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Bhakti Without Borders by thebhaktibeat.comThe 2016 Grammy nominations were announced this morning and once again, bhakti represents. “Bhakti Without Borders,” the 2015 debut release by Madi Das and 10 female vocalist collaborators, has nabbed the nomination for Best New Age Album, beating out more than 100 other albums in the New Age category. (Read our report on the full list here.)

Also making the short list of New Age nominations is 10-time Grammy-nominated pianist Peter Kater’s “Love,” produced by bhakti stalwart Trish Bowden of Mysterium Music.  “Love” is the latest in a long line of delightful instrumental CDs showcasing Kater’s maestro-esque chops on the ivory keys. Pure magic.

“Bhakti Without Borders” is pure bhakti in the Krishna tradition.  Every track is steeped in tradition straight from the Vaishnava temples in which Madi Das and every one of the female co-vocalists on this disc grew up. Madi Das’ parents met in a Krishna temple in Germany, and he was schooled in Vrindavan, India — “shaved head and all,” as he says. The female vocalists are all second-generation Krishna devotees as well, who grew up singing these bhajans and chanting the Names every day in and out of temple.

In stark contrast to a lot of kirtan out there today, which — for better or worse, depending on the track and one’s perspective — marries Sanskrit with English lyrics or lays ancient mantras over modern pop-influenced melodies, every track on “Bhakti Without Borders” stays true to its roots by sticking to traditional melodies and the original languages (either Sanskrit or Bengali, in this case).  But that’s not to say that these tracks are without modern Western flourishes. “Bhakti Without Borders” was, after all, produced by Dave Stringer, the veteran kirtan wallah who is known for rocking up his own concerts with anything-but-traditional riffs. Stringer plays guitar on every track, Matt Pszonak adds some country rock flourishes with the pedal steel guitar, and classical violinist Tulsi Devi brings some countrified fiddling to the mix.  Stringer describes the music as “a contagious mix of Indian, Celtic, country and bluegrass elements.”

We’d just call it pure bhakti joy, on every track.  Sweet, mellifluous, vocal nectar with just the right instrumentation to not drown out the potency of the sacred words, all imbued with a loving devotional mood that epitomizes what we mean when we say bhavalicious. It’s the bhava.

 

Incidentally, this was Stringer’s first gig producing an album other than his own works — and something tells us he’ll be doing more. Reached by facebook chat this morning just as he touched down in Los Angeles after a long flight from Australia, where he just wrapped a month-long tour, Stringer had not yet heard the Grammy news.  “I’m not even through immigration yet, and it’s gonna be a great day,” he said.  “I think I just started a new career as a record producer with a pretty big bang.” We’d have to agree.  Here on in, he shall be dubbed: “Grammy-nominated Dave Stringer…”

It’s a great day indeed, for all of bhakti.

 

Perhaps the best part about this CD, and the new wave of recognition a Grammy nomination will bring it, is that ALL of the profits from its sale benefit a girls’ school in Vrindavan, the Sandipani Muni School.  The school, a program of Food for Life Vrindavan, provides education, medical care, food and security to some 1,500 young girls who are among the country’s poorest of the poor.  Without the school, these girls would be sold into child labor or worse.  Every sale of “Bhakti Without Borders” benefits these children directly.

On a personal note, it’s taking every ounce of journalistic constraint I can muster to not be screaming this news in ALL CAPS with too many exclamation points.  Yeah, I, Vrinda, am pretty pumped about this one…and not just because this was my dark-horse pick for winning the New Age nomination.  It’s been a favorite go-to CD since the first listen. Because, you know, #ThisisBhakti.

 

The featured vocalists on “Bhakti Without Borders” include well-known Vaishnavis such as NYC-based powerhouse walli Acyuta Gopi and London-based Jahnavi Harrison (whose 2015 Grammy-deserving album “Like a River to the Sea” is a must-have), along with a host of new-to-us Vaishnavi voices, some of whom have never recorded professionally before. The full list: Chaytanya Nitai, Tulsi Devi, Sudevi Devi Dasi, Carmella Gitanjali Baynie, Amrita Ananda, Nalina Kaufman, Gaura Mani, Mallika Des Fours, and Gaurangi Auman. The tight-knit group of musicians who laid down rhythms in the studio behind Stringer’s L.A. home includes long-time go-tos in the SoCal kirtan world such as Patrick Richey (tabla, cajon, mridangam and every other percussion instrument you can name); Matt Pszonak (pedal steel), and Sheela Bringi, who graces most tracks with her angelic bansuri flute as well as harmonium.  Madi Das’ childhood friend Shree Shyam ‘Elton Bradman’ Das played bass, and Tulsi Devi added some countrified violin riffs. Krishan Khalsa did the mixing and Stefan Heger mastered the disc.

Listen to and purchase “Bhakti Without Borders” here.  Also makes a great gift for your bhakti friends — one that gives back to a worthy charity. What are you waiting for?

The Grammys will be telecast on February 15 on CBS.  (See the full list of nominees in New Age and all categories here.) New Age winners are generally not part of the television broadcast (BOO!) but will be on the webcast earlier the same day.  Krishna Das famously nabbed the New Age nomination in 2012 for “Live Ananda,” and also became the first kirtan artist to play at the Grammys.  Jai Uttal broke the ground a decade earlier with his nomination for “Mondo Rama.

Krishna Das, Jai Uttal…not bad company for the debut CD from a largely unknown wallah like Madi Das. Make that Grammy-nominated Madi Das.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
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Shakti Fest 2014.2 006At one point during the weekend-long love feast that was Shakti Fest 2014, I ran into Vijay Krsna and his beloved, Sarasvati Devi, the couple who lead the Kirtaniyas.  It was the day after their late-night set,  and I was gushing to them about how deeply touched I was by their kirtan and teachings (I despise gushers, frankly, but there I was, gushing…)  Vijay asked if he had talked too much.  I was perplexed by the question.  He said that he had “gotten into a little trouble” for talking too much during his set.

Really?  I was dumbfounded.  I mean, I know we’re here to sing, to chant the Names, to raise our voices in unity, to dance and clap and twirl in ecstatic joy.  I’m all for that.  But really, too much talking?  Kirtan is, after all, more than just another live-music concert like you can get at any bar or nightclub on a Saturday night.  It’s the core practice of bhakti yoga, an ancient discipline of devotion and service.  There is so much joy and wisdom in the teachings of bhakti yoga! Personally, I love it when kirtan wallahs pause from the chanting to offer little bits of wisdom or profound teachings from this tradition, or simply personal reflections from their own bhakti path.  Am I alone on this? I don’t think so.

Here, in honor of the “talking” part of kirtan, are a few of our favorite quotes — at least the ones that we had the presence of mind to write down — from the bhakti feast in the High Desert at Joshua Tree:

Vijay Krsna, Kirtaniyas, Shakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com“It’s no longer enough to perform kirtan.  We want to inspire kirtan.  We want to be inspired by kirtan.” Vijay Krsna of The Kirtaniyas, Thursday night’s pre-kirtan.

“We are the way heaven shows up.” Akahdahmah Jackson of Aykanna (an Aramaic word from the Lord’s Prayer meaning “as it is in heaven”), Friday afternoon.

“Our true nature is whole and complete.  You are infinite joy. When you realize you are one with Krishna, you realize you are whole and complete.” ~Manoj, the Deity Wallah, speaking between sets on Friday.

Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“We need to embrace ALL the parts of ourselves — even those wild parts.” ~Larisa Stow, Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, Friday evening.

“It’s half English, half Sanskrit, and 100 percent ecstasy,” ~Dave Stringer, Friday night, speaking of his forthcoming collaborative CD with Donna De Lory interpreting the Radiance Sutras in mantra music.

Simrit Kaur, Bhakti Fest May 2104, by theBhaktiBeat“Sometimes I feel like I’m dangling from a thread. The mantras are all I have to hold onto.” ~Simrit, Kundalini chantress, Friday afternoon.

“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.” ~Wah!, Saturday evening

Jai Uttal, quote, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Every day I wake up with the a feeling of being completely lost. How can I function in a meaningful way on this earth? The answer is that I get to sing God’s name.  Without that I’m basically a lost cause.” ~ Jai Uttal, in his “playdate” (aka workshop) Saturday afternoon.

 

“I love that silence at the end of the chant.  It’s almost as if you work the whole song to get to that point of silence.  Then it’s just you and the Divine for a moment.” ~Cooper Madison, The Gandharvas, Sunday afternoon.

“Hanuman is the embodiment of grace.  The Chalisa opens up our hearts to that channel of grace.” Govindas, of Govindas & Radha, during the Sunday morning Hanuman Chalisa session.

Kamaniya & Keshavacharya, Prema Hara, Kirtan Revolution, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“It takes a lot of people to make a kirtan revolution.” Kamaniya Devi of Prema Hara, Sunday afternoon.

 

“Unconditional love.  It’s really the only thing we should be practicing all the time.  But it’s hard, isn’t it?  Singing is the most powerful way to unconditional love. ” ~ Masood Ali Khan, Sunday morning.

“The only way to get back home is to fall in love with God.” ~Saul David Raye, putting to song a quote from Italian musician Alex Cigolini, during Monday’s Post-Intensive.

Gina Sala, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Because the one I love lives inside of you, I lean as close to you as I can.” ~Gina Salá, singing one of her signature love songs during Saul David Raye’s Post-Intensive.

Quotes, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by thebhaktibeat.comSo then, the question is: Whatcha gonna do with all that love, Bhakti Beaters?

Pssst…Pass it on.

 Also See:
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’
 
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.

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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.

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MD Van Wedeen, Mass Gen.Harvard.connectome imageScientists have definitively identified, for the first time ever, a rare but rapidly increasing brain disorder affecting the frontal lobes, amygdala and hippocampus of people who regularly chant kirtan.

Publishing in the Journal of Neuroscience and Non-Duality, lead author Baba Bhavakirtanananda, a former saddhu who spent 20 years chanting the Maha Mantra nonstop in a cave near Braj, India, before accepting a research position at the University of Vrindavan, even coined a term for the condition: bhav brain.  Symptoms of bhav brain include markedly decreased attachment to one’s self-identity, blurring of the demarcation between “self” and others, disillusionment with materialistic gain, and reduced anxiety about what the future may bring.  In extreme cases, Bhavakirtanananda said, bhav brain can produce symptoms that can mimic intoxication or drug use, including inexplicable elation, stumbling or aimless wandering, or general “spaciness.”

These symptoms, he said, explain why people who have been chanting for many hours — as is common at kirtan festivals — are sometimes described as “stoned on the bhav.”

The scientists reported that they had also identified a potent neurotransmitter that seems to be expressed in excessive quantities after prolonged chanting, which they have accordingly named bhavatonin.  They found bhavatonin-specific receptors in the hippocampus, where the biochemical seemed to trigger a remembrance of one’s own divine nature, and in the amygdala, where it apparently tamped down fearful reactions and anxiety.

Long History in India, But New to the West

Historical documents suggest that bhav brain has been around since at least the 15th century; there are oblique references to the symptoms in sacred texts in the vedic traditions and in the works of so-called bhakti poets like Hafiz and Mirabai.  But the syndrome of symptoms has only recently been observed in the West — first in an area of New York’s Hudson Valley known as the Bhajan Belt, and then in Southern California, especially around the town of Joshua Tree.  More recent evidence suggests the condition is spreading — last summer there was a flurry of reports from Madison, Wisc. of chanters driving in circles, heading in the wrong direction on the highway, and unable to use simple machines like gas pumps.  The geographic and temporal distribution of these reports is closely associated with large-scale chant festivals.

That’s no coincidence, says Bhavakirtanananda.  He said he had long suspected there was a signature biological “fingerprint” associated with the syndrome, and was frustrated that no serious scientist had attempted to investigate it.  So he took it upon himself, first investigating it in a pilot study at India’s legendary Kumbh Mela festival before traveling all the way to Southern California to study attendees at a 4-day festival where the chanting was virtually nonstop.  His team recruited 100 men and women ranging in age from 16 to 97 (median age 39), and conducted functional MRI scans before, during and after the festival.

Prevalence is Rapidly Increasing

In the article, the authors noted that the prevalence of the condition — virtually unknown in the West until recent years — has been rapidly increasing in step with the growing popularity and “mainstreaming” of bhakti yoga, an obscure form of yoga from 15th century India that eschews the Western yoga world’s fixation on having a really great butt in favor of an emphasis on loving devotion and seva, or selfless service.

Reactions from the bhakti community have been mixed.  Kirtan musician Dave Stringananda said he was not surprised.  “I’ve been fascinated for years by how chanting might be affecting neurotransmitters like anandamine and serotonin, so the idea that there is a brain chemical called bhavatonin that is specifically ramped up by kirtan makes so much sense.  I am elated.” Stringananda immmediately set to work incorporating the findings into a new workshop series.

Skepticism in the Bhajan Belt

In Woodstock, N.Y. in the heart of the Bhajan Belt, long-time kirtan wallah Sruti Ramananda dismissed the findings as overhyped hogwash.  “Symptoms of a disorder?  Pshaw! Here in Woodstock, these kinds of behaviors are as common as peacocks in Vrindavan,” he said.  “If ‘bhav brain’ is a disease, then I’m a monkey-god’s uncle.”

The Bhakti Beat asked the members of the popular ensemble band The Hanumen, fresh off a regional tour that included stops at a prison and a psychiatric treatment facility, to comment on the research, but a spokesperson said the band was covered in mud on a beach somewhere and couldn’t be reached.

The Chant and Chill Foundation issued a statement praising the research as an important step forward in understanding what’s going on in the brain of a bhakta:  “This continues to be one of the deepest mysteries of the universe — just look at those Hanumen.  We are delighted to see that someone is finally putting some real effort into it.” The foundation plans to start a campaign encouraging hard-core bhaktas to donate their brains to research in hopes of advancing scientific knowledge about bhav brain.

Stay tuned to TheBhaktiBeat.com for more on this developing story.  Because no one knows bhav brain like we do…

If you like this, you might also like “10 Signs You Might Be a Kirtan Addict”

The Bhakti Beat needs your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.

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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

IN THE WEST

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.

IN THE EAST

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.

 IN THE MIDWEST

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…?

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Photo from www.shebrings.com

The Project: Debut CD
The Goal: $17,500
The Deadline: November 16, Midnight Pacific Time
Raised as of 11/16: $12,401
The Campaign Continues Until Fully Funded — Donate Here Now!

The Artist

Sheela Bringi has all the makings of a mantra-music star being born. She grew up in a musical household rooted in the West but steeped in the sounds and traditions of the East.  Her Indian-born parents, devotees of Sai Baba and Amma, hosted weekly satsangs and Sunday gatherings where she and the other girls learned bhajans from her mother while her father taught the boys mridanga drumming.  Summers were spent visiting relatives in South India, joyfully joining “singing parties that would encompass everything from Beatles singalongs and Bollywood hits to full-fledged Carnatic ragas.” 

A star being born? (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

As she grew up, Bringi’s informal lessons turned to formal training  with luminaries of Indian Classical music, including her bansuri teacher, the renowned Pandit G.S. Sachdev, and her mentors and teachers during her master’s degree in world music at the California Institute of the Arts, Ustaad Aashish Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri.  In the years since graduating she has made a name for herself performing and recording in the West Coast world-music scene and beyond.  Solo or in collaboration, her musicianship is flawless on the bansuri flute, harp, harmonium and vocals.   She has played with legendary tablist Karsh Kale and with acclaimed sitarist and Ravi Shankar disciplePaul Livingstone.  In the mantra-music scene, she has opened for Grammy-nominated kirtan pioneer Jai Uttal and played with Wah!, Gaura Vani and Dave Stringer.  The past year saw her teaming up with hang drum sensation Masood Ali Khan for bi-coastal tours that included a coveted spot on the line-up for Omega Institute’s Spring Ecstatic Chant weekend.

The Project

With producer Clinton Patterson (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

The seeds for Bringi’s debut album were planted in those weekly satsangs of her youth.  She told The Bhakti Beat that about a third of the CD will be based on the bhajans her mother taught her as a child, resurrected in the studio with a cast of musicians led by producer/songwriter/trumpeteer Clinton Patterson, Bringi’s long-time collaborator on PremaSoul.  The rest of the record will feature mantras “rearranged in new ways” and Bringi’s own original compositions with harp, bansuri and harmonium.  Featured musicians include Carnatic singer Aditya Prakash, Masood Ali Khan on percussion, drummer Gene Coye (Carlos & Salvador Santana, Larry Carlton), bassist Ben Shepherd (David Archuleta), and tabla player Javad Butah.  She’s particularly excited to bring in Jake Charkey, a Mumbai-based artist who plays an “unusual and rare” style of cello in the Hindustani tradition. 

This is not an album that can be easily labeled; expect a genre-bending fusion of world music with ancient Indian melodies and mantras interlaced with with harp, bansuri, voice, strings, hang drum, tabla, and more, Bringi said.  One thing is sure: it will not be your traditional call-and-response kirtan album.  “With this album,” Bringi says in her campaign video (below), “I hope to express the songs of my two traditions with one voice, to honor my heritage, break down boundaries and uplift hearts.”  Recording has already begun and the target release date for the disc is February 1.

Bringi On Crowd-Funding

Saying Thank You

The process of reaching out to friends and fans to help fund her debut CD has itself been somewhat of a spiritual practice for Bringi, who describes herself as “socially shy” and “not the type to be putting myself out there.” 

“Asking for help is a little bit challenging for me, so this campaign for me personally has been partly about pushing past fears,” she said in an interview.  “It’s been a way to push myself to open up, to receive support and to share more widely what I’m trying to do with my music.”

What’s Next?

With Masoon Ali Khan (Photo courtesy of Sheela Bringi)

As soon as the new CD hits the digital airwaves, Bringi will be embarking on a worldwide tour in concert with Masood Ali Khan, which will take the pair to India, Japan and Europe before heading back to New York in June for a repeat of their successful East Coast tour last fall.

Shorter term, Bringi and Ali Khan are performing at a charity gala in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 14 that is raising money to benefit orphans and “vulnerable children” around the world (details here).  On November 15, Bringi plays for superstar yogi Shiva Rea in Rea’s popular Prana Flow Chakra Vinyasa class at Exhale Venice.

Video Message from Sheela Bringi

Sheela Bringi’s Debut Album from Sheela Bringi on Vimeo.

Links & Deets

Sheela Bringi’s Website
Sheela Bringi’s Indigogo Campaign  (CLOSED; Contribute Here Now)
Sheela Bringi on Fanbridge
Sheela Bringi’s Band Page on Facebook
PremaSoul on Facebook
 
Also see previous articles in this series:
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
 
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+
 
PLEASE SHARE WITH YOUR PEEPS! 

 

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There’s a lot of talk these days about a “mantra revolution,” and enough action in the chant world to back up the premise.

Witness: chant festivals that attract thousands, “rock-star” wallahs, new music expanding in every direction, community kirtan rising…even mainstream media coverage of mantra music (gasp!).  Yet it’s an undeniable truth that the bulk of the action is coastal: California and the northeastern seaboard are leading the charge, with some kirtan hotspots scattered in the midwest and mountain states. 

When mantra mania hits Vermont, a state known more for maple trees and mountains than mantra music, you’ve got to believe there’s something to this movement.

Boundaries dissolving

Enter VerMantra, which for the second year now — thanks to the nonprofit Call and Response Foundation — has brought 12 hours of nonstop multi-flavored kirtan to a state that is just barely on the kirtan map.  No, there were not thousands of people in attendance, and no rock stars or divas on the bill.   Instead, there was a solid line-up of 10  great bhakti bands, each one having signed on for peanuts, driven the extra mile to be there, and bringing with them an attitude of genuine service and devotion to the spirit of the gathering. 

The ingredients for Mulligan Stew, VerMantra style

You had luminaries like Gaura Vani and SRI Kirtan. You had up-and-comers like Devadas and Kirtan Soul Revival.  You had mantra warriors Keli Lalita and Adam Bauer and regional favorites Dave Russell and Tom Lena.  And you had a taste of the local talent in Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti, and the incomparable kirtan jam collective, the Kailash Jungle Band

‘Where this Movement is Going’

The “stage” was the center of the room, and everyone circled ’round the musicians like bees to nectar.  Collaboration and community were key:  everyone — musicians and ticket-holders alike — was in everyone’s band.  It was, by design, the kind of environment where the boundaries between performer and audience evaporate.  Where callers and responders meld together in a circular flow of rhythm and song, united as one voice calling out in joyful abandon.   The kind of environment where magic happens.

Gaura Vani: Delivering Nectar

“This is grassroots community kirtan at its best,” Gaura Vani said during his set at VerMantra, adding,  “and that is really where this movement is going.”

Brooklyn-based wallah Devadas used the analogy of a “Mulligan stew” to describe the gathering — the idea that each band, each musician, brings something unique to add to the bhakti soup.  “We come from all these places — different paths, different teachers — and we each bring our own ingredients, our own styles and perspectives.  In the end we have something like Mulligan stew that feeds us,” he said.  

For a full review of the VerMantra line-up, read:
“Making Bhakti Soup: VerMantra Serves Up ‘Mulligan Stew’ of Mantra Music” (coming soon!)
 

Devadas, a devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) who has sung at her darshans in the Northeast U.S., warmed up the stew-pot early in the day with the recitation of the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother.   He stuck around to stir the pot throughout the day, playing mridanga or hand cymbals or just singing.  Twelve hours later, he was back at stage center to serve up the feast and close out the fest.  “To play clean-up,” the other musicians teased him.

Clean up he did.

Time to savor the stew...Devadas

With an unassuming grace, Devadas effortlessly elevated the delicious mood of devotion that had been simmering for nine sets to a whole new level.  Backed by a core band of Gaura Vani (mridanga & vocals), SRI Kirtan’s Ishwari and Sruti Ram (vocals), KC Solaris (tabla), Adam Bauer (bass), Richard Davis (guitar), Rasamrta Devi Dasi (cymbals) and Louise Ross (flute), he steered us right into a slow-building bhajan learned from his guru Amma that gradually but inevitably peaked in a tidal wave of ecstatic crescendo. 

The room was an ocean of motion.

People were dancing, clapping, spinning, singing out the Names like “souls crying out for our divine home,” in Gaura Vani’s words.  The mantra seemed to take on a life of its own, letting us surf the crest of the wave just…long…enough before settling us down ever so gently on the shores of our souls, as Kahlil Gibran might say. 

And then we did it all over again.  And we soared even higher…

Soaring...

Radhe Govinda Bhajo, the first chant Devadas led, is a traditional melody that Amma “has been singing for a very long time,” he said.  She taught it to him and he spoon- fed it to us.  It was delicious. 

You can taste it here:


 

The second chant Devadas led was a complex MahaMantra melody straight from the temples of Kainchi, India, the sacred land where Neem Karoli Baba often hung out and where his ashram stands today.  But that’s another story — and video — coming soon…

Toe-curling

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this was for me one of those peak experiences in kirtan that just doesn’t happen every day.  Maybe it was the fact that we’d been there for nearly 12 hours, simmering in the stew, steeping in all the flavors of bhav.  Maybe the group was really “on” after singing together all day, as the boundaries dissolved and egos melted away and the energy rose.   I don’t pretend to understand the magic that happens in kirtan.  I’d reallllly like to, but I think it’s beyond intellectual comprehension.  It defies logical explanation.

The power of mantra, as Dave Stringer has said, is not something you have to “believe in” or even understand; it is something that must be experienced.   

Simple as that.  All you have to do is sing the Names.

All that bhav and free chai too

Special thanks to director Jennifer Canfield and co-founders Susan Murphy and Ed Ritz of the Call and Response Foundation, whose programs support community kirtan events and bring mantra music to populations in need.  Please visit their website, www.callandresponsefoundation.org, and consider donating to support their efforts.  

Also see:
www.devadasmusic.com
www.callandresponsefoundation.org
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.tomlenamusic.com
www.facebook.com/KirtanSoulRevival
www.daverussellkirtan.com
www.dharmaboutique.com (Adam Bauer)
www.mantralogy.com (Keli Lalita)
Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti
Prem Prakash
 
 

 

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Ram Dass, beaming from Maui

We often get asked: “What are the can’t-miss chant events of the year?”  It’s a loaded question, for sure, since everyone has their own idea about what is “can’t-miss.”  Including us.  So we’re sharing our picks for “The Big 5” chant events that are worth getting to, no matter where you’re coming from.  Here’s part 1; stay tuned to this space for the rest (subscribe here).  And tell us what your top picks are!

Omega’s Ecstatic Chant is the original.  Now moving into its second decade as the annual destination for hard-core chantaholics, its roots can be traced back to Ram Dass’s annual retreats at the Rhinebeck, N.Y. campus in the ’80’s. 

Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen told us that, in those days, Ram Dass would invite Krishna Das or Jai Uttal to come and chant with the gathering as evening entertainment, and it became so popular that chanting became a central aspect of the weekend. When Ram Dass could no longer attend due to his health, the chanting continued.  These days, Ram Dass beams in from Maui through the magic of interactive video, delivering his wisdom, humor and reflections of Neem Karoli Baba from a large screen.

What’s So Special About Omega? 

Radhanath Swami (ctr) with Shyamdas and Deva Premal

 Omega is different from everything else on The Big 5 list because it is chant and only chant.  It’s also the only one that is not a “festival” per se — more like a “retreat.”  Or, in Omega parlance,  a weekend workshop (The Yoga of Voice).  The program is chanting.  That’s it.  No simultaneous yoga classes across campus.  No lectures or experiential workshops to compete for your time.  Just chant, chant and chant some more. 

Manose

On the second day, there is an extraordinary all-night session that, if you are game, is pretty much guaranteed to take you so deep into the bhav that you just might, as Swami Satchidananda said, “forget everything.”  Participants fairly camp out in the Main Hall, variously dancing furiously or quietly meditating, dozing or chatting in between sets… and before you know it, dawn is rising, right in tune with the lilting flute-play of Manose and Steve Gorn.

But what makes Omega stand out for us are those completely unpredictable moments that are pure gold for the soul — like Radhanath Swami wailing on the harmonica with Deva Premal and Miten.  Or Donna De Lory joining C.C. White to sing Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.  Or this little gem from Shyamdas, who never fails to liven things up with his stories and shenanigans:
 

‘The Super Bowl of Chant’

Miten, with Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen

Jai Uttal once famously called Omega Chant “the Super Bowl of chant fests,” maybe because only a handful of artists make it to the line-up and the competition to be on the schedule is intense.  (Each artist typically plays at least two full sets over the course of the weekend, and many play a third time at the Labor Day bonus session.)  Rechtschaffen, who makes the line-up decisions, says he is inundated with artists’ CDs and promo tapes and is always on the look-out for bands with a “unique” sound, but knows that bringing in someone “new” means someone else gets bumped, even if they’ve been on the Omega line-up for years. 

C.C. White was at fall Chant for the first time last year, and Dave Stringer returned after a few years’ absence.  Snatam Kaur and Wah!, both long-time Omega regulars, were noticeably absent last fall, as was David Newman (Wah! played at Omega’s smaller Spring Chant in May; Newman and Kaur both led workshop at the retreat center this summer).  Rechtschaffen openly lamented the absence of each of these favorites at fall Chant.   

The 2012 Line-Up 

KD and Arjun Bruggeman

Krishna Das, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal (with Daniel Paul) are constants on the Omega schedule.  They have been leading the Omega Chant pack since the early days and it’s hard to imagine Chant Weekend without all of them.  They can usually be counted on to be stage center during the famous closing session, when all the wallahs and musicians join together on stage for a final free-for-all.   Typically, you can find Shyamdas directing the action, Jai Uttal playfully rebelling, and Krishna Das playfully grumpy at having to be in the spotlight at such an “early” hour (it’s only 11:30 a.m. or so, after all). 

The ever-popular Deva Premal and Miten and Sikh songstress Snatam Kaur round out the top-bill headliners at this year’s Chant.

Vishal Vaid astounds

Vishal Vaid, who has trained in traditional ghazal (an ancient form of poetry in song that translates to “conversation with the divine”), astounds audiences every year (watch this for example) and seems to have a pretty solid position on the Omega roster.  The Mayapuris, the Florida-based band of “Krishna Kids” who have leaped — literally — into the international kirtan scene are back for a third year, and if previous years’ pattern holds true, will join just about everyone else’s bands as well.  

C.C. White

C.C. White is back for her second year, having solidified her return with two crowd-rousing sets last fall showcasing songs from her debut solo CD, This IS Soul Kirtan, which was “pre-released” at Omega.  Gaura Vani and bansuri flute virtuosos Manose and Steve Gorn complete the bill of musicians.  Radhanath Swami, who caused all sorts of excitement last fall when he joined Deva Premal and Miten on stage for an impromptu (and seriously wailin’) harmonica solo, will also be on hand.  We hope he brings his harmonica.

The Deets

When:  Aug. 31-Sept. 3, with a special 10-Hour Labor Day session on Sept. 3.  (If you still haven’t had enough, Krishna Das keeps the bhav flowing with a separate workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 4.)

 

Radhanath Swami & Donna De Lory

Where:  Omega Institute is located in Rhinebeck, NY, smack in the middle of the “Bhajan Belt,” the upstate New York region known for a confluence of kirtan.  It’s about 90 miles north of NYC and roughly the same distance from Albany.  There’s an Amtrak station nearby and a commuter train to NYC.

How Much:   This is the only bug in the ointment.  Tuition alone for Ecstatic Chant is $395.  The Labor Day session is $125, or $75 if you’re doing the weekend retreat also.  Accomodations are additional, and on-site cabins or dorms tend to be, shall we say, “rustic” (but pleasant enough).  See http://eomega.org/workshops/ecstatic-chant for details.

What Else? Rhinebeck is a quaint and boho-chic Hudson Valley town with lots of restaurants, shopping and an indie movie house.  But you may never want to leave the Omega campus, a rolling oasis with a small lake where you can kayak, hiking paths, great vegetarian meals, a wellness spa with all manner of body-work and subtle-energy treatments available, a soothing sanctuary at the top of the hill, and the charged energy of 30 years as a destination for spiritual masters and seekers of all stripes. 

So, what do you say?  Will you be going to Ecstatic Chant this year?  Why or why not?

 

 

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Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, arts, science, and music, so it’s not surprising that her name gets thrown around a lot at chant fests.  The daughter of Shiva and Durga, Saraswati represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.  She has four arms representing four aspects of human learning:  mind, intellect, alertness, and ego.  She is usually depicted playing a veena, a classical Indian stringed instrument, and the symbolism around this and her other accoutrements is rich.  In the Hindu tradition, Saraswati alone can grant Moksha, the final liberation of the soul.

Moksha, huh?  Not a bad goal.  No wonder kirtan artists are always chanting to Saraswati-Ma.

Today we want to share two versions of call-and-response kirtan invoking Saraswati, from Joni Allen and Dave Stringer.  Because we could all use a little help in achieving final liberation, couldn’t we?

Joni Allen at Shakti Fest, where she sang with Wah!

We’re starting to think of the first version, from Joni Allen, as her signature song.  She has sung it on tour with Stringer (she has been his vocal accompanist for nearly a decade).  She led it on stage at last year’s Boston Yoga & Chant Fest alongside Boston chantress Irene Solea (see that video here).  And a few months later, on the opposite side of the country, she belted out a slightly slowed-down rendition of it during Mike Cohen’s set at Bhakti Fest 2011, with Cohen and Brenda McMorrow singing response (video below).  

We really hope she keeps on singing it, because it gets us every time. 

 

Dave Stringer at Bhakti Fest Midwest

That’s video No. 1.  The second in this two-for comes from Dave Stringer himself (with Allen and Brenda McMorrow on response vocals), and has a completely different feel.  Stringer called in Saraswati Maha Devi early in his Bhakti Fest Midwest set ,with a slow, sumptuously intensifying call-and-response co-performance.  It was a classic kirtan slow-build culminating in a prolonged ecstatic climax.  The Heartland bhavsters were leaping and throwing their arms to the heavens as if they had already achieved Moksha. 

Witness the gyrating crowd under the full moon in Madison midway into this 8-minute snippet capturing the peak of the chant.  And don’t miss the inspiring one-armed guitar riff by Yehoshua Brill at the end.  Is he channeling Jerry Garcia  there?  (He said on facebook that that “seems to happen with Dave gigs for some reason.” )  Love that.

Is this Moksha in the making?


 

Saraswati Ma Ma Ma…

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Krishna Das. Like a rock...star.

The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest (June 30-July 1, 2012)  The grand All-Wallah Finale has become a Bhakti Fest closing tradition.  It’s also become one of those love-it-or-leave-it affairs, depending on who you ask.  Over the course of attending five of them since 2010, we’ve observed a lot of mixed feelings about the inevitably raucous everyone-gets-to-be-a-wallah jam-out that officially closes out each Bhakti Fest.  Some wallahs avoid it altogether, as Krishna Das has managed to for three years running at the West Coast Fest in Joshua Tree.

A pillar of stillness in the cacophany of the Bhakti Fest Finale

But there he was stage center at the Madison, Wisc. fest, a pillar of maroon-shirted stillness in a sea of bhaktified motion, his gravelly repetition of the Maha Mantra standing out even amidst the cacaphony unfolding all around him.  At least 50 musicians, yoga teachers, workshop leaders, staff and volunteers jammed the stage, dancing, leaping, twirling, and conga lining in ecstatic joy as everyone chanted as one.

The Bhaktified Gratitude Dance

Bhakti Fest Founder/Executive Producer Sridhar Silberfein with Shyamdas.

Sridhar Silberfein, the founder and executive producer of Bhakti Fest who is rarely seen on stage until this finale, poured out gratitude to his staff, the wallahs, teachers and everyone who made Bhakti Fest happen.  He somehow maintained order in the chaos of celebrating the successful completion of The First Ever Bhakti Fest Midwest, assuring the cheering Heartlanders that Bhakti Fest would be back.

Sridhar did a gratitude dance across the stage with one person after another.  He sashayed with Shyamdas, rapped with Ishwari, got down low with DJ Lakshmi, and spun circles ’round Ragani.  But when it was time to reach out his hand for KD to join him, KD wasn’t going for it.  He responded — playfully of course — with a certain arm gesture that fellow New York native Sridhar was sure to understand.  Did you catch that?  Yeah, he gave him “the arm,” the Italian salute. We can’t prove it with a picture but we saw it with our own eyes.


But Sridhar wasn’t about to give up.  He pulled on KD’s arm while Ragani pushed from her seat next to him on stage.  Finally, the kirtan rock star gave in, reluctantly rising to receive the thunderous approval of the crowd.  He did not dance a jig across the stage.  After barely a moment he gave a look to Sridhar that seemed to say, “Can we get this over with now?” and went back to his lotus, back to his chanting.  Classic KD humor, legendary humility.

It’s moments like that that make us really glad we hung around for the Last Hari of Bhakti Fest.

 
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
Krishna Das, Bhakti ‘Rock Star,’ Keeping It Real
 
www.krishnadas.com
www.bhaktifest.com

David Newman and the moon.

 

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