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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.

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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.


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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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Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Chantlanta Church title shotThere are regional chant fests, and then there are Regional Chant Fests.  Chantlanta proved once again how to “do” a Regional Chant Fest in the best possible way that we’ve seen. Anywhere.  So far.

How’d they do it?  Well, perhaps not how you might have thought…

‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Take the Spotlight

For starters, there were no “big names” at all.  There was no Krishna Das headlining, in contrast to last year.  Nor were David Newman or Wah, or even the South’s favorite bhakta, Sean Johnson, on the bill, as they were two years ago.  In fact, if you didn’t live in the Southeast, you probably wouldn’t recognize any of the 7 bands who played this festival.  All home-grown, all from the region, all up-and-coming and deserving to be more widely known. The Unknown Bhakti Bands of the South, you might say.

Secondly, it wasn’t held in a typical chant fest location (if there is such a thing). It was held at a big ole Baptist church, one built early in the last century in a traditional style: big soaring sanctuary, tall stained-glass windows, wooden pews fanning out from the altar, balcony full of benches hovering overhead.  It must be said that little else about this congregation, the Druid Hills Baptist Church,  is traditional — the church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago for having a woman as a co-pastor.  There’s an experimental theatre in the basement.  Oh yeah, and kirtan.  They host kirtans regularly.  That’s kind of unconventional for a Baptist church in the South.

Then there’s the cost.  Nothing.  As in, zero, zip, zed.  FREE.  That’s right, one full day plus two half-days of mantra music and sound-healing magic for free.  We’re talking non-stop kirtan on a main stage, plus ongoing workshops and classes in two other rooms.  Plus a Friday night kirtan jam and drum circle.  Plus a Sunday afternoon mantra marathon and pot-luck.  All for free.  How often can you say that?

Did we mention the seva?  Chantlanta raised more than $7,000 for two locally based charities.  Seven thousand dollars.  That’s no small potatoes, and can make a real difference if channeled to the right charity — in this case two that will make that money go a long way to helping 1) impoverished girls in India (through The Learning Tea) and 2) rescued cows outside Atlanta (through the Sacred Cows Sanctuary).

A Leap of Faith

So, let’s review.  A group of local bhaktas in a city that’s not exactly known as a kirtan hot spot puts on a 3-day chant fest with no “headliner” — just a bunch of unknown local bhakti bands, charges NOTHING to get in, and walks away with seven thousand bucks for good local charities.  How’d they do that again?

Ian Boccio, Chantlanta, TheBhaktiBeat.com

Chantlanta founder Ian Boccio, at the center of the community kirtan jam.

 

Ian Boccio, who co-founded the first Chantlanta five years ago and continues to be the lead organizer (he also co-leads the mantra band Blue Spirit Wheel, with Stephanie Kohler), readily admits that they took a Hanuman-sized leap this year.  They let go of having a “big name” after having the big name to end all big names (Krishna Das) front and center last year.  The approach caused more than a little hand-wringing, Boccio said, but the Chantlanta organizing committee members were all in agreement.  Boccio is convinced the leap of faith paid off: the event raised more than twice the money for charity that last year’s event did.  He figures it’s because people didn’t have to shell out 35 bucks for KD, so they were more generous at the donation box.  Makes sense to us.

The other key to this event’s success was the Program Guide.  A simple, black and white booklet that Boccio had copied at Kinko’s.  It included not only a schedule of events and descriptions of the workshops and bands (complete with Sanskrit words for novices to follow along), but — and this is key — advertisements from a slew of local businesses interested in reaching a sharply targeted, conscious-living, yoga-oriented community.  The ads are primarily for local yoga studios, upcoming kirtan events, and healers like Jaguar Healing Arts and Louise Northcutt Hypnotherapy.  Between the ad sales in the program and table fees for vendors exhibiting in the Conscious Living Marketplace, Chantlanta could meet its expenses and devote all donations to its charity partners.

Building a Kirtan Nation

But really, what we love more than anything about this festival is that its primary goal is simple:  expand the local kirtan community.  It gives local chantaholics a fest of their own to gather at; it gives local bhakti bands a much bigger audience for their practice than they would ever have at a one-band show, AND it gives kirtan newbies no excuse not to come check out the scene — it’s free!  The strategy is working — Chantlanta is attracting more people each year, more national kirtan bands are putting Atlanta and the Southeast on their tour schedules, and local bands are getting bigger crowds at their regular jams throughout the year.  What’s not to love?

The event officially started Friday night, with a community kirtan jam where everyone was in the band and anyone who wanted to lead a chant did — there had to be 200 people there!  The jam was followed by a full-on drum circle that had the natives dancing and grooving.  Saturday’s kirtan line-up included Mantra Ma, LoveShine, Cat Matlock & Japa (from Asheville, N.C.), Kirtan Bandits, and a three-band “headline” evening that featured Phil McWilliams, Blue Spirit Wheel and Rahasya, three of the best regional bhakti bands we’ve experienced anywhere.  Workshops went on throughout the day, everything from Sufi chanting to sacred harp singing to an hour-long gong bath that pretty much sent us straight to the moon after a day of chanting the names.  But wait, there’s more.  On Sunday, Ian Boccio closed out the festival with 1,008 (no, that’s not a typo, it’s 1,008, not 108) repetitions of the Hanuman Mula Mantra.  More on all that and each of these bands in a follow-up post with videos, so stay tuned to this space!

Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Do it Yourself

Can anyone adopt this formula for their own festival?

Well sure, why not? With caveats. Atlanta is a big city, 5 million or so strong. That’s a big population to draw upon. The Chantlanta organizing committee of 11 people, along with a cast of dozens more or so, were all unpaid volunteers offering their time as seva to the cause of building the local kirtan community. The Druid Hills Baptist Church offered their space — a labyrinthine layout with places for a main stage, two workshop rooms, a vendor’s hall and a kitchen where food was served — at a cut rate, because the event was a charity fundraiser. Dozens of local businesses also donated wares or services to a Silent Auction, which boosted the money raised for charity. Expenses were kept to a minimum, but important corners were NOT cut. For example, an expert sound guy (Matthew Hufschmidt) made sure the bands sounded just right and the lighting was favorable for video and photos. This is important stuff.

So, what do you think of the Chantlanta formula?  Could this work for a kirtan fest in your home town?  How might you change things up?  We’d love to hear about other regional fests: what works, what doesn’t, what’s needed…?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Please visit The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page for the full Chantlanta Photo Journals.
Stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube page for new videos posting from Chantlanta.
Read about last year’s Chantlanta and its ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands.
Follow The Bhakti Beat on twitter, facebook, Google+ and YouTube
 

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The Southern Bhav rose again on Day 2 of Chantlanta on the altar-cum-stage of the Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, the backdrop for a line-up of regional bands that showed the depth and diversity of the “unknown” bhakti bands in the Southeast.  (We use the quotes on “unknown” because they’re only unknown to those not in the know, you know what we mean?)  And we want all y’all to be in the know, because these bhaktas really deserve to be known…you know?  

So here’s Part 2 of our series on Chantlanta’s “Unknown” Bhakti Bands.  Read Part 1 here.  (More Chantlanta coverage linked at the bottom.) 

Chris Korb, sitar for Kirtan Bandits at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Chris Korb on sitar, Kirtan Bandits

Kirtan Bandits

This was an unexpected treat. First up on Day 2 of Chantlanta, the Kirtan Bandits stole hearts with a mix of Sufi prayers and Sanskrit mantras set to trancey tabla-driven rhythms. The Bandits were new to us, but the Chantlanta crowd sure seemed to know this sextet of multi-instrumentalists from Rome, Ga.  Jeffrey Lidke, a go-to tablist for the region who gets the prize for most stage time at Chantlanta, led the troupe, with Jen Corry sharing lead vocals.  

Jeffrey Lidke, Kirtan Bandits, at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Jeffrey Lidke

Even against the vocal finesse and seasoned musicality of Lidke (tabla and harmonium) and Corry (flute and keyboarding) — both of whom are professors at Rome’s Berry College — young bassist Chris Korb shone on the 25-stringed sitar in a Maha Devi chant punctuated by scat-like call-and-response vocal exchanges between Lidke and Corry (watch it here). With John Graham and Jesse Burnette on guitar, and Hari Siddhadas on clarinet and cymbals.

Kirtan Bandits just released five songs recorded at Chantlanta 2013; check ’em out here.

 Sunmoon Pie

Sunmoon Pie at Chantlanta day 2, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Bonnie Puckett & Michael Levine, Sunmoon Pie

Soon-to-be-newlyweds Michael Levine and Bonnie Puckett, aka Sunmoon Pie, have been bringing Hebrew chants into the Chantlanta mix since the the first fest in 2010. (At one point Levine cheekily pointed out the irony of singing Jewish prayers at a kirtan festival in a Baptist Church.) 

Victor Johnson for Sunmoon Pie at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Victor Johnson

He on guitar and she on the keys, they led us through a stirring sequence of chants based loosely on the prayers recited in a traditional Jewish Shabbath celebration. Each was layered over the band’s own original melodies…or in the case of the last prayer, borrowed melodies: Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” provided the musical score. (Video coming soon.) Larry Blewitt laid the drum beat, and Victor Johnson wailed on the electric fiddle.

Sunmoon Pie has a 5-track digital EP out, recorded at Chantlanta 2012. Personal favorite: Modim Anachnu.

Phil McWilliams

Phil McWilliams at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Phil McWilliams

Phil McWilliams brought us back to India on the wings of a bluesy/folksy singer/songwriter and the guitar that never left his lap. We’re already on record as loving everything we’ve heard from McWilliams and his Journey of Sound, so you might know where this is going. And we can’t seem to stop ourselves from using the warm-blanket metaphor to describe the feeeel of this music. But we’ll try, for your sake, dear reader.

The vibe was soft, deep and warm (oops) — but not in a way that made you want to lie down and go to sleep. You wanted to capture every word, every chord, and wrap yourself up in the rhythms (sorry!). There’s an authenticity to McWilliams’ music, a yearning in the voice that borders on melancholy yet feels soothing, not sad. And just when you thought you might drift away on a prayer of a melody, McWilliams & Co. kicked it up a notch, punctuating the set with a sublime, slow-build Mahamantra whose ecstatic peak seemed to shake the rafters in the soaring Druid Hills sanctuary. It was all holy.

Phil McWilliams Band at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Journey of Sound

The Journey of Sound featured Amanda Feinstein on vocals; Susan Stephan and Nakini Groom sang back-up.  With Rob Kuhlman on bass, Michael Levine on electric guitar, Larry Blewitt on drum kit and Brihaspati Ishaya on percussion.  Phil McWilliams’ first solo album is Signs of Peace, and yes, we’re in love with it. (Personal favorite song: “Holy Now”) Okay I give up: it’s like goose-down for the soul. Snuggle in.

See www.philmcwilliamsmusic.com for music and events (he’s opening for Dave Stringer and Donna DeLory for their SE mini-tour), and www.bhaktimessenger.com for Universal Prayer, the CD by McWilliams’ previous band project (with Ian Boccio), Bhakti Messenger Kirtan.

Blue Spirit Wheel

Blue Spirit Wheel at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Stephanie Kohler & Ian Boccio, Blue Spirit Wheel

More than any other, this was the band we wanted to experience live at Chantlanta. By the time Blue Spirit Wheel came on to close out the afternoon, the crowd was primed. Ian Boccio (vocals and bass) and Stephanie Kohler (vocals and harmonium) are kind of the hometown heroes, and have each been instrumental in making Chantlanta happen. The Atlanta kirtan community was out in force — and they were pumped. The forestage was packed, dancers weaved at the edge of the altar, children played limbo under saris…

My notes on the scene read: “Rockin’ it! Joyful chaos. Dancing at edges. Kids everywhere.”

Stephanie Kohler, Blue Spirit Wheel, Chantlanta day2 by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Stephanie Kohler

Chaos in the church be damned, this pair of mantra mavens took us deep, orchestrating a trance-inducing mash-up of overlayered mantras drawn from their debut CD, adi.  They “wanted to do something different” for their hometown followers, Kohler told us afterward, so she devised this long thread interweaving the individual chants they’ve been leading for the last year or so.  The mantra mash-up.  Judging from the response they got, we’d say the homeys liked it.  The post-chant silence was eventually broken by a single “Wow,” giving us all the permission we needed to applaud.  Loudly.  And that was just the first chant.

They finished out the set like they started, mixing mantras.  This time, Kohler sang a lilting old Christian hymnal she learned from her grandmother.  It was layered in between and over a low, deep chorus of “So Hum” led by Boccio’s gravelly baritone.  Her hymn over his Hum.  (Couldn’t resist.)  Without the pun, it was enchanting. (Watch it here.)
 
Jeffrey Lidke for Blue Spirit Wheel at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Jeffrey Lidke, tapped again

Grounded by Jeffrey Lidke and Brihaspati Ishaya on percussion and Lindsey Mann on back-up vocals, Blue Spirit Wheel proved why they’ve become one of metro Atlanta’s favorite mantra bands.  But you don’t have to be in Atlanta to experience their bhav live; the duo starts a six-week most-of-the-US tour May 30, including Bhakti Fest Midwest in Madison, Wisc. July 5-7. If they’re coming anywhere near you, check ’em out.  And don’t miss the magical mantra trip that is adi.

www.bluespiritwheel.com
www.bhaktimessenger.com (Boccio’s previous project, with Phil McWilliams.)

Whew! And that was all just a warm-up to Krishna Das…

Krishna Das at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com
Krishna Das packed them in…
Also see:
Pt 1: Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Show Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Video)
Fresh from The Grammys, Krishna Das Shines At Chantlanta, With Band of One (Video)
Southern Bhav Rising: Chantlanta Demonstrates How To Do a Regional Chant Fest (Video)
Photo Journal of Chantlanta, on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Photo Journal: Krishna Das at Chantlanta, on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Chantlanta Playlist on The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube Channel (building daily!)
 
www.chantlanta.org
www.swahaproductions.com (co-organizer of Chantlanta; produces kirtan events in the South)
 
 
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Jeffrey Lidke, tabla, at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.comWatch these Wallahs…

One of the things we love about this “mantra revolution” is how many largely unsung local bands are out there doing their thing, bringing the bhav to their communities, just waiting for people to wake up to this thing called kirtan. The Unknown Bhakti Band. Of course, they’re not unknown to those in the know…but there must be thousands of them, right? Under-the-radar ensembles and Monday night quartets, each with their own unique expression of bhakti, quietly offering music and mantras for anyone who will come out and chant with them?

Chantlanta grew out of this kind of community in Atlanta and beyond.  Seven local and regional bands ended up on the “free” part of Chantlanta’s two-day line-up in the sanctuary of the Druid Hills Baptist Church, representing kirtan in a broad range of incarnations. From traditional Sufi chants to Hebrew Shabbath prayers, from Hindu scripture to contemporary Gospel, and from Paul Simon to the Beatles, Chantlanta embraced it all. 

We’re putting each one of these bands on our “Wallahs to Watch” list.  You might want to too.  Just sayin’.

This is Part 1 of 2, because…well, there were seven of them, and they each deserve attention.  And blogs aren’t supposed to be 1,600 words long. 

First up, Friday night’s line-up of Mantra Ma, Wynne Paris and Chaitanya.  Don’t miss Part 2, with Kirtan Bandits, Sunmoon Pie, Phil McWilliams and Blue Spirit Wheel. Video highlights from each artist, some still uploading…(hello, wifi?)

Mantra Ma at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Mantra Ma

Mantra Ma

Mantra Ma, aka singing moms Jocelyn Rose and Shonali Banerjee from Atlanta, opened us up softly with a long, layered Ganesha chant, then graced us with Gayatri, the mother of all mantras. With Crystal Stafford on acoustic guitar and Rose on harmonium, the mood was meditative, soft and earthy, reverent and reassuring…

Chantlanta Day 1 by TheBhaktiBeat.comAt one point Banerjee invited everyone to open their palms to the sky and repeat “I am open to receive all of life’s blessings.” Communal abundance prayer…we swear it sent a ripple of energy right down our collective spine.

Chaitanya at Chantlanta Day 1 by TheBhaktiBeat.com

They closed with Asato Ma Sadgamaya in a slow build (watch it here).  This is a Sanskrit prayer from the Upanishads (Hindu scriptures) which translates to: “Lead me from the unreal to the real/Lead from the darkness to the light/Lead me from death to immortality/Let there be peace peace and peacefulness.”  It was the perfect punctuation mark to a powerful set of mantras, delivered with vocal finesse and a mother’s grace. (And we loved how Banerjee’s two young children raced to the stage at the end to give their mom a group hug.)
 

Wynne Paris

Wynne Paris at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Wynne Paris

Worldbeat troubadour Wynne Paris from Florida can hardly be considered unknown — more like a musician’s musician.  He’s played with, well just about everybody (quite a few of them made it onto Groovananda, his latest CD).  He had his own set on the main stage at Bhakti Fest last year.  (What? You missed that 4 a.m. set?) We were there, and it was worth staying up for the sarod serenade alone. 

He brought his sarod to Chantlanta, thankfully, playing a couple of songs on it before switching to harmonium, then guitar.  The set started traditionally with an invocation to Ganesh, then rollicked right into He Ma Durga with the crowd clapping along.  A detour to the 1960’s with a Beatles-inspired Krishna love medley was followed by a full-on gospel jam-dance in the contemporary “sacred steel” tradition popularized by the Lee Brothers and Florida’s House of God church.  This little roof-raiser had everyone jumping and hollering like…well, like we were at a Baptist church in the South…  Even Druid Hills Pastor Mimi Walker joined the joy parade on the altar-turned-stage.  Watch it here.

Wynne Paris gospel jam at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Everyone joined the jam, including the pastor!

In the end, Paris went back to his sarod to close the set with a hypnotic Om Namah Shivaya he learned from Bhagavan Das. Lori Michele Love and Dorianne Aillery sang back-up; Jeffrey Lidke and Rishi Waterman on percussion.

See www.wynneparis.com, and do check out Groovananda, a personal favorite driving CD.  But be careful…

Chaitanya

Chaitanya at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Silvia Riverwind & Koriander of Chaitanya, with Laurie Fisher on fiddle.

Chaitanya took the Friday night bhav to the next level with a high-energy set of traditional mantras swept along on a jam-band medley of rhythm and strings.  It was clear these Asheville, N.C. bhaktas weren’t going to let the night end without a shaktified dance jam.  Jai Jagadambe fit the bill nicely. Watch the video here

This band has been a perennial favorite at Chantlanta for four years running, so we’ve heard.  Now we know why.

Rishi Waterman of Chaitanya, at Chantlanta Day 1 by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Rishi Waterman of Chaitanya

Sylvia Riverwind shared lead vocals with Koriander, whose harmonium was the bloodline of the band (though she switched it up for an acoustic guitar occasionally).  Overlayed with some serious fiddling by Laurie Fisher, Rishi Waterman on percussion and Tom Aldrich on bass, it was hard NOT to move. 

Chaitanya’s debut album, Ark of Love, is available now on CD Baby; a CD release party is set for June 1 in Asheville.  www.chaitanyakirtan.com

Chaitanya at Chantlanta Day 1 by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Last-jam dance party with Chaitanya & the Chantlanta chanters

Don’t miss Part 2 for the rest of the Chantlanta line-up — Kirtan Bandits, Sunmoon Pie, Phil McWilliams and Blue Spirit Wheel

See also:
Part 2: Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Videos)
Fresh from The Grammys, Krishna Das Shines at Chantlanta, With Band of One
Southern Bhav Rising: Chantlanta Demonstrates How To Do a Regional Chant Fest
Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Krishna Das at Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Chantlanta Playlist on The Bhakti Beat YouTube Channel (new videos being added)
 
www.chantlanta.org
www.swahaproductions.com (produces kirtan events in the South)
www.krishnadas.com
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Chantlanta at Druid Hills Baptist Church, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Ahhh Chantlanta. How we love thee.  Let us count the ways…

  1. Your goal is to spread the bhav.
  2. You put on a two-day festival with seven great regional bands, all for FREE.
  3. You topped it off with KRISHNA DAS on the schedule, concert + workshop.  Nice.
  4. You raised more than $3,000 to send an impoverished young woman in India to college.
  5. You brought the community together and opened up kirtan to people who would otherwise be clueless.
  6. You did it all in a Baptist Church that practically donated its space.
  7. You came up with a killer name to boot.

Thank you.

We finally got to Chantlanta this year, its fourth year running.  It was worth the trip.  In fact, we’d say it’s officially a “destination kirtan” — can we use that term?  As in, not just for the locals.  Maybe you won’t fly in from California — yet — but if you’re East Coast or Midwest, hey, Atlanta’s a hub airport…

Kirtan Bandits at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Kirtan Bandits, “unknowns” from Rome, Ga., stole hearts.

This year, Krishna Das was the headliner at Chantlanta, and he showed up fully. (Read that story here.) That said, it was Chantlanta’s line-up of regional bands that really got us excited.  That, and the Chantlanta organizers’ formula for eking out success from a notoriously unprofitable venture like a regional chant fest.  Did we mention that there were 12 hours of great kirtan from seven regional bands, all for free?  Topped off by Krishna Das, in concert and workshop?  And that Chantlanta still managed to raise over 3 grand for a small charity in India (The Learning Tea)?

Chantlanta proved that you can have your bhav and serve too.

Chantlanta at Druid Hills Baptist Church, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Stan Holt (L) and Ian Boccio, Chantlanta co-organizers

Not that it came easy.  Chantlanta founder Ian Boccio, who started the fest in 2010 to “raise the profile of kirtan in Atlanta,” freely admits that he and the all-volunteer team that pull this thing together are learning as they go.  The first two years were all local bands, all offering their music to the community for free.  About 250 people showed up the first time — more than they dreamed — and the numbers have grown consistently. Last year, Chantlanta brought in three “national” kirtan artists — David Newman, Wah!, and Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band — to sweeten the pot and boost attendance.  This year, Boccio aimed even higher, successfully bringing Krishna Das back to Atlanta for the first time in at least four years.

The results, Boccio said, “exceeded my expectations in every way.”  We don’t think he was just blowing smoke.

The catch 22 of any chant festival, large or small, is that the “big names” that bring in more people also increase the expenses, making it more challenging to break even, never mind have some left over for charity, or (gasp!) a little profit for the folks who are making these things happen.  The key for Chantlanta, Boccio said, has been to line up sponsors — local yoga studios, merchants, artists, and natural-living businesses — who buy space in the festival program and in the “merch hall” at the festival.  This year, sponsorships effectively covered the overhead for the event.

Chantlanta volunteers, byt TheBhaktiBeat.com

Volunteer Team

Volunteers do the bulk of the work, people like yogi-musician Stephanie Kohler (co-leader, with Boccio, of Blue Spirit Wheel) and yoga teacher Karen Dorfman — both of whom have taken lead organizational roles since the first Chantlanta.  And like Stan Holt of Swaha Productions, a co-sponsor of the weekend fest and host of the post-fest workshop with Krishna Das.

This formula enables organizers to offer the bulk of the festival at no charge (this year, everything but the KD events were free), and donate any at-the-door donations to the chosen charity.  It builds the community and turns new people on to chanting by not giving anyone an excuse NOT to come — it’s free!  The “Big Headliner” draws the crowd (Krishna Das packed the place), and everyone else — all those “unknown” local bands who are putting out great kirtan regularly for those in the know — tags along on the coattails of the Rock Star, playing for bigger crowds than they might normally get and opening up new audiences to their devotional art.  What’s not to love?

Chaitanya at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Chaitanya, from Asheville, NC, whips up the bhav.

More than anything else, Chantlanta proved just how many great local bhakti bands are out there doing their thing and spreading the bhav in their own little (or not-so-little) communities, just kinda’ waiting for people to wake up to this thing called kirtan.

Stay tuned to this site for more about Chantlanta’s “unknown” bands.

Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.comNo doubt there’s a Chantlanta waiting to happen in every nook of the nation, drawing together all the locals, maybe bringing in a big name or two, and growing the bhakti community in their little — or not-so-little — corner of the world.  It’s already happening, of course, in Denver, in Houston, in Minneapolis and Montreal, in Oregon and Ojai…hell, even in Vermont.  We can only hope it continues.

Bravo, Chantlanta, for showing how it’s done.

 See also:
Fresh from The Grammys, Krishna Das Shines at Chantlanta, With Band of One
Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav
Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Krishna Das at Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Chantlanta Playlist on The Bhakti Beat YouTube Channel (new videos being added)
 
www.chantlanta.org
www.swahaproductions.com (produces kirtan events in the South)
www.krishnadas.com  

 

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Okay, Christmas isn’t exactly a Hindu or Vaishnava holy day– we get that — but apparently it is a national holiday in Mother India, and celebrated exuberantly.  Here in the West, well, Christmas is hard to escape, no matter your religious leanings (or lack thereof).  We’re willing to bet that there are a few people out there who’ve got some kirtan junkies on their gift list, or who might (gasp!) be one themselves and need to drop some hints.  We asked around, and the Wish-List items poured in. 

So here it is, The Bhakti Beat’s Official 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Chantheads, Kirtan Junkies & Mantra Revolutionaries. 

These are not just any gifts, mind you.  These are gifts that, in one way or another, embody the spirit of devotion and service that is bhakti, from handmade malas by an up-and-coming Midwestern wallah to the gift of sight for a blind child through an international non-profit foundation.  Conscious gifting that supports the bhakti community.  Way better than Walmart.

What would you add to the list?

1. The Best of the Fests

If you go to just one big kirtan event all year, Bhakti Fest had better be the one.  Nowhere else — outside of India of course — will you get this much mantra music from this many masterful musicians all in one sweet spot.  Choose from Shakti Fest in May, Bhakti Fest Midwest in July, or the One and Only Original four-day extravaganza in September.  Until Jan. 1, you can get the Holiday Deal:  Bhakti Fest West tickets for $200 (they will eventually go up to a full price of $400 each).  Or, buy two tickets for $350.  Similar deals are available for Shakti Fest.  As a bonus, if you buy a ticket by Dec. 17, you’ll be automatically entered to win a free ticket to Bhakti Fest and a free download of the live CD, Be in the Bhav, recorded at Bhakti Fest 2011.  What could be more bhavalicious than that?

Special Holiday Deal for Shakti Fest/Bhakti Fest: $50 off 2 tickets.
Buy Bhakti Fest tickets
Bhakti Fest website

 2. Mantra Malas Made with Bhakti Love

Photo Courtesy of BijouxPascale

So, maybe your kirtan buddy already has mala beads wrapped around his or her wrist.  But does she have a hand-knotted gemstone mala from BijouxPascale?  Individually crafted devotional beads infused with bhakti love by Midwest up-and-coming wallah Pascale LaPoint (of the band Kirtan Path), the malas are available in two dozen different gemstones.  Each is one of a kind.  We love this green magnasite one that stars a circular disc as the 109th “guru bead,” but there are lots more to choose from, plus necklace sets and earrings.  And you know these malas are not just a fashion accessory, right?  Japa — repeating a mantra 108 times, using the beads to count — is an ancient and very powerful meditation mode. 

**Special for Bhakti Beaters: Use code BHAKTIBEAT2012 and get 10% off your order.
BijouxPascale on etsy.com

3. Demystify the Harmonium

Got a wallah wannabe on your list?  Queens, N.Y.-based bhakti firefighter Keith Villanueva (aka Hanumanji) has created a harmonium-learning program that’s all the buzz among budding bhaktas and long-time chant-leaders alike.  At the core is Demystifying the Harmonium Workbook A-Z, a comprehensive guidebook with step-by-step instructions on how to play melodies and create chord progressions in every key.  With the purchase of the book comes membership in an exclusive group on facebook where you can access tutorial videos for more than a dozen chants and interact with others who are learning or perfecting their techniques.  Kind of like a support group for chantaholics.  Get it all for $45.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free shipping on the workbook (normally $6); contact Villanueva directly for details.
www.harmoniumworkbook.com

4. Bhakti Art from Jennifer Mazzucco 

Artwork by Jennifer Mazzucco

How about some inspiring spiritual art infused with the energy and images of India?  Devotional artist Jennifer Mazzucco — whose artwork adorns SriKalogy covers and the upcoming debut CD from Nina Rao — has just released her third self-published book of original artwork and observations on life.  Opening Up in Sweet Surrender, described as a daily journal of a recent year in Mazzucco’s bhakti-infused life, has 265 pages of her signature artistic musings and devotional doodles, fused with words, colors and images to “connect with the divinity within,” she writes.  It’s kind of like Be Here Now-meets-Sark/Juicy Life, stylistically and energetically.  Softcover: $58.95/hardcover: $77.95 (less $10 for the holidays). 

Mazzucco’s creations are also available as art prints and greeting cards at the websites below — a huge selection of sacred images on FineArtAmerica.com and a multihued collection of Ganesha block prints on etsy.com. 

Buy “Opening Up in Sweet Surrender” on blurb.com (Use code GIVE10 to get $10 off the book for holiday giving.)

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  BONUS Handmade piece of artwork with every purchase:
Art Prints & Greeting Cards from Jennifer Mazzucco on FineArtAmerica.com (email Jennifer when you’ve purchased to receive the Bonus Gift)
Hand-Carved Block Prints featuring Ganesha, on reminders2bepresent on etsy.com (Bonus Gift will be given automatically)

5. Beeswax Candles from Dharma Boutique

Photo by Jonathan Sherrill

Do your friends and loved ones a favor this year and fill their stockings with beeswax candles and tea lights — or any non-paraffin based candle.  Those cheap tea lights you can get at Walmart for $3 a hundred?  Not the best thing to light up your altar or sacred space.  There’s a growing appreciation that such candles, which are typically made from the dregs of petroleum processing, emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.  Right now, pure beeswax candles handmade by a small group of women in Rajasthani, India, are 20 percent off at Dharma Boutique, the import business owned and operated by bhakti bassist Adam Bauer.  And while you’re stocking up on tea lights, check out his inspiring collection of devotional objets d’art, textiles, singing bowls, jewelry, and vintage items collected on his travels to India and beyond.  Dharma Boutique supports fair trade and sources its products from family enterprises, small crafts-people and local artisans wherever possible.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free tulsi mala with purchase of $100 or more.
Pure beeswax candles from Dharma Boutique (20% off with code MAYA)
Dharma Boutique Home Page

6. Make Music Happen

Hey here’s a radical thought: buy music from the musicians who make it.  Because, let’s face it, most of these artists who are enriching our lives aren’t getting rich off their efforts.  It’s a dirty secret outside of the music industry that artists themselves get mere fractions of pennies for each “play” on sites like Spotify.  Physical CD sales are way down, and digital-download sites like iTunes and Amazon each take another cut of the profits along with music publishers.  At the same time, record labels are less likely to finance a studio recording up front, leaving the onus of CD production to artists.  Crowd-funding services like IndieGogo and Kickstarter are practically viral these days.  How can we, as consumers of this very unique niche “product,” best support the artists we love? 

Fantuzzi at Bhakti Fest 2011

There’s no simple answer, but one approach is a spin on “Buy Local.”  Go to the artist’s own website and follow their links for purchase.  Some have mechanisms for purchasing music directly from their sites, or they will direct you to the link that is most amenable to their continued survival as artists.  Take every opportunity to buy CDs directly from artists on tour.  Or, go to your favorite conscious-living store to buy them; most stores will order the CDs if they don’t have them in stock, and you’ll be demonstrating to the store owner that there is a demand for this music.  Support artists’ fund-raising drives, like the recent ones of Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band and David Newman, by pre-buying CDs and other perks to help finance the recording, mixing and making of new releases.  Make your gifts of music also gifts to music. 

Start today!  These are just a few of the CD-funding drives ongoing right now in the mantra-music world:
Multi-Instrumentalist Phenom Sheela Bringi, for her Debut CD
Up-and-Coming Sikh Songstress Sirgun Kaur, for her Debut Solo Kirtan CD
Ecstatic World Music Warrior Fantuzzi, for Ease and Grace CD
Texas-Based The Bhakti House Band, for CD and “Peace Love Om” Seva Project 

7. Give Good Karma

How about giving the gift of sight to a blind person this holiday season?  Or economic opportunities for impoverished women and children?  Start a new tradition that will make a real difference in the lives of people in need by giving “Gifts of Service” from the non-profit Seva Foundation.  Seva was co-founded by Google CEO Larry Brilliant in 1978 in collaboration with Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and others, and is a leading innovator in eye-care services and other programs that create sustainable solutions to poverty and disease in vulnerable populations around the globe.  With Seva’s Gifts of Service, you can honor a loved one by directly helping to reduce suffering in the world.  A $50 gift, for example, covers the cost of cataract surgery for one person; $100 supports the well-being of Native American women by providing health education, building community support and fostering leadership development.  You can also buy Seva merchandise like T-shirts, caps, or this sweet calendar of children around the world, and the foundation will use your donation where it is most needed.

Seva Foundation’s “Gifts of Service” Program

8. Win-Win Gifting

Photo courtesy of Girish Music

Love the idea of giving presents that serve a greater purpose, but still want something tangible to put under the tree for your sweetie?  We have the perfect solution:  a gorgeous Lakshmi bracelet, handmade by Long Island, N.Y., bhakta Nadine Wolff.  Every penny of the proceeds go to Wolff’s fundraising drive for Off the Mat Into the World’s Global Seva Challenge India, which supports grassroots initiatives to help rescue and rehabilitate women and children victimized by the sex-trafficking trade.  Your lucky gift recipient will be invoking the blessings of Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), and beauty — and you will know that you contributed to putting an end to the poverty and abuse of women and children in India.  Act fast — before Dec. 15 — to get the special price of $45, available through a collaboration with Girish Music.  ($60 after Dec. 15.)

Lakshmi Bracelet in Support of Global Seva Challenge  (Special Price of $45 till Dec. 15)

9. Spread the Bhav

Larisa Stow: Reaching Out

How about making a donation in your loved one’s name to a local, grass-roots group or artist who is doing charity work in your community? There are lots of small and mid-sized charity organizations working hard to bring the healing power of mantra music to populations in need — from children to people with mental illnesses to prisoners.  Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe have pioneered this model in the prisons of California through their Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach.  Benjy and Heather Wertheimer have taken their Shantala sacred music into prisons in Oregon.  The Call and Response Foundation, a non-profit based in Vermont, has spearheaded chant programs at children’s and psychiatric hospitals with Dave Stringer, the Mayapuris, and Gaura Vani.  It’s another way that kirtan is being taken “out of the yoga studio,” as Gaura Vani has said.  Be part of the movement; give a gift that gives again and again.

 

Okay, your turn:  what’s on your own Bhakti Wish List?  Tell us about your favorite bhakti-inspired artist or merchant.  Which chant CD is on your must-have list? 

Hare Christmas to All One!

Namaste Santa. (Photo by Prakash Singh/Agency France-Press/Getty Images)

 

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You Can Count On Me, the much-anticipated sequel to David Newman’s Stay Strong charitable project for Global Green USA, was released this week with a new single available on iTunes and Amazon and a nice long video of the joy-filled jam session that created it.  Newman spoke with The Bhakti Beat about the project’s Aha! moment, kirtan activism, and how his own practice has evolved in the 20 years since he founded Yoga on Main in Philadelphia (hint: fatherhood has factored!).
Have you seen this video yet?  It’s a bhaktified joyride with a boatload of the wallah world’s favorite musicians singing their hearts out and generally having a blast recording the charity single, You Can Count On Me, in one of the music industry’s most famous recording studios. 

The epic jam session began as a twinkle in David Newman’s eye when he was driving to Los Angeles after Bhakti Fest last September.  “I just got a very strong feeling about doing it,” he said.  “I thought: wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic studio and we recorded this together, and filmed it all?”

Photo courtesy Stay Strong Project

The pieces came together at the speed of an L.A. minute.  iPhones were humming all over Southern California — Newman said everyone was invited by text!– and the response flowed in.  Shiva Baum signed on to co-produce the single with Newman and long-time axeman/collaborator Philippo Franchini. Amy Dewhurst came aboard to produce the video.  The very next day — and lots of thumb-tapping later — anyone in the bhakti world who was in L.A. at the time gathered at the legendary Village Recorder studio to give it up for Global Green USA.

Responding to the call...er, text. (Stay Strong photo)

Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project

“Everything was put together in a 24-hour period,” Newman said. “The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night.”

Talk about instant karma…

Just look at the list of musicians who showed up to collaborate in the band, choir and dance party.   “I guess you could call them the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars,” Newman said, adding that many artists who were invited had already left the area. 

 

You Can Count On Me , written by Newman and Donna De Lory, is a feel-good anthem chant in the songwriter-meets-wallah style Newman is known and loved for.  The medley fuses Newman’s original lyrics evoking an “I’ve got your back” loyalty and kinship with a rollicking Shyam Bolo refrain that you can’t help but sing and dance along with (see the video for evidence of that).  The single — available digitally only as a single short track or a two-track set with the longer Shyam Bolo jam — 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 (she’s officially listed in the credits for “giggles”).  Cuteness overload alert! 

Pulled To Do Something Different

With this song and the original Stay Strong single, which broke the top 5 in the iTunes world-music chart, Newman said he had felt pulled to do something different.  “You could say these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me.”   At Bhakti Fest he sang a somewhat mellower version of Count On Me, and it was during the course of the festival that “it started becoming clear that the song would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong,” he said. 

Mira & Tulsi Newman (Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project)

All proceeds from the song go directly to Global Green’s Green School program, supporting the organization’s effort to build green schools in needy communities and help foster appreciation for sustainability in the next generation, the future stewards of the planet.   With Tulsi as a constant reminder, Newman says these are the topics he thinks about a lot these days.  Read the interview below.

Q&A With David Newman

THE BHAKTI BEAT: You Can Count On Me is a benefit for Global Green, as was the first Stay Strong.  Why this cause?

DAVID NEWMAN: As we’ve seen with Hurricane Sandy, there are lot of issues going on in our environment, and sustainability for our future and for our children’s futures is an important issue.  The idea of green schools is critical to building a sustainable future .

Now that I have a child, I think a lot about what this world is going to be like for her.  The children are really the shepherds of a future sustainable life on this planet Earth, so environmental issues are very dear to me.

Initially, I did Stay Strong with Global Green partially because I really loved what they were doing, and partially because the chief operating officer, Richard Wegman, is a bhakti yogi/Reiki kind of person – he is someone who really sees the relationship between living with an open heart and activism. I have a real strong connection with Richard, so there’s a synergy there between us.

TBB: What inspired you to create this sequel to Stay Strong?

DN: I would say 50 percent or more of what I do on the Stay Strong project in terms of my impetus or inspiration is just simply to put something out there that inspires people, opens hearts and brings a smile to those faces who see it. That’s my main inspiration. 

Secondarily, with both this new song and the first Stay Strong release, there was something unusual about the writing process that motivated me to do something different. I guess you could say, for whatever reason, these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me. When I wrote the song You Can Count on Me, I just felt that I wanted to do something special with the song. Then when I was at Bhakti Fest, it started becoming clear that it would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong.  That’s how it came about.

Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project

The inspiration to do the video at this legendary recording studio called Village Recorders in Los Angeles really came to me while I was driving back from Bhakti Fest to L.A., where I was going to be for a week. I just got a very strong feeling about doing it, I thought wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic recording studio and we recorded this together and filmed it?

What was so graceful about the project was that everybody involved, including the producer, musicians, singers, film-makers, it was all put together in a 24-hour period. The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night. And, talk about the technology of 2012 — every single person invited was invited via text message. 

TBB: Wow. What does that say about this community coming together?

DN: The outpouring of energy was amazing. The evening in the studio was just absolutely charged, really a creatively high experience. To some degree I was limited by the people who were still in L.A. [after Bhakti Fest]; there were others I contacted who had already left the area.  So in a lot of ways this is kind of a Los Angeles project — the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars, I guess you could say.

TBB: Does that mean there will be an East Coast version to balance it out?

DN: I never know.  This all came alive in such a short period of time.  The Stay Strong project to me is a mystery: I didn’t expect it to happen the first time and didn’t expect to do a second release, so who knows what could come from it moving forward.

TBB: We’re seeing a lot of “kirtan activism” these days, from Hurricane Sandy relief to sex trafficking in India.  What role can or should kirtan play in activism?

DN: I think the practice and the sharing of bhakti kirtan is its own form of activism (chuckles), because it activates people’s hearts and that inspires them to follow their bliss and passions and to participate in life in a conscious and joyful way.

For all of us road warriors out there doing door-to-door kirtan, that is activism. It’s playing an active role in the upliftment of the planet.  I think all of us who practice bhakti are connected to serving humanity. I can’t really speak about what the role is in getting involved in more traditional activist settings, but to me, [bhakti yoga] is a means to help in a broader way. That’s always been a big part of what I do, and one of the reasons my presentation of kirtan has a little more of a Western flair is to bring it to more people.

In terms of supporting charities and nonprofit organizations, I can’t speak for other people but it definitely plays a role for me. My last CD, Stars, gave a portion of every CD sold to Peter Gabriel’s Witness.org, a humanitarian organization that distributes cameras and iPhones to people around the world to document human rights violations. The video we made, Love Belongs to Everyone, was dedicated to the work that Witness does.

TBB: You’ve just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the yoga studio you founded in Philadelphia, Yoga on Main. How has your practice evolved in the past two decades?

DN: I think the way in which my practice has evolved is that it has expanded, in a very profound way.  When I was younger I had very strong ideas about what was “spiritual” and what was a “spiritual experience,” so in a way I was confined to identify with that through certain kinds of practices – which were very supportive of my spiritual expansion.

Now 20 years later, there isn’t anything that isn’t spiritual to me. It matters less and less what particular activity I find myself engaged in, whether it’s talking with you or having a cup of tea or practicing yoga or taking a walk.  Whatever it is, to me, it’s all part of the same oneness. It’s really been quite liberating, like letting go of a burden of seeing it in some places and not in other places. To see everything as spiritual, as divine — for me that’s been a big shift.  

Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com

To me this is what we’re working for as bhaktis.  As my guru Neem Karoli Baba said: “See the divine in everything and in everyone.”  

He also said: “The best form to worship god is in every form.” This is the bhakti vision, the divine is in all beings and in everything. So 20 years later, I feel that there’s a much deeper awareness of spirituality in exactly what the moment presents. There is less of a compulsion to make it look different.

TBB: How has fatherhood contributed to that evolution?

DN: In a huge way!  My daughter Tulsi is just full of love and full of awe. She’s so present and so joyful.  Being with her, you just see the transparency of spirit, because she’s so close; she’s living in that. Being serious, being heavy, or being preoccupied just doesn’t work in her presence.

I always say: who needs a guru when you have a child like Tulsi?

 

Banner artwork by Jenni Young

See also:
www.davidnewmanmusic.com
www.staystrongproject.com

You Can Count On Me/Shyam Bolo is available on:
iTunes at: http://tinyurl.com/StayStrong2iTunes
Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/StayStrong2Amazon

 

 

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Krishna Das: On Board

How does one person in suburban California manage to raise $20,000 to fight sex trafficking in India? 

Enlist the kirtan troops!

That’s been a big part of the winning strategy for Srutih Asher Colbert, a Palo Alto yogi mom and hair stylist who is now within sight of meeting her ambitious fundraising goal by the end of the year.  The troops who signed on to help include none other than the Chant Master himself Krishna Das, who contributed his share of the proceeds from NYC’s Bhajan Boat charity cruise in late September (check out the video here).  That pledge alone added $3,000 to Colbert’s coffers. 

Coast-to-Coast Kirtan Fundraisers

The drive also benefited from a gathering Oct. 20 at Brooklyn Yoga School when the best known bhaktas in the borough, Nina Rao, Devadas, Ambika Cooper and friends, joined forces to lead a four-hour kirtan in support of the project.  The chants to fight sex slavery continue this weekend, back in Colbert’s home ‘hood in the San Francisco Bay Area, with Prajna Vieirra and David Estes leading the call.  Local favorites in NoCal, Vieira and Estes are among the rising stars on the national kirtan scene as well; each had a debut set at Bhakti Fest West in September,Vieira with producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Leinbach and Estes with his band Ananda Rasa Kirtan.

"Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life..."

Both jumped at the chance to help raise money.  Vieira told us:  “As kirtan leaders, we’re here to serve the devotees in their practice and help provide the conditions for exploring the depths of love and devotion. To me, expanding that sweetness of devotional service into the world is the whole point.”

“As a woman,” she added, “sex trafficking is an issue that is very dear to my heart, and I wish I could do a thousand kirtans for it…If we have an opportunity and the means to contribute even a little bit of time, energy or resources toward the solution, it’s a great blessing. Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life’s problems. It’s a call to wake up, to broaden our capacity to love and our willingness to serve.”

Off the Mat Into the Bhav

Colbert’s funding drive is part of the Global Seva Challenge, a worldwide service project created by Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) that has raised over $2 million since 2007 for a range of international humanitarian causes.  The 2012 campaign is focused on battling sex trafficking in India through locally based empowerment and rehabilitation programs, and Colbert is one of about 200 yogis who have taken the $20,000 challenge this year; so far about half a million dollars has been raised, collectively.  (OTM is the charitable organization founded by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling with a mission to “use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change.”)

Suzanne Sterling: Not resting

Colbert got involved with Off the Mat at Wanderlust Festival three years ago, where the OTM session is always a favorite.  (No wonder: two years ago at Wanderlust VT, Michael Franti and his band joined Seane Corn on stage for a rockin’ 2-hour party-for-a-cause.  This summer, MC Yogi riled up the troops with a rousing rendition of “Give Love” (watch it below), then Suzanne Sterling knocked it home with a foot-stomping, soul-stirring rendition of a civil rights anthem called Ella’s song  — “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” — that flowed right into the yogi’s anthem, Om Namah Shivaya.)

A top fundraiser for OTM three years running, Colbert kept earning herself a free ticket back to Wanderlust — and doing it all over again.  When she heard that the 2012 Global Seva Challenge was directed at helping the young victims of sex trafficking in India, she signed on. 

 ‘We Live in This Little Bubble’

“I have two daughters myself — 5 and 8.  I just felt moved to try to help these girls, and inspired to show my own girls how important it is that we help people who can’t help themselves,” Colbert told The Bhakti Beat.  “We live in this little bubble.  There’s so much suffering in the world and we can do something to help other people.”

OTM works with six different charities in India that are working in local communities to rescue, rehabilitate and empower women and girls affected by the sex trade.  “They [OTM] talk to people who are already doing this work to create sustainable change, instead of just throwing money at the problem.”  The funds might be directed, for example, to build a new wing on a safe home, or to teach women self-sustaining skills. 

Nearly $2,000 was raised at a Brooklyn kirtan (Photo by Srutih Asher Colbert)

Reaching out to friends in the yoga and kirtan worlds to support the drive was natural, she said, because “those are the two things I love and practice regularly.  It’s been an amazing blessing to reach out and have people say, ‘absolutely, how can I help?'” 

People like Krishna Das.  Not bad.

Colbert first met Krishna Das at her Yoga Teacher Training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, at a time when she “didn’t know anything about chanting and thought it was weird.”  After five straight nights of kirtan with KD, “it really clicked for me,” she said.  “I totally fell in love with chanting.  It completely changed my life from that moment forward.” 

Ten years later and $3,000 away from her goal, with bhakti yoga strongly at her side, Colbert is paying it forward, hoping to help change the lives of girls trapped in India’s sex trade, from this moment forward. 

“It’s been quite a journey,” she said. 

Links
TO DONATE to Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge (Type “SR” in the first box to support her project)
Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge on Facebook
Chanting for Change w/ Ananda Rasa Kirtan & Prajna Vieira, Nov 10 in San Francisco
Off the Mat Into the World
www.prajnavieira.com
www.anandarasa.com
www.chantkirtan.com (Nina Rao)
www.devadasmusic.com
www.krishnadas.com
 

 

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