≡ Menu
Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015
Share

Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015

Wait a minute, kirtan at Jazz Fest? THE Jazz Fest?? The one going on right now in New Orleans, featuring Elton John, the Who, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and a long list of luminaries from a genre-blending spectrum of rock/jazz/blues/gospel and more?

Yep, that’s the one.  You can add Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band to that lineup of musical legends.

So, what’s the big deal about kirtan at a mainstream music festival like Jazz Fest?

The Bhakti Beat asked Sean Johnson this in an interview shortly after the band’s set.  He paused, contemplating the question, then offered this: “I feel like kirtan music gets put into a box by people who are not familiar with it.   People who aren’t into yoga or meditation don’t even really give it a chance; there’s a prejudgement about what it is.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comEven kirtan artists, Johnson observed, have a hard time describing what they do in words that resonate with someone who doesn’t already relate to the bhakti world. Playing a mainstream music festival, he said, “is an opportunity to put mantra music right in front of a general audience, so they can bypass their own judgments about what it might be — to really be able to experience it in their bodies rather than judging it with their minds.”

“We in this kirtan subculture create these experiences and events where we can get together and be inspired by each other, but I think there’s value in the magic of what we share that can really be a gift to the wider culture,” he continued. “Mantras in and of themselves are really powerful, so if we can create experiences that bypass the boundaries that are put around certain cultural experiences, even certain kinds of art, it becomes an opportunity for the labels to become unimportant, to no longer separate us from each other.”

Any way you look at it, a kirtan band at the epic New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest is, well, epic.  And this little bhakti band from NOLA has been invited back to Jazz Fest three times so far.  We’re tempted to call them a regular.

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest TheBhaktiBeat.com

Parmita Pushman, the founder of White Swan Records and herself a pioneer in bringing mantra music to the mainstream, had this to say about the Wild Lotus Band’s Jazz Fest participation: “Jazz Fest features the colors and creativity of New Orleans; artists like Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band are part of a vital new future for New Orleans. Kirtan music and yoga are bringing peace and music to people, but wherever it happens they also bring along their own musical influences and tastes which are seen in the expression of their song.”

The trio of Johnson (vocals/harmonium), Alvin Young (bass/guitar), and Gwendolyn Colman (vocals/percussion) has become somewhat of a legend in their own right, at least in the bhakti world.  Their brand of funked-up, bluesy, soul-tingling mantra music is a favorite at chant festivals and yoga retreats, where they never fail to whip the crowds into a frenzy of ecstatic free-dance.  But this band consistently delivers much more than rock-out dance mantra.  They will take you deep, lift you up, and crack you open with soulful sprinklings of bhakti poetry and tear-jerker gospel classics like their signature set closer, Fly Away.  Gets us every time.

Apparently we’re not alone.  Even at Jazz Fest — a big, boisterous, outdoor, party-scene festival with a dozen stages plus parades, pow-wows and pavilions — the band moved people to tears, Johnson told us. Performing on the first day of the two-weekend Fest, the band had their biggest crowd yet in their three years at Jazz Fest, with lots of kirtan newbies plus a dedicated group of hard-core fans, friends and family, who held the response.

“Many people were crying at one point or another,” Johnson said of the band’s Friday afternoon set. “I don’t know how often that happens at a big music festival, so I was really grateful that even in that outdoor, larger-scale environment with a lot of people who were not familiar with kirtan, people had such an intimate emotional experience.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest ThebhaktiBeat.comWith less than an hour to play, the NOLA native said it was challenging to find a way to make the experience as accessible and comfortable as possible to people new to kirtan.  He told the crowd that the language of bhakti might be a little different than what you’re used to, but what happens in kirtan is really not that different from what happens in the gospel tent across the field or even at the main stage.

Connecting Through Music

“I don’t want people to think that kirtan is this strange esoteric form of music from another place and time,” he said.  It’s just another way of connecting through music, he said. “The most exalted moments of a stadium rock concert are when everybody knows the song; there is this communion between the band and the crowd.  The essence of what happens in that experience is the same thing that happens in kirtan.”

Unity Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comBased on the reports we heard, there was a whole lot of communion between band and crowd going on at Jazz Fest’s Lagniappe Stage during the Wild Lotus set.  The band led just four songs in their 50-minute set, all from their brilliant 2014 CD, “Unity,” with a little intro to each to offer some context for the mantras. (You’ve got “Unity,” right? If not, get it here.)

They opened with the exotic, rollicking tribute to the Remover of Obstacles, “Ganesha’s Belly Dance,” then moved into the CD’s title song, a mash-up of original lyrics around the theme of oneness fused with Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, the Hindu prayer of peace for all beings. Next, their powerful, primal Kali chant, “The Way of Love,” had the crowd leaping over hedges to dance in a grassy area near the stage in what Johnson called a “little bit of a Bhakti Fest moment…but with grass.”

Then, with the revelers securely in the palm of their hands, the trio knocked it out of the park with the soulful song of hope that they wrote for the city they love in the wake of the hurricane that nearly destroyed it.  “I Will Rise Again” is a moving tribute to the band’s beloved NOLA rising from the floodwaters of Katrina.  It gives us goosebumps, and we’re pretty far removed from the Big Easy…

We imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

Jazz Fest photos courtesy of Bonnie Gustin Photography.

 

_____________________

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.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
Follow The Bhakti Beat on twitter
Subscribe to our YouTube channel
Find us on Google+

 

 

 

Share
{ 1 comment }
Share

grammy nominationGrammys season has officially begun, and more than ever before, the world of mantra music represents.  More than a dozen artists in the “non-genre” of kirtan/chant/yoga music are on the first-round ballot for consideration to be among the 57th Annual Grammy Award Nominees for Best New Age Album.

[Yes, “New Age” is what the non-genre of kirtan seems to get lumped into in the Grammys world.  Not World Music, which is a separate Grammy category.  But that’s another story. That we’ve already written.  Read it here: Kirtan in a New Age: What’s in a Grammys Category?]

The buzz started a week or so ago on social media, when Jai Uttal announced that his “Return to Shiva Station” was among those being considered for nomination in the Best New Age Album category.  Next, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band put it out that their latest release, “Unity,” is also being considered.  Bit by bit, word came forth of other artists whose offerings are also on the list of qualified entrants that members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) will vote upon to decide who gets the coveted Grammy Nomination.

This got us thinking: who else is on that list? And what exactly does that mean?

So here’s the scoop that we got from one of our favorite voting NARAS members (who preferred to remain under the radar).  Among the total of 78 titles on the nominations ballot for Best New Age Album, we counted 18 from artists in the kirtan or mantra-music world (few can be accurately termed “kirtan albums” in the strict sense of call-and-response kirtan).  And the entrants are…(drumroll please):

AKASHA BLUE SKY, Bhakti House Band
UNITY, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band
LIVE IN CONCERT, Mirabai Ceiba
AT THE TEMPLE DOOR, Ajeet Kaur
FROM WITHIN, Nirinjan Kaur feat. Mathew Schoening & Ram Dass
RIVER OF LIGHT, Ashana
LIGHT OF THE NAAM: MORNING CHANTS, Snatam Kaur
KIRTAN WALLAH, Krishna Das
SARASWATI DREAMS, Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda
MANTRAS FOR LIFE, Deva Premal + Miten with Manose
BHAKTI, Paul Avgerinos
SHAKTI GUITAR, Stevin McNamara
RISING, Alex Theory and Shiva Rea
RETURN TO SHIVA STATION: KAILASH CONNECTION, Jai Uttal 
SHIVOHAM, Manish Vyas
KASHI: SONGS FROM THE INDIA WITHIN US, Prem Joshua & Chintan 
HOLISTIC DEVOTION, Patrick Bernard
INCANTATIONS, Sheela Bringi

So, what does it actually mean to be on the “first-round ballot?”

Essentially, it means that you’ve passed the basic entrance exam of submitting an album in accordance with the Academy’s fairly rigid guidelines.   It means that you are “on the list” — your album is officially entered on the ballot that was sent on Oct. 16 to 12,000 or so members of NARAS. Considering there were at least 300 submissions that didn’t make that cut, we’d say Congratulations to anyone who made it that far.

What’s next? The nominations voting is the next step in the Grammys process.  NARAS members have until Nov. 5 to vote for their favorite artists/albums/tracks (in the New Age category there is only one award, for Best Album).  Members can vote in up to 20 categories.  In some Grammy categories, special committees help sort through and determine who gets the nomination.  In the New Age category, there are no committees, so it’s the membership vote that counts here.  The top four or five will get the coveted Grammy Nomination, and will forever after be known as “Grammy-nominated so-and-so.”

Kirtan Grammy Win Would Be a First

Kirtan artists have gotten the nomination only twice before:  Krishna Das in 2012 for “Live Ananda” and Jai Uttal in 2002 for “Mondo Rama.” Neither won the Award; both broke new ground.  Uttal was the first Grammy nomination ever in this category and Krishna Das was the first to play at the Grammy Awards (at least, on the internet broadcast).  It was a pretty exciting night.  Well at least for a kirtan junkie…

As for this year’s first-round entrants, well, what can we say?  Just look at the diversity within that list.  Jai Uttal is back in the Grammy pool with “Return to Shiva Station” (read our review here) and KD is back with “Kirtan Wallah.”  New to the Grammy ballot are  Sean Johnson and his cohorts, Alvin Young and Gwendolyn Colman, aka the Wild Lotus Band, for their epic and long-awaited “Unity.”   All Grammy-worthy, IMHO.  The other chant-world luminaries on the list are Deva Premal, Miten and Manose’s “Mantras for Life,” a collection of practical-oriented mantras done in repetitions of 108, and Snatam Kaur’s “Light of the Naam,”a sequence of traditional Sikh greet-the-day chants.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of this list of Grammy hopefuls.  We fell in love with Steve McNamara’s Shakti Guitar when we heard him play it live at Ahimsa Fest last year (and we missed him there this year), and are continuing the love affair with the album, a  soundscape of acoustic comfort music that’s easy to snuggle up inside.  Patrick Bernard, a sonic chameleon of sorts and, with 20+ albums, practically an icon in the world of New Age music-therapy,  melted our hearts when we first heard him at the Montreal Chant Fest — unplugged and pared down to a harmonium and a response singer with kartals, singing to Radha and Krishna with such deep soulfulness it brought us to tears (yeah, I know, Chant Fests will do that…).  “Holistic Devotion” takes that core and arranges it up, with an apparent choir of angels singing backup.

At the other end of the spectrum are the best little bhakti band in Texas that you may not have heard of yet, the Dallas-based Bhakti House Band, whose “Akasha Blue Sky” oozes with joyful devotional.  Remember the name.

The Kundalini crowd is well represented on this list, no doubt due to the crack management at Spirit Voyage records.  There’s Snatam of course.  Then there’s Nirinjan Kaur, who has been whispered to be the “next Snatam” and who collaborated with respected producer/musician RamDass Khalsa and cellist Matthew Schoening for “From Within.” Ajeet Kaur is another Sikh-tradition songstress on the rise who seems to wow everyone who experiences her live kirtans.   Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda have a partnership that transcends ordinary notions of “music” into something wholly pure and transcendental, whether they’re chanting kundalini mantras or rockin’ the kirtronica.  The same could be said for Mirabai Ceiba’s Markus and Angelika, whom we’ve experienced live enough times to be pretty confident that their “Live in Concert” disc is a little slice of heaven.    Ashana is new to us and we like every recording we’ve heard so far.

And there’s more…well, we’ve got some homework to do.  Our favorite kind of homework.

So there you have it, your Mantra Music Guide to the Grammys.  Now, who among these entrants would you most like to see win the Grammy for Best New Age Album…who gets your vote?  Who would you like to see on that list who isn’t?

 

Share
{ 11 comments }