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SRI Kirtan Sruti Ram Ishwari @ Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comProject: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $13,000
Deadline: July 19, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT
Contribute  Here NOW!
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend has grown as record labels have cut back and artists have to fund projects themselves.

The Artists

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.

Ishwari of SRI Kirtan Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comSruti 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.

Sruti Ram of SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.comTogether, 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…)

The Project

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.”

Sruti Ram Ishwari SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com

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!

Please spread the word in this final week by sharing this post on social media.

Contribute to SRI Kirtan’s Indiegogo Campaign
Listen to SRI Kirtan’s Music
Visit www.srikirtan.com for more

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

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Previous articles in this series:
Jim Beckwith
Brenda McMorrow
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

Kirtan, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comNo, this is NOT a blog professing to proclaim the “best wallah” or the “best music” or the best anything at Shakti Fest, the Bhakti Fest franchise’s spring fling in honor of the Divine Feminine.  Choosing a best kirtan artist would be like proclaiming azure blue or burnt orange to be the “best” color in the rainbow.  Like the vast palette of hues on Earth, there is a vast range of kirtan “moods,” from soft and prayerful to raucously ecstatic, from pared-down and traditional to full-on electrified rock-out.  Who am I to say what’s “best”?  That’s a deeply personal opinion based on what resonates with any one of us.  I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean it’s “best” for you…

And besides all that, I never met a kirtan I didn’t like, so picking a few “best” ones is nothing short of impossible for this chanthead.

Instead, I’m focusing on a few of the many moments during the course of Shakti Fest when my heart was touched deeply enough to fill this old softie cynic’s eyes with salty tears, or make me laugh out loud, or simply smile inwardly at the sweetness of it all.  So here are my top 12 bhavalicious moments from Shakti Fest, in no particular order…

1) Meeting bhakti friends for the first time and getting hugged like they were your best friends for life.  Does that ever get old?

Dave Stringer set, Shakti Fest Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com2) The little pod of princesses who climbed up on stage to dance and prance about during Dave Stringer’s set and summarily stole the show.  And Stringer’s “let it flow” response when asked if it was okay if they stayed.  (Personally, my only problem with the adorable little girls was that they were blocking my view of Steve Postell; how could I ogle my guitar hero with a 7-year-old sweetie in the way?)

Steve Postell, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by theBhaktiBeat.com3) And since we’re on the subject, Steve Postell. Period. Because when a celebrated electric-guitar rock star from L.A. comes out to Bhakti Fest to play with every headliner plus a few others, that’s worth crowing about (and yeah, even ogling over).  Stay in the bhav, Steve, we need you here.  Please.

4) Manoj, the Deity Wallah, offering his humor-laced teachings about God and gods during the set changes. “God is not external,” he said, “He is not some old bearded guy in the clouds with an anger-management problem.”  LOL.

Vijay Krsna & Sarasvati Dasi, Kirtaniyas, @ Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat5) Vijay Krsna welling up with tears on stage when he started to talk about his guru.  Unable to continue speaking, his beloved wife Sarasvati Dasi, with a pump of the harmonium, seamlessly stepped into the silence while her husband composed himself.  Divine union.

Wah, Bhakti fest 2014 May, by TheBhaktiBeat.com6) Wah! shimmering like the Bhakti Goddess of Love that she is in an iridescent plum-colored Gopi skirt and a big black bad-ass bass, reminding us all that if we want love, we have to give love.  “Are you loved?”  She yelled out, then answered with another question:  “Are you LOVE??”  (This simple exhortation is what unleashed the tears in me for the first time — but not the last — of the fest.)  The crowd swooned.

“You’ve got to give love in order to receive love.  With every step you take, give love, receive love. Give love, receive love. Give love, receive love…”

7) Story time with Jai Uttal during his “playdate” (his answer to a “workshop”), when he told of chanting at Maharaj-ji Neem Karoli Baba’s temple in India in the 1970’s.  Each time the chant faded to silence — even after 6 hours of chanting — Baba’s voice from a back room would chime in, yelling: “Keep singing!” and the chanters would start anew.   Jai’s playdate ended with a long, exuberant Radhe chant, which eventually slowed and faded to blessed silence.  That is, until a voice from somewhere in the back yelled out: “Keep singing!”  Wait, was that…?

Larisa Stow Shakti Tribe @ Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com8) Larisa Stow, Shakti Tribe Goddess, sitting at the edge of the stage and gathering her adoring fans close around her like a mother gathers her children to her chest, palpable love flowing in all directions.  Whatcha gonna do with all that love?

9) Cooper Madison, extolling the virtues of the space between the chants.  “I love that silence at the end of the chant,” he said from the helm of his new bhakti band, the Gandharvas.  “It’s almost as if you work the whole song just to get to that point of silence.  Then it’s just you and the Divine for a moment.”  mmmmmm, yes.

Saul David Raye, Bhakti Fest May 2104, by TheBhaktiBeat.com10) Saul David Raye, pumping a harmonium with a bumper sticker on it that proclaimed LOVE WINS, staying gracefully composed and present despite the sound problems that plagued his set (and others).  His mike was out for a good half of his set, cutting in and out loudly much of the rest of the time.  He never lost his focus, never once lashed out in annoyance at the sound guys who seemed to be taking their sweet time getting the problem fixed.  He just kept singing and smiling and pumping the harmonium we could barely hear.  Yep, Love Wins.

Jaya Lakshmi & Ananda @ Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com11) This scene, from Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda’s luminescent love-feast of a set:

12) Gina Salá raising her hoarse-from-the-desert voice (she was on stage a lot) one final time during sivasana at Saul David Raye’s Post-Intensive to lull us all into sweet oblivion with a little diddy that went like this:

“I Love You, I Love You, I Love You….Just as You Are.”

And with that little love song came the tears again for this bhakti-fried chanter.  Could there be a more perfect way to end this Shakti love Fest than a reminder that we are all love? Just as we are.

Now there’s something to take home with you…

OK, your turn.  What was your favorite part of Shakti Fest?  Or of any Bhakti Fest you’ve ever been to… The Bhakti Beat wants to know!

Jai Jai Shri Radheeeeeeeeee!

K.d. Devi Dasi @ Bhakti Fest May 2104, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Also See:
Shakti Fest Moments” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shakti Fest Finale” 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’
Connect with The Bhakti Beat!
Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+

Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.


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



Closing Out Bhakti Fest West 2012, by TheBhaktiBeat.comDo you have any of these symptoms? 

1. You wake up humming the Hanuman Chalisa.

2. You’ve exceeded your internet data allowance watching kirtan livestreams.

3. You have at least one pet — or possibly a child — named after a Hindu deity.

4. Your family whispers behind your back because every time they see you you’re quietly singing Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

5. When the Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, you try to convince them that Jesus and Krishna are the same…because, you know, Maharaji said so. 

Neem Karoli Baba by Balramdas, from ImageEvents.com, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com

6. You know who Maharaji is.

7. You secretly fantasize about becoming a roadie for Krishna Das. Or Dave Stringer.  Or Girish…

8. You’ve ever been stopped for speeding with a kirtan CD blasting in your car.

9.  You dumped your boyfriend/girlfriend because they kept complaining that the only “music” you ever play is kirtan.

10. You’ve emptied your savings account buying plane tickets and weekend passes to Bhakti Fest, Omega Chant, and any other kirtan festival, retreat or event you can get to.

If any of these signs describe you, you might be a kirtan addict.  There is no cure, but don’t despair:  the treatment is simple… 

Chant more.

Whatever you do, just…

Keep Calm and Bhav On by TheBhaktiBeat.com

And follow The Bhakti Beat, of course!

Sunset at shakti fest by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Kamaniya Devi

Can we just say how much we love livestream?  We envision a day when every festival and concert, kirtans included, is streamed free to living rooms and laptops everywhere. With perfect audio.  And a strong, steady feed.  And — since we’re dreaming — professional camerawork that zooms in on the action.  While we’re at it, could we get a caption here and there identifying featured musicians? (Who was that on violin with Karnamrita Dasi anyway?)

Until that vision is reality, we’ll take what we can get.  What we got yesterday from Shakti Fest — thanks to New World Kirtan and Kitzie Stern for persevering with the technicalities — was two full sets of the bhav in Joshua Tree, Dasi and Jai Uttal, plus smatterings of choppy, wildly fluctuating audio from Saul David Raye, Deepak Ramapriyan, and David Newman’s sets earlier in the day.  By the time Dasi took the stage, it seemed like the bugs had been worked out on the stream AND video had been added.  Not only did it sound better, but we had a back-row view of the action.  We’re glad we stuck it out and kept listening…

Here’s the link for the livestream to Shakti Fest (May 17-19), which starts at 10 a.m. daily and will continue until the bitter(sweet) grand finale.

Shyamdas at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

From the stage to the altar. (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

This is, of course, the first Bhakti Fest without Shyamdas, the beloved “elder statesman of bhakti,” as emcee Shiva Baum described him last night.  Normally, Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav here, both behind the scenes and stage center, particularly during the legendary final set, where all the wallahs and musicans crowd the stage for a final Hare Krishna mahamantra.  (Check out the action from last fall’s finale in the video below.)  While he may not have been there in body, it was clear from listening in on the goings-on in the high desert that Shyamdas was on everyone’s minds, and in everyone’s hearts.

In every set that we caught, the artist paused to say a few words, share a personal remembrance, or dedicate a song to Shyamdas.  Jai Uttal devoted a Sri Radhe chant in what he called “a sad melody” to Shyam; Dasi closed her set with one of Shyam-ji’s favorites, The Song of Sweetness, which glorifies the nectar of Krishna’s form and love.  Govindas, one half of Govindas and Radhe and the founder of the Bhakti Yoga Shala, Santa Monica’s temple to kirtan, spoke at length between sets about his time “sitting at the feet” of Shyamdas.

The master of Hari Katha was eternally present.

Jai Uttal & friends, by Bhakti Fest, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Jai Uttal & Friends (Photo courtesy of Bhakti Fest)

Just before Uttal played, Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein came onstage to pay tribute to his dear friend in words and a three-minute slide show with an audio track of Shyamdas being interviewed in India just weeks before his death.  Putting it together, sifting through images and recordings of Shyamdas, “has been tearing me up emotionally every single day,” Silberfein said.  He told of the Bhakti Yatra group tour to India in January, for which Shyamdas was a very large part of the itinerary but never made it to the entourage waiting for him.

You may have heard the story before…but Silberfein added some new details.  He said Shyamdas called him just before they were slated to rendezvous saying he was suffering a breakout of shingles and wouldn’t be able to join the group of 25 or so Westerners who had traveled to India fully expecting a Shyamdas-led tour of Vrindavan, the holy city in India that Shyam so loved (and was practically the town’s adopted mayor , from what we’ve heard). Instead, Shyamdas stayed in Goa to rest and recuperate; the motorcycle accident that ended his life happened a few days later.

Altar at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

K.d. Devi Dasi and Prajna Vierra tending the Main Stage altar (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

The audio on the slide show dropped out from the livestream feed so it was difficult to catch, but Shyamdas was telling a funny story involving Uttal and Krishna Das, something to do with Uttal’s assertion that KD was too “masculine to be a Gopi.” (Who can fill us in on the details?)  Whatever it was that was lost in cyberspace, it was enough to elicit lots of guffaws from the audience, as well as a good-natured comment from Uttal, who joked that Shyamdas was “hounding me even from the grave.”

Mohan Baba, Shyamdas’s friend of 40 years and one of the close satsang who was with him the night he passed, told of how Shyamdas — in his final hours of life after the accident — was “totally focused inward.”

“He didn’t say a word and was just sitting there calmly, in an intense devotional space,” Mohan said.

One of the things he loved about Shyamdas, Mohan said, was that “he was just a regular guy.  He was not a swami, not a renunciate.  He lived a householder’s life, and was totally fixated on the divine lila.”  Even though he came from a wealthy Connecticut family, “he turned his back on all that, choosing to live very simply.”

chanters showing love for gina sala by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

During Gina Sala’s set (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

“There’s a big lesson for all of us there,” Mohan said, “to live life as fully as you can, every day.”

Just when you thought you might make it through this tearjerker tribute without breaking down, Shiva Baum broke down, his voice cracking as he introduced Jai Uttal’s set.

“Shyamdas is irreplaceable, and he will be with us always,” Baum said before turning it over to Uttal   “His love blankets this entire festival.”

Here’s the video from last fall’s Bhakti Fest, with Shyamdas steering the bhav in the festival-closing raucous, windblown, stage-lights-about-to-topple all-wallah finale.  Through it all, Shyamdas just kept singing to Krishna.

Watch the Livestream here.
Shakti Fest kirtan schedule
See our coverage from last year’s Shakti Fest:
You Want Shakti? Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
Loco for Lokah & the Bhakti Dance
On-Stage Proposal a Bhakti Fest First
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69

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It’s been the subject of scholarly study, doomsday prophesizing and New Age philosophizing alike for…well, pretty much forever.  It’s inspired countless books,  millions of articles, a major motion picture, and more than a few good cartoons.  Whatever your beliefs are about 12.21.12 — the end of the world, the beginning of a new world, or none of the above — one thing is clear:  the occasion is being marked worldwide with consciousness-raising events focused on prayer, meditation, and yes, kirtan.  Along with more than a few end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it blow-out bashes.  

It’s no wonder: 12.21.12 is not only the much-ballyhooed date on which the Mayan calendar supposedly ends (but not really); it is also the winter solstice — the longest night of the year and the turning point for the “return of light” by way of gradually lengthening days.  Some theorists suggest the date coincides with Earth’s crossing a central nexxus in the Milky Way galaxy, signifying the end (or beginning) of an epoch in the orbit of our sun around the galaxy’s spiraling vortex.

There are as many theories out there about what 12.21.12 means as you care to dig for (30.5 million Google results in .24 seconds).  One recurring theme is the idea of a kind of global metanoia, a spiritual transformation or rise in consciousness like the world hasn’t seen in say, 5,125 years (the length of this last period in the Mayan timekeeping system).  Within the “conscious community,” 12.21.12 has become, it would seem, a lightning rod for stepping up the call for global unity and action to recognize our interconnectedness and avert ecological disaster on our home planet, a fate that seems to be racing toward us with accelerating speed. 

With that in mind, we set out to find out what was happening in the bhakti community.  We didn’t have to look far…

Worldwide Events

Golden Age Global Kirtan

Quite simply, kirtan will be everywhere on 12.21.12.  From every corner of the globe, chanters will be beating their drums and raising their voices in mantra throughout the day, all day, all night.   Championed by NoCal bhakta K.d. Devi Dasi and the non-profit Kuli Mela Association, whose mission is to promote and preserve bhakti yoga philosophy, Golden Age Global Kirtan links chanters and Krishna communities worldwide for a common gathering celebrating “a shared experience of Loving Service, Bhakti Yoga.” 

It has been a volunteer, person-to-person effort, Devi Dasi said, using social networking for spiritual activism. “On a deeper level we are activating a network of real people, real hearts to be connected, not on-line this time, but in our hearts, body, mind and spirit…in COMMUNITY!” she said.  As of Wednesday, some 25 countries had signed on to participate in Global Kirtan — with groups of ‘2 or 200’ people — and the list was growing fast as the news went viral in the bhakti world.   

“This is not simply each of us in our own corner praying,” Devi Dasi said. “This is a grass-roots call out to one another, as brothers and sisters, activating our communities with unified intentions, beyond borders, countries, or organization.”   For more info and to add your kirtan to the list, visit the Kulimela Assocation’s page on facebook.

UNIFY Global Moment of Peace

This worldwide effort links events around the globe in an umbrella event being called simply, UNIFY.  Highlights are a globally synchronized “Solstice Moment of Peace” at 11:11 GMT (6:11 a.m. EST) and a “Global Unification Moment” at 20:00 GMT (3 p.m. EDT), where people will gather the world over for a silent prayer, meditation or ceremony with the intention of uniting for world peace.  From a Unify.org press release:

The hope behind the ‘Unify’ idea is that joining in with these events will demonstrate that people have more desire to participate in something positive, than to dwell on the doom and gloom of apocalyptic predictions. Unify.org is serving as a hub for these events, including helping organize meditation flash mobs in city centers to live-streaming ceremonies at Mexican archaeological sites with hundreds of thousands in attendance to coordinating an interfaith moment in Jerusalem between major world religions.

Unify.org will live-stream footage of key events on the day including festivals, ceremonies and events from Jerusalem, The Pyramids at Giza, Stonehenge and Glastonbury, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Teotihuacan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, Lake Titicaca, Cape Town, Byron Bay, Australia and even Antarctica.  For details on the movement and individual events, see www.unify.org.

Global Convergence at Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Global Convergence is a 3-day adventure retreat to Giza, Egypt (and a continuing Nile River cruise afterward) that culminates with a dawn-breaking ceremony at the Great Pyramid on 12.21.12, which will be live-streamed via www.unify.org.  Details of the ceremony are sketchy on the Global Convergence website, but as far as we can tell, it will feature “a selection of the top electronic music producers and DJ’s from the west coast’s music scene” as well as world-music pioneers Arjun Baba and Fallah Fi Allah, who never fail to rock the stage at Bhakti Fest with their high-voltage brand of Sufi Qawwali music.  Presented by L.A. electronic-music producers The Do Lab; for more details, see www.globalconvergence2012.com.

Best Bhakti Bets

(If we had a teleporter and could go anywhere, we’d beam in on these first — right after Arjun Baba’s set at the Great Pyramid, that is.)

Kirtaniyas at New BrajAt the top of the list is the first-ever New Braj 24-Hour Kirtan at the community of Krishna devotees in New Braj Village in central California, near Sequoia National Park.  Spearheaded by The Kirtaniyas, the internationally beloved foursome of “Krishna kids” Vijay Krsna, Sarasvati, Rasika Dasi and Nitai Prem, this kirtan immersion will span 12 hours each day Friday and Saturday.  Rumor has it there may be a live-stream of the chanting (the next best thing to beaming there); stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page for up-to-the-minute updates.  Starts at 10 a.m., New Braj Village, CA.  Details here.

SRI Kirtan & World Peace in the Catskills: It will be mantras and meditation in the mountains at this weekend retreat featuring Sruti Ram and Ishwari, the Woodstock, NY duo behind SRI Kirtan, who will lead ecstatic chant as part of Friday evening’s program.  Go for the night or the whole weekend by joining the World Peace Meditation Retreat at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, N.Y.  Learn more.

Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe in Phoenix: Can you say transformance? Any show with this band will transform you; Larisa Stow is passion personified, love without limits, delivering a wake-up call to anyone who will listen. Can you hear it? The Tribe takes their mantra rock to Phoenix this weekend, kicking it off with a celebration of ceremony and community with drum, flute, song and dance that they are headlining Friday night. On Saturday, Stow will lead a Mantra Playshop session, all part of the 12.21.12 festivities of the non-profit Fusion Foundation. Find out more.

Bhakti Blessings Coast-to-Coast


Venice, CA:  Rebirth of the Light Winter Solstice Movement Meditation with Shiva Rea, Dave Stringer, Global Sonic DJ Fabian Alsultany , Donna De Lory, Spring Groove, Yehoshua Brill and more. 2-10 p.m., Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, Venice, CA.  More info.

Los Angeles, CA:  Celebrating the New Age, an evening of “live yoga, live music, live food and live people” featuring multi-instrumentalist Sheela Bringi and Clinton Patterson (producer of Bringi’s debut CD in-the-works), with Leonice Shinneman, playing blues/raga/kirtan.  6:30 p.m. at Peace Yoga Gallery, Los Angeles.  Details.

Richmond, CA:  Blessings for the New Millennium,a multicultural evening of mantra, music and sacred ceremony, featuring Daniel Paul and Gina Salá, who are just finishing up their West Coast storm tour to launch their collaborative CD, Tabla Mantra. Includes Sound Healing with  Jan Cercone, Taiko drumming with Eden Aoba Taiko, and of course, tabla mantra with Paul & Salá.  Find out more.

San Rafael, CA:  Cosmic Dance Party with MC Yoga & special guests.  Described as an “Intergalactic Planetary Dance Party In Northern California to celebrate the end of the Mayan Calendar, the Winter Solstice, and anything else that makes you feel like dancing.”  That about covers it…and dance you will want to:  with Robin Livingston on deck and Amanda Devi on visuals, this threesome pumps out high-voltage, bass-heavy tracks from MC’s latest CD, Pilgrimage, that you can’t help but move to.  Get the scoop.

Vancouver, BC: Mantra, kirtan and labyrinth meditation featuring the World Peace Flame, organized by Sandra Leigh and Give Peace a Chant Kirtan Community. 7 p.m., Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Vancouver, BC. Details here.

Seattle, WA: Dharma Sound is presenting kirtan at 7 p.m., Samudra Yoga, Bremerton, WA.


Rosemont, PA:  Stay Strong 2 Release Party and Winter Solstice kirtan celebration with David Newman, Mira and The Beloved.  This is the official release party for Stay Strong 2: You Can Count On Me.  The evening is a benefit for The Bridge Foundation and Global Green USA.  8 p.m., The New Leaf Club, Rosemont, PA.  Details here

Boston, MATom Lena is hosting a special Solstice edition of his regularly scheduled Kitchari Kirtan, featuring Beantown chantress Irene Solea. The evening will open with Shakti Rowan leading the KK Posse in a Solstice Ritual to welcome the new earth. 7 p.m., Cambridge, MA.  Details here.

Bedford, NY:  Satya Franche & MA Kirtan will add their “vibration to the celestial vortex” for holiday chanting and potluck gathering, beginning 7 p.m. at Transcendence at Sun Raven, Bedford, NY.  More info.

West Hartford, CT:  Celebrate the Winter Solstice with friends and family in a gathering that includes the ancient Homa Hotra fire ceremony to “let go of that which we no longer need and manifest all that we envision for ourselves in the future.”  And of course, there will be chanting and dancing.  8:30 p.m.; West Hartford Yoga.  Details here.

Bennington, VT:  DEVI presents an evening of Solstice kirtan with special guest, Bill ‘Jambavan’ Pfleging.  DEVI’s just-released CD, “The Path of Love,” will be available for purchase.  6 p.m., Karma Cat Yoga, Bennington, VT.  More info.


Minneapolis, MN:  The Midwest gets a head start on 12.21.12 with a celebration of mantra by Heartland bhaktas Sitari and Kalyana with Pavan Kumar (aka Susan Shehata, Colleen Buckman and Keith Helke), who are releasing their first self-titled CD on 12.20.  The evening includes a guided “clearing” meditation and a celebration of the return of the sun, and also features the music of Blue Soul Caravan and special guest Jill James. Long-time champions of midwestern bhav, this Minneapolis-based band (which also includes Will Kemperman) made its debut at Bhakti Fest Midwest this summer.  Details here.

Green Bay, WI:  Erika King and Be Alford team up for live music and yin yoga for a Winter Solstice Celebration at the Studio for Well-Being in Neenah, WI.  More info.

Chicago, IL:  The Bodhi Spiritual Center is hosting Birth of the Golden Age Celebration, a two-hour program including a Q & A led by Mariana Gigea on the Awakened State, a Crystal Bowl Meditation, dancing, and hands-on blessings for awakening in the tradition of  Amma Bhagavan, founder of the Oneness University. Find out more.

Your turn: tell us where you’ll be chanting on this long-anticipated day.  Will you be celebrating, praying, hiding your head in the sand…?


A musical match made in bhakti heaven? Tabla maestro Daniel Paul and Seattle-based songstress Gina Salá have set sail on their first road trip together to launch Paul’s latest CD, Tabla Mantra: Songs of Love and Rhythmic Rapture, which features Salá’s vocal prowess on almost every track.  (Jai Uttal, C.C. White, Prajna Vieira, Steve Gorn, and lots more make appearances as well.)  The tour, begun Thanksgiving weekend in Salá’s home ‘hood, takes them straight down the West Coast from Portland, Ore. (Nov. 30) all the way to San Diego (Dec. 16), and back up to San Francisco (Dec. 22).  Nineteen stops in 29 days — whew! 

A Combination With Chemistry

Photo by Julie Dittmar

Both Paul and Salá grew up in musical families, and both have studied Indian classical music extensively.  Paul is best known for his tabla magic but is a classically trained vocalist as well, and this “hidden talent,” as Salá described it, is on display in Tabla Mantra(He plays a pretty mean harmonica too.)  Salá’s deep passion for helping people realize “the power and pleasure in their own unique voices” has led her to teachers worldwide. She is a professional voice coach, Sanskrit tutor, singer (in two dozen languages!), and healer who regularly leads workshops and retreats in India, Mexico and other locales.

Rhythmic Rapture and Vocal Velvet

@ Bhakti Fest 2011 (Photo courtesy of Gina Salá)

Tabla Mantra lives up to its subtitle.  Blending haunting, multi-layered vocal harmonies with soft, melodic instrumentalism driven by Paul’s tabla and punctuated throughout with ripples of tarana — kind of an Indian classical version of scat — the music wraps around you and envelopes you like a lover’s embrace.  It has a dreamy, ethereal, even other-worldly feel, a soundscape where voice and rhythm swirl and rise and fall away to a whisper in a seamless circular interweaving of melody and mantra. 

This is a disc that should really be listened to — not just dropped into the background while you’re doing dishes.  Settle down and experience it.  Let the notes sink in deep.  Chant along with the mantras that ebb and flow like waves through the melodies.  If you don’t get goosebumps, check your pulse.

Tabla Mantra is Paul’s fourth CD, and his second “kirtan album” (the first two discs were instrumental, featuring his tabla tarang — a full set of 16 tabla tuned to different notes of the musical scale).  Here the foundation is kirtan fused with tarana, a particular type of classical Hindustani vocal composition with roots in the mystic poetry and music of ancient Persia.  Tarana is often described as akin to the scat riffs of jazz in its melodic repetition of seed syllables and sacred sounds that, to most of us, sound like nonsense words — albeit highly rhythmic ones.  It has a very distinctive flavor, and crops up again and again throughout the disc, interweaved with layer upon layer of vocal harmonies and mantras, fugue-like.

Tabla Mantra Collaborators

Paul learned tarana from his vocal teacher, the legendary Ali Akbar Khan, the “Emporer of Melody,” to whom the CD is dedicated.  If you’ve seen Daniel Paul play at all, you’ve no doubt heard bits and pieces of his brand of “drum-scat” during sets with Jai Uttal, Shyamdas, The GuruGanesha Band, C.C. White, Salá, or others. 

‘The One I Set Out to Make at 19’

Tabla Mantra has been a long time coming, Paul told The Bhakti Beat.  “Sometimes I jokingly think to myself that this CD is the one that I set out to make when I was 19 and first starting to study Indian classical music,” he said.  “I didn’t know anything about Indian music at the time; I thought I was just going to go study for a month or two and bring it back into my Western music. Nine years later I finally left, and it’s kind of surprising that I never did record this kind of music until now.  I feel like I’ve finally come full circle.”

Gina Salá: Power Vocals

He said he started composing and recording for Tabla Mantra three years ago.  “When I first started writing the material, I knew that I needed to find just the right voice, so in the process I tried a lot of voices.  I recorded a few friends on melody, then I recorded Prajna [Vieira] and C.C. [White], then finally I ran into Gina, and she had just that right Indian inflection and the ability to bring what I had been envisioning all along.”  Salá, he said, “is really the first person I’ve run into who could sing tarana with me… Without her, I think I may never have gotten [this CD] done.”

Master Tablist Meets Master Vocalist

The two met just three years ago at Bhakti Fest in California.  Paul was accompanying Jai Uttal on tabla, as he has for the last 20 years or so.  Salá was there performing for the very first time, even being introduced as “the best kirtan singer you’ve never heard of.”  The seeds for their collaboration were planted during her set, with Paul watching intently from the sidelines,  curious to hear for himself the singer everyone had been buzzing about…

Well, here, see how they tell the story:


By Bhakti Fest this past September, they were like old friends.  (I ran into Paul in the Palm Springs airport not once, but twice — before and after Bhakti Fest — where he excitedly filled me in on the collaboration.)  They had played some gigs together in the Northwest. They were recording his CD and beginning work on hers (coming next Spring).  They were planning their West Coast storm tour and a week-long kirtan & yoga retreat in Maui, near his long-time home.  And when Salá took the main stage for what has become a regular rise-and-shine spot on the Bhakti Fest line-up, Paul was right there beside her, surrounded by tabla of every size and shape. 

Here’s a little taste of their tarana magic, from our interview and Bhakti Fest:



Listen to & Purchase Tabla Mantra: Songs of Love and Rhythmic Rapture
West Coast Tour Information & Schedule
Daniel & Gina’s Maui Kirtan & Yoga Retreat (Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2013)
Daniel Paul’s website
Gina Salá’s website

 You might also enjoy:

Wallahs to Watch: Bountiful Brooklyn Bhav Births New Bhakti Band, Kirtan Soul Revival (Videos)
Wallah to Watch:  Songstress & Classical Dance Artist Jai-Jagdeesh Dazzles at Sat Nam Fest (Videos)
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set?  Midwest Wallah to Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)





David Newman (Durga Das)

Project:  Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $25,000
Deadline:  Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
Raised as of 10/30: $15,257
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series (more article links at bottom) on crowd-funding, the new buzzword in the music business, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  

The Artist

In David Newman, aka Durga Das, kirtan meets singer/songwriter.  The marriage has been a prolific one, with Newman well on his way to album Nos. 8 (a remix due in early 2013) and 9 (the album currently being funded).  In the 11 years since his first self-produced CD, Soul Freedom, Newman’s visibility and popularity on the kirtan scene has risen steadily, each new release further showcasing his songwriting chops and talent for seamlessly mixing traditional Sanskrit mantras with original English lyrics evoking hope, unity, and devotion.

Kickin' it up at Bhakti Fest 2012

Today, Newman is one of kirtan’s most sought-after touring artists — he tours relentlessly worldwide — and, with wife Mira on percussion and back-up vocals, has become a favorite at chant festivals large and small.  He was a yogi before he was a bhakta, having opened his Yoga on Main studio in Philadelphia 20 years ago, long before yoga was the craze it is today.  He’s also an activist and master collaborator with a knack for circling the kirtan troops in support of environmental causes, as he has with Stay Strong, the popular single and video that raised funds for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill, and the soon-to-be-released Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me, which supports construction of “green” schools in needy communities (more on that below).

The Project

Newman has turned to IndieGogo, the popular crowd-funding website, to raise cash for the production of a new studio CD tentatively slated for late 2013 release.  The CD will include two or three original English songs, Newman told The Bhakti Beat, as well as “lots of chanting” in the more traditional vein.  In a departure from his last release, Stars, in which he and producer Bill Moriarty crafted the tracks and brought in musicians one at a time to add layers, the new CD will be recorded with a group of musicians playing together live in the studio. 

Axemen: with David Watts and Philippo Franchini

The band will include Brenda McMorrow and Emy Berti (vocals), Philippo Franchini (guitar), David Watts (bass), Corey Sokoloff (percussion) and Eli Salzman (keys), in addition to Mira on percussion and vocals.  Moriarty will produce.  A recording studio has been booked for early January to lay down the tracks.  Newman said most of the material for the as yet-untitled record is already written — and there are a couple pieces in particular that he is very enthusiastic to record — but he’s also leaving room for improvisation in the studio.  And with that group of musicians, improv is likely to spell magic…

Here’s Newman singing a solo version of the title track from Stars at Bhakti Fest in September:

Newman: Crowd-Funding is the ‘New Paradigm’

Long before he was a yogi or a bhakta, and even before he went to law school (yeah, he did that too), Newman worked for a stint in the L.A. music business — back when the music business was a very different animal. Today, he said, record labels no longer make enough money on physical CD sales to justify forking over a chunk of money in advance for an artist to make a new record. “This leaves the burden on the artist to foot that bill,” he told The Bhakti Beat.  In the beginning, he said he “definitely had a resistence to reaching out to my community to support me in this process,” but he has embraced it as a “new paradigm in the relationship between the artist and the listener.”

“This is a way for artists to say to the community: ‘If this music is important in your life, here is a way you can support its continued existence,'” Newman said.  “Ultimately, the music really belongs to the person who is listening to it and who is touched by it, so it’s like everybody is pooling in to bring forward this offering in all of our lives.”  Accepting the contributions from fans, he said, “has been kind of like a yoga for me, to just receive it and say thank you.”

More News

Remix Bliss: Newman just announced that Stars is being remixed by veteran composer and music mixologist Krishna Venkatesh and will be released in early 2013 as ReBliss: Stars Revisited.  Remixed releases are a growing trend in mantra music — Donna De Lory and Girish have offered remixes recently, and Srikalogy has a “Kirtan Sessions” series featuring funked-up remixes of mantras, to name just three — but this will be a first for Newman, who sees it as a “different vehicle for people to experience my music.” It will have a “trippy, groovy” feel, he said, that he hopes will appeal to a younger audience.

Banner for Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo (credit: Jenni Young)

Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me:  The sequel to the Stay Strong charitable project that Newman initiated in 2011 is imminent, with a single called “You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo” and video to be released in mid-November.  Newman gave The Bhakti Beat a sneak peek at the joyride of a jam session where the song and video was recorded (at L.A.’s legendary Village Recorder studio) with an all-star cast of mostly SoCal bhaktas — and believe us, you won’t want to miss this.  The song was written by Newman and Donna De Lory and features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans — yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike.  (See this video from Bhakti Fest West for a mellower version of the song.)  All proceeds from the digital-only single go to Global Green’s Green School programUPDATERead our article on the Stay Strong release.

A short sweet performance of “Like Rain,” (from To Be Home CD) at Shakti Fest in May:

Links and Deets

To contribute:  http://www.indiegogo.com/davidnewmanCD?c=home
Newman’s website:  www.davidnewmanmusic.com
Stay Strong website:  www.staystrongproject.com


Stay tuned for more in this continuing series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  Please contact bpatoine@aol.com if you have a suggestion for an artist to feature.



Reason to smile...

Ed. Note:  Crowd-funding is the new buzzword in music production — and it’s taking off in the kirtan world right in step with other musical genres.  In this new model, artists are bypassing the traditional route of funding new releases — contracting with a record label — in favor of reaching out directly to their fan base to finance the high cost of professionally recording and producing a CD.  In return for their contributions, fans receive “perks” that range from an advance download of the CD (for, say, $10 or $15) all the way up to a private concert and Executive Producer credit (for $5,000-$10,000, typically).

In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the crowd-funding efforts underway now in the mantra music world.


Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band

Project:  Full-length CD
Fundraising Goal:  $30,000
Deadline:  October 29, 2012
Raised as of October 27: $28,745 (so close!)
Update: The band reached its goal one day ahead of the deadline!  You can still support the effort; all additional funds will go toward sharing the album with a wider worldwide audience and supporting an extensive CD release tour.

The Band

We have yet to meet anyone who has experienced the N’awlins-flavored bhav of this trio of musicians and hasn’t come away an instant fan.  For three people, they produce BIG sound.   Favorites at festivals everywhere — they were the first kirtan band ever invited to play at the New Orleans Jazz Festival — they are sought-after touring artists and hometown heroes in NOLA. 

Snake charmer Gwendolyn Colman

Bhakti yogi Sean Johnson leads with the harmonium and soulful vocals laced with dreamy poetry and original lyrical riffs deftly tucked into traditional chants.  Innovative percussionist and singer Gwendolyn Colman is one of bhakti’s most colorful characters, typically sporting a flourescent plume atop her fiery red braids and with a green rubber snake dangling from her mike stand (we know there’s a story behind that snake…).  And then there is tall, quiet axeman Alvin Young, a New Orleans institution who has graced the stage with jazz greats Wynton and Branford Marsalis and many others.  He plays with intensity, head down, resolutely plucking his bass and laying the foundation for rhythmic alchemy.

The Project

Alvin Young. Intense.

The goal is a full-length studio CD on a par, quality-wise, with the band’s last CD, Devaloka (a joy–get it if you haven’t).  Expected release date is fall/winter 2013.  The new CD’s title is as yet undetermined; Johnson told The Bhakti Beat: “We find that the name usually reveals itself once we’re in the studio, inside the process of creating the music.”  But, he added: “The theme is clear:  Unity — celebrating the connection between global cultures and spiritual traditions through music.”

If you’ve seen SJ&WLB live in the last year or so, you’ve likely gotten a good taste for the cross-cultural feast the new record promises.  The band’s fundraising page says it will include a number of songs from their current tours, including the anthem-like Unity (Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu), which was released as a music video this summer; the gospel classic I’ll Fly Away; the Sufi chant La ilaha illa Allah; The Way Of Love (Jai Kali Ma); I Will Rise Again; Hare Krishna; Ramachandra, and more.   All except for I’ll Fly Away (see video at bottom) are original compositions, and the lyrics include mantras from different spiritual traditions and the poetry of Rumi.

Here’s a live take of Unity that we caught at Shakti Fest this spring…


Message from Sean Johnson

“This year, after much thought and discussion, Alvin and Gwendolyn and I decided to make a leap of faith and to move away from the traditional music label model on our next album.  The biggest question in making this decision was how to fund a high-quality, full-length professional studio recording on par with our last release Devaloka and get it out there in the world without the support of a record label? We had heard encouraging stories from many bands from around the world who were having great success with a new model called crowd-funding, in which they invited friends and fans to make contributions toward the high production costs of their projects in exchange for gifts and perks, including downloads of the album once it’s completed. With an open mind, we launched a campaign on the popular crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com in July.  Can you help us rally to meet our goal?”
Here is the song that Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band typically close their sets with, and which inevitably gets a lot of people teary-eyed.  (It’s making me cry right now….read the comment on its YouTube page and you’ll see why.)

The Links and Deets

Stay tuned for more featured artists in this new series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  And please support your favorite artists by contributing and sharing the news.