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grammy nominationAnd the winner is….Mantra!

Grammys season is officially underway, and once again, mantra music represents — more than ever before. Nearly two dozen bhakti-flavored releases are among the list of contenders in early voting for the 2016 Grammys Best Album Nominees in the New Age and World categories, for which first-round voting by members of the National Academy of Arts & Sciences (NARAS) ends Nov. 4.

Judging by the breadth and diversity of the bhaktified music releases on the first-round ballots, the “non-genre” of kirtan/mantra/sacred chant is alive and well — from the vantage point of the commercial recording industry, at least. The albums that we would place under a broad umbrella of bhakti or bhakti-related mostly fall into the New Age category in Grammy world, though a few of the bhakti titles are found in the World Music category. (More on the odd categorization of kirtan here.)

I know what some of you are thinking…”Who cares about the Grammys?! This is BHAKTI. It’s not about commercialism, or winning awards, or being “the best” of anything; it’s about devotion and service!” I hear you. Really I do. The way I see it, if the Grammys help bring attention to the sacred practice of chanting and unlatch the gates for even one person, is that a bad thing? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Grammy 2015 contenders by TheBhaktiBeat.comWho Made the List?

First things first. One of the biggest surprises on the list — and perhaps the best news for bhakti purists — is second-generation Krishna kid Madi Das, whose charity album “Bhakti Without Borders,” produced by Dave Stringer, features duets with a host of female Vaisnava vocalists singing traditional Krishna bhajans. If we had to pick a favorite among all of these contenders, “Bhakti Without Borders” would be it.  We love everything about this album, and P.S., ALL of the profits benefit a school for girls in India (which is most of the proceeds, because ALL of the musicians on this record offered their time as seva). Now THAT is bhakti.

Also up for consideration are widely known artists like Deva Premal & Miten with Manose (“Songs for the Sangha“) and Russill Paul (“Mantra Magic“) alongside up-and-comers like vocalist Tina Malia (“Bridge to Vallabha“) and folkish singer/songwriter Brenda McMorrow (“My Heart Bows Down to You“). The many flavors of Sufism are nicely represented with “Sufi Kirtan,” from newlywed folk/world/rocker duo HuDost — marked by the otherworldly vocal magic of Moksha Sommer — and a new-to-us band called Rocqawali for “Sufi Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which seamlessly blends powerful Pakistani qawali music with 70’s-style rock. Representing the Jewish tradition of sacred chant is the Kirtan Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s “Nondual,” where ancient Hebrew prayers meet modern rock and reggae. Bhaktified dance music — yet another subcategory in the chant world (is that a sub-non-genre?) — is there too, with Marti Nikko and Dj Drez’s chant-dance fantasy “Dreaming in Sanskrit” and Desert Dwellers’ electronicized house mix, “The Great Mystery.”

In the Kundalini corner, Simrit’s “From the Ancient Storm,” White Sun‘s self-titled debut album, and Sirgun Kaur’s “Dayaal” are in the running along with the ever-popular duo Mirabai Ceiba (for “Sevati“). On the instrumental end, Bansuri flute master Manose, who has played for a decade with Deva Premal & Miten, is on the ballot for “Call Within,” and Hans Christian, master of too many instruments to name here, made the list for “Nanda Devi.” An Indian classical flutist known simply as Flute Raman is found on the World ballot for an album of traditional bhajans called “Krishna Lila.”

But wait there’s more. While we can’t in any stretch of the word consider them “kirtan,” a few others on the ballots are worth noting for their inclusion of mantras in some tracks or their ties to the bhakti world, including: Peter Kater, who has three — yes three! — albums in the running for the nomination in New Age (“Heart of Silence,” “Etheria,” and “Love;” Daniela De Mari & Breath of Life for “Awakening;” David Vito Gregoli for the ambient “Om Land,” and a Classical Indian instrumental disc featuring Saraswathi Ranganathan on veena called “Refreshing Raga Blues.”

All told, the bhakti-ish contenders represent roughly 15 percent of the total New Age list of 116 titles and only a few of the 122 entries on the World ballot. The full lists cover a lot of musical ground, everything from spoken-word meditations to ethereal shamanic ritual music to ambient instrumentalism to synthesized electronica. Among the broadly defined kirtan-related releases are some real gems that deserve a closer look, and The Bhakti Beat will be doing that on a weekly basis between now and Dec. 7, when the Grammy nominations are announced.

We’ll also give one Grammy-contending CD away each week, so stay tuned to our facebook and other social media pages to enter the contests. (Links below.)

With so many bhaktified releases in the running for a nomination, this year marks a new high for mantra music in Grammy world. But it’s certainly not the first time the chant community has gotten Grammy fever. Krishna Das quite famously snagged one of the coveted Grammy nominations in 2012 for “Live Ananda,” and made history by being the first kirtan artist to perform at the Grammys (aired on the webcast). You saw that, right? A decade earlier, Jai Uttal was the first in the kirtan “non-genre” to be nominated for a Grammy, for his pioneering record, “Mondo Rama.”

Last year, more than a dozen bhakti albums made the first ballot, and a record called “Bhakti” by Paul Avgerinos — a new-agey fusion of Christianized chants and ambient electronica that was about as far from traditional kirtan as you can get — made the cut to be nominated but did not win the Grammy.

What It Means

What does it mean to be on the first-round ballot? Essentially, it means that you met the eligibility qualifications and got your entry in on time. Ballots were sent out Oct. 14 to NARAS members, who have until Nov. 4 to cast their ballot for the album they’d like to see nominated for the Grammy in each category. There are about 30 Grammy categories altogether, including the biggies, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. In the New Age and World categories, only one Grammy is given: Best Album.

Let’s state that again so there is no confusion: the first-round ballot voting is to decide who among the contenders will be NOMINATED for a Grammy in their respective categories. It’s the first step. The nominations will be announced Dec. 7, then NARAS members vote for one nominee in each category to receive the Grammy — the music industry’s highest award. The Grammys telecast this year will be on Feb. 15.

So tell us Bhakti Beaters: Who would be YOUR pick for a Kirtan Grammy?

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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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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.”
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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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Capture logoKrishna Das will be there. Jai Uttal will be there. Deva & Miten too.  Even Shyamdas, the bhakti world’s most beloved Ambassador of Bhava, will be there, in all his bhavalicious glory.  Journey OM: Into the Heart of India, the cinematic masterpiece in the works from veteran filmmaker and original bhakti bhaiya John Bush, promises to be the bhakti movie of the year.

Right now, you can be a part of this film’s development by pre-ordering the DVD and soundtrack featuring Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal & Miten and more.  ACT FAST! The campaign ends at 1:19 a.m EST on Friday, April 24.

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There’s a certain mystique about India that can be hard to define.  For many in the bhakti world, the pull is strong, like that of a mother beckoning her children home.  There’s an almost inexplicable longing that cuts straight to the soul, not unlike what we imagine the Gopi cowherds felt for their sweet Govinda.

Journey OM aims to capture that elusive quality that makes India unlike any other place in the world.  But don’t mistake this upcoming film for some ordinary travelogue cataloging must-see pit stops on a well-trodden tourist path. Journey OM, according to filmmaker John Bush, takes you off the beaten track.  Way off.

Focused on ‘Places of Passage’

Bush focuses his camera on so-called tirthas, holy “places of passage” that are believed to be sacred sites where the veil between worlds is thin, where it is possible for even ordinary humans to cross over from worldly materialism to spiritual nirvana with relative ease.  (Tirtha is a Sanskrit word that translates to “ford,” or a shallow part of a body of water that can be easily crossed.)

Mother India is rife with tirthas — legendary places with thousands-years-old histories in Hindu scripture and mythology. For example, at the very Southern tip of India is the island of Rameswaren, said to be the place from which Hanuman and Rama’s army built the bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita from the evil king Ravana, as is written in the Hindu epic, “The Ramayana.”  In the holy land of Braj there is Govardhan Hill, the mountain that Krishna, as a young boy, lifted high to protect the people of Vrindavan from the torrential rains that the god Indra had let loose in his anger.  And the list goes on…

“These are power spots,” says Bush. “They’ve been identified over thousands of years as places of transcendence, where one can go from earthly consciousness to celestial consciousness.”  Journey OM will take the viewer on a magical mystery tour of a dozen or so of these sites, with the intent of conveying a feeling of the sacredness of these places.

Bush at RanakpurJain Temple in Rajasthan“Each place has its own story, its own flavor,” Bush told The Bhakti Beat. “The revelations along the way are really geared to have a transformative effect for the viewer, to impart that ‘inner-journey’ experience of a sacred pilgrimage.”

Bush, the inspiration and perspiration behind Journey OM, is the real deal. He didn’t jump on the mantra bandwagon yesterday; his bhakti roots are deep — more than 40 years deep to be exact.  He was with Ram Dass back in the days of “psychedelic evangelism” of 1960’s America.  Like Ram Dass, he traveled to the Far East in search of that same feeling of transcendence, of divine consciousness, sans LSD.  He met Shyamdas when Shyamji was just 19, and developed a deeper friendship with him in the weeks before he died. The night Shyamdas left his body, they had been in satsang together, and Bush was in the car that, mere minutes after it happened, came across the scene of the motorcycle accident that claimed Shyamdas’ life.  They had planned for weeks to shoot footage around Shyamdas’ home in Braj for Journey OM, which is dedicated to Shyamdas.

On the Bus with Maharaji

John Bush 1971Along with  Ram Dass, Krishna Das, Daniel Goleman and a host of others, John Bush was on “the bus” — the one that Krishna Das has told the story of countless times — that arrived at its destination at precisely the same moment that the elusive Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba stepped into the street, leaving the bewildered Westerners on board scratching their heads with mouths agape.

That moment — the first time Bush met the Indian Saint — was a turning point for the long-haired hippy from America.  “My life changed dramatically at that point,” Bush says.  He had been on his way back home after a series of meditation retreats in a remote Burmese monastery.  Instead, he spent the next couple of years following Maharaji in a kind of ongoing pilgrimage.  It was when the young Bush first connected with the age-old tradition of spiritual pilgrimage, and became fascinated by it.  It was also the period where Bush connected with kirtan, taking his turn as one of the Western wallahs in Baba’s entourage.

Later, back in the States, Bush roomed with Jai Uttal in Berkely for a period, and joined with Uttal, Krishna Das and Bhagavan Das in a bhakti band called “Amazing Grace.” They made a kirtan album, played at festivals and toured the Pacific Northwest, essentially launching the careers of three of the bhakti world’s best-known wallahs.  But unlike his bandmates, Bush — a new father at the time — decided the life of a professional musician was not for him.  He moved to Cambridge, Mass., and settled into a more traditional lifestyle, albeit one where kirtan and satsang continued to have a strong presence.

Fast-forward to the year 2000 or so.  Career finished, Bush returns to his “long-deferred dream” of sharing with the world, through film, the sacred cultures he fell in love with as a youth.  He filmed and produced an award-winning trilogy of pilgrimage films to Southeast Asia and Tibet, which were aired on PBS and around the world.  His documentary feature film, “Vajra Sky Over Tibet,” is endorsed by the Dalai Lama and has been screened as part of the official program of His Holiness in more than a dozen cities.

Bush describes Journey OM as “wall-to-wall bhakti.”  Not only does the soundtrack feature Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and Deva Premal & Miten, but the entire film is steeped in the bhava of the devotional journey.

“Pilgrimage is part of the yoga of devotion,” he says. “My hope is that through the cultural immersiveness of this film, the viewer has their own transformative experience, their own inner journey.”

Journey Om cover shot

 

 

Contribute Now to JOURNEY OM’s kickstarter campaign.

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The Bhakti Beat needs 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.  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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Krishna Das by TheBhaktiBeat.comVideo interview at the bottom.

Yes, it’s true.  Krishna Das went to prison for Call and Response. The Call and Response Foundation, that is.

For the least few years, the nonprofit foundation has been arranging for kirtan wallahs to chant in prisons, psychiatric facilities, children’s hospitals, and other places where people might benefit from the healing power of mantra music.  This time, it was the Chant Master himself serving a little time in prison.

(You can support this important seva by contributing now to the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program.)

It was a gray, frigid Monday afternoon in northern Vermont, vexed by a drizzling rain that threatened to turn to snow. Krishna Das and his drummer, Arjun Bruggeman, arrived at the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility for Women early, after a double-header weekend of kirtan+ workshop that were partial benefits for Call and Response.

They were at the medium-security prison in South Burlington to fulfill the pie-in-the-sky request of an inmate named Lucinda.  Six months earlier, Lucinda had picked up a Krishna Das CD in the prison library.  Apparently, she couldn’t get enough of it, and she wondered aloud to her counselor, Philip Pezeshki, if Krishna Das would come chant with them.  Long story short, here he was.

Krishna Das Arjun Bruggeman prison VT Call and Response Foundation by TheBhaktiBeat.comThey brought nothing but a harmonium and a Naal drum.

Bruggeman’s usual tablas were left behind because  the little metal hammer that he uses to tune them was a security risk. The six of us — including C&RF director Jen Canfield and local wallahs Patrick (Yogi P) McAndrew and Jeanette Bacevius — dutifully stashed wallets and cell phones and jackets and scarves that could present a choking hazard into the lockers in the waiting room, then traded our driver’s licenses for visitor’s passes.  Krishna Das and Arjun opened up their instruments for a thorough search by a serious but pleasant enough security guard. I presented my Nikon to the guard, hoping for a miracle, but it was not to be,  so I reluctantly stuffed it into the locker with everything else.  At least he let me keep my little reporter’s notebook (after leafing through it thoroughly) and a pen to take notes. Then we all took off our shoes and filed through a metal detector, their instruments and my notebook set to the side.

We were led through a series of security doors to a windowless, concrete-block room off a main corridor.  There was a whiteboard with a hand-written list of stress-relief strategies on one wall, and on another wall, a single poster exhorting viewers to “end the silence” about sexual abuse.  A few rows of yoga mats, folded in thirds, were set up in a semi-circle, with a row of mismatched chairs at the back.

KD and Arjun set up their instruments underneath the “End the Silence” poster.  Then KD wrote out the words to five chants on an easel.  Shree Ram Jay Ram Jay Jay Ram.  Om Na-moh Bhag a vah tay Na ma ha. Om Na-mah Shee vy ah. Jay a Jagat Ambay. Om Ay-eem Shreem Sara swa ty yay Na ma ha. 

Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comLucinda, the inmate responsible for all of us being there, came in and sat with KD for several minutes to interview him for the prison newsletter.  Soon enough, about a dozen or so inmates — most appearing to be under 30 — began filtering into the room.  They looked somewhat bewildered, even gruff, like they didn’t know what they were getting into.  Several prison staff members also came in, with serious faces.  Honestly it was hard to tell who the inmates were, until I realized they each had on a dark blue scrub shirt over their street clothes.  The chairs in the back filled up quickly, and the seats in the front, closest to where KD and Arjun were now seated cross-legged on yoga blocks, remained empty.

No, this was not going to be your average Krishna Das kirtan.

KD started by telling the group what kirtan was not.  “This is not a religious practice.  There is no blind faith required,” he said. “This is not a missionary trip.  I’m here because I was invited.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.com(In the waiting room, KD had told me that the last time he chanted in a prison, it was with a group of 100 or so men in a maximum-security facility in the South.  “Everything was going along great,” he recalled, “until I started singing the Maha Mantra.” As soon as the prisoners heard Hare Krishna, they started scowling and fidgeting, looking at one another and shaking their heads.  Every one of them got up and walked out.  Every. Single. One. He hadn’t been back to a prison since.)

Kirtan, Krishna Das told those gathered in the cold cement room, was “a way to quiet the mind, to kind of short-circuit the stories we tell ourselves.”

“We mostly don’t get a vote about our thoughts,” he said.  “Chanting is a means of winding down the mind and training ourselves to let go of thoughts.”

He initiated the singing as he always does, with an opening prayer, which he described as “a prayer to that place within us that is looking for true love.”  After the prayer, he paused in the silence of the room, a silence that was routinely interrupted by a loud slam of the security doors in the hallway outside.  Looking out at the women prisoners in the back, he said quietly: “These mantras are sounds that have a magnetism to them.  By repeating these mantras, we bring the mind to a quiet place.  When the mind is quiet and the heart is at peace, your life can take a different course.”

Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram…

And so it went. Not unlike a typical Krishna Das workshop.  Talk a little. Chant a little. Talk a little more. Chant a little more.  Yet this one was verrrrry different.  We were reminded of that about halfway into the session.  KD had just finished saying something about how to “find some peace no matter what the outside world was throwing at us” when a beefy security guard pushed through the door loudly, with a list in his hand.  KD stopped talking and simply said: “Come on in.” The guard peered around the room, unsmiling, checking people off his list.  He called out a few names — not the Names that had been ringing in the room a few moments before, needless to say.  Then with a slam of the door, he was gone.

“We’re all still here,” KD joked self-consciously, with an awkward chuckle.  Then he picked up the thread, saying there were all kinds of practices — chanting among them — that one could use to “find a way to chill yourself out no matter what’s going on.”  It was an appropriate lesson for the moment, and you could feel it resonating with the folks seated in the room.

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comA couple times during the session, Krishna Das asked if anyone had questions.  It wasn’t until the end that one woman spoke up, asking him if he had always known that this is what he would do.  He told a story he has told many times — of how devastated he was when his guru Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji) told him to go back home to America; how he had asked Maharaji: “How can I serve you in America?” and Maharaji laughed at him with a look “like he had just bitten a sour pickle;” how he, Krishna Das, was walking across the ashram’s courtyard later on and was suddenly struck by the answer: “I’ll sing for you.”  That was 1973, KD said.  It took him 21 years, until 1994, to finally start singing.

Then he told the inmates a story I had never heard.  He said he didn’t think they were even going to let him into the jail for today’s session because he was a convicted felon.  Say what?   Yep, Krishna Das told us he had been charged with money laundering after a criminal investigation involving the IRS and the FBI.  He told the group that it was an “insane story” that they would never believe.  One woman replied, “Oh yes we will,” and they all laughed.  So he related how he thought he was going to end up in prison, but instead — due to a somewhat remarkable series of graces involving the judge, prosecutor and parole officer in the case — was sentenced to six months of house arrest.  He spoke of the period as a blessing, a relief, a much-needed opportunity for rest after a grueling tour schedule.

More importantly, he said, “Being convicted freed me from the secrets of my past. Now everybody knew.  I didn’t have to hide it anymore.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comWhen there was only time for one more chant, Lucinda, the inmate responsible for KD being there, requested ‘Amazing Grace’ with the Maha Mantra. I held my breath, remembering KD’s story about all the men walking out when he started singing Hare Krishna.  “We cooooould,” KD replied hesitantly… “Let’s sing the third one,” he deflected, pointing to the whiteboard where the chants were written out phonetically.

Om Namah Shivayah. 

A long silence — blessedly uninterrupted by doors slamming — followed.  Then KD looked out at the women and said simply: “Take good care of yourselves, okay?”

Afterward, many of the inmates lined up to thank him, to shake his hand or receive a hug.  Most were new to chanting.  One woman, Chelsea, said she found the session to be “really inspiring and cleansing.” She told us she felt energized, and definitely wanted to chant again.  Another, Sarah, confessed that at first she thought it was “a little weird,” but by the end, felt that “it really worked. I absolutely loved it.”  Adrienne said she felt relieved:  “The stress is gone. I’m more relaxed. I hope he comes back.” A group of them milled around, smiling, chatting, not wanting to leave.  Somehow, the cold concrete room was warmer, softer…

“Come back every week!” a young blond inmate named Suzi exhorted KD.

When all the staff and inmates were gone, our little group walked back down the hallway and through the double security doors .  We gathered our belongings, traded our visitor’s passes back for licenses, and bundled up to face the frigid Vermont evening.  Outside, a cold rain was still falling, and darkness had descended.  None of us seemed to notice.

Before we disbursed, Krishna Das agreed to a short video interview outside the prison door.  I dare you to not be moved by what happens midway through it…

“Everybody’s a prisoner, sweetheart. Prisoners of our own minds.”

Support the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program here.

View the Photo Journals of Krishna Das’ prison visit  in Vermont 2014, and his kirtan and workshop, on The Bhakti Beat facebook page.

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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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Krishna Das, Chantmaster, at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Krishna Das, Chantmaster, at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.comBarely a month after his 15 minutes of fame in the Grammy spotlight and fresh from a tropics tour of Costa Rica, Sivananda, Bahamas, and Florida, Krishna Das showed up fully for the headline show at Chantlanta last month — even after fighting a spring snowstorm in the Northeast to get there. Tablist Arjun Bruggeman was his sole bandmate. No Nina Rao. No Genevieve Walker on violin. No Mark Gorman on bass or David Nichtern on guitar. The band was stripped down to KD and Arjun, harmonium and tabla, the newly Grammy-nominated Yoga Rock Star and “his partner in crime,” as KD has called Bruggeman.

It was like we were in Russia or something…

Just before the kirtan started, I said as much to Bruggeman, and he offered that he actually preferred it that way — that it allowed him to be more attuned to KD’s chanting, to get deeper into the rhythms of the bhav. (These are my words, paraphrasing him.) As the night unfolded, you could feel the difference, subtly, in their interactions between and during the songs.

Krishna Das and Arjun Bruggement, Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

He even had Arjun Bruggeman cracking up.

Krishna Das was in a good mood.

He came onto stage to resounding applause, settled himself before his harmonium, adjusted his ear piece, squinted out at the full-house crowd jammed into the soaring sanctuary of the Druid Hills Baptist Church, and waved. “Hey y’all,” he said in his best Southern drawl (for a New Yorker). 

After his traditional invocation to grace, he looked out at us and deadpanned: “Please open your hymnals to page 108.” The crowd cracked up.

Krishna Das at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

"My priest won't steal."

The pared-down duo went on to deliver the Best of Krishna Das Live, commencing with Sita Ram (what else?), flowing into Om Namo Bhagavate, then to our favorite tear-jerker, My Foolish Heart /Bhaja Govinda, complete with the story of its writing (you’ve heard that one, right? The old man who was told by the traveling guru to stop wasting time and just “Bhaja Govinda” — glorify God…?). Then it was time for Durga Ma, and his classic story of when Neem Karoli Baba made him, KD, the pujari of the Durga Temple at Maharaji’s ashram after all the “real” priests were caught stealing from the donation box. Jesus was there too, Mainlining to a mass of writhing dancers, built up to with the story of the unusual statue in the secret temple high in the Himalayas where they chanted in a very esoteric language…English! The crowd cracked up.

The next day at the workshop, KD joked about how happy he was that there were so many newcomers at the concert, the kind who still laughed heartily at all of his old stories. The crowd cracked up…

Krishna Das was Still the Same. Grammy fame hadn’t gone to his head, as far as we could tell. In the Sunday workshop he was playful but prescient, wise and wise-cracking all at once, dispensing timeless bits of insight in between the notes of Hare Krishna and Hanuman’s Chalisa.  Like this one on “bringing the light” through spiritual practice: 

The audience was in love with him, including a sweet little girl in the front who kept trying to give him pictures of Neem Karoli Baba.  He answered questions till there weren’t any more, way past the allotted time, and ended the love affair with a long, sweet Chalisa, fulfilling a special request from a participant. 

KD shone like the sun, and we all sunbathed.

Krishna Das at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

See also:
Photo Journal: Krishna Das at Chantlanta (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Southern Bhav Rising: Chantlanta Demonstrates How To Do a Regional Chant Fest (Video/Photos)
Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Part 1)
Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Part 2)
Photo Journal: Chantlanta (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Chantlanta Video Playlist (on The Bhakti Beat YouTube Channel)
www.krishnadas.com
www.chantlanta.org
www.swahaproductions.com
 
And don’t miss these classics on Krishna Das from our archives:
Krishna Das, Bhakti Rock Star, Keeping It Real
Kirtan First: Krishna Das Invokes Narayana & Yardbirds at 55th Grammy Awards
Krishna Das’ ‘Live Ananda’ Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be a First
With Deva’s Miten, Krishna Das Does Dylan & Shyamdas Does the Blues
Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das in the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Amazing Grace by Krishna Das After Bhakti Fest Rain-Out

 

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Who needs a Grammy anyway, when you’ve got Hanuman? (Photoshop by Susie Anderson)

Mark this day in kirtan history:  Krishna Das played at the Grammys, invoking Narayana (that’s God) and the Yardbirds, the British invasion band of the 1960’s.  What could be more perfect for the Rock Star of Yoga?

Okay, so he didn’t win the coveted Grammy Award for Best New Age Album.  We’ve brooded.  We’ve pounded our fists on the ground. We’ve screamed NOOOOOOOOO! on social media.  But somehow we’ve managed to dig ourselves out of the deep dark pit of “so close!” despair to take a step back, chant an Om or two, and contemplate what this all means, win or lose.

What it means, folks, is that kirtan was at the Grammys.  ‘Nuf said, no?

Krishna Das was introduced as a “world-wide icon and the best-selling chant artist of all time” by David Alan Grier, the host of the Grammys pre-telecast.  He even called it “kirtan” in the introduction — not “yoga music” or “mantra music” or “sacred music” or any other euphemism being applied now to the ancient form of Sanskrit-language call-and-response chanting.  And not, thank Narayana, “new age music.”  Okay, so Grier couldn’t pronounce the word (he said KURR-tahn), but at least it was there.  (If you missed it, don’t despair:  the webcast version of the Grammys’ “non-mainstream” awards is available for 30 days at www.grammy.com.)  And, okay, there was that snarky remark by Grier after KD’s performance (“I’m so blissed out”).  But still….kirtan was at the Grammys.

Kirtan at the Grammys. (Photo by Bob Sinclair)

In fact, Krishna Das was the first performance of the special pre-telecast livestream of the less-known awards.  Right along with what he might wear (was he really going to buy a red tux?), what he would sing had been the subject of much speculation…would it be the world’s shortest Maha Mantra?  The all-time fan favorite Om Namah Shivayah?  Could he even “perform” a traditional call-and-response chant without a response choir backing him?  One could hardly expect the Grammys pre-telecast audience to jump into the role, but maybe he would bring along a whole posse of responders — who knew?  It was a well-kept secret in the kirtan world.  What would an artist whose average song is say, 15 minutes long and depends heavily on repetition from a chorus of responders, play live in a front of a kirtan-naive audience in a 5-minute time slot?

KD didn’t disappoint.  Backed up by Nina Rao, his long-time assistant and the person he credited for making the Grammy nomination happen at all; Arjun Bruggeman, his trusty tabla player; David Nichtern on guitar, and Steve Ross on vocals — along with a full-fledged orchestral Grammy House Band — the Yoga Rock Star delivered a rock-and-roll classic worthy of the Grammys, with a kirtan twist of course.  With a squeeze of the harmonium and that characteristic Ommm drone of his vocals, he launched into the original medley he created for Heart As Wide As the World (the brilliant 2011 CD that would have made so much more sense as a Grammy nomination, in our humble opinion).  In the end, it was For Your Love.

Narayana, meet the Yardbirds.  World, meet Krishna Das.

Yeah, there were sound issues.  Archit Dave, KD’s intrepid sound engineer, was apparently not in the house.  And we were watching it livestreamed — surely not our preferred way to experience KD’s debut on the world stage of the Grammys.  But still, it was kirtan at the Grammys.  Our hearts were all aflutter.  Here is the highest quality recording we’ve seen:

Afterward, there was the not-so-long wait for the actual award-granting (“Oh, yeah, there’s more!” seemed to be the collective opinion on social media).  It all happened very fast.  Before we knew it, they were announcing the nominees for Best New Age Album.  We were struggling with an internet connection that kept skipping on both laptops we had set up to ensure we didn’t miss a beat.  And scrambling to capture the announcement on video, recording from the skippy, pixelated livestream.  Before we could even hit record, the winner was announced — not the name we were looking for, needless to say.

We’d share the video with you but all you would get is a wide crowd shot as the Grammy producers searched their camera feeds for the winner (L.A.-based pianist Omar Akram) and a blood-curdling scream of NOOOOOOOO! in the background (that would be me, reeling with the shock of rejection).  We’ll spare you the ear-split.

So, there it was.  Hopes shattered in an instant.  Pacing-the-room excitement transformed to disbelief faster than you could say Ommmm.  *Sigh* So close, but yet so far…

Aided and abetted by the kirtan support group that is The Bhakti Beat community on facebook, we pulled ourselves up from the pit and saw the light.  Barriers were broken. History was made. Win or lose, Krishna Das had introduced call-and-response chanting to a world audience. A very mainstream world audience.

Kirtan was at the Grammys.

‘Baba Plaid’ at the Grammys. L-R: Krishna Das, Steve Ross, Nina Rao, Arjun Bruggeman. Photo by Amy Dewhurst

Oh, and the red tux?  Naaah.  Thankfully to fans everywhere who wouldn’t recognize him in anything else, he stuck to a Hanuman red T-shirt and a Baba Plaid button-down.  But we’re still wishing he had been interviewed on the Red Carpet, because we were dying to hear his response to the obligatory question, “Who are you wearing?”

Also see:
Kirtan in a New Age: What’s in a Grammy Category Name?
Krishna Das’ Live Ananda Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be a First
Watch KD’s performance at www.grammy.com (available for 30 days from the Feb. 10 webcast)
www.krishnadas.com
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Kirtan in a New Age: What’s in a Grammy Category Name?

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“Genre unknown.”  Have you ever gotten this message when you download a kirtan CD into iTunes?  We get it a lot.

More often than not, the iTunes database pulls up a blank in the “Genre” category.  Sometimes it pulls up as World Music, sometimes Alternative, sometimes Folk (Shyamdas in particular), and sometimes — get this! — Country (GuruGanesha’s Kundalini Surjhee). Occasionally, the disc is downright  Unclassifiable (Marti Walker’s rEVOLution).  And yes, sometimes it even registers as New Age, which usually elicits a sarcastic snicker from this downloader.

New Age?  Hasn’t that almost become a kind of throwback-to-the-70’s joke?  Something that is spoken of with “air quotes,” maybe with a roll of the eyes thrown in?  Is kirtan New Age?  Does it want to be?

Well, according to the Grammys, it is.  That’s the category for which Krishna Das is in the running for Best Album, marking an historic moment in bhakti history (watch the livestream Sunday, Feb. 10 from 1–3:30 p.m. PT at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com.).  No, he’s not the first kirtan artist to get a Grammy nomination — Jai Uttal earned that honor back in 2002 with his barrier-breaking, genre-bending Mondo Rama.  But this is Krishna Das.  The Yoga Rock Star.  The King of Kirtan.  The Chantmaster.  And Live Ananda, the recording nominated for this year’s Best New Age Album, is pure and traditional unadulterated call-and-response chanting.  In the live.  No apologies for the harmonium.

Will the tux be in plaid?

Still, we have a hard time imagining Krishna Das describing himself as a “New Age artist.”  We could be way off base here, but we’re not seeing it.  You?

Either way, that’s where we are folks.  We don’t know about you, but we’re putting our bets on Krishna Das actually winning this thing.  Why else would he be performing live at the Grammys pre-broadcast livestream? (New Age nominees are never featured on the Grammys live television broadcast, which is reserved for the big “Mainstream” categories.)  We’ll eat crow if we’re wrong.  Whilst brooding.  Heavily.  And chanting along with the Cosmic Kirtan Posse at Ananda Ashram to soothe our pain.

But let’s just say it happens:  Krishna Das wins the Grammy for Best New Age Album.  That would put him in the same Winner’s Circle as Paul Winter (6 times), Enya (4-time winner), Yanni, Pat Metheny, and David Darling, among others you’ve probably never heard of.  Notably, Peter Gabriel won the award for Best New Age Performance in 1990.  KD’s competition for the award this year?  L.A.-based pianist Omar Akram; Michael Brant DiMaria, an integrative psychotherapist who creates music for relaxation and meditation; Celtic artist Loreena McKennitt; renowned cellist David Darling; pianist/composer/producer Peter Kater, and Steven Halpern, whose 1975 release, Spectrum Suite, often gets credit for beginning the whole “New Age Music” movement.

There are a couple interesting kirtan connections among these other nominees.  David Darling collaborated with Canadian kirtan artist Brenda McMorrow on her 2010 album Love Abounds. Peter Kater just last year released Heart of the Universe with Sikh-tradition chantress Snatam Kaur, and his 2012 nomination, Light Body, features vocalist and executive producer Trish Bowden.  We’re clueless, we confess, about the others on the list, but a quick review of their offerings puts them pretty far away on the musical spectrum from call-and-response chanting ala Live Ananda.

Incidentally, in the World Music category, both Ravi Shankar (for The Living Room Sessions, Pt. 1) and his daughter, Anoushka Shankar (for Traveller) are nominated for Best Album.  Which makes us wonder why Krishna Das isn’t in the World Music category.  Live Ananda even comes up on iTunes as World Music.

Indefinable?

New Age music has always been difficult to define, seeming more like a catch-all for downtempo “relaxation music” than anything else.  Early pioneers include the aforementioned Steven Halpern and English composer Brian Eno, who is credited as a principal innovator of so-called ambient music.  New Age  first earned its own Grammy category in 1987 — about the same time New Age bins started showing up in major record stores and big record labels starting paying attention to the genre.

The dawning of the New Age Grammy category was not met with glee by all.  Music critic Steven Rea, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987, said: “It’s a category of music to which few artists want to be assigned – the winner of the Grammy is likely to accept his award with a bag over his head – and which even fewer can define.”  The same year, Musician magazine predicted that “all new-age artists will claim to be ‘not really new-age.’ ”

My how things have changed.  Or not.

Parsing the Name Game

All of this talk brings up a related issue that is astir throughout the kirtan world: what to call kirtan.  “Kirtan,” some have argued, is just too hard for Westerners to wrap their tongues around, let alone their minds.  A few artists are steadfastly moving toward the use of “mantra music” to define what they do; among them are Gaura Vani, a Krishna devotee who typically practices traditional call-and-response Sanskrit chanting (unless he’s in his role as one-fourth of The Hanumen, in which case all categorization goes right out the window), and GuruGanesha Singh, best known as the long-time touring partner and manager to Snatam Kaur, who infuses sacred Gurmukhi-language chants with funked-up rhythms and soaring electric-guitar riffs. 

The new Krishna Das channel on Sirius XM radio eschews both these monikers in favor of “Yoga Radio” — a decision that came from Sirius, KD told us in an interview.  Nowhere in the description of the channel will you find the word kirtan, but you will find “Chanting, sacred and spiritual music” in the channel’s subhead.

Kirtan. Mantra music.  Yoga music.  Chant.  Sacred music. Spiritual music.  World music. Alternative, Folk, Country…turns out there are almost as many names out there for this “music genre” as there are artists presenting it.  Which begs the even bigger question: is it a “music genre” at all?   

Or is the Mantra Revolution simply “Unclassifiable”?

What do you call it?

Also see:
Krishna Das’ Live Ananda Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be A First
www.krishnadas.com
Live Ananda via Krishna Das
Live Ananda on iTunes

from KrishnaDas.com

 

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Grammy Nominated

Kirtan at the Grammys?  Now that would be cool.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Chantmaster Krishna Das, the legendary “rock star of yoga,” has earned a nod from the Grammy nominators for Live Ananda, which is up for Best New Age Album of the Year.  It is only the second time in history, to our knowledge, that a kirtan album has been in the running for the music industry’s top prize; the first time was in 2003, when Jai Uttal’s groundbreaking Mondo Rama was nominated in the same category.  (No, there is no “Kirtan” Grammy category, or even “Yoga Music” for that matter — yet.)

That’s right.  From here on out, KD shall be known as the Grammy-nominated chantmaster of American yoga.

Well, that is, until — and if — we can call him the Grammy-winning blahblahblah.  That would be a first for the little devotional-music niche that is call-and-response chant, itself a mere drop in the catch-all bucket of “new age” music.

Live Ananda was recorded, well, live at Ananda.  Ananda Ashram, that is, the Yoga Society of New York’s retreat and spiritual center in Monroe, N.Y., at the feet of the Catskills and the heart of the Bhajan Belt, where KD used to hold yearly workshops.  Live Ananda captures five long, sweet songs — each a KD classic from his early recordings — co-performed with an exuberant audience of chanters during a three-day retreat in 2007.  It was released in January 2012 without a lot of fanfare as far as we could tell, digitally only and only through iTunes (much to the dismay of Apple haters everywhere, and those of us who still like to have and hold an actual CD, complete with cover art and liner notes).  UPDATE: Nina Rao tells us that Live Ananda is going to be re-released this month in “hard” form — cover art, liner notes and all.

I have to confess: this was the one KD release that I did not own.  I mean, I’m as big a KD fan as you can find (bias alert!), but somehow I couldn’t get too excited about this CD.  After the brilliance of Heart as Wide as the World (2010), KD’s first studio album in 12 years (with Grammy-nominated producer David Nichtern), maybe it felt anti-climactic — I played that disc night and day for months.  Plus, I already owned — and loved — every single live recording he ever did.  That and a pesky password problem with iTunes kept me from downloading it when it came out, and I just never went back — until this morning’s announcement.   A Grammy nomination?  How come I don’t own this?!

Well, now I do.  And you’ll want it too, because, well, it’s Grammy-nominated.  That, and it’s classic KD all the way: soulful, deep, heart wide open to the world, singing for his guru and taking us right along with him to that place he goes… 

The much-anticipated Grammy nominations were announced by The Recording Academy Dec. 5 at a concert broadcast live from Nashville, Tenn., marking a count-down to the 55th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.  Nominees are selected by voting members of the Recording Industry Association of America, who can each vote in up to nine music categories.

What would KD do?

So, now that KD is officially a nominee, we can’t help but wonder if he’ll capture one of the coveted live-performance slots at Music’s Biggest Night (even if he is scheduled to be at Blue Spirit in Costa Rica at the time — that’s what satellite feeds are for, right?).  What would KD do?  Wouldn’t it be something to witness the chantmaster and his band on stage at the Grammys, leading the superstar crowd in the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, broadcast live to the world? 

Stranger things have happened at the Grammys.  Have you watched this awards show lately?  This is the night the music world’s biggest stars pull out all the stops, and sometimes go right over the top.  (What was up with that Nicki Minaj “exorcism” last year?)  With that kind of act to follow, KD might need to take a page from a memorable music video in the closet of his past (one we venture he’d prefer to forget)…something involving snake-dancing goddesses and a decidedly Christ-like KD, perhaps?

Naaah, that’s not gonna happen.  A duet with Sting for Mountain Hare Krishna has been suggested, a nod to Pilgrim Heart (1998).  Or how about a pair-up with Bob Dylan for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, ala KD’s surprise move at Omega Ecstatic Chant last fall — have you seen this?

Play along with us:  if Krishna Das was going to sing at the Grammys, what song would you want to hear?  Tell us in the comments! 

Links

LIVE ANANDA on Krishna Das’ website
Direct Link to LIVE ANANDA on iTunes
Krishna Das website
The 55th Annual Grammy Awards Nominations 

You Might Also Enjoy:

Krishna Das, Bhakti ‘Rock Star,’ Keeping It Real
Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Bhakti Fest Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Amazing Grace by Krishna Das After Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
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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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