Brenda McMorrow is hot and getting hotter. She recently released a music video and single of her popular Hanuman Chalisa rap, just wrapped up recording back-up vocals for David Newman’s CD in-the-works, and is deep into songwriting and prep for solo album No. 3, the focus of her current crowd-funding campaign on IndieGogo. She’s been touring incessantly in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and a second European tour starts in March. She has landed center stage at Bhakti Fest and other chant festivals worldwide and has performed live with such bhakti luminaries as Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, GuruGanesha Singh, Wah!, and more. Just a couple weeks ago, in what McMorrow told us was “a dream come true,” she got to sing on stage with Snatam Kaur as part of the Sikh songstress’ double-header concert in Boulder, Colo., with David Newman (who McMorrow accompanied on vocals).
A relative newcomer to the kirtan circuit (she released her first CD, Ameya, in 2008), she is not new to life as a traveling musician, having played live concerts since the 90’s. A firey, Canadian-born singer/songwriter with an approachable, down-to-earth vibe, McMorrow combines that songwriter ethos with folk, jazz and bluesy roots — and some serious chops on the acoustic guitar. All of these influences come through in her live kirtans and recordings.
McMorrow discovered kirtan in 2004 when a friend invited her to a yoga workshop where the instructor led a simple Shiva chant. The experience triggered in her “a profound knowing [that] her musical journey was leading her to places more expansive and heart-opening than she had ever imagined,” according to her bio.
McMorrow has teamed up with sought-after producer/musician Ben Leinbach, who produced Ameya and Love Abounds, to create the yet unnamed new CD. She praised Leinbach’s “brilliant” musicality and “inspiring” talents as producer, engineer, co-writer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Recording is set to begin in late March at Leinbach’s Marin County, Calif., studio, with a goal of releasing the disc this summer. Her back-up band so far includes (in addition to Leinbach) percussionist Narada Wise, Philippo Franchini on guitar and Adam Bauer, with special guests to be announced. Hmmmm…might we see a David Newman cameo on this record?
At the core of the new album, McMorrow told The Bhakti Beat, will be a collection of songs familiar to those who have been at her live kirtans over the last couple years — songs like this Maha Lakshmi, perhaps — plus some new songs that she said have been “coming through” just in the last few weeks. It’s still early in the album-creation process, so she was cautious about predicting a “feel” for the disc, but terms like “groove-oriented” and “ambient electronic sounds” worked their way into the description. Hmmmm…might we see a little smackering of — dare we say it — kirtronica in the mix?
There was that trancey late-night session at Bhakti Fest Midwest where she and Dave Stringer chanted improv from the Radiance Sutras to electronic grooves and percussive riffs amidst a crowd of writhing night-owl bhaktas and flourescent strobes…
It’s all speculation of course, because, hey, these things take time, and tend to be revealed over the course of the recording and engineering of an album. About the only thing one can say for certain at this point is that McMorrow will be bringing her axe: the acoustic guitar ever-present at her kirtans will be “very present” on the CD, she promised.
‘Offering Our Services to the Song’
Part of her own evolution as a kirtan artist, McMorrow said, is to let go of any “fixed ideas” about how a song or compilation of songs should be. “When I first started singing kirtan, my mind was a little more involved.” She was always second-guessing herself, she said, questioning if she was “doing it right,” if the songs were long enough, if she was leaving enough time in silence between chants… “Now, I find that it’s much easier to just allow whatever emerges to emerge. It’s a much more graceful experience…” Having experimented with a lot of different genres of music has helped her to “just be open to how the songs want to emerge.”
“As kirtan artists, what we’re doing, really, is offering our services to the song,” said McMorrow.
Up Next: Europe and Beyond
McMorrow has been storming the country for months now, with an ambitious tour schedule plus the recording project with David Newman. The Bhakti Beat caught up with her at Yogaville, the Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia, where she is catching a little R&R before she heads out in a couple weeks for her second European tour. Joined by Italian songstress Emy Berti, who also sang for the David Newman recording , she starts in Milan, Italy March 6 and winds her way to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslavakia. Seoul, South Korea is also on the schedule for this year.
Check out McMorrow’s IndieGogo campaign site to learn about a whole slew of “bhakti extras” that McMorrow’s friends in the kirtan community have donated to help her reach her goal. Think: two tickets to a show in Prema Hara’s upcoming tours; a Resonance Healing session from Sarah Garney; a mala from Katie Campbell’s Bliss Jewels, or a Home Consultation from “Space Guru” Susan Shehata. And lots more you can learn about on the IndieGogo page.
Links & DeetsContribute Now to Brenda McMorrow’s CD Funding Drive www.BrendaMcMorrow.com Official Music Video of the Hanuman Chalisa Download the Hanuman Chalisa (Windblown Version) single on iTunes Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow, SRI Kirtan Where’s the Bhav: Brenda McMorrow NorthEast Tour 2012
Also see previous articles in this series: Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band David Newman aka Durga Das Sheela Bringi Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat The Bhakti Beat on facebook The Bhakti Beat on twitter The Bhakti Beat on YouTube The Bhakti Beat on Google+