Sruti Ram and Ishwari are SRI Kirtan. Based in the heart of New York’s Bhajan Belt in Woodstock, this powerhouse pair of bhaktas already have two stellar CDs under their belt (“Fire of Devotion” and “Live Your Love”) and are rising stars in the bhakti world. They have been mainstays for years at Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, invariably singing alongside Shyamdas, their long-time friend and collaborator. Shyamdas, the revered Sanskrit scholar, master of Hari Katha and favorite uncle of Western kirtan, knew a good thing when he saw it — and he knew SRI Kirtan to be the real deal, authentic in their devotional service and masterful musicians who can take you deep into quiet meditation or raise you up in ecstatic dance.
Sruti Ram and Ishwari were part of Shyamdas’ inner satsang circle when he was home in New York, were right there next to Shyamji during every one of his famous Bhajan Boats on the Hudson River, and for his epic final performance at Bhakti Fest Midwest in 2012. They organized the first annual Shyamdas Memorial Kirtan last year to celebrate the life and lila of their friend, headlined Ananda Ashram’s Shyamdas tribute, anchored the first Ahimsa Festival at Windham Mountain last fall and will again this fall, and have claimed a coveted spot at Bhakti Fest for their own sets in the past couple of years. Whether playing Bhakti Fest main stage or for an intimate gathering of locals in their hometown ‘hood, SRI Kirtan never fails to rock the bhav.
Together, this pair has several decades of musical experience under their belt, spanning an astounding range of musical genres. Ishwari, a seasoned sound engineer and producer, explored folk, punk rock, opera (yep, opera), and electronica before settling into kirtan. Sruti Ram, who was part of the bhakti brotherhood who traveled to India in the 1960’s to soak in the bhav of Neem Karoli Baba (along with Shyamdas, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and others), has a background in Gregorian chant, opera (yep, opera again), and doo-wop, along with 40-odd years leading kirtan. (He also has some pretty radical stories from rock n’ roll — ask him about Elton John stealing his platform shoes just before going onstage sometime in the 1970’s…)
This will be SRI Kirtan’s third CD, following the rockingly bhavalicious “Live Your Love” in 2010 (which Shyamdas called a “bhakti blast”), and their first foray as a duo, “Fire of Devotion.” CD No. 3 promises to deliver deeper devotion, a reflection of the evolution of their musical partnership. They told The Bhakti Beat in an interview: “We’ve become more comfortable in how we present our music to the public…we’ve become more moody, embracing what the chants actually feel like.”
That certainly is true of the title track we sampled. It (and the CD) will be called “Daga Magi Chal,” a term from the lyrical Braj Bhasha language (“the language of Lord Krishna”) that refers to Krishna’s inimitable swagger, or the way he moves. The song is inspired by the work of one of the Ashta Chaap poets, the 15th century bhakti poets that Shyamdas has brought to life through his translations. It features lyrical English verses written by Ishwari combined with the original Braj Bhasha words, which seem to hold the very vibration of the Supreme Lover Krishna in their tones. We first experienced it via speakerphone from a very rough recording, and even though we could barely hear it among the signal distortions of two cell phones on speakerphone, the frequency of love held within the words and melody cut straight to our soul and left us with goosebumps. No exaggeration.
That track alone is enough to make this CD a must-have. But of course there’s more, drawing from this duo’s rich array of vocal capacities. There will be an ode to Radhe that will transport you to Vrindavan; a Hawaiian style Sita Ram chant dedicated to Ram Dass that will take you straight to Maui; a “more upbeat, more dancey” remix of “Live Your Love,” the title track from the previous CD; two Maha Mantras evoking very different moods, and their signature rockin’ version of the Hanuman Chalisa.
“Daga Maga Chal” will feature guest artists Steve Gorn on bansuri flute, Visvambhar Sheth (Mayapuris) on mridanga, Noah Hoffeld on cello, and Kyle Esposito on bass, along with SriKala Kerel Roach, Avinash and Naren Budhkar adding rhythm. The pair has once again recruited Julie Last (Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones), who produced “Live Your Love,” to co-produce and mix the new CD.
All of which adds up to a CD in the making that you don’t want to miss. A fall 2014 release is anticipated. Why not take a moment right now to pre-order it — and peruse the lineup of great perks SRI Kirtan is offering in exchange for your contribution to this effort?
Help make “Daga Magi Chal” happen by donating to this campaign now!
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