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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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The First Annual Shyamdas Foundation Retreat kicks off this weekend (September 25-27) at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, N.Y. for three days of intimate song and satsang with Shyamdas’ closest friends and followers.  You should come.

 

Why? Well, because it’s the FIRST ANNUAL SHYAMDAS FOUNDATION RETREAT.  Do we need to say more? Okay, fine. This is THE retreat in honor of Shyamdas, the beloved bhakti scholar, author, kirtan wallah, respected teacher and friend to all, who left his body — along with a huge hole in the heart of the bhakti world — in January of 2013.  His inimitable spirit and legacy endure thanks in part to the Shyamdas Foundation, which is hosting this intimate retreat at the Bhajan Belt ashram that was so dear to Shyamdas’ heart.  In fact, Ananda was often the first place Shyamdas would go to share kirtan and satsang when he returned to the States after winters in India.

“One of the most important things Shyamdas imparted to us was to keep good association. Part of that is in the kirtan, but part of it is hearing the teachings.  This is an opportunity for a more intimate setting to get fully immersed in not just kirtan, but in the teachings.  There is a particular vibe at Ananda because it is an Ashram, so this has that energy with all of these people coming together to really get drenched in the nectar.” 

~ Ishwari of SRI Kirtan

Need more?  Did I mention there will be kirtan — lots of kirtan — with Shyamdas’ tribe of musician-gopis.  We’re talking Gaura Vani, Adam Bauer, Prema Hara, Steve Gorn, Nina Rao, SRI Kirtan, Devadas, Karnamrita Dasi, David Newman, Vrajdevi from Vraj, India, Arundhati and Prema from Woodstock, Yogi P from Vermont for starters…and we imagine there might be a surprise or two in store.

But wait, there’s more. Jivamukti yoga co-founder Padma Sharon Gannon herself will be leading asana practice, along with her nephew and protegé Jules Febre.  There will be stories and teachings and satsangs with Shyamdas’ dearest scholar-friends, including Radhanath Swami and David Haberman, and Vallabhdas, Shyamdas’ student/co-author and the founding director of the Shyamdas Foundation. There will be readings from Shyamdas’ books.  There will even be an “enchanted forest walk” with Gaura Vani and Vallabhdas that is sure to be…well, enchanted. We’re hoping Gaura brings his flute…

“I see this gathering at Ananda Ashram—a place Shyam loved and where I remember countless great moments shared—as a chance to continue deepening and nourishing what I love best about my experience with Shyamdas and indeed the broader Bhakti lila: meaningful time with friends and family, practicing the Bhakti yogic arts, joining hearts and voices together in the Divine Names, and enjoying the inspiring company of other seekers of love and truth. Plus, a bunch of good prasad! What’s not to love?”

~ Adam Bauer

But wait, you haven’t heard the best part of all. What makes this weekend realllllly special is the rare opportunity for satsang with one of Shyamdas’ own gurus, Shri Milan Goswami, grandson of his original Pushti Marg guru, Shri Prathameshji. These teachers are direct descendants of the 15th century bhakti philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Path of Grace, who is considered by Pushti devotees to be a manifestation of Krishna and Radha, as well as a witness to the divine couple’s loving plays. Shyamdas was the first western initiate into the Pushti Marg and devoted his life to translating and sharing Vallabhacharya’s teachings.

Did you catch that?  That’s satsang with a living, breathing soul who is believed to be a direct descendent of Krishna & Radhe incarnate.

 

Go ahead, take a moment to wrap your brain around that concept.  We are.

 
Then check out this YouTube playlist of Shyamdas kirtans and teachings.


—————————————————-

Here’s the latest schedule of what’s happening (subject to change of course).  Learn more and get tickets at www.shyamdasfoundation.com

COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

FRIDAY:
4pm Check in
5:30 pm dinner
6:30 pm  Welcome/Shyamdas video
7 pm Pushti Kirtan: Vrajdevi, Ishwari & Vallabhdas
8 pm Bhakti Satsang: Radhanath Swami w/ Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Prema Hara

SATURDAY:
9 am Kirtan: Nina Rao
10 am Kirtan:  Devadas
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Kirtan Workshop: “Singing for the Beloved” w/ Karnamrita Dasi, Vallabhdas, Martin Brading
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Bhakti Lecture “Life Lessons & Vedantic Love” by Prof. David Haberman
3 pm En-chanting forest walk w/ Vallabhdas, Gaura Vani et al.
3:45 pm Bhakti Satsang: Shri Milan Goswami w/ Vallabhdas
5:15 pm Dinner
6:15 pm Kirtan: Arundhati w/ Prema
7:15 pm Shyamdas Archive audio clip
7:30 pm Kirtan: SRI Kirtan
8:30 pm Kirtan: Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Karnamrita Dasi

SUNDAY:
9 am Indian Classical Music: Steve Gorn
10 am Kirtan: Yogi P
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Satsang Workshop: “Find the Beloved” w/ Ishwari, Vallabhdas, Premdas
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Yamunashtakam Dance: Aarati Spadea w/ Vallabhdas, Ishwari, John McDowell
1:45 pm Pushti Bhakti Satsang: Shyamdas book readings w/ Padma Sharon Gannon, Vallabhdas, Ishwari
2:45 pm Kirtan: Adam Bauer
3:45 pm Kirtan: David Newman (Durga Das) w/ Mira
5 pm Multi-musician Finale

BONUS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! USE CODE “BHAKTI” AND TAKE 15% OFF YOUR WEEKEND PASS OR DAY TICKETS!

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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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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!

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+
 
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.
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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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One month after Shyamdas’ passing, the bhakti community is still reeling from the gash torn in its heart by the loss of the great Sanskrit scholar who had become, in recent years especially, the Western bhakti world’s favorite uncle.  From the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad India, where a moment of silence in honor of Shyamdas was observed among the millions gathered for the world’s largest spiritual convergence, to the bhaktified walls of Bhakti Yoga Shala in the heart of SoCal’s fertile kirtan country, to a little healing space over a garage  in Montpelier, Vt., near where Shyamdas lived for many years, those who knew and loved Shyamdas have gathered to honor his life and celebrate his lila.

Ananda Ashram, the Yoga Society of New York, offered up its own tribute to its patron saint of satsang on Sunday, Feb. 17.  Ananda sits in the heart of New York’s “Bhajan Belt,” near Shyamdas’ home when he was in the U.S.  The little community tucked away in a sleepy NY hamlet was “the first place he came” when he returned to the States after his winter in India, said Hari Mulukutla, a long-time friend of Shyamdas who organized the tribute in concert with Ananda’s Jennifer Schmid.  (Ananda has more recently come to fame via the Grammy nomination of Krishna Das’ Live Ananda, which was recorded at the ashram in 2007.)

Hari Mulukutla: “This was his playground, and we are all his Gopis.”

“This was his playground, and we are all his Gopis,” Mulukutla said, referring to the famous lila of Krishna and his devoted dairy maidens who would follow the sound of his flute into the forests of Vrindavan, the divine playground of the Hindu scriptures.  Shyamdas chose the Vrindavan region as his home base in India in order to “touch the dust of the dust of the dust that touched the Beloved’s feet,” he once said.

An image of Shyamdas ecstatically singing was the focal point of a high altar at the gathering.  An offering of Krishna Devi, Ananda resident and “gypsy kirtan” wallah, it was lit by tealights and nestled with flowers and Indian textiles of the type Shyam-ji often wrapped about his neck or head.  It gave the impression throughout the evening that the teacher himself was there, watching over the musicians gathered on stage and singing right along with them.

Shyamdas’ sister, Susan S. Ryan

Susan S. Ryan, Shyamdas’ sister, was presented with a traditional flower garland to place over Shyam-ji’s picture, after which she spoke briefly about her brother and the outpouring of love for him from the bhakti community.  “I always knew he was special, but now I’ve learned that he really did have a million best friends,”  Ryan said, drawing laughs from the crowd.  “And I thought I was his best friend,” she chuckled.

She said growing up with Shyamdas for a brother was full of surprises, because he “was such a rascal.”  At the same time, she said, he was “such a devoted person, devoted to his translations and to his music, but also to his family.”  She called him “sometimes mindful, sometimes manic,” but always “clear-headed.”

“He was willing to risk everything to express what he knew to be true,” Shyamdas’ sister said.

The evening proceeded with stories, poetry from Shyamdas’ translations, and of course, kirtan — in a rapid progression of 9 separate bands/artists leading two chants each.  Vallabhdas, Shyamdas-ji’s dear friend and devoted student who has collaborated on many of his books, offered up a poignant ode to his teacher and mentor, singing what might be the anthem song of Shyamdas’ life:  Beloved.  The song, from Shyamdas’ first CD, Beloved Chants, combines Shyam’s original lyrics with a traditional composition written (in the Brajabhasa language) by the 16th century Ashta-Chaap poet-saint Govinda Swami. Vallabhdas described the bard as someone whose “life was full of deep realizations, and his words carry to us the essence of pure devotion.”   (Scroll to the bottom for Govinda Swami’s words, plus Shyamdas’ translation and original lyrics for Beloved.)

At the end of the song, Vallabhdas said: “I think Shyamdas found his beloved.  We all miss him of course…but we’ll just keep singing the Beloved’s names and following in his footsteps, and we’ll get there…”

SRI Kirtan with Naren Budhkar

Bhajan Belt favorites SRI Kirtan (Sruti Ram & Ishwari) took the stage next, singing two of their favorites from their many sails on the Bhajan Boats with Shyamdas.  Sruti Ram told a humorous story about long road trips with his bhakti brother (“driving to Vermont for coffee”) and seeking his friend’s counsel about a difficult interpersonal situation (Shyam’s advice: “Delete.”), then launched into a rousing Sri Ram Jai Ram.  Ishwari took over the lead to deliver her now-classic Jai-Jagatambe Ma Durga chant — punctuated with her earth-shaking take on Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.”

To close it out, Hari Mulukutla sang Sharanam, a hymn of auspiciousness from the Upanashids (Hindu scriptures) that Shyamdas often sang when closing his programs.  The evening ended with a recording of one of Shyam-ji’s followers — a Western woman named Nicole — singing a Holi devotional song to Shyamdas for the first time.  It was a sweet, simple reminder of the many lives he touched during his presence in this world and how his influence continues still.

“Hundreds of years in the future, they will still be talking about Shyamdas,” Mulukutla said.  “And it will be very hard to describe him.”

Shyamdas, we imagine, would have chuckled.

The full roster of musicians included:

Krishna Devi

Krishna Devi, who started it off with Radhe (what better for a Shyamdas tribute?) and Krishna, warming up our response with her “gypsy kirtan.”

The Rev. Kim Lesley, who, joined by Jennifer Schmid and Renee on vocals, kept the Maha Mantra flowing.

Arundhati read a poignant remembrance sharing “the ultimate lesson” Shyamdas taught her — “Take shelter of Krishna” — then sang a beautiful Arati followed by a Govinda/Hare Krishna medley.

Prema of the Woodstock sangha sang and played on her tanpura one of the hundreds (thousands?) of ancient love poems that were brought to light by Shyamdas: “Lift up the veil and meet your Beloved.”

Ned Leavitt aka Jambavan

Ned Leavitt aka Jambavan sang Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama — “Sri Krishna is my refuge” — a song much beloved by Shyamdas that he sang often.  Shyam-ji’s partner Ally Gopi was softly singing it in the car as they were raced to the hospital in India just before his physical death, she wrote in a poignant memoir for the spiritual journal Nama Rupa.

John McDowell

Naren Budhkar, who often played tabla for Shyamdas, read another of Shyam-Ji’s translated love poems to the Divine, then joined John McDowell for a drum call-and-response.  McDowell, who co-produced Shyamdas’ first CD and has played with him for many years, called Shyam a “musician’s musician” who “understood that rhythm was one of the ways to keep the bhav going.”

Supporting the music all evening were Sundar Das on flute and Avinash, Tommy Be and John McDowell on percussion.

Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama

Tommy Be, Avinash, Renee, Jennifer, and Rev Kim

Beloved

From Vallabhdas: “This traditional composition in the Nata Raga, sung to Shri Krishna in the early afternoon, was written by the 16th century Ashta-Chaap poet-saint Govinda Swami. His life was full of deep realizations, and his Brajabhasa words carry to us the essence of pure devotion:”
pritama prita hi te paiye
yadyapi rupa guna, shila su-gharata
ina batana na rijhaiye
sat kula janma, karma subha lakshana
veda purana padhaiye
Govinda bina sneha sualo
rasanaa kahaju nachaiye
Shyamdas’ Translation:
The Beloved is found only through love.
Physical beauty, good virtues, fine character
and a noble home –
these possessions will never please God.
You could have a high birth,
good karmas, auspicious signs, and
have read the Vedas and Puranas.
Sings Govinda, “But, my friend!
Without love for the Beloved,
what is the point of wagging your tongue?”
Shyamdasji composed these English lyrics to go along with the song:
Find the Beloved through the beloved Name.
Even if you have good looks and virtues,
they don’t matter in this game.
If you don’t love Shri Govinda,
what are you doing with your day?

More on Shyamdas:

Swept Up in a ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ with Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute Maha Mantra
Storytime in the Bhav with Shyamdas & Friends at Bhakti Fest Midwest
Feels Like ‘Yesterday:’  Classic Shyamdas in Wacky Spontaneous Improv at Omega Chant
Bhajan Boat’ Charity Cruise Circles Manhattan with a Boatful of Bhaktas
Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Remembering Shyamdas Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shyamdas Remembered, Video Playlist on YouTube
 
Also see:
www.shyamdas.com
www.sacredwoods.net (for Shyamdas’ books and recordings. Note: many sold-out books are being reprinted)
www.anandaashram.org

 

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Passionate about the planet

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

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

 

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

‘Are You Serious?/Are You Delirious?

Don't Frack with her

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

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

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

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

 The Message in the Mantra

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

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

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

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

Captain Shyamdas & First Mate Krishna Das

With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, a few hundred people crowded the upper deck of one of NYC’s Circle Line cruisers to chant with an all-star line-up of musicians on the 2nd Annual NYC Bhajan Boat, a fundraiser presented by the Mantralogy record label.

The four-hour joyride circumnavigated the City That Never Sleeps, passing under iconic bridges, getting up close with Lady Liberty, and offering stunning panoramas from every direction.  But for all the world-class sightseeing outside the ship, the real magic was happening right on the cramped and crowded “stage” in the bow of the boat. 

Rockin’ & Rollin’ on the River

Gaura Vani

Shyamdas, who has really pioneered the kirtan cruise, captained this showboat as he has many in the past.  He warmed us up with Radhe and got us off the Pier 83 dock with Krishna. Then Gaura Vani put some wind in our sails with his crew of kindred spirits from New York as the boat headed north up the Hudson River, culminating in a rousing Krishna-Radhe mantra by NYC bhakta Acyuta Gopi that ended way too soon.  See it here, at about 15:40 into this clip from Gaura Vani’s set, posted by Om Factory NY.)  

SRI Kirtan, the Woodstock, N.Y.-based divine duo of Sruti Ram and Ishwari, took over just as the George Washington Bridge loomed overhead, and rocked our bhakti all around the northern tip of Manhattan with their signature Chalisa and a new anti-fracking rap they played live for the first time. Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das, aka Prema Hara — who have just launched an ambitious 12-state tour — accompanied SRI Kirtan and others.

SRI Kirtan rocked the boat

Now we were rockin’ and rollin’ down the crowded East River, with Roosevelt Island and Queens on our port side, midtown Manhattan’s cityscape starboard.  Nina Rao, the first mate of Krishna Das’s organization, took the helm at her boss’s harmonium (he sang back-up) and offered up a preview of her own upcoming debut album, Antarayaami – Knower of All Hearts, a 12-track double CD that will be released this fall.  (As one might hope, the CD will be heavy on Hanuman Chalisas, including a duet with KD, Rao told us.) Sign up to receive CD news and more at www.chantkirtan.com

Excerpted in the video below is a track from the upcoming CD (“Bhajagovindam/Narayana”) that melds three traditional chants in a slow-starting, fast-finishing fusion of mantra melodies.  Don’t miss little Bodhi, nestled in Grandpa KD’s lap, tapping right along on his own mini-drum (watch how he studies Arjun Bruggeman’s hand gestures on the tabla and mimics them).

 

Lady Liberty Dancing With Shiva

Lady Liberty: serenaded by Shiva

The special guest of the day, Krishna Das, had his chance to lead kirtan as well, just as the Williamsburg Bridge dominated the view ahead.  (Bodhi kept right on drumming, this time from the lap of Devadas.)  We all did the Krishna Waltz as we passed under the three massive spans bridging the lower East River, then Shiva danced with Lady Liberty as we rounded the iconic statue of the Roman goddess of freedom — symbol of chains unbound — while chanting Om Namah Shivaya to the Hindu god of destruction and transformation. 

Captain Shyamdas, dressed in a traditional dhoti kurta and a blue Nantucket baseball cap slightly cocked to one side, returned for the final leg up the West Side to seal the journey with a kiss to Radhe.  Krishna Das sang right alongside him as the boat steamed north again, the two occasionally exchanging private laughs like schoolboys with a secret.  Pier 83 appeared far too soon, but Shyamdas promised that the next boatride would be longer — to the Caribbean perhaps.  The crowd cheered.  With a final Radhe Shyam, the boat was docked, and the crew forced us to leave (they had to shoo a lot of us out…)

Charity Cruise Trend Setting Sail

This was the Bhajan Boat’s second cruise in Manhattan, but Shyamdas has been organizing kirtan cruises on the mid-Hudson River for a few years now as benefits for Food for Life Vrindavan, a non-profit organization that feeds poor children in India.  Three other charities — Share Your Care, The Seva Foundation, and Off the Mat Into the World — also benefited from the Sept. 30 NYC cruise.

As word gets out about these charity cruises, it seems that everyone is clamoring for one of their own.  Boston wants one on the Harbor, Toronto wants one on Lake Ontario, Midwesterners want one on the Mississippi, California wants more than one…this is the beginning of a trend folks.  Look for it to grow. 

Ki JAI to that.

The Bhajan Boat back-up band, the musicians and vocalists who supported various wallahs, reads like a who’s who of East Coast kirtaneers:  Arjun Bruggeman (tabla), Steve Gorn and Sundar Das (flutes), David Nichtern and Richard Davis (guitars), Adam Bauer (bass), Devadas (cymbals), Ananta Cuffee (mrdanga), Janaki Cuffee, Acyuta Gopi, Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das (vocals), Jaya Sita Lopez (cello), and more…Who have we left out?

More photos in our Bhajan Boat Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page.

Stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube channel for new uploads from the Bhajan Boat and more.

More links:
www.shyamdas.com
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.chantkirtan.com
www.krishnadas.com
www.premahara.com
www.mantralogy.com
 
The charities: 
 
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The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest:  There was heat on the stage Saturday night at Bhakti Fest Midwest, and it wasn’t just from the fire-spinners.  Backed by an all-star cast of musicians, Shyamdas lit up the late-night crowd in Madison, Wisc. – already primed after three hours with Krishna Das – with his inimitable style of Hari Katha (sacred story-telling). He masterfully weaved classic stories of Krishna and Radhe inside crescendo-building chants that went straight to the heart of the bhav and engulfed the sea of chanters in a blur of ecstatic joy.  It’s a wonder the stately old weepers on Willow Island, where the main stage was situated, didn’t pull up their roots and join the lila.

Shyamdas’s talents as Sanskrit scholar, translator of sacred texts, revered teacher, and wallah extraordinaire were on brilliant display.  He enthralled with stories of the passionate love affair between Krishna and Radha, slipping in bits of wisdom amidst a slowly climaxing “Radhe Krishna, Radhe Krishna, Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam, Radhe Shyam, Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe” chant.  Breathless.

He told of the Sadhu in India who was inching his way around a sacred mountain, bowing to Krishna in full prostration (with the body laid flat out on the ground) 1,008 times before he would take the next step on his yatra. The man was 5’2” tall, and the journey was 14 miles long.

“He was not in a hurry,” Shyamdas deadpanned with one of those killer expressions. Then, the segue.  “And this is what he sang all day long…” Music up.  Voices together. “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare….”

He told the story of Krishna as a young boy toying with his mother about “eating dirt,” a Hindu metaphor for worshiping false gods, then busted into a 17-minute-long Gopala raga that peaked in a tidal wave of fervor on stage and off.  Brilliant.  (Video below.)

The stories and the chants flowed seamlessly for two hours, one deep sacred river of bhav.  By the end of it the crowd of bhaktas were eating out of his hand and eager for more nectar.  We’re guessing Shyam-Ji could have gone on like this for hours longer, swimming in the vibestream and taking us all along for the ride.  But alas, Emcee Shiva Baum was waiting in the wing, and that was the signal to wrap it up.  Sigh.

Shyamdas let us down ever so gently with the final morsel of young Krishna’s miracle-making and one last sweet round of “Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala.”  It ended in a whisper and a deep silence that was broken only when Shyamdas, with a look of sweet satisfaction, uttered simply: “That was exquisite.”

In the Bhav with Shyam

The crowd punctuated his sentiment with a roar.  He wasn’t patting himself on the back.  It was more an acknowledgement of the quality of the bhav, the delicious flow of energy from “caller” to “responders” and back, then all as one — the depth of the emotion of devotion we had all just shared.  Long exhale.

Joining Shyamdas for this luscious Bhakti Fest lila were: Nina Rao on kartals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla, Yehoshua Brill on electric guitar, Sruti Ram and Ishwari of SRI Kirtan on vocals, break-out violinist Samuel Salsbury, and Hanuman Das on sitar.

Who needs fire-spinners when you’ve got Shyamdas and this band on the stage? (No, really, we love fire-spinners…)

Here’s the video.  What do you think?

See also:
The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal of Shyamdas’s set at Bhakti Fest Midwest
www.shyamdas.com
www.bhaktifest.com
 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

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

 

 

 

 

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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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Where’s the Bhav? Omega Spring Chant!

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The spring chant-fest season has officially arrived, and the bhav starts flowing Friday night 5/3 with Spring Ecstatic Chant at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y.  This weekend’s chant retreat, now in its fifth year, is the little sister to Omega’s epic Ecstatic Chant weekend over Labor Day, a don’t-miss destination for chantaholics for more than a decade.

Spring Chant headliner Jai Uttal has had to bow out of this weekend’s festivities due to an ongoing battle with pneumonia — and the whole bhakti community is praying for his complete, speedy recovery.  Even without Jai, the line-up shines:  Shyamdas, Wah!, Donna DeLory, SRI Kirtan, Gaura Vani, and — just announced and at Omega Chant for the first time ever — Masood Ali Khan, who will be joined by tabla virtuoso Daniel Paul and multi-instrumentalist phenom Sheela Bringi.

Ali Khan and Bringi are two rising stars in the sacred music scene, and their addition to the Spring Chant line-up cements their reputations as world-class artists in the “yoga music” genre.  Ali Khan’s second album, “The Yoga Sessions: Hang With Angels,” released last September, features his percussive magic on the hang drum (pronounced “hung”) in collaboration with a star-studded list of world musicians that include bansuri flute master Steve Gorn, guitarist Ray Ippolito and vocal harmonies by the likes of Visvambhar Seth of the Mayapuris, Kamaniya Devi of Prema Hara, and West Coast yogi-wallah Suzanne Sterling.  For a little taste of the magic that can be expected during Ali Khan’s set Friday night, check out this video:

For those who have never experienced a chant retreat Omega-style, put it on your bucket list!  There’s something about Omega that sets the Hudson Valley center’s famous chant weekends apart from the rest.  Maybe it’s the fact that there is nothing to do but chant, chant, chant and chant some more — there are no competing yoga classes or workshops to entice you away from the calling of the names.  Or maybe it’s the fact that the audience tends to be “hard-core” chanters — everyone knows the words and they’re not afraid to sing them out, creating a resounding response chorus that you won’t hear many other places.  Or maybe it’s just simply the magic of the Omega campus, a former Jewish camp at the foot of the Catskill Mountains converted to a high-end holistic wellness retreat center,  where countless thousands of seekers have gone in search of enlightenment (or at least to get a little closer to it).

Whatever it is, there’s nothing quite like it.  And while the younger and less-likely-to-be-sold-out Spring Chant doesn’t have the big headliners that Fall Chant has — including Krishna Das, Deva Premal & Miten, and Snatam Kaur —  it remains a perennial highlight on our short list of must-do kirtan events.

Shyamdas will be there of course — he told The Bhakti Beat at last year’s Spring Chant that he has been there every year and wouldn’t miss it for the world.  The Sanskrit scholar and wallah extraordinare’s inimitable style of Hari Katha — chanting intermingled with stories and teachings from Hindu scriptures — will be on display throughout the weekend, and he will lead the closing session on Sunday.  That session has always been a highlight for us, as the whole kit and kaboodle of wallahs join together on stage for a last rousing round of Hari Bols (check out the video below for a taste of the fun from last year).

SRI Kirtan, the divine duo of Ishwari and Sruti Ram, will be joining Spring Chant for the third year straight, and we’re hoping they will be permanently on the line-up.  Because they rock the bhakti, baby.  They never fail to deliver a set that is pure heart-stirring joy and exploding with devotion, calling upon their diverse musical backgrounds (ranging from Gregorian Chant to punk rock!) to bring down the house.  Or more accurately, bring UP the house?

Spring Chant this year also sees the return of Wah!, Gaura Vani and Donna DeLory — each world-class chant wallahs in their own right who have become Omega mainstays.  Yes, Jai Uttal will be missed — it’s hard to imagine Omega Chant without him.

Nothing left to do but chant, chant, chant…

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Where’s the Bhav This Weekend? 3/30-4/1

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What’s ahead: Mike Cohen with Brenda McMorrow in Toronto; Wah! and Deepak & Breath of Life Tribe in Santa Monica; SRI Kirtan rocks the Bhajan Belt; GuruGanesha, Girish and the Kirtaniyas converge on the Bay area, and David Newman hits the Midwest.

If you like the bhav blog, please share it.  We’ll love you for it!

Five for the Bhav

Toronto Melds Kirtan with Yoga

Photo by The Bhakti Beat, Bhakti Fest '11

We have a personal beef about how some yoga conferences eschew kirtan concerts altogether, so we rejoice whenever chanting gets featured billing at a yoga gathering.  Like the Toronto Yoga Conference, where MIKE COHEN will be joined by a high-powered chorus of musicians that includes BRENDA MCMORROW, LEA LONGO, LANA SUGARMAN, KEVAN McKENZIE (drum kit) and CHRIS GARTNER (electric bass) for the weekend’s main event on Friday night 3/30.  Also at the conference, Cohen is leading a workshop on integrating kirtan into yoga practice and teaching on Saturday 3/31, which promises to “demystify” kirtan for yogis interested in expanding their repertoire.

Cohen has just announced his latest CD, Soul Contact (officially available April 2), which he says was “profoundly influenced” by his travels to holy sites in South Indian and was crafted during a two-year kirtan tour across North America.  With guest vocalists JONI ALLEN and ALLIE STRINGER (that would be DAVE STRINGER’S niece), he describes the disc as “an invitation to sing, dance, clap and play with Divine Energy within a contemporary Western context.” Here’s a sample track from it, a sublime version of the Gayatri mantra featuring Allie Stringer’s vocal magic.

by The Bhakti Beat

From Toronto, BRENDA McMORROW heads to Buffalo, NY for a concert Saturday 3/31, kicking off a new Northeast tour for the Guelph, Ontario artist, who is literally taking off as a world-class chantress.  She will hit New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Indiana and Ohio before heading back to her home province.  Northeast tour details here.

Double-Dose at the Shala

Santa Monica’s kirtan temple strikes again this weekend .  WAH! brings her bhav to Bhakti Yoga Shala on Friday 3/30 before heading to Encinitas for a concert Saturday 3/31 and afternoon workshop on Sunday 4/1 at Jyoti Mandir. (Wah! schedule here.)  On Saturday night the Shala hosts DEEPAK RAMAPRIYAN and BREATH OF LIFE TRIBE for what is sure to be a bhakti-rocking night.  Both events are part of the pre-Bhakti Fest build-up.  Need more?  There’s more.  GOVIND DAS, Bhakti Yoga Shala’s co-founder and head bhakta, will be leading a brand new Monday Night Community Kirtan on, yeah, Monday night.  The Shala’s website has the deets for the whole weekend, and don’t forget to check out what’s coming up.

Bhakti Rock in the Bhajan Belt

Photo by Ganagaram (Patrick Finn)

Back East in the Hudson Valley’s Bhajan Belt, SRI KIRTAN (aka SRUTI RAM and ISHWARI) are back from India and at their home ‘hood studio of Euphoria Yoga in Woodstock on Saturday 3/31, rocking the local bhaktas with their inimitable blend of genre-bending bhajans.  KC SOLARIS will join on tabla.  In India, this dynamic duo opened the evening chants at the annual Festival of Flowers at RADHANATH SWAMI’s Radhagopinath temple in Mumbai, and got covered in a few million loose flower petals that rained down from the heavens.  After reading their blog post recounting the story, we’re adding the Festival of Flowers to our bucket list.  Wow.

Bhav Around the Bay

Northern California’s Bay Area gets a triple-shot of bhakti love this weekend: GURUGANESHA BAND (with special guest JAI UTTAL!), THE KIRTANIYAS and GIRISH all have gigs this weekend in Berkeley and San Francisco.

GURUGANESHA SINGH and his band of troubadours (including HANS CHRISTIAN, MICHELLE HURTADO, DANIEL PAUL, SAT KATAR SINGH and GURUSANGHAT SINGH) hit the Rudramandir Temple in Berkeley Friday night for one last California gig — and word is that JAI UTTAL will be joining the fun.  (Do you think he’ll have gotten the day-glo colors out of his hair yet, after last weekend’s Holi Fest?) The GGB has collaborated its way up the coast of Cali, playing along the way with KARNAMRITA DASI, THOMAS BARQUEE, clarinetist RAM DASS KHALSA, and more.  Saturday the band heads north for a string of concerts in Oregon and British Columbia before the West Coast leg of this national tour culminates in SAT NAM FEST in Joshua Tree April 12-14.  East Coasters will get their chance soon enough: that leg begins in Virginia May 18.  See the full tour here.

There might be some residual Holi Fest colors found at Purusha in San Francisco Friday night as well, when the KIRTANIYAS bring their Krishna love back from Utah to rock Bay bhaktas.  The Kirtaniyas — VIJAY KRSNA, SARASVATI NUGENT, RASIKA COVIN, NITAI PREMO — will be joined by Jai Uttal’s long-time vocal accompanist, PRAJNA VIEIRA (whose debut CD will be out later this Spring).  They all head to San Raphael Saturday 3/31 and Los Gatos on Sunday 4/1Details for all three shows here.

Also on Friday, GIRISH is back in NoCal and playing for yoga with ANNIKA WILLIAMS at Yoga Tree Mission in San Francisco.  We stumbled upon a yoga class at BHAKTI FEST where Girish, YVETTE OM and ALVIN YOUNG  (of the WILD LOTUS BAND) were jamming, so we understand why so many people want Girish playing at their yoga class.  (In fact you can get three days of Girish-infused yoga next weekend, 4/5-7 at the Breathe Yoga Retreat, happening at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center aka the home of Bhakti Fest and Sat Nam Fest 2012.)  On Saturday 3/31, Girish heads south for concerts in Santa Barbara, followed by Avila Beach Sunday 4/1, continuing a breathless North American Diamonds in the Sun tour.  We hope he gets to breathe at the Breathe retreat… Tour details here.

Mantras in the Midwest

More wanderlust from DAVID NEWMAN aka DURGA DAS, who is in the midwest this weekend with concerts in Chicago Friday 3/30 and Oshkosh, Wisc. Saturday 3/31. On Sunday 4/1 Newman pulls double-shift at Inner Sun Yoga in Oshkosh, presenting his Inner Fire workshop from 10-noon plus a live-music yoga jam later in the afternoon.  All details here.

And because everyone knows Midwesterners can’t get enough kirtan, three local bhakta bands in the Minnepolis area are joining forces for a mini-encore of the recent Milwaukee Kirtan FestTULSI DAS, PASCALE LAPOINT and OM BOLO reconvene the kirtan on Saturday 3/31 from noon to 4 p.m.  Details here.

Those are our top five spots for the bhav this weekend.  Where will you be chanting?

Don’t forget to post your events to The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page or tweet us with them.  Thanks!

 

 

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Five for the Ride: Car Kirtan (Use with Caution)

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Who shall we take along on the ride today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five for the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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