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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…


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

David Newman and the moon.



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


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.

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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!




Where’s the Bhav This Weekend? Feb. 24-26


It’s a “Wallahs-to-Watch” kind of weekend:  Five rising chant artists — Gina Sala, Irene Solea, Prajna Vieira, Larisa Stow, and Eddy Nataraj — lead the bhav this weekend coast to coast.  Plus, the party of the decade at Exhale Venice; Sean Johnson immerses NOLA in bhav; Bodhi Fest brings Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer and Deva Premal & Miten to Australia, and Brenda McMorrow sings in Estonia.  Yes, Estonia.

Best of the Weekend Bhav

Gina Sala, Prajna Vieira

GINA SALÁ plays in her home ‘hood of Seattle for Singing Satsang at Samadhi Yoga Friday night. Sala, who was introduced at Bhakti Fest 2010 as “the best kirtan artist you’ve never heard of,” facilitates “wholeness through voice” as a vocalist, teacher, composer and sound healer. She began chanting at age 3, living in a Hindu ashram in Canada. Today her music blends original lyrics and compositions with traditional chants from Hindu, African and Tibetan cultures, among others. If you can’t be in Seattle Friday, how about joining Gina in Mexico in March? Her Ocean of Devotion Sound & Wellness retreat holds court in Yelapa, a boatride away from Puerto Vallarta, March 17-24. (Use the code on the link to save $75, for friends of Sarah “Bhakti Babe” Garney.)

Irene Solea, Om Trinity

IRENE SOLEA, a favorite throughout the Northeast, takes her bhav West to Colorado this weekend for a series of events starting with the popular FRIDAY NIGHT YOGA CLUB in Denver 2/24, where she’ll play for yoga with JEREMY WOLF and ASIANA HARPER before kirtan.  Irene will be joined by Colorado kirtaniyas DAKINA MA JAEGER, JIM BECKWITH and DAMAN GROSSMAN.  Saturday morning, there’s more live-music yoga with Irene at Karma Yoga in Denver, and on Saturday night Irene is joined by local wallah MIRA GALE for an evening of devotional chanting at Yoga That Heals in Boulder. Word is that Irene’s new CD will debut in the spring: eight original chants set to pop/rock, Latin and reggae beats. GIRISH and JONI ALLEN are guest artists. Download a teaser track here, a luscious medley of uplifting original lyrics and Om Namah Shivaya.

Speaking of CD’s we can’t wait for, the long-awaited duet release by PRAJNA VIEIRA and BEN LEINBACH is coming soon. There’s even a date for the mandatory CD Release Party: April 20 at Rudrimandir in Berkeley, Calif.  “Amrita” represents “almost two years of hard work, love, devotion, laughter, tears and deep friendship,” Prajna said in an email. This Saturday, Prajna reunites with DONALD FONTOWITZ and RAMANA ERICKSON, aka the MUKTI KIRTAN ENSEMBLE, for a benefitconcert in Pacifica, Calif. (South Bay area) in support of Dyllan Kianna Wicks, a 2-year-old who was born with a rare heart defect and received a heart transplant a year ago. Call Ocean Yoga to pre-register: (650) 355-9642. But hurry, this event is likely to sell out.

Larisa Stow, Bhakti Fest 2011

LARISA STOW & SHAKTI TRIBE continue their quest to transform the world, one soul at a time, with love and mantra rock. Described by the Tribe as a “raise-the-roof celebration of unity-in-community,” Soul Transformation hits the Orange Coast U.U. in Costa Mesa, Calif. on Saturday 2/25. The Love Fest continues in Temecula, Calif., where the Tribe will be rocking the mantras at Living Yoga Sunday night 2/26.
And, on Sunday morning — we love this! — Larisa & Tribe are performing for Reverend Pat Campbell’s services at the Center For Spiritual Living in Temecula Valley. Sunday service with Larisa Stow?  Wish my parents had taken us to that kind of church…

Eddy Nataraj, 700 Voices

Returning to the theme of “best kirtan artists you’ve never heard of,” have you heard EDDY NATARAJ? We caught up with him last Spring at 700 Voices in Connecticut, where he “opened” for DAVID NEWMAN and SNATAM KAUR, and thought he pretty much blew everyone away with his phenomenal Spanish gypsy guitar-strumming and soulful vocals melding Spanish, English and Sanskrit.  On Saturday 2/25, Eddy will be singing at Dharma Yoga of Central CT in Meriden, Conn., so if you’re in the Northeast, go see him.  You will not be disappointed.  (Next week he’ll join up with BARRY RACCIO for Bhakti Shakti, a kundalini yoga workshop and kirtan in New Haven.)  How does he do all that with a brand new baby?

Those are 5 Wallahs to Watch this weekend.  Lots more below…


More of the Bhav

Yoga Bash of the Decade?  Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice, Calif., is celebrating 10 years as a mecca for SoCal yogis with a birthday bash Saturday 2/25 featuring a live music all-star jam and dance party with SAUL DAVID RAYE and the RED MUSETTE ENSEMBLE (aka MICHELINE BERRY, DJ DREZ, JOEY LUGASSY, DEEPAK RAMAPRIYAN, CARLOS TORRES, YEHOSHUA BRILL and others to be announced.  Music is from 8-10 p.m. (apparently there’s a curfew), and there’s YOGA WITH SHIVA REA & FRIENDS from 5-7 p.m.  Oh, and it’s all FREE.  Beam me there Scotty.

Gwendolyn Colman, Sean Johnson

Show Us Your Chants: Trade in the Mardi Gras beads for a mala, and join SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND as they kick off their BHAKTImmersion retreat in New Orleans this weekend . The 8-day intensive starts with a full-on kirtan celebration in their home ‘hood on Saturday 2/25, and fills the week with ecstatic interactive chanting, dancing, storytelling, mythology, “bhaktiful asana practice” with live music, journaling, and love poetry from the Bhakti tradition. Sounds better than Mardi Gras, doesn’t it?

Gone Down Under: The Aussies’ itch for kirtan is being scratched this weekend with BODHI FESTIVAL in Newcastle, Australia, which claims to have “the finest kirtan (devotional) musical line-up ever seen in Australia.” U.S. headliners DEVA PREMAL & MITEN are ending their Australia tour there; DAVE STRINGER is beginning his there, and JAI UTTAL is…flying out for the weekend. (He’ll be joined by the Queen of Hearts Orchestra Oz.) Plus dozens of other artists, yoga and meditation teachers, and inspirational speakers. And get this: admission is by donation, a policy the festival’s spiritual director, Shakti Durga, said “liberates us to
dance together in truth and deep harmony.” This is a trend we’d like to see spread to the U.S., wouldn’t you?

Kirtan College Connection: So, maybe we missed something, but Estonia wasn’t at the top of our list for bhakti hot-spots. In fact it wasn’t even on the list. Well, guess what? Kirtan’s thriving there too, and thanks to a connection made at one of DAVID NEWMAN’S Kirtan Colleges, BRENDA McMORROW is in the former Eastern bloc country for two workshops and concerts in the capital, Tallin, and in Tartu. Palju õnne Brenda!  Meanwhile, DAVID NEWMAN is busy creating more connections: his first 2012 Kirtan College is going on right now at Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, Florida, and KC students will be showcasing their talents at a free public concert Friday 2/24 at the ashram.  More Kirtan Colleges with David coming up in greater Toronto (April 27-29) and Satchidananda Ashram in Yogaville, Va. (September 27-30).

Northeast Region

Bhav in Brooklyn: In New York City, AMBIKA COOPER holds space at the Brooklyn Yoga School Friday 2/24 for the ongoing Friday Night Kirtan series that features a rotating cast of bhaktas. Stay tuned for the live CD recorded Feb 10 at BYS featuring Ambika and the rest of the Brooklyn bhavsters (e.g., NINA RAO, DEVADAS, ANJULA PRASAD, SHYAMA CHAPIN, JEREMY & LILY CUSHMAN FRINDEL) singing the Hanuman Chalisa.

Helping Hands in Harlem: ANJULA PRASAD sings at Interfaith Chanting for Forgiveness, a benefit on Sunday 2/26 at the Harlem Holistic Center that will raise money for Def Dance Jam Workshop, a Harlem-based non-profit performing arts troupe and academic program serving deaf, hearing and physically or  developmentally challenged youths and their families.  Anjual tells us she’s got not one, but TWO new CD’s in the works.  Her current CD, “Anjula,” is available here.

Calling All Wallah Wannabe’s: It’s open-mic kirtan night for the BOSTON KIRTAN & SATSANG gang, who gather monthly at Yoga & Nia for Life in West Concord, Mass. for “kirtan for the people, by the people.” JOHN CALABRIA starts off the chanting, then passes the mic to any wallah wannabe’s or budding musicians trying out their tunes. But if you’re like me and would rather have a root canal than lead kirtan, just soaking in the bhav is also permitted.

Sundays in the Sanctuary with Dave:  In Northamptom, Mass., DAVE RUSSELL leads weekly Sunday night kirtan sessions at the Yoga Sanctuary.  Dave’s been chanting for like 40 years, and going strong.  Check out his schedule for deets on the Sundays in the Sanctuary and lots of other gigs throughout the Northeast.

Left Coast

Wah! Bhakti Fest

Wah! for MA: In Los Angeles (Granada Hills), WAH! is leading kirtan at the “Day of Healing,” a day-long conscious living expo to help launch the MA center in L.A.  Wah! sings for Amma at 1 p.m.  Her new album, Loops n Grooves is now out!

Psalms to Ma: In Santa Monica, PSALM ISADORA is back from India and back at Bhakti Yoga Shala for Jai Shakti Ma: The Power of Devotion. The workshop, described as a “celebration of the Mother through prayer and devotion,” includes chanting, ecsatic dance to open the heart, and a Tantric Goddess Ritual to awaken grace.   Jai Ma.

Dance Divine:  In the Bay Area, the now-weekly DEVOTION DANCE at Yoga Tree Telegraph in Berkeley, Calif. starts Saturday at 7 with an hour of kirtan led by STEPHANIE WINN and SHARAN PAL (tabla).  Devotional DJ Dance Party with DJ OSHAN ANAND rocks till 11.

Sacred in Sacramento: MARTI WALKER is presenting Nada Yoga: Mantras and More Made Easy at Rise Yoga in Sacramento, an experiential workshop where students will learn basic concepts and practical uses of four primary aspects of Nada Yoga: Vedic and tantric mantras, kirtan/bhajans, and pranayama sound techniques.

DC and South

Ten Years and Counting:  That’s how long SACRED CHANTS KIRTAN has been bringing together chanters in the D.C. and Maryland area, and they’re at it again this Saturday 2/25 in Columbia, Md.  And on Sunday 2/26, BE Yoga in Sterling, Va., is hosting a vegetarian pot-luck and community kirtan at the studio’s backyard Yurt.  Eating starts at 4:30 p.m., singing at 6.

Texas Tunes:  More Wallahs to Watch:  The BHAKTI HOUSE BAND, fresh from a gig at the Texas Yoga Conference last weekend (along with DAVID NEWMAN, SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND, and SUZANNE STERLING & THE DESERT DWELLERS), is right back at it with “an evening of sacred sound and devotion sharing the practice of Nada Bhakti Yoga through a very east-meets-west sound in music.” Friday 2/24 at Aledo Yoga, outside Fort Worth.

Mountain Time

Colorado Crooners:  In addition to the IRENE SOLEA tour in Denver and Boulder, TOM FUHRMAN is hosting an all-Shiva night of community kirtan on Saturday 2/25 at his home in Littleton, Colo.  More details at the Colorado Kirtan facebook page — a great source for all things kirtan in Colorado.

Arizona Energizers:  Local band the KIRTAN WALLAHS are leading ecstatic-chant call-and-response at the Yoga Shala in Prescott, Ariz. Saturday 2/25.

If you made it this far, comment here and tell me which of these events you’d like to be beamed to. One person will be randomly chosen to get their choice of the 3 new CDs mentioned.

Don’t forget to send events to bpatoine@aol.com, post them to The Bhakti Beat’s Facebook page., or Tweet us!