, is a traditional melody that Amma “has been singing for a very long time,” he said.  She taught it to him and he spoon- fed it to us.  It was delicious. 

You can taste it here:


 

The second chant Devadas led was a complex MahaMantra melody straight from the temples of Kainchi, India, the sacred land where Neem Karoli Baba often hung out and where his ashram stands today.  But that’s another story — and video — coming soon…

Toe-curling

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this was for me one of those peak experiences in kirtan that just doesn’t happen every day.  Maybe it was the fact that we’d been there for nearly 12 hours, simmering in the stew, steeping in all the flavors of bhav.  Maybe the group was really “on” after singing together all day, as the boundaries dissolved and egos melted away and the energy rose.   I don’t pretend to understand the magic that happens in kirtan.  I’d reallllly like to, but I think it’s beyond intellectual comprehension.  It defies logical explanation.

The power of mantra, as Dave Stringer has said, is not something you have to “believe in” or even understand; it is something that must be experienced.   

Simple as that.  All you have to do is sing the Names.

All that bhav and free chai too

Special thanks to director Jennifer Canfield and co-founders Susan Murphy and Ed Ritz of the Call and Response Foundation, whose programs support community kirtan events and bring mantra music to populations in need.  Please visit their website, www.callandresponsefoundation.org, and consider donating to support their efforts.  

Also see:
www.devadasmusic.com
www.callandresponsefoundation.org
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.tomlenamusic.com
www.facebook.com/KirtanSoulRevival
www.daverussellkirtan.com
www.dharmaboutique.com (Adam Bauer)
www.mantralogy.com (Keli Lalita)
Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti
Prem Prakash
 
 

 

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Passionate about the planet

As the Bhajan Boat forged the troubled waters of Manhattan’s East River last weekend, SRI Kirtan punctuated their set with a passionate rap against “fracking,” one of the latest threats to water quality perpetrated by Big Oil & Gas.  The very UNtraditional lyrical riff was brilliantly wrapped inside a traditional chant venerating Ganga Ma — the troubled holy river revered in India as symbolic of the Divine Mother, the source from which all life and salvation flows. 

It was mantra with a message, a take-no-prisoners warning not to frack with Ma’s water…

 

Fracking — a moniker for hydraulic fracturing — is the process of pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock to extract natural gas.  The practice has gained favor with gas drillers as a cost-effective way to harvest vast natural gas reserves, but many questions about its safety and how it affects the water supply remain unanswered.  In New York State, regulators are still debating whether to allow fracking.  A state-wide moratorium is in effect temporarily, while environmental and health reviews continue.  Meanwhile, with the state dragging its feet, more than 100 upstate NY municipalities have banned fracking, but these local rules are also under attack:  in the first of many legal battles, a state judge recently invalidated Binghamton’s municipal ban.

‘Are You Serious?/Are You Delirious?

Don't Frack with her

Fracking has “shortsighted benefits,” says Ishwari, SRI Kirtan’s female half, because it offers access to a “cheap resource” — untolled billions of gallons of natural gas preserves.  But the process is environmentally suspect, at best.  At worst, it’s a “Molotov cocktail/right at your tap,” as the song goes.  “We can’t afford to sell out on this one,” she says, with line-in-the-sand determination.

“There is no life on earth without water.”  Only about one percent of the Earth’s water reserves are suitable for drinking, Ishwari points out.   “Fresh, drinkable water is our most precious resource.”

SRI Kirtan's Sruti Ram & Ishwari at Bhakti Fest Midwest

Ishwari and SRI Kirtan’s other half, Sruti Ram, recorded a studio version of “Don’t Frack” last year with Srikalogy’s Srikala Kerel Roach, a NY-based conscious hip-hop artist who is making his mark on the new wave of experimental kirtan-rap fusion now gaining momentum  in the “yoga-music” world.  (Hear Don’t Frack here.) 

 The Message in the Mantra

The words to SRI Kirtan’s anti-fracking rap and Ganga Ma mantra are:
 
Jai Jai Ganga Ma
Jai Jai Shankara
Bham bolo Mahadeva Shankara
 
I’m gonna get my water back,
don’t frack
Not gonna let you fracture…

It’s Undrinkable
Unthinkable
We’re on the brink
to sell our souls
to make a buck
so we can say
we lost our minds & gave it
away to Exxon/Mobil
they made their bottom line
America, your mantra
Will leave the world behind.

Are you serious?
Are you delirious?
on CNN with a
ridiculous grin
About the gas below
What do you know?
Chemical madness in your water flow.
Molotov cocktail
right at your tap
spontaneous combustion
delivered while you nap
There is so little time, we have
So much to learn
Please don’t let our water burn!

See also:
www.srikirtan.com
www.mantralogy.com
_____________________________
More Coverage from the Bhajan Boat:
‘Bhajan Boat’ Charity Kirtan Cruise Circles Manhattan With a Boatful of Bhaktas (Video)
Bhajan Boat Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Stay tuned to this space for more from the Bhajan Boat (subscribe here), and check our YouTube channel for the latest uploads.
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Shyamdas & Krishna Das on the Bhajan Boat, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Captain Shyamdas & First Mate Krishna Das

With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, a few hundred people crowded the upper deck of one of NYC’s Circle Line cruisers to chant with an all-star line-up of musicians on the 2nd Annual NYC Bhajan Boat, a fundraiser presented by the Mantralogy record label.

The four-hour joyride circumnavigated the City That Never Sleeps, passing under iconic bridges, getting up close with Lady Liberty, and offering stunning panoramas from every direction.  But for all the world-class sightseeing outside the ship, the real magic was happening right on the cramped and crowded “stage” in the bow of the boat. 

Rockin’ & Rollin’ on the River

Gaura Vani

Shyamdas, who has really pioneered the kirtan cruise, captained this showboat as he has many in the past.  He warmed us up with Radhe and got us off the Pier 83 dock with Krishna. Then Gaura Vani put some wind in our sails with his crew of kindred spirits from New York as the boat headed north up the Hudson River, culminating in a rousing Krishna-Radhe mantra by NYC bhakta Acyuta Gopi that ended way too soon.  See it here, at about 15:40 into this clip from Gaura Vani’s set, posted by Om Factory NY.)  

SRI Kirtan, the Woodstock, N.Y.-based divine duo of Sruti Ram and Ishwari, took over just as the George Washington Bridge loomed overhead, and rocked our bhakti all around the northern tip of Manhattan with their signature Chalisa and a new anti-fracking rap they played live for the first time. Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das, aka Prema Hara — who have just launched an ambitious 12-state tour — accompanied SRI Kirtan and others.

SRI Kirtan rocked the boat

Now we were rockin’ and rollin’ down the crowded East River, with Roosevelt Island and Queens on our port side, midtown Manhattan’s cityscape starboard.  Nina Rao, the first mate of Krishna Das’s organization, took the helm at her boss’s harmonium (he sang back-up) and offered up a preview of her own upcoming debut album, Antarayaami – Knower of All Hearts, a 12-track double CD that will be released this fall.  (As one might hope, the CD will be heavy on Hanuman Chalisas, including a duet with KD, Rao told us.) Sign up to receive CD news and more at www.chantkirtan.com

Excerpted in the video below is a track from the upcoming CD (“Bhajagovindam/Narayana”) that melds three traditional chants in a slow-starting, fast-finishing fusion of mantra melodies.  Don’t miss little Bodhi, nestled in Grandpa KD’s lap, tapping right along on his own mini-drum (watch how he studies Arjun Bruggeman’s hand gestures on the tabla and mimics them).

 

Lady Liberty Dancing With Shiva

Lady Liberty: serenaded by Shiva

The special guest of the day, Krishna Das, had his chance to lead kirtan as well, just as the Williamsburg Bridge dominated the view ahead.  (Bodhi kept right on drumming, this time from the lap of Devadas.)  We all did the Krishna Waltz as we passed under the three massive spans bridging the lower East River, then Shiva danced with Lady Liberty as we rounded the iconic statue of the Roman goddess of freedom — symbol of chains unbound — while chanting Om Namah Shivaya to the Hindu god of destruction and transformation. 

Captain Shyamdas, dressed in a traditional dhoti kurta and a blue Nantucket baseball cap slightly cocked to one side, returned for the final leg up the West Side to seal the journey with a kiss to Radhe.  Krishna Das sang right alongside him as the boat steamed north again, the two occasionally exchanging private laughs like schoolboys with a secret.  Pier 83 appeared far too soon, but Shyamdas promised that the next boatride would be longer — to the Caribbean perhaps.  The crowd cheered.  With a final Radhe Shyam, the boat was docked, and the crew forced us to leave (they had to shoo a lot of us out…)

Charity Cruise Trend Setting Sail

This was the Bhajan Boat’s second cruise in Manhattan, but Shyamdas has been organizing kirtan cruises on the mid-Hudson River for a few years now as benefits for Food for Life Vrindavan, a non-profit organization that feeds poor children in India.  Three other charities — Share Your Care, The Seva Foundation, and Off the Mat Into the World — also benefited from the Sept. 30 NYC cruise.

As word gets out about these charity cruises, it seems that everyone is clamoring for one of their own.  Boston wants one on the Harbor, Toronto wants one on Lake Ontario, Midwesterners want one on the Mississippi, California wants more than one…this is the beginning of a trend folks.  Look for it to grow. 

Ki JAI to that.

The Bhajan Boat back-up band, the musicians and vocalists who supported various wallahs, reads like a who’s who of East Coast kirtaneers:  Arjun Bruggeman (tabla), Steve Gorn and Sundar Das (flutes), David Nichtern and Richard Davis (guitars), Adam Bauer (bass), Devadas (cymbals), Ananta Cuffee (mrdanga), Janaki Cuffee, Acyuta Gopi, Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das (vocals), Jaya Sita Lopez (cello), and more…Who have we left out?

More photos in our Bhajan Boat Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page.

Stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube channel for new uploads from the Bhajan Boat and more.

More links:
www.shyamdas.com
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.chantkirtan.com
www.krishnadas.com
www.premahara.com
www.mantralogy.com
 
The charities: 
 
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