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Okay, Christmas isn’t exactly a Hindu or Vaishnava holy day– we get that — but apparently it is a national holiday in Mother India, and celebrated exuberantly.  Here in the West, well, Christmas is hard to escape, no matter your religious leanings (or lack thereof).  We’re willing to bet that there are a few people out there who’ve got some kirtan junkies on their gift list, or who might (gasp!) be one themselves and need to drop some hints.  We asked around, and the Wish-List items poured in. 

So here it is, The Bhakti Beat’s Official 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Chantheads, Kirtan Junkies & Mantra Revolutionaries. 

These are not just any gifts, mind you.  These are gifts that, in one way or another, embody the spirit of devotion and service that is bhakti, from handmade malas by an up-and-coming Midwestern wallah to the gift of sight for a blind child through an international non-profit foundation.  Conscious gifting that supports the bhakti community.  Way better than Walmart.

What would you add to the list?

1. The Best of the Fests

If you go to just one big kirtan event all year, Bhakti Fest had better be the one.  Nowhere else — outside of India of course — will you get this much mantra music from this many masterful musicians all in one sweet spot.  Choose from Shakti Fest in May, Bhakti Fest Midwest in July, or the One and Only Original four-day extravaganza in September.  Until Jan. 1, you can get the Holiday Deal:  Bhakti Fest West tickets for $200 (they will eventually go up to a full price of $400 each).  Or, buy two tickets for $350.  Similar deals are available for Shakti Fest.  As a bonus, if you buy a ticket by Dec. 17, you’ll be automatically entered to win a free ticket to Bhakti Fest and a free download of the live CD, Be in the Bhav, recorded at Bhakti Fest 2011.  What could be more bhavalicious than that?

Special Holiday Deal for Shakti Fest/Bhakti Fest: $50 off 2 tickets.
Buy Bhakti Fest tickets
Bhakti Fest website

 2. Mantra Malas Made with Bhakti Love

Photo Courtesy of BijouxPascale

So, maybe your kirtan buddy already has mala beads wrapped around his or her wrist.  But does she have a hand-knotted gemstone mala from BijouxPascale?  Individually crafted devotional beads infused with bhakti love by Midwest up-and-coming wallah Pascale LaPoint (of the band Kirtan Path), the malas are available in two dozen different gemstones.  Each is one of a kind.  We love this green magnasite one that stars a circular disc as the 109th “guru bead,” but there are lots more to choose from, plus necklace sets and earrings.  And you know these malas are not just a fashion accessory, right?  Japa — repeating a mantra 108 times, using the beads to count — is an ancient and very powerful meditation mode. 

**Special for Bhakti Beaters: Use code BHAKTIBEAT2012 and get 10% off your order.
BijouxPascale on etsy.com

3. Demystify the Harmonium

Got a wallah wannabe on your list?  Queens, N.Y.-based bhakti firefighter Keith Villanueva (aka Hanumanji) has created a harmonium-learning program that’s all the buzz among budding bhaktas and long-time chant-leaders alike.  At the core is Demystifying the Harmonium Workbook A-Z, a comprehensive guidebook with step-by-step instructions on how to play melodies and create chord progressions in every key.  With the purchase of the book comes membership in an exclusive group on facebook where you can access tutorial videos for more than a dozen chants and interact with others who are learning or perfecting their techniques.  Kind of like a support group for chantaholics.  Get it all for $45.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free shipping on the workbook (normally $6); contact Villanueva directly for details.

4. Bhakti Art from Jennifer Mazzucco 

Artwork by Jennifer Mazzucco

How about some inspiring spiritual art infused with the energy and images of India?  Devotional artist Jennifer Mazzucco — whose artwork adorns SriKalogy covers and the upcoming debut CD from Nina Rao — has just released her third self-published book of original artwork and observations on life.  Opening Up in Sweet Surrender, described as a daily journal of a recent year in Mazzucco’s bhakti-infused life, has 265 pages of her signature artistic musings and devotional doodles, fused with words, colors and images to “connect with the divinity within,” she writes.  It’s kind of like Be Here Now-meets-Sark/Juicy Life, stylistically and energetically.  Softcover: $58.95/hardcover: $77.95 (less $10 for the holidays). 

Mazzucco’s creations are also available as art prints and greeting cards at the websites below — a huge selection of sacred images on FineArtAmerica.com and a multihued collection of Ganesha block prints on etsy.com. 

Buy “Opening Up in Sweet Surrender” on blurb.com (Use code GIVE10 to get $10 off the book for holiday giving.)

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  BONUS Handmade piece of artwork with every purchase:
Art Prints & Greeting Cards from Jennifer Mazzucco on FineArtAmerica.com (email Jennifer when you’ve purchased to receive the Bonus Gift)
Hand-Carved Block Prints featuring Ganesha, on reminders2bepresent on etsy.com (Bonus Gift will be given automatically)

5. Beeswax Candles from Dharma Boutique

Photo by Jonathan Sherrill

Do your friends and loved ones a favor this year and fill their stockings with beeswax candles and tea lights — or any non-paraffin based candle.  Those cheap tea lights you can get at Walmart for $3 a hundred?  Not the best thing to light up your altar or sacred space.  There’s a growing appreciation that such candles, which are typically made from the dregs of petroleum processing, emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.  Right now, pure beeswax candles handmade by a small group of women in Rajasthani, India, are 20 percent off at Dharma Boutique, the import business owned and operated by bhakti bassist Adam Bauer.  And while you’re stocking up on tea lights, check out his inspiring collection of devotional objets d’art, textiles, singing bowls, jewelry, and vintage items collected on his travels to India and beyond.  Dharma Boutique supports fair trade and sources its products from family enterprises, small crafts-people and local artisans wherever possible.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free tulsi mala with purchase of $100 or more.
Pure beeswax candles from Dharma Boutique (20% off with code MAYA)
Dharma Boutique Home Page

6. Make Music Happen

Hey here’s a radical thought: buy music from the musicians who make it.  Because, let’s face it, most of these artists who are enriching our lives aren’t getting rich off their efforts.  It’s a dirty secret outside of the music industry that artists themselves get mere fractions of pennies for each “play” on sites like Spotify.  Physical CD sales are way down, and digital-download sites like iTunes and Amazon each take another cut of the profits along with music publishers.  At the same time, record labels are less likely to finance a studio recording up front, leaving the onus of CD production to artists.  Crowd-funding services like IndieGogo and Kickstarter are practically viral these days.  How can we, as consumers of this very unique niche “product,” best support the artists we love? 

Fantuzzi at Bhakti Fest 2011

There’s no simple answer, but one approach is a spin on “Buy Local.”  Go to the artist’s own website and follow their links for purchase.  Some have mechanisms for purchasing music directly from their sites, or they will direct you to the link that is most amenable to their continued survival as artists.  Take every opportunity to buy CDs directly from artists on tour.  Or, go to your favorite conscious-living store to buy them; most stores will order the CDs if they don’t have them in stock, and you’ll be demonstrating to the store owner that there is a demand for this music.  Support artists’ fund-raising drives, like the recent ones of Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band and David Newman, by pre-buying CDs and other perks to help finance the recording, mixing and making of new releases.  Make your gifts of music also gifts to music. 

Start today!  These are just a few of the CD-funding drives ongoing right now in the mantra-music world:
Multi-Instrumentalist Phenom Sheela Bringi, for her Debut CD
Up-and-Coming Sikh Songstress Sirgun Kaur, for her Debut Solo Kirtan CD
Ecstatic World Music Warrior Fantuzzi, for Ease and Grace CD
Texas-Based The Bhakti House Band, for CD and “Peace Love Om” Seva Project 

7. Give Good Karma

How about giving the gift of sight to a blind person this holiday season?  Or economic opportunities for impoverished women and children?  Start a new tradition that will make a real difference in the lives of people in need by giving “Gifts of Service” from the non-profit Seva Foundation.  Seva was co-founded by Google CEO Larry Brilliant in 1978 in collaboration with Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and others, and is a leading innovator in eye-care services and other programs that create sustainable solutions to poverty and disease in vulnerable populations around the globe.  With Seva’s Gifts of Service, you can honor a loved one by directly helping to reduce suffering in the world.  A $50 gift, for example, covers the cost of cataract surgery for one person; $100 supports the well-being of Native American women by providing health education, building community support and fostering leadership development.  You can also buy Seva merchandise like T-shirts, caps, or this sweet calendar of children around the world, and the foundation will use your donation where it is most needed.

Seva Foundation’s “Gifts of Service” Program

8. Win-Win Gifting

Photo courtesy of Girish Music

Love the idea of giving presents that serve a greater purpose, but still want something tangible to put under the tree for your sweetie?  We have the perfect solution:  a gorgeous Lakshmi bracelet, handmade by Long Island, N.Y., bhakta Nadine Wolff.  Every penny of the proceeds go to Wolff’s fundraising drive for Off the Mat Into the World’s Global Seva Challenge India, which supports grassroots initiatives to help rescue and rehabilitate women and children victimized by the sex-trafficking trade.  Your lucky gift recipient will be invoking the blessings of Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), and beauty — and you will know that you contributed to putting an end to the poverty and abuse of women and children in India.  Act fast — before Dec. 15 — to get the special price of $45, available through a collaboration with Girish Music.  ($60 after Dec. 15.)

Lakshmi Bracelet in Support of Global Seva Challenge  (Special Price of $45 till Dec. 15)

9. Spread the Bhav

Larisa Stow: Reaching Out

How about making a donation in your loved one’s name to a local, grass-roots group or artist who is doing charity work in your community? There are lots of small and mid-sized charity organizations working hard to bring the healing power of mantra music to populations in need — from children to people with mental illnesses to prisoners.  Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe have pioneered this model in the prisons of California through their Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach.  Benjy and Heather Wertheimer have taken their Shantala sacred music into prisons in Oregon.  The Call and Response Foundation, a non-profit based in Vermont, has spearheaded chant programs at children’s and psychiatric hospitals with Dave Stringer, the Mayapuris, and Gaura Vani.  It’s another way that kirtan is being taken “out of the yoga studio,” as Gaura Vani has said.  Be part of the movement; give a gift that gives again and again.


Okay, your turn:  what’s on your own Bhakti Wish List?  Tell us about your favorite bhakti-inspired artist or merchant.  Which chant CD is on your must-have list? 

Hare Christmas to All One!

Namaste Santa. (Photo by Prakash Singh/Agency France-Press/Getty Images)



You Want Shakti? Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti


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.

Benj Clarke on Bass

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.

Richard Hardy

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

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

"I just want to love you all."


 For more Shakti Fest coverage, see also:

Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest

Loco for Lokah & the Bhakti Dance

On-Stage Proposal a Bhakti Fest First

Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69



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!







Where’s the Bhav This Weekend? Jan. 20-22


Bhakti Benefits Bonobos, Saturday in Santa Monica

KD’s in TX; Jai’s back from the beach in Brazil while David Newman hits the beach in Bermuda, and endangered bonobos in Africa will benefit from a bhakti bash in Santa Monica.

Best of the Weekend Bhav

First, the bonobos.  Southern Cali bhaktas will be going ape over the line-up at this benefit concert Saturday night in Santa Monica, the dreamchild of Wynne Paris, an East Coast kirtaniya who’s played with just about everybody and has recently released his own CD, Groovananda (a jazz-rock-gospel-kirtan fusion that is definitely worth the download).  On the ticket are JT Thomas (organist for the Bruce Hornsby Band), Meena Makhijani, Cooper Madison Ladnier, Krishna’s Kirtan (Jason & Pia Rotman), Shivani and friends from Las Vegas, and Govindas, co-owner of the Bhakti Yoga Shala where it’s all happening.  The event raises money for the D.C.-based Bonobo Conservation Initiative, which works to protect this rare primate species, said to be the closest evolutionary relative to homo sapiens (that’s us).  Jai Bonobo!

Krishna Das and Arjun Bruggeman setting up for live chanting on radio station KUT, Austin, TX. (Photo by Archit Dave for Krishna Das)


Krishna Das is deep in the heart of Texas with a sold-out show Friday night and a Saturday workshop (still open), both at the Central Presbyterian Church in Austin.  The chant master made a live appearance on an Austin radio station Friday morning, answering questions his Guru, his musical journey from rock and roll to kirtan, and how his latest CD, Heart as Wide as the World, “aimed for more of a rock-and-roll sound.”  He even sang a few chants — including the “fastest Sita Ram in three decades of chanting,” KD joked.

Jai Uttal has been basking in Brazil for the past few weeks, but he’s baaaaack!  No wonder his show Sunday night in Los Altos (South San Francisco Bay area) is sold out; California Jai junkies have been chomping at the bit.  Sunday’s show features long-time back-up singer Prajna Vieira and Ramesh Kannan on tablas/percussion.

Meanwhile, David Newman aka Durga Das is off to the beach — in Bermuda.  But with a Saturday workshop, Saturday night kirtan, and Sunday afternoon family kirtan (all at the Spirithouse in Devonshire), he, Mira and baby Tulsi will be bathing in bhakti along with that Caribbean-blue sea.

California Dreaming

Our personal favorite mantra-rock mover and shaker, Larisa Stow, is leading a mantra workshop Friday at the Sangha Center in Huntington Beach, a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with this edgy and adorable kirtan rocker with a heart of gold.  And save the dates for Larisa and Shakti Tribe in Santa Barbara Jan. 28 and Ventura on the 29th.

Big Apple Bhav

Cut to the East Coast.  The Bhakti Center (25 First Ave.) is holding its monthly 6-hour kirtan marathon on Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.  The schedule has just posted, and includes some of the best and brightest of New York’s chanters for a full-on Krishna love party.  Across the East River in bhaktified Brooklyn, Jeremy & Lily Frendel, the husband-and-wife team behind the Brooklyn Yoga School, will be leading the bhav on Friday night as part of the studio’s weekly kirtan series.  (Next week, Devadas holds the space.)  Here’s a taste of the Frendels’ bhakti:

And if you like the Chalisa, you’ll want to head over to Dharma East (297 3rd Ave. at 23rd St.) Friday night for 11 rounds of the 40-verse prayer to Hanuman, part of a series every third Friday. The grace starts flowing at 8:45 p.m.  Dharma East also hosts occasional kirtans on the first Friday of the month.

New England: Singing Bowls; Tapping Hammers

In Northampton, Mass., Dave Russell will be pairing up with a chorus of….singing bowls! for a two-part evening of sound-healing (kirtan then crystal bowls) to benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.  Dave will be joined in his set by Holly Hartmann (vocals), Charlie Braun (guitar & vocals) and Charlie Shew (percussion); Joa Agnello-Traista and Julian Traista will sing and “play” the crystal bowls.  The Food Bank supplies emergency food in four counties around Springfield; every donated dollar brings in $13 of food for the hungry.

Is it me, or is Maine becoming a little hotbed of bhakti love?  Still not many “big names” making the trek to the land of moose and mist, but community kirtan is alive and well.  Example #1:  Portland, a sweet little seacoast city where the bhav always seems to be flowing.  Stirring it up on Sunday are local wallahs Parks McKinney, David Yearwood and Todd Glacy — aka Kirtonium — at Dragonfly studio on St. John Street.  (Which just so happens to be around the corner from my new favorite Victorian B&B for under 50 bucks a night, the Inn at St. John.)

Straight up into moose country, in Lovell, Me., local charities benefit from the bhav at Full Heart Community Kirtan on Saturday at the Blue Pearl Yoga Studio, which, its website says is “above the Lovell Hardware Store”).  Love that!  Can’t you just envision the hammers and nails on the shelves below tapping and pounding in sync with the rhythm?

DC & South:  Nada Yoga Master; Wah Rocks On

Bhagavan Das, looking ethereal in his Nada Yoga Workshop in Portland, Me.

Bhagavan Das is in Baltimore (okay, Towson) Saturday for kirtan at Lifeline Power Yoga, the start of a southeastern tour that takes the Nada Yoga master to the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida in the coming weeks.  Full schedule here.  If you get a chance to do a workshop with him, take it.  I did one recently at the Bhava Yoga School in the aforementioned hotbed of bhakti, Portland, and it was sublime.  BD’s partner, Kali, lives up to her name.  That’s all I’m going to say.

Down in Georgia, Bhakti Messenger, the Atlanta-area kirtaniyas who are putting together Chantlanta, a sacred music fest slated for March 9-11, are warming up the bhav over the next several weeks, including a workshop and kirtan Saturday.  Remember this band; they’ve just been invited to Bhakti Fest and are doing great things to spread the bhav in the Southeast; check out their music here.

And last, but never, ever least, Wah! continues to make her way through the Sunshine State with a concert in Naples Friday before heading to Miami Beach Saturday for an acoustic show (presented by Synergy Yoga), then on to West Palm Beach for a Sound Workshop Sunday afternoon.  After that, back to Cali for Wah!, who just announced a forthcoming CD that’s been two and a half years in the making. Stay tuned for more details.

And there’s more…oh so much more. Where will you be getting your chant on this weekend?

Want your event listed here? email bpatoine@aol.com or post to The Bhakti Beat facebook page.  Or, Tweet us!



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Best of the Bhav


The desert sun has set on another Bhakti Fest. The last wallahs have wailed their Maha Mantras, the superstar yogis have left the tent, and the long journey home is complete. Time to review and reflect.

“What was the highlight for you?” is a question that always comes up in these periods. And I’m always baffled. How does one choose favorite moments from a bhakti-feast that spanned four full days and nights? Fifty-nine kirtan performances, by my count — nearly 100 hours of music on two stages, not even counting all the great live music in the yoga sessions and workshops (and there was some serious going on in those sessions). From new artists you’ve probably never heard of, to the kings of kirtan that you know and love, to collaborations that you only get at places like Bhakti Fest, what WASN’T a great moment would be an easier question.

Magic in the Air
There was magic all around this 3,626-mile trip to Bhakti Fest (via Boston, Atlanta and San Diego). On the way out, my partner Jim and I stayed at a Motel 6 outside San Diego to sleep a few hours before driving the three last hours to Joshua Tree. As we’re packing up, Jim, on a whim, randomly opens the Gideon’s Bible in the room and lands square on Psalm 98: “O sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvellous things.” hmmmm.

Fast forward to the trip home two days after Bhakti Fest ended, a bleary-eyed drive from Boston after 12 hours of airports, coach seats and schlepping too many heavy bags. Around 3 a.m. we stopped at a rest area in New Hampshire, which was deserted save for a trucker or two napping in their cabs. I headed for the ladies’ room, squinting from the approaching flourescence. No one was in sight, but music was blasting from a speaker somewhere. Is that…? Yup. The Maha Mantra, ala George Harrison in “My Sweet Lord.” All I could do was smile.

Here are some other moments that stand out from our journey to Joshua Tree, offered with complete bias and in no particular order…

Deepak Ramapriyan, Show Stealer

Show Stealer: Deepak Ramapriyan and the Breath of Life Tribe made their first appearance on the Bhakti Fest main stage, and did not disappoint. They delivered an enchanting mix of ancient mantra, modern pop and innovative musicianship and topped it off with “the bhakti dance” to get the whole crowd moving in unison. Original, inventive, captivating!

Crowd-Pleaser: Celebrating the release of her first CD, CC White worked the crowd into the kind of frenzy that only the Diva of Soul Kirtan can.

Larisa Stow, Mover & Shaker

Mover & Shaker: Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe proved they could shake things up last year and moved us again with their hard-edged, soft-hearted mantra rock with a message. Larisa’s tete a tete with audience at the end, with her sitting on the stage and everyone crowded around her like students eager to hear their teacher’s words, was priceless.

Rock Star: Donna De Lory’s set on Saturday night — her birthday — was electrifying. Literally. Her fiery rock-mantra music was punctuated by a spectacular light show from an encroaching thunderstorm (a really BIG one).

Surprise Treat: Krishna Das breaking into Amazing Grace mid-Maha Mantra during his workshop Sunday afternoon.

Dave Stringer with...well, everyone!

Master Collaborator: Dave Stringer loves a good jam kirtan, so he brought everybody he could think of up for his last couple songs. Marti Walker, Brenda McMorrow, Ishwari and Sruti Ram, Meenakshi…who else? He also guest-starred in sets by Joey Lugassy, McMorrow and Meenakshi.

Fantuzzi wakes us up

Late-Night Wake-Up: Fantuzzi, who came on around 4 a.m. Friday morning (Night 1), rocked the worlds of the few die-hards who resisted the lull of sleep (or who were, like me, lurched out of it by Fantuzzi’s high-energy reggae/rock/kirtan love).

Ready for Main Stage: Brenda McMorrow, Canada’s shining starlet of kirtan. Have you seen her rockin’ that acoustic guitar to the Maha Mantra?

Mark Gorman (bass) and Yehoshua Brill (electric guitar), with Donne De Lory

Stage Staples: Deepak Ramapriyan may have broken the record for most on-stage appearances in bands other than his own (28 performances, according to his facebook status). But so many other musicians are called upon again and again: Mark Gorman, Yehoshua Brill, John de Kadt, Dave Allen, Vish from the Mayapuris…who else?

Sweetest Synchronicity: Arriving at the registration tent within minutes of Larisa Stow and Benj Clark of Shakti Tribe and getting the sweeeeeeetest hugs.

And the winner is… I could go on, but what I really want to know is, What were the highlights for you? If you were at Bhakti Fest, what was your favorite moment? If you weren’t there, share your best moment in the bhav anywhere. Please tell us in comments below!


Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe Rock On


It’s fitting that the new album from Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, Rock On Sat Nam, was released on the Fourth of July, because these tracks are explosive! Rock On Sat Nam blasts you off on a rocket ride of Stow’s undulating, straight-from-the-heart vocal fireworks and sends you soaring on a current of hard-driving guitar riffs and percussive alchemy riddled with brilliant interludes from that wizard of woodwinds, Richard Hardy. It’s a seamless fusion of edgy, urban rock and sacred mantra-with-a-message. It will very likely have you dancing like a wild man and contemplating the nature of your true existence. Simultaneously.

Mantra Rock With a Message
Perhaps this CD should come with a warning, something like: “Caution: This is NOT your average kirtan.” The band doesn’t call this kirtan, in fact, describing it instead as mantra rock. You won’t find a mantra rock category on iTunes, but the moniker is not new. In 1960’s San Francisco, there was a famous counterculture event led by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada himself (the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishnas) that featured hot rock acts of the day, including the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.

Like we imagine the “Mantra-Rock Dance” did in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, Rock On Sat Nam melds full-on jam-band rock music with sacred Sanskrit chant and wraps it all up in an underlying message of love and self-realization. But it’s not all sweet and serene. There is a hard-edged urgency to this wake-up call, and the Tribe kinda gets in your face about it. Like, WTF are you waiting for?

It works. Oh how it works.

Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Love?
Rock On Sat Nam’s lead-off track, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” sets the tone of the album and lets you know straight out this music has a message. It begins with Stow’s deep gutteral vocals invoking Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, in a classic Sanskrit chant. But wait. Just as you think you’re into a sweet ode to the elephant-headed diety, Stow shakes you up with an edgy urban rap punctuated by a hard-rockin’ refrain that emphatically declares: “There’s more love here than we know what to do with.”

“Whatcha gonna do with all that love?,” Stow asks over and over…sweetly at first, then more ardently, until she is fairly screaming the question at you. The message is personal, impassioned, a call to action that’s almost desperate in its urgency: “In every single one of us, there is a seed of genius. But it takes love, and it takes intention. And the time…is…NOWWWWW.”

You can download this song free at www.larisastow.com, and hear it in this cool video from the Shakti Tribe.

Wow! And that’s just the first song. (There are eight full-length tracks and three “bridges.”)

Bhaktified Ballads & Rap ‘N’ Roll
Track 3, “Kalikayei” takes a traditional Sanskrit mantra to Kali, the fierce femme ego-slashing diety, and blows it out to ecstatic heights. “You See Me” feels like a love song to the divine, a lilting ballad of original lyrics that melt into Om Namah Shivaya and then Hallelujah over and over again, taking you higher and deeper with each repetition. If this doesn’t give you goosebumps, see a doctor.

The title track returns resoundingly to mantra rap ‘n’ roll, reverberating with clever quotables like “Redefine, refine your state of mind/With an attitude of gratitude shift the paradigm/Rock On. Sat Nam” and “We’ll see it, we’ll be it, when we believe it/There’s a gift in this moment if you choose to receive it.” Get the message?

Tracks 7 (“Saraswati”) and 9 (“Om Namah Shivaya”) go back to bhakti with age-old mantras spun Shakti-Tribe style. Which is to say, rockin! The latter culminates in a Gospel-esque chorus of vocal harmonies evocative of an old-fashioned Christian revival or a Baptist service in the Deep South. If this doesn’t get you dancing, see a doctor.

And then there’s the cool-down, in true bhakti fashion. “Guru Life” has a country-ballad feel to it, for some reason taking me right back to a Nashville siren my mother played on LP’s back in the day. Stow’s voice is softer here, the song almost a lullaby that weaves her own divine-love lyrics (“I’m here to love you…”) with the Tibetan Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. It flows seamlessly into the final track, a gentle, haunting 108-times repetition — japa style — of the same mantra. Gentle breath (or is that the wind?) is the last thing you hear as you bask in the vibration of this powerful ancient invocation to compassion.

Larisa Stow shaking things up at Bhakti Fest 2010.

Pushing Boundaries
Even in an era when the boundaries of kirtan are being pushed wide open — there’s soul kirtan, reggae kirtan, gospel kirtan, and so on — Rock On Sat Nam blows the top right off any preconception one might have about sacred music.

In a recent interview with Stow, we asked if she ever felt “push-back” from more traditional kirtan artists who question her unconventional, edgy style. “Oh my God YES!” was her emphatic reply. “There’s a perception of what a kirtan wallah is,” she says carefully, pointing out that when she first encountered kirtan a decade ago (at a smallish Krishna Das concert), “the dancing had not begun; it was much more sedate back then.”

“My bhakti has a very different expression,” she said. “Any time you have people who are really pushing it, there can be huge push-back. But that’s what pushes people deeper into devotion.”

She embraces the role of paradigm pusher, pointing to Amma and Gandhi as inspirations. “I’m doing what I need to do to be honest and authentic with myself. By doing so, I hope that I can help give permission to the person next to me, who may have a different expression, to be uniquely who he or she is.”

“I want to create a bridge so more people are exposed to Sanskrit mantra, which is so powerful, in a way that feels safe and inviting.” Rock On Sat Nam, she said, “is probably the biggest bridge we’ve ever created.”

In addition to Larisa Stow, the band includes Kimo Estores on lead guitar, Benj Clarke on bass and loops, and Richard Hardy (Carole King, Dave Matthews Band, Lyle Lovett, David Lindley) on woodwinds. Occasionally sitting in are “good friends and honorary tribe members” Walfredo Reyes Jr. (Santana, Steve Winwood, Traffic), and Victor Bisetti (Los Lobos, Elvis Costello).

Until July 18 you can NAME YOUR OWN PRICE to own Rock On Sat Nam! See www.larisastow.com for details.

And get ready for fireworks.