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.
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.
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