The first time I experienced Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe was at Bhakti Fest 2010, and I pretty much spent the whole set in jaw-drop disbelief. I know I wasn’t alone; the mid-day crowd on hand — many of whom, it seemed, were also new to this band from Long Beach, Calif. — was riveted. This was not your average kirtan. It was edgy, urban, hip-hop-infused modern “mantra rock.”
I fell in love with the Tribe’s vibe, and have seen them live at two Bhakti Fests since — each one more powerful than the last. When their latest CD, “Rock On, Sat Nam” (a work of conscious art) came out, I listened to it incessantly (and wrote about it). I interviewed Larisa Stow about her music and her bhakti path, followed the Tribe’s news about shows around SoCal, and pined to road-trip with them to the Holi Festival in Utah, where they played before a crowd of 50,000 or so drenched in flourescent colors.
So I figured I knew what to expect from Larisa and the Tribe this time around. I was wrong.
What transpired on the stage over the midnight hours of Night One at Shakti Fest 2012 was beyond expectation. (There’s a nice long taste of it in the video below.) I can’t quite even put my finger on what it was that made this Shakti-fied set stand out so. Maybe it was the late hour or the fact that we’d been “in the bhav” for 15 hours or so, but those who stuck around (most of the crowd) after the Mayapuris finished know what I’m talking about. It was like the perfect storm of exquisite musicianship, connection between “performers” and “audience,” and straight-from-the-soul message of forgiveness, transformation and hope. Larisa Stow has this inimitable way of connecting at a heart level — there I said it — that just seemed to resonate deeply with the throng of bhaktas crowding the front stage.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is backed by four top-notch musicians, who are resonating right along on that heart-vibe with her. This band is tight. For “just” three guys and a drummer, they conjure incredibly rich melodies. Woodwinds wizard Richard Hardy (who also played with Marti Walker and C.C. White at Shakti Fest) performed his magic on the sax and the flute and…how many other instruments did he have in his bag of tricks?
Kimo Estores is masterful as the guitar hero, Benj Clarke lays down the funked-up bass grooves, and Paloma Estevez, the newcomer in the Tribe, rocks on drum kit. Everyone sings response.
Center stage and weaving it all together is Shakti Sister Larisa, alternately playing the harmonium, dancing with Benj or Kimo, and belting out lead vocals. But it’s more than her voice, with its incredible range; underneath it all is a warm, approachable authenticity to a depth that is surprisingly rare even in the “love-all, serve-all” world of sacred chant.
Before long she was sitting at the front of the stage, eye-to-eye with everyone, touching palms, connecting personally, physically, soulfully, with each one. Later she declared from the stage midway through a soaring Radhe-Krishna mantra: “I just want to climb right down there with all of you!” Then she did just that, leaving the spotlights behind to dance and chant with the throng in the shadows. It was a Larisa Lovefest!
The set electrified from the start: a HUGE Shakti Ma chant that woke everyone up and commanded attention. In a loving sort of way. But that’s sort of the point with this music: “Wake Up and Pay Attention. LoveLoveLoveLoveLove.” While that may be an oversimplification, it’s the message that, to us, pervades the multi-layered lyrics laced with mantra.
This ethic is on glorious display in the Tribe’s anthem-like “Peacemakers” song (video below), which gives us chills every time. Do you feel it?
For more Shakti Tribe love, visit www.larisastow.com
For more Shakti Fest coverage, see also: