The 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.
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