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Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com There is nothing traditional about Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe.  And that’s just fine with us.

Larisa and the Tribe deliver unapologetic Mantra Rock.  Quite unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. The first time we experienced their edgy urban-laced brand of bhakti, our jaw dropped, and they just keep get juicier each time we see them.  Quite possibly the tightest little shakti band in the West, they never fail to fill your cup with lovelovelove and take it right over the top — and then bring it back down to earth with something authentic and grounding like Larisa’s now-signature LOVE-IN with the crowd.

Larisa Stow, Bhakti Fest 2014, TheBhaktiBeat.comThis year’s set at Shakti Fest was no exception, as love goddess Larisa snuggled up close and personal at the front of the stage with adoring fans pouring out their affection.  She reflected it right back, singing them a heart-felt love ballad laced with advice for living fully from one who knows how. “We need to embrace all the parts of ourselves,” she said. “Even those wild parts.”  It was like group therapy in the bhav!

“How juicy can we get?” Larisa asked the crowd at one point.  “How much can we open up in this moment?”

They set the tone for their set right off the bat, with a Maha Mantra rock-out that proved why they call this music mantra rock.  Then it was time to “wake up those heartlines,” as Larisa implored the obedient bhaktas before her to put hands to hearts as she launched into an electrified ode to Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion who is always ready to spring into action to relieve suffering.  This was like no Om Tara you’ve heard before;  the seed mantra Om Tara Tuttare Ture Soha was fused with the English chorus “Om Tara, wake up in my life…” and driven by rich rhythmic layers of horns from the Wizard of Woodwinds Richard Hardy, bass, guitar, violin, and percussion.  Oh, just watch the video…

Then things got really juicy.

Shakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com Larisa Stow Shakti TribeWith Tara sufficiently awakened in our hearts, the Tribe turned our attention to the Goddess Who Takes No Prisoners with a powerful seed mantra to invoke Kali.  We were also treated to a brand new song based on the Sanskrit mantra Ahem Prema, which means “I Am Divine Love.”  The Tribe’s version featured Bethany Folsom’s  exquisite violin amidst original lyrics reminding us that “The universe is in my womb” and “I am the love that I seek.”

Quotes, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by thebhaktibeat.comJust when you thought you couldn’t get any more love from the Love Tribe, “Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Love?” poured forth.  The song, already a signature anthem  for this Long Beach-based band, is now immortalized on Shakti Tribe bumper stickers that were given away freely from the stage.

But they weren’t through with us yet.  They hit us with another version of the Maha Mantra that shook the ground with its high-energy must-dance vibe (trust me — I just shook my whole neighborhood blasting it in my apartment…).  If you weren’t dancing by now…well, I don’t think anyone wasn’t dancing.  The set ended, fittingly, blessedly, with the title track from their epic CD “Rock On Sat Nam,” officially sealing the Tribe’s place as the Bhaktas Most Likely to Rock Your World.

What are we gonna do with all that love?  Pass it along of course!  Larisa made us promise.

Shakti Tribe is Benj Clarke on bass, Richard Hardy on woodwinds, Bethany Folsom on violin, Keith Larsen on drums, and of course, Larisa Stow holding court center stage on harmonium and vocals. Bray Ghiglia played guitar at Shakti Fest, and Mirabai Devi held space energetically throughout the set.

Mirabai Devi, Shakti Tribe, by thebhaktibeat.com at Bhakti Fest 2014 MaySo go ahead. Pass on the love.

See the full Photo Journal from Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe’s set here.

 Also See:
Too Much Talking from a Kirtan Wallah?  Hmm. Bhakti Quotes Worth Repeating from Shakti Fest 2014
Top 12 Bhavalicious Moments at Shakti Fest 2014 (Photos)
Shakti Fest Moments” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shakti Fest Finale” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
“Jai Uttal” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
‘We Need a Bus!’  Kirtaniyas Kick Off Shakti Fest Kirtan and Take Bhakti to A ‘Whole Other Level’
 
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Kirtaniyas Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com @ Bhakti Fest May 2014Shakti Fest 2014 — the first of the three bhakti yoga “love fests” by the Bhakti Fest franchise — kicked off with a little pre-show Thursday night with the Kirtaniyas, the progressive Krishna Kid bhakti band that is pushing the kirtan movement into new ground.

The leader of the pack, Vijay Krsna, paused midway through the high-energy kirtan to tell a story of something that happened in Las Vegas a week or two prior (yeah, forget that old maxim that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — does not apply here).  The band was in Vegas for Holi Festival of Colors, the spring ritual in India where people throw brightly colored powder on one another which is swiftly spreading in the U.S., with at least a dozen color festivals at last count in the States.  If you’ve seen any of the videos of these festivals, you know how high the energy is…

Vijay Krsna, Kirtaniyas, Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comWitnessing the exuberance of the festival in Vegas, Vijay said, he realized “Bhakti is going to a whole other level, a level beyond ourselves individually or collectively.  We’ve entered a new phase of this kirtan movement.”

Sitting with a group of other devotees in Las Vegas after Holi Festival, Vijay exclaimed: “We need a bus!  We need a bus so we can drive wherever we want to sing and dance and share the Names.”

A few days later, the band of wandering bhaktas was in Santa Monica leading a street kirtan on the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian mall in the heart of the city best known for its amusement-park pier and wide sandy boardwalk-lined beaches.  Less well known is Santa Monica’s rich bhakti history — Krishna devotees have long gathered on the city’s promenades to chant the mahamantra accompanied by bells and drums.  (The Third Street Promenade was in fact, where this writer/bhakta first experienced the “Hare Krishnas” many years ago as they danced and chanted their way down the street.)  Since 1977, the city has hosted the Festival of Chariots, a parade of elaborately decorated coaches in celebration of Lord Jagganatha, with devotees, locals and tourists alike jubilantly dancing and chanting all along the route.

Today, Santa Monica is home to a rich “California-ized” bhakti community, a city where you can get your sankirtana fix just about any night of the week.  Ground zero for this community is Bhakti Yoga Shala, a shaktified refuge in the heart of the city founded by Govind Das and Radha, a kirtan couple who are mainstays on the Bhakti Fest schedule. The Shala infuses yoga classes with chanting, holds weekly kirtans, conducts kirtan trainings and workshops, and regularly hosts bhakti wallahs from out of town for roof-raising sankirtana.

Nitai, Kirtaniyas, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comSo, back to the Kirtaniyas…Here they are, chanting the Names on the Third Street Promenade just like their predecessors in the Western bhakti movement, just days after putting out the intention for a bus, when one of their extended family comes forward to announce jubilantly: We have a bus!

“Give thanks to Krishna: WE HAVE A BUS!” Vijay exclaimed to the group that had gathered around the little band of bhaktas.

Recounting the story of intention-turned-to-manifestation in a matter of days with an air of awe and gratitude, Vijay reflected: “This has been the mystery of my life: Would you like to live a life of your heart’s desire?  We have been vortexed into this intention of leading a life of chanting and dancing.”

At the end of the evening’s session, which began with a prayerful “Jai Guru Dev,” built expertly up to a rollicking rendition of “Sri Krishna Chaitanya” followed by a high-energy Maha Mantra/Hari Bol medley, and finished meditatively with Vijay singing “No Ordinary Name,”  the charismatic young kirtaniya offered this nugget:

“It is not longer enough to ‘perform’ kirtan.  We want to inspire kirtan and be inspired by kirtan.”

To which we say, HARI BOLLLLLLL!

Kirtaniyas at Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Stay tuned for more coverage of Shakti Fest 2014, here (TheBhaktiBeat.com), there (facebook) and everywhere (twitter, Google+, YouTube, yadayada!

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

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return to shiva station coverWith “Return to Shiva Station,” Jai Uttal travels back in time to a period of his life when his musicality was exploding but his personal life was imploding — and emerges with a CD that is more a vision of where he is heading, musically and perhaps personally, than a rehash of where he has been.  It’s a softer, gentler side of Jai — one that is rarely seen at big festivals like Bhakti Fest and largely unseen on his discography of 16 releases.  Until now that is.

“Return to Shiva Station” can hardly be called a remake.  Rather, it is a completely new incarnation of its namesake and inspiration, “Shiva Station,” which was released in 1999.  While the track list on “Return” mimics the original “Shiva Station” song for song, the two albums could not be more different. Where “Shiva Station” is loud and exuberant, “Return” is quiet and understated.  Where “Shiva Station” is multi-layered and unrestrained, with lush instrumentation from an extravagant 11-piece band (The Pagan Love Orchestra), “Return” is pretty much Just Jai, mostly solo and unplugged.  Where “Shiva Station” was “bursting through the heavens,” in Uttal’s words, the new album looks inward.

The difference is by design.  When his current record label, Sounds True, asked him to do a remake of “Shiva Station,” Uttal said his first response was: “Why?” With more than a little cajoling from the label and his manager, Steven Saporta, he reluctantly agreed to try his hand at reinventing the opening track, Guru Brahma.  “I said, if I’m going to do this album – I still wasn’t committed – but if, it’s got to be really different,” he told The Bhakti Beat.

It’s as if Uttal took each song, ripped it up in shreds, stripped it of all excess, and then rebuilt it in a minimalist fashion that reduces each to its elemental beauty, revealing the soul of the song.  It’s Jai Uttal, vocalist and one-man band, stripped down and naked.

The first thing he did was eliminate the drums.

Every other album Uttal has done was very rhythmic, he said, with drums and percussion setting the beat. So he threw those out.  The vibrant horn section that blasts through “Shiva Station” is also nowhere to be heard on “Return.”  Instead, strings take center stage, a reflection both of Uttal’s long-time prowess with Indian stringed instruments and his newfound fascination with Brazalian-style guitar.  (His teacher and mentor in Brazilian guitar, José Neto, who has toured with the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart, plays on almost every track.)

“Most of my albums are very orchestrated — lots of music and lots of instruments. On this one, the production is very simple — not simple-minded, but less orchestrated.  Because of that my voice is much more naked,” Uttal said.  “I couldn’t cover it up with a horn section or a drum set,” he added with a self-effacing laugh, pointing out that he has “always struggled with a lot of insecurity” about his voice.

Omega Ecstatic Chant Jai Uttal by TheBhaktiBeat.comThe distinctive Uttal voice is indeed the focal point of “Return to Shiva Station,” supported here and there by back-up vocals by long-time collaborators Ben Leinbach, who also mixed and co-produced the disc, and Prajna Vieira, one of Uttal’s most consistent response vocalists.  But it is the strings that stand out on this disc more than anything.  José Neto is everywhere with his masterful Spanish-style strumming, but there is also cello by Yoed Nir, sitar by Timothy White, bass by Leinbach, and Uttal on guitar, banjo and the single-stringed Indian ektar.

Mad for the Banjo

Uttal’s love affair with strings goes all the way back to when he was a young preadolescent living in New York City, he told us.  That’s when he first discovered the banjo, after losing interest in his early piano lessons.  “I was completely mad for banjo,” he said.  “It was my first real love music-wise. Playing banjo was the first time that I felt sort of an inner peace…It still holds a super fondness for me.”

If you’ve ever seen Uttal pull out his banjo at a live kirtan, you know how he lights up when he gets that instrument in his hands.  “Rustic banjo” (Uttal’s words) makes appearances in two songs: “Corner” and “Jaya Jagadambe” – which happen to be two of Uttal’s self-professed favorites on the disc.  Still, it’s the Brazilian guitar that has Uttal currently enamored, and that is his favorite part of the CD.

He’s been studying it with Neto – whom he calls his “current idol” – and is completely in love with the chord progressions and distinctive style of the Brazilian interpretation of guitar, which encompasses bossa nova and samba.  “For the last bunch of years I’ve been finding such joy and challenge and, you know, yearning in studying Brazilian guitar,” he said.

He committed himself to approaching the reinterpretation of “Shiva Station” with a new perspective as an acoustic guitar player, and particularly from the Brazilian perspective. “The Brazilian harmonies are so rich and so deep.  Having spent most of my life involved with Indian music…you know, Indian music is not harmonic; it’s melodic. There are no chords in traditional Indian music. So here I was taking these melodies and wanting to put beautiful chords behind them.”

Uttal said the process was hard on a lot of levels.

Omega d3 613On a technical level, he said: “Every single song was on the absolute edge of my technical ability.  Going to the studio was hard.  I couldn’t play my own songs!”

The voice of self-doubt started “raging,” he said, reinforcing his reservations about revisiting Shiva Station.  “I started to think that I should have waited for six months and just practiced these chords.”

But “Return” presented a challenge not just for the technical aspects, but for the emotions that it raised as well.  Uttal has described the period of his life when “Shiva Station” was produced as unhappy, out of balance, and very difficult.  He told us he was at the end of a period of drug addiction and alcoholism (“the end is always the worst”) and was in a “very, very toxic relationship.”  Moreover, he was frustrated spiritually and musically, having put all of his creative energy into getting the Pagan Love Orchestra off the ground, and feeling that is was still mired in obscurity.

None of which, by the way, comes through in “Shiva Station.” Having discovered it anew because of “Return,” we have to say we didn’t find it depressing at all.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It’s a happy CD, filled with over-the-top joyousness and big-band elation.  We would never have guessed that this came from a severely depressed man in the throes of addiction and a miserable marriage.

And that, my friends, is the point….

“As we sing kirtan, as we express ourselves, there are so many emotions that come out,” Uttal said.  “The bigger the palette of emotional colors that is expressed, the more joy comes through it all.  So as we’re expressing ourselves, sadness comes out, despair comes out, a longing comes out, an incredible ecstasy comes out.  In the end you feel so happy, because nothing is withheld.”

Buy “Return to Shiva Station: Kailash Connection”
Listen to “Shiva Station”
Jai Uttal’s Website
Jai Uttal’s Facebook page
 

 

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Firedancer at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Firedancer at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.comWe really wish we had had this song for our road trip to Bhakti Fest Midwest.  The 1,000 miles would have gone by so much faster…

Just released by Count Shakti and the Shakettes, the “Shakti Shindig” hits the airwaves just in time — okay, not quite in time — for the summer bhakti festival season.  Channeling Elvis and the Beach Boys — and maybe every rock guru in between — Count Shakti’s debut track will get your asana moving, mantra-rock style.  If this doesn’t make your chakras chuckle, enlighten up!

What? Never heard of Count Shakti and the Shakettes?  Well, we confess, we hadn’t either.  So we asked, who is this mysterious band? Here’s the response we got:

The Count was born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the Tibetan year of the Hyena to an Albanian aristocrat and a Nepalese sorceress. At the age of three he demonstrated a miraculous ability to make it rain Milk Duds and could recite the entire Bhagavad Gita in both Cockney rhyming slang and Murray the K “Me-a-Surrey” language. The Shakettes are his tantric consorts and possess all the major and minor siddhis, plus the psychic power to communicate with ants. The Count would like to make a video of “Shakti Shindig,” but like most aristocrats, he’s a bit strapped for cash.

Well, okay then…mystery solved.  NOT. 

Turns out Count Shakti is also known as Alan di Perna, music writer extraordinaire and sometime P.R. flack for the likes of the GuruGanesha Band — and, apparently, a lyrical genius with his tongue in his cheek.  And the Shakettes? That would be DiPerna’s wife and “multi-tracked muse” Robin di Perna. 

The brainstorm (brain cramp??) for this little gem came when GuruGanesha’s marketing team was trying to come up with a name for the band’s upcoming mega-tour with Deva Premal and Miten.  Shakti Shindig was di Perna’s suggestion…but it didn’t fly.  “Too ‘out there,’ I guess,” di Perna told The Bhakti Beat. 

GuruGanesha Singh at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

GuruGanesha, gettin' down at Bhakti Fest Midwest

Too “out there” for GuruGanesha?? Have you seen that long-beard hippie-Sikh on stage?

Never mind.  By the time his moniker was axed, di Perna said he had already written the lyrics.  For that we thank Krishna, Buddha, Allah and Jesus too.  Not to mention dakinis in bikinis, swamis hidin’ salamis and tantrikas chasin’ chicas.

“Get your rocks off, bhakti-style.”  Om my.

Here are the full lyrics, because you don’t want to miss a bhakti beat…

Shakti Shindig (© 2013 Alan di Perna)
Grab your mala and your yoga mat
We’re goin’ on down to where it’s at.
Throw some tablas in the back of the van
We’re goin’ to a Shakti Shindig, man!
 
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!
Where all the yogis and yoginis will be makin’ the scene.
Shakti Shindig!
 
Do the Pranayama till your face turns blue
Do the Downward Dog and the Happy Baby too.
Get your mind liberated, get your body tight
This Shakti Shindig is really out of sight!
 
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!  etc.
 
Gonna get blissed, gonna do the Tantric Twist
Won’t never get pissed, ’cause we’ll give the booze a miss.
Gonna nix the meat, gonna dance in bare feet.
This Shakti Shindig is really sweet!
 
Well, uh, if you’re feeling tired and sick of it all
Come on down and have a ball.
Get your rocks off, Bhakti style
This Shakti Shindig is really really wild!
 
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!
Where all the yogis and yoginis will be makin’ the scene
All the kirtan wallahs gonna start to holler
All the meditators gonna do the Alligator
All the big Babas gonna do the Bama-lama
All the Dakinis will be dancin’ in bikinis
All the Tantrikas will be checkin’ out the chicas
All the Sikhs will be dancin’ with the freaks
All the Buddhists will be dancin’ with the nudists
All the Hindus gonna shout the blues
All the gurus and swamis will be hidin’ the salami
All the yogis and yoginis will be makin the scene….
 
Shakti Shindig, yeah yeah yeah Shakti Shindig (3X)
Aw, Shakti baby…. 

 

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“We’re going to end on this,” Shyamdas said, as he launched us into the final powerful crest of an epic Hare Krishna chant that undulated like the waves of an ocean for 45 ecstatic minutes (two-part video below). 

It started as a slow, deep prayer before gradually rising to the inevitable full-on whirling cresendo, then ebbing again to a sweet low longing, barely a whisper, before rising up again… Over and over he led us through the peaks and valleys of the changing melodies and rhythms, inviting us all into the intimate dance with the Divine.  Soon there was no distinction between call and response, “performers” and “audience.”  All merged as one voice, one ocean of sound and devotion flowing with the joyful tears of a thousand streams.

It was, for this writer, one of those peak experiences in kirtan — the kind that just make you go, “Wow.” No exclamation point. Just “Wow.”

When it ended, after that long sweet silence where you get to do nothing other than breathe in all that bhav, he looked out at all of us and simply said: “That’s it.”  Silence broken, the crowd thundered.  Shyamdas’ kirtans always stand out, but this one was beyond outstanding, and the chanters let him know it. 

When the hoots and hollers died down, Shyamdas said this: “It’s amazing to float in the bhav — I don’t know whether I was imagining that, and it doesn’t really matter…But man, to be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is …” He paused for just a moment.  “…is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

“To be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

Hear Hear.

After the set, I caught up with Shyam-Ji just off-stage.  I wanted to thank him, to ask him how he did that, what magic did it take to create that experience. Maybe I needed some kind of confirmation that we had all just experienced something truly extraordinary, I don’t know.  I had a hundred questions for him! But when I opened my mouth, all I could muster was, “Wow.”  No exclamation point.  Just, “Wow.”  (And, I imagine, a glazed-eye, stoned-on-the-bhav expression — hey, we’d been chanting day and night for 3 days at this point.)

Despite my bhakti-fried brain-deadness, Shyamdas answered my unspoken question.  I didn’t write down what he said, but it was something along the lines of: “I was just taking it where it needed to go.”  He was reading the room, taking the pulse of the space, feeling the vibe and intuitively guiding us deeper and more completely into that Place That Cannot Be Described, to blissfully drown in a churning sea of ecstatic devotion.

This is Shyamdas as we will remember him, steering the ship on a “tidal wave of bhav” deep into the ocean of devotion, sweeping us all along with him on his boat full of bhakti.

Thank you Shyamdas-Ji. 

A note about the videos: Did I mention this was a 45-minute-long Maha Mantra?  And that I recorded EVERY moment of it?  Now, I know this is the Age of Twitter and 30-second news bites…so I thought about editing this down, cutting and slashing it to a manageable, YouTube-friendly size.  But then something slapped me upside the head (Shyam?) and said, Are you crazy?  This is a work of devotional art.  How dare you mess with it?  So I present it to you as I experienced it, in all its uncut, unedited glory.  In two parts, because the Age of YouTube has a 30-minute attention span (not long enough for kirtan).  Please put aside 45 minutes to watch — really WATCH — because you don’t want to miss a single moment of Shyam-Ji’s in-the-bhav expressionism.  Clear your space because you will want to dance during parts.  Have some tissues because you may cry.  But watch it all.  You will not be sorry. 

Here’s Part 1:

 And Part 2:

 

 Also see:

“Remembering Shyamdas” The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal on facebook

Shyamdas Video Playlist on YouTube

www.shyamdas.com

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Passionate about the planet

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

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

 

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

‘Are You Serious?/Are You Delirious?

Don't Frack with her

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

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

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

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

 The Message in the Mantra

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

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

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

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

The return of The Hanumen — the testosterone-driven ensemble band created by John de Kadt, Benjy Wertheimer and Gaura Vani — has been one of the most anticipated events in this kirtan addict’s year.  Who could resist this combination of three exquisite musicians, each with a heart as big as Hanuman’s (and humors to match)?

We caught up with the multi-instrumentalist mantra revolutionaries at a true hotbed of revolution, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., near the end of their short, sweet tour up the East Coast (don’t worry, West Coasters: The Hanumen are coming your way in September).  Afterward, we got to sit down with all four of the current incarnation of this band of bhakti brothers — bassist Purusartha Dasa being the fourth  — for an interview that turned into more of sit-down comedy routine at times:

from thehanumen.com

The Hanumen played in “the pit” at Goddard — fitting, perhaps for revolutionaries whose publicity photos show them covered in mud? — an acoustically correct sound stage from which the college’s community FM station, WGDR, audiocast the concert live to the world.  (A recording of it may be forthcoming, we’re told.)

Their concert covered a lot of sacred ground in mantra music…

delicious drum poetry from John de Kadt, beginning with the dreamily invitational, “Come Dance With Me”…

 

 

 

an Alleluia solo in the 12th century Gregorian Chant tradition from Benjy Wertheimer that took our breath away…

 

 

 

Gaura Vani’s inimitable playfulfulness, sacred story-telling, and powerful call-and-response leadership…

 

 

 

and even a little dance lesson in the “Swami Shuffle” from quiet, dimunitive Purusartha Dasa.

 

The evening was packed with pleasant surprises, beautifully showcasing the master musicianship of each individually and melding them seamlessly into a smooth flow of original compositions, ancient chants, reincarnated gospel songs, and instrumental interludes.  Luscious.

This is one perfect example:

 

Check our YouTube page for the latest uploads from The Hanumen @ Goddard!

See also: 
www.thehanumen.com
www.johndekadt.com
www.benjymusic.com
www.gauravani.com

 

 

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Nina Rao, known for her Chalisa

Have you noticed a growing fascination with the Hanuman Chalisa, the 40-verse ode to the Hindu monkey-god who embodies the heart of devotional practice?  We’ve noticed it cropping up in more and more live kirtan sets, and Bhakti Fest Midwest was no exception.  Both SRI Kirtan and Brenda McMorrow offered rocking original versions of this long and fairly complicated chant during their respective sets on Saturday and Sunday.

Brenda McMorrow

Krishna Das and his long-time assistant (and chant leader in her own right) Nina Rao might take credit for helping make the Chalisa so popular.  KD’s “Flow of Grace” CD is  devoted completely to the Chalisa, with six different versions of the prayer.  The one by Nina Rao, the sweet “Nina Chalisa,” has formed the foundation for her own Chalisa chanting in her home ‘hood of Brooklyn, at KD workshops and at Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree.  Her morning Chalisa sessions have become a fixture, and are well-attended despite their early-morning hour.  She continued this trend in Madison, Wisc. at the Midwest fest.  Her traditional Chalisa is featured in this video from Vermantra 12-hour chant fest last fall.

SRI Kirtan (Sruti Ram & Ishwari)

Kirtan geeks that we are, we get pretty excited when wallahs mix the Chalisa into their sets — typically with an introductory warning that if you don’t know the words, have no fear, there’s a nice simple chorus that everyone can join in on.  Imagine our delight when this scenario occurred with not one, but two of our favorite up-and-coming kirtan wallahs at Bhakti Fest Midwest — SRI Kirtan on Saturday at high noon and Brenda McMorrow on Sunday afternoon.

Check out both shakti-shaking versions below.  Warning: the videos are long (did we mention it’s a 40-verse prayer?), but we think this is one of those chants that needs to be seen, heard and felt in its entirety.

(I have no idea why YouTube is not putting up a thumbnail on this, but I assure you, there’s a beautiful picture of Sruti Ram and Ishwari that SHOULD be coming up.  Please watch despite the blackness.)

 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 
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Five for the Ride: Car Kirtan (Use with Caution)

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Who shall we take along on the ride today?

You know when you’ve got one of those seemingly endless drives ahead of you?  Four, five, six hours in the car with nothing to do but drive drive drive?  Well, silence may be golden, but throw in a couple bhakti-rockin’ CD’s and the miles will just flyyyy by.  Trust us.

Having just endured a 6-hour drive home from Cape Cod, we know this.  I was about to crawl out of my skin from sheer boredom when I discovered Om Spun (the latest release from Wynne Paris’ all-star band Groovananda) in a crevice of my car and popped it into the CD player.  Immediately I started bopping and singing along with the gospel-infused chants and multi-layered instrumentalism.  I was grooving to Groovananda and loving life.  And apparently, driving faster.

Suddenly, there were blue lights flashing in my rear-view.  Talk about a buzz-kill.

“Is there any particular reason you were speeding, Ma’am?” the baby-faced rookie officer asked me in that official, you’re-busted tone.  Me: “um, uh….”  I thought about taking out the CD and handing it to him, but didn’t know how that would go over.  Plus, I still had three hours to go — I needed that CD!

I’m thinking that there are a lot of kirtan CD’s that need to come with a warning label like this one from Krishna Das’s Chants of a Lifetime CD:

Caution: This CD features chants that render it inappropriate for use while driving or operating heavy machinery.

Warning label or not, here are a few of our favorites for car kirtan.  Please use with caution.

Five for the Ride

1. Om Spun, by Groovananda.  This is “raga rock kirtan,” brilliantly fusing world beat, jam-band, rock, jazz, kirtan, folk, Indian, trance and gospel. Whew!  Featuring Wynne Paris on vocals and sarod, Rick Allen on drums, JT John Thomas on organ and Doug Derryberry (Bruce Hornsby band) on mandalin, plus Mark Karan, Krishna Das, Badal Roy, Perry Robinson, Girish Cruden, Dave Stringer, Kim Waters (Rasa), Ramesh Kannan and many others. (2011) Get it here.

2. This IS Soul Kirtan, by C.C. White.  By now everyone’s got this on their playlist, right? C.C. White’s debut solo album is a sweet, rollicking joy ride of classic chants reinvented with a Southern Gospel and soul-shaking exuberance.  I’m in love with the reggae-style Hare Krishna maha mantra punctuated by a deep, thunderous — and alltogether too brief! — Krishna rap by Bob Wisdom.  Chills.  Every time.  Co-produced with Matt Pszonak, with Patrick Richey, Denise Kaufman, Cooper Madison, Steve Postell, Richard Hardy, Michael Jerome Moore, Jeff Young, Arjuna O’Neal, Vasu Dudakia, more special guests and the Soul Kirtan Choir. (2011) Listen & buy here

3. Thunder Love, by Jai Uttal.  Queen of Hearts, Jai’s reggae-kirtan CD released last fall, would easily fit the bill here too.  But Thunder Love, released in 2008, has occupied one of the slots on my car CD changer since I bought the disc.  Jai’s trademark heart-soaring vocals will make you forget you’re stuck in a car and take you right with him into the inner chambers of the heart.  Please, put it on cruise control before Bolo Ram (Track 2) comes on…Produced by Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach for Nutone Records.  Get it here.

4. Love Holding Love, by Wah!  Of all the Wah! albums I love, I love this one the most.  (Of course, I haven’t heard Loops and Grooves yet, which is due out any day now.)  Maybe it’s the chill, almost trancey lounge feel, or the heart-pumping electronica beats, or the soft-rap riffs of love-centric lyrics that never fail to remind me that it’s all love baby, even if you’re stuck in the worst traffic this side of the 405.  It holds a near-permanent slot in the Baja’s player.  A two-year collaboration with Paul Hollman, with guest artists that include Elijah Tucker (drums), Katisse Buckingham (vocal percussion, flute), Ryan Pate (drums), produced for Nutone. (2008)  Get it here.

5. Live Your Love, by SRI Kirtan.  Make sure you’re buckled in when this one cues up; it sweeps you up in Track 1 with a hard-rocking Govinda/Hare Krishna medley and carries you on that current of bhakti love right through the duo’s signature Rock the Bhakti and on to the final track, a joyous tribute to the sacred Ganges River.  SRI Kirtan is the fusion of Sruti Ram and Ishwari, whose collective musical background spans punk, opera, Gregorian chant, electronica and doo-wop.  It shows.  With Steve Gorn on bansuri flute, Visvamhar from the Mayapuris on mrdanga, the sacred-rap genius of SriKala Kerel Roach , Charlie “Govind” Burnham on violin, Noah Hoffeld on cello, Kyle Esposito on bass and electiric guitar, and Curtis Bahn on dilruba and sitar. Co-produced with Julie Last for Mantrology/Ishwari Music. (2010)  More info here.

That’s our Five for the Ride today.  What’s playing in your car?

(Oh, and the baby-faced rookie cop?  He let me off with a warning.  Maybe it was the music…)

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