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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.


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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!

_____________________

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.
 
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Capture logoKrishna Das will be there. Jai Uttal will be there. Deva & Miten too.  Even Shyamdas, the bhakti world’s most beloved Ambassador of Bhava, will be there, in all his bhavalicious glory.  Journey OM: Into the Heart of India, the cinematic masterpiece in the works from veteran filmmaker and original bhakti bhaiya John Bush, promises to be the bhakti movie of the year.

Right now, you can be a part of this film’s development by pre-ordering the DVD and soundtrack featuring Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal & Miten and more.  ACT FAST! The campaign ends at 1:19 a.m EST on Friday, April 24.

__________________

There’s a certain mystique about India that can be hard to define.  For many in the bhakti world, the pull is strong, like that of a mother beckoning her children home.  There’s an almost inexplicable longing that cuts straight to the soul, not unlike what we imagine the Gopi cowherds felt for their sweet Govinda.

Journey OM aims to capture that elusive quality that makes India unlike any other place in the world.  But don’t mistake this upcoming film for some ordinary travelogue cataloging must-see pit stops on a well-trodden tourist path. Journey OM, according to filmmaker John Bush, takes you off the beaten track.  Way off.

Focused on ‘Places of Passage’

Bush focuses his camera on so-called tirthas, holy “places of passage” that are believed to be sacred sites where the veil between worlds is thin, where it is possible for even ordinary humans to cross over from worldly materialism to spiritual nirvana with relative ease.  (Tirtha is a Sanskrit word that translates to “ford,” or a shallow part of a body of water that can be easily crossed.)

Mother India is rife with tirthas — legendary places with thousands-years-old histories in Hindu scripture and mythology. For example, at the very Southern tip of India is the island of Rameswaren, said to be the place from which Hanuman and Rama’s army built the bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita from the evil king Ravana, as is written in the Hindu epic, “The Ramayana.”  In the holy land of Braj there is Govardhan Hill, the mountain that Krishna, as a young boy, lifted high to protect the people of Vrindavan from the torrential rains that the god Indra had let loose in his anger.  And the list goes on…

“These are power spots,” says Bush. “They’ve been identified over thousands of years as places of transcendence, where one can go from earthly consciousness to celestial consciousness.”  Journey OM will take the viewer on a magical mystery tour of a dozen or so of these sites, with the intent of conveying a feeling of the sacredness of these places.

Bush at RanakpurJain Temple in Rajasthan“Each place has its own story, its own flavor,” Bush told The Bhakti Beat. “The revelations along the way are really geared to have a transformative effect for the viewer, to impart that ‘inner-journey’ experience of a sacred pilgrimage.”

Bush, the inspiration and perspiration behind Journey OM, is the real deal. He didn’t jump on the mantra bandwagon yesterday; his bhakti roots are deep — more than 40 years deep to be exact.  He was with Ram Dass back in the days of “psychedelic evangelism” of 1960’s America.  Like Ram Dass, he traveled to the Far East in search of that same feeling of transcendence, of divine consciousness, sans LSD.  He met Shyamdas when Shyamji was just 19, and developed a deeper friendship with him in the weeks before he died. The night Shyamdas left his body, they had been in satsang together, and Bush was in the car that, mere minutes after it happened, came across the scene of the motorcycle accident that claimed Shyamdas’ life.  They had planned for weeks to shoot footage around Shyamdas’ home in Braj for Journey OM, which is dedicated to Shyamdas.

On the Bus with Maharaji

John Bush 1971Along with  Ram Dass, Krishna Das, Daniel Goleman and a host of others, John Bush was on “the bus” — the one that Krishna Das has told the story of countless times — that arrived at its destination at precisely the same moment that the elusive Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba stepped into the street, leaving the bewildered Westerners on board scratching their heads with mouths agape.

That moment — the first time Bush met the Indian Saint — was a turning point for the long-haired hippy from America.  “My life changed dramatically at that point,” Bush says.  He had been on his way back home after a series of meditation retreats in a remote Burmese monastery.  Instead, he spent the next couple of years following Maharaji in a kind of ongoing pilgrimage.  It was when the young Bush first connected with the age-old tradition of spiritual pilgrimage, and became fascinated by it.  It was also the period where Bush connected with kirtan, taking his turn as one of the Western wallahs in Baba’s entourage.

Later, back in the States, Bush roomed with Jai Uttal in Berkely for a period, and joined with Uttal, Krishna Das and Bhagavan Das in a bhakti band called “Amazing Grace.” They made a kirtan album, played at festivals and toured the Pacific Northwest, essentially launching the careers of three of the bhakti world’s best-known wallahs.  But unlike his bandmates, Bush — a new father at the time — decided the life of a professional musician was not for him.  He moved to Cambridge, Mass., and settled into a more traditional lifestyle, albeit one where kirtan and satsang continued to have a strong presence.

Fast-forward to the year 2000 or so.  Career finished, Bush returns to his “long-deferred dream” of sharing with the world, through film, the sacred cultures he fell in love with as a youth.  He filmed and produced an award-winning trilogy of pilgrimage films to Southeast Asia and Tibet, which were aired on PBS and around the world.  His documentary feature film, “Vajra Sky Over Tibet,” is endorsed by the Dalai Lama and has been screened as part of the official program of His Holiness in more than a dozen cities.

Bush describes Journey OM as “wall-to-wall bhakti.”  Not only does the soundtrack feature Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and Deva Premal & Miten, but the entire film is steeped in the bhava of the devotional journey.

“Pilgrimage is part of the yoga of devotion,” he says. “My hope is that through the cultural immersiveness of this film, the viewer has their own transformative experience, their own inner journey.”

Journey Om cover shot

 

 

Contribute Now to JOURNEY OM’s kickstarter campaign.

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat needs 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.  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+

 

 

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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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Ram Dass, Jai Uttal, Shyamdas at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Ram Dass, Jai Uttal, Shyamdas at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comOmega’s annual Ecstatic Chant weekend would not exist without Ram Dass.  The legendary Labor Day retreat for chantaholics in the heart of New York’s Bhajan Belt has its roots in Ram Dass’ own epic gatherings at Omega dating back to the mid-1990’s.  In those days, Omega co-founder Stephan Rechtschaffen recounted to The Bhakti Beat, Ram Dass would invite Krishna Das and others to come and chant with retreatants during evening concerts as kind of an entertainment extra.  Over time, the chanting became an integral part of the weekend, occupying more and more of the retreat schedule.

When Ram Dass suffered a stroke and chose to discontinue most of his travel, the retreats continued…eventually morphing into Ecstatic Chant: The Yoga of Voice, now one of Omega’s most popular programs (among a catalog of hundreds).

In recent years, Ram Dass has joined the program live via Skype from Hawaii, his face projected onto a huge screen in Omega’s darkened, packed-to-capacity Main Hall.  Krishna Das, Radhanath Swami, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal and Rechtschaffen have taken turns leading the chat with the man many credit with jump-starting the Western fascination with India generally and the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba (“Maharaji”) in particular.

Ram Dass Shyamdas Jai Uttal at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comThis is an excerpt from the Skype chat with Ram Dass that was jointly led by Shyamdas and Jai Uttal at last fall’s Ecstatic Chant.  (Shyamdas did most of the asking…)

Shyamdas:  What’s it like to be loved by so many thousands of people?

Ram Dass: It’s like being with Maharaji.  He gave unconditional love.  No matter how rotten you were he gave unconditional love.  YumYumYumYumYum.

SD:  What should we be doing with our lives?

RD: Remember Maharaji.  People come to me for advice, but they’re not really coming to me.  They’re coming to Maharaji…When they experience that love, they flower.  That gives me great happiness and fills my heart.  YumYumYumYumYum.

Ram Dass Shyamdas Jai Uttal at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comSD:  Great job you have.

RD:  Yes, yes it is.  I am a gardener.

SD:  How did you get that job?

RD:  I didn’t ask for it.  He [Maharaji] laid it on me.  The first time I was in India, he said: “Arshivad (blessings) for your book.” I said, “What’s Arshivad, and what book?”

SD:  Thank you for your seva and your priceless gifts.  We can only bow; we cannot repay you, but we can try…

RD:  We are all the same.  We’ve all found it; we’ve seen what it is.  Now it’s up to us…

Shyamdas wouldn’t let his friend say goodbye without a proper send-off, and he and Uttal were promptly leading the capacity crowd in a sweet little transcontinental kirtan. A thousand voices harmonized in an exuberant Radhe Govinda, flowing from the packed room in New York’s Hudson Valley straight to the heart of Ram Dass in his bungelow in Hawaii.  Short and sweet:

YumYumYumYumYum

More on Shyamdas
Live at Ananda:  Shyamdas Tribute in Bhajan Belt Celebrates the Lila of Bhakti’s Favorite Uncle
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.jaiuttal.com
www.ramdass.org
www.eomega.org
 
 
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Sunset at shakti fest by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Kamaniya Devi

Can we just say how much we love livestream?  We envision a day when every festival and concert, kirtans included, is streamed free to living rooms and laptops everywhere. With perfect audio.  And a strong, steady feed.  And — since we’re dreaming — professional camerawork that zooms in on the action.  While we’re at it, could we get a caption here and there identifying featured musicians? (Who was that on violin with Karnamrita Dasi anyway?)

Until that vision is reality, we’ll take what we can get.  What we got yesterday from Shakti Fest — thanks to New World Kirtan and Kitzie Stern for persevering with the technicalities — was two full sets of the bhav in Joshua Tree, Dasi and Jai Uttal, plus smatterings of choppy, wildly fluctuating audio from Saul David Raye, Deepak Ramapriyan, and David Newman’s sets earlier in the day.  By the time Dasi took the stage, it seemed like the bugs had been worked out on the stream AND video had been added.  Not only did it sound better, but we had a back-row view of the action.  We’re glad we stuck it out and kept listening…

Here’s the link for the livestream to Shakti Fest (May 17-19), which starts at 10 a.m. daily and will continue until the bitter(sweet) grand finale.

Shyamdas at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

From the stage to the altar. (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

This is, of course, the first Bhakti Fest without Shyamdas, the beloved “elder statesman of bhakti,” as emcee Shiva Baum described him last night.  Normally, Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav here, both behind the scenes and stage center, particularly during the legendary final set, where all the wallahs and musicans crowd the stage for a final Hare Krishna mahamantra.  (Check out the action from last fall’s finale in the video below.)  While he may not have been there in body, it was clear from listening in on the goings-on in the high desert that Shyamdas was on everyone’s minds, and in everyone’s hearts.

In every set that we caught, the artist paused to say a few words, share a personal remembrance, or dedicate a song to Shyamdas.  Jai Uttal devoted a Sri Radhe chant in what he called “a sad melody” to Shyam; Dasi closed her set with one of Shyam-ji’s favorites, The Song of Sweetness, which glorifies the nectar of Krishna’s form and love.  Govindas, one half of Govindas and Radhe and the founder of the Bhakti Yoga Shala, Santa Monica’s temple to kirtan, spoke at length between sets about his time “sitting at the feet” of Shyamdas.

The master of Hari Katha was eternally present.

Jai Uttal & friends, by Bhakti Fest, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Jai Uttal & Friends (Photo courtesy of Bhakti Fest)

Just before Uttal played, Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein came onstage to pay tribute to his dear friend in words and a three-minute slide show with an audio track of Shyamdas being interviewed in India just weeks before his death.  Putting it together, sifting through images and recordings of Shyamdas, “has been tearing me up emotionally every single day,” Silberfein said.  He told of the Bhakti Yatra group tour to India in January, for which Shyamdas was a very large part of the itinerary but never made it to the entourage waiting for him.

You may have heard the story before…but Silberfein added some new details.  He said Shyamdas called him just before they were slated to rendezvous saying he was suffering a breakout of shingles and wouldn’t be able to join the group of 25 or so Westerners who had traveled to India fully expecting a Shyamdas-led tour of Vrindavan, the holy city in India that Shyam so loved (and was practically the town’s adopted mayor , from what we’ve heard). Instead, Shyamdas stayed in Goa to rest and recuperate; the motorcycle accident that ended his life happened a few days later.

Altar at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

K.d. Devi Dasi and Prajna Vierra tending the Main Stage altar (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

The audio on the slide show dropped out from the livestream feed so it was difficult to catch, but Shyamdas was telling a funny story involving Uttal and Krishna Das, something to do with Uttal’s assertion that KD was too “masculine to be a Gopi.” (Who can fill us in on the details?)  Whatever it was that was lost in cyberspace, it was enough to elicit lots of guffaws from the audience, as well as a good-natured comment from Uttal, who joked that Shyamdas was “hounding me even from the grave.”

Mohan Baba, Shyamdas’s friend of 40 years and one of the close satsang who was with him the night he passed, told of how Shyamdas — in his final hours of life after the accident — was “totally focused inward.”

“He didn’t say a word and was just sitting there calmly, in an intense devotional space,” Mohan said.

One of the things he loved about Shyamdas, Mohan said, was that “he was just a regular guy.  He was not a swami, not a renunciate.  He lived a householder’s life, and was totally fixated on the divine lila.”  Even though he came from a wealthy Connecticut family, “he turned his back on all that, choosing to live very simply.”

chanters showing love for gina sala by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

During Gina Sala’s set (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

“There’s a big lesson for all of us there,” Mohan said, “to live life as fully as you can, every day.”

Just when you thought you might make it through this tearjerker tribute without breaking down, Shiva Baum broke down, his voice cracking as he introduced Jai Uttal’s set.

“Shyamdas is irreplaceable, and he will be with us always,” Baum said before turning it over to Uttal   “His love blankets this entire festival.”

Here’s the video from last fall’s Bhakti Fest, with Shyamdas steering the bhav in the festival-closing raucous, windblown, stage-lights-about-to-topple all-wallah finale.  Through it all, Shyamdas just kept singing to Krishna.

Watch the Livestream here.
Shakti Fest kirtan schedule
www.newworldkirtan.com
www.bhaktifest.com
 
See our coverage from last year’s Shakti Fest:
You Want Shakti? Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
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

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

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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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Kirtan in a New Age: What’s in a Grammy Category Name?

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“Genre unknown.”  Have you ever gotten this message when you download a kirtan CD into iTunes?  We get it a lot.

More often than not, the iTunes database pulls up a blank in the “Genre” category.  Sometimes it pulls up as World Music, sometimes Alternative, sometimes Folk (Shyamdas in particular), and sometimes — get this! — Country (GuruGanesha’s Kundalini Surjhee). Occasionally, the disc is downright  Unclassifiable (Marti Walker’s rEVOLution).  And yes, sometimes it even registers as New Age, which usually elicits a sarcastic snicker from this downloader.

New Age?  Hasn’t that almost become a kind of throwback-to-the-70’s joke?  Something that is spoken of with “air quotes,” maybe with a roll of the eyes thrown in?  Is kirtan New Age?  Does it want to be?

Well, according to the Grammys, it is.  That’s the category for which Krishna Das is in the running for Best Album, marking an historic moment in bhakti history (watch the livestream Sunday, Feb. 10 from 1–3:30 p.m. PT at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com.).  No, he’s not the first kirtan artist to get a Grammy nomination — Jai Uttal earned that honor back in 2002 with his barrier-breaking, genre-bending Mondo Rama.  But this is Krishna Das.  The Yoga Rock Star.  The King of Kirtan.  The Chantmaster.  And Live Ananda, the recording nominated for this year’s Best New Age Album, is pure and traditional unadulterated call-and-response chanting.  In the live.  No apologies for the harmonium.

Will the tux be in plaid?

Still, we have a hard time imagining Krishna Das describing himself as a “New Age artist.”  We could be way off base here, but we’re not seeing it.  You?

Either way, that’s where we are folks.  We don’t know about you, but we’re putting our bets on Krishna Das actually winning this thing.  Why else would he be performing live at the Grammys pre-broadcast livestream? (New Age nominees are never featured on the Grammys live television broadcast, which is reserved for the big “Mainstream” categories.)  We’ll eat crow if we’re wrong.  Whilst brooding.  Heavily.  And chanting along with the Cosmic Kirtan Posse at Ananda Ashram to soothe our pain.

But let’s just say it happens:  Krishna Das wins the Grammy for Best New Age Album.  That would put him in the same Winner’s Circle as Paul Winter (6 times), Enya (4-time winner), Yanni, Pat Metheny, and David Darling, among others you’ve probably never heard of.  Notably, Peter Gabriel won the award for Best New Age Performance in 1990.  KD’s competition for the award this year?  L.A.-based pianist Omar Akram; Michael Brant DiMaria, an integrative psychotherapist who creates music for relaxation and meditation; Celtic artist Loreena McKennitt; renowned cellist David Darling; pianist/composer/producer Peter Kater, and Steven Halpern, whose 1975 release, Spectrum Suite, often gets credit for beginning the whole “New Age Music” movement.

There are a couple interesting kirtan connections among these other nominees.  David Darling collaborated with Canadian kirtan artist Brenda McMorrow on her 2010 album Love Abounds. Peter Kater just last year released Heart of the Universe with Sikh-tradition chantress Snatam Kaur, and his 2012 nomination, Light Body, features vocalist and executive producer Trish Bowden.  We’re clueless, we confess, about the others on the list, but a quick review of their offerings puts them pretty far away on the musical spectrum from call-and-response chanting ala Live Ananda.

Incidentally, in the World Music category, both Ravi Shankar (for The Living Room Sessions, Pt. 1) and his daughter, Anoushka Shankar (for Traveller) are nominated for Best Album.  Which makes us wonder why Krishna Das isn’t in the World Music category.  Live Ananda even comes up on iTunes as World Music.

Indefinable?

New Age music has always been difficult to define, seeming more like a catch-all for downtempo “relaxation music” than anything else.  Early pioneers include the aforementioned Steven Halpern and English composer Brian Eno, who is credited as a principal innovator of so-called ambient music.  New Age  first earned its own Grammy category in 1987 — about the same time New Age bins started showing up in major record stores and big record labels starting paying attention to the genre.

The dawning of the New Age Grammy category was not met with glee by all.  Music critic Steven Rea, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987, said: “It’s a category of music to which few artists want to be assigned – the winner of the Grammy is likely to accept his award with a bag over his head – and which even fewer can define.”  The same year, Musician magazine predicted that “all new-age artists will claim to be ‘not really new-age.’ ”

My how things have changed.  Or not.

Parsing the Name Game

All of this talk brings up a related issue that is astir throughout the kirtan world: what to call kirtan.  “Kirtan,” some have argued, is just too hard for Westerners to wrap their tongues around, let alone their minds.  A few artists are steadfastly moving toward the use of “mantra music” to define what they do; among them are Gaura Vani, a Krishna devotee who typically practices traditional call-and-response Sanskrit chanting (unless he’s in his role as one-fourth of The Hanumen, in which case all categorization goes right out the window), and GuruGanesha Singh, best known as the long-time touring partner and manager to Snatam Kaur, who infuses sacred Gurmukhi-language chants with funked-up rhythms and soaring electric-guitar riffs. 

The new Krishna Das channel on Sirius XM radio eschews both these monikers in favor of “Yoga Radio” — a decision that came from Sirius, KD told us in an interview.  Nowhere in the description of the channel will you find the word kirtan, but you will find “Chanting, sacred and spiritual music” in the channel’s subhead.

Kirtan. Mantra music.  Yoga music.  Chant.  Sacred music. Spiritual music.  World music. Alternative, Folk, Country…turns out there are almost as many names out there for this “music genre” as there are artists presenting it.  Which begs the even bigger question: is it a “music genre” at all?   

Or is the Mantra Revolution simply “Unclassifiable”?

What do you call it?

Also see:
Krishna Das’ Live Ananda Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be A First
www.krishnadas.com
Live Ananda via Krishna Das
Live Ananda on iTunes

from KrishnaDas.com

 

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This is classic Shyamdas, in all his spontaneous wit and wackiness.  The always-unpredictable closing session of Omega Ecstatic Chant had just gotten underway, with Shyamdas at the helm.  It was time to call in the troops — to get all the musicians on stage for the finale  and send the 1,000 or so chanters off with a final Radhe Shyam.

These grand all-wallah finales have become somewhat legendary at Ecstatic Chant, as they now have at Bhakti Fest and other kirtan festivals.  Where else do you get to see Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Gaura Vani, Radhanath Swami, C.C. White, Sruti Ram and Ishwari, along with a host of world-class supporting musicians like Steve Gorn, Richard Davis and Daniel Paul, all on stage together, sharing mics and cajoling one another on with good-natured giddiness? 

It’s like the Mantra Dream Team, gathering jubilantly for one last blast of bhav — and invariably rousing the crowd to a full-on, dancing, swaying, shake-the-roof-rafters climax.

For over a decade at Omega Chant, Shyamdas has been the undisputed captain of the team, taking his place at the helm and steering his playmates in lila right up and over a tidal wave of bhav.  Every year, he would surprise with some completely unexpected twist on an old classic, effortlessly — and hysterically, at times — weaving his beloved Radhe into anything and everything.  You never knew what Shyamdas was going to come up with next.  (And neither, surely, did the musicians around him — witness the expression on Vishvambhar Sheth’s face when Shyam-ji broke out in a Radhe-fied version of “Working My Way Back to You Babe” at Omega 2011.)  Priceless!

Last fall, Shyamdas had something else up the sleeve of his old-style kurta.  As the session was getting underway and the musicians tuning up, Shyamdas leaned toward Richard Davis and whispered a question unheard by most, Davis recalled recently.  Davis, who has played guitar for Shyamdas for many years in all manner of venues, must have had a pretty good idea what was coming next when Shyam-Ji asked if he knew ‘Yesterday.’

The rest of us, I’d venture to guess, were more than a little perplexed when, moments later, the familiar and famous melody of the Beatles’ 1965 love ballad was rising from Shyam’s harmonium.  But this was no average ‘Yesterday’ cover.  Uh-uh.  This was Shyamdas in his element, his lila of unscripted, whole-hearted devotion on full display as he smiled knowingly and transformed the Fab Four’s words into a sweet improvised-on-the-spot lullaby to Radhe.

Looking out at all of us — who clearly weren’t ready to see this chant lovefest end — he deadpanned in perfect melody: “Why you have to go, I don’t know, Hari wouldn’t say. I said Radhe Shyam, now I long for Sri Radhe.”  The line brought ripples of laughter throughout the packed Main Hall, and the crowd gathered more tightly around the stage to see the master innovator in action, swarming like honeybees to collect the nectar of the lotus.  

That was yesterday. 

Today, the same line resonates differently.  It carries a bittersweet tenderness — a wholly different longing — as the kirtan and Krishna communities try to come to grips with the reality of the bhakti world without Captain Shyam steering the ship. 

*sigh*

“Why’d you have to go, Shyamdas-Ji? Hari didn’t say. Please say Radhe Shyam, one more time, say Radhe Shyam…”

Also see:

Swept Up in A ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ with Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute MahaMantra (VIDEO) 

Remembering Shyamdas Photo Journal on Facebook

Shyamdas Remembered Video Playlist of Kirtans and Teachings on YouTube

 

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“We’re going to end on this,” Shyamdas said, as he launched us into the final powerful crest of an epic Hare Krishna chant that undulated like the waves of an ocean for 45 ecstatic minutes (two-part video below). 

It started as a slow, deep prayer before gradually rising to the inevitable full-on whirling cresendo, then ebbing again to a sweet low longing, barely a whisper, before rising up again… Over and over he led us through the peaks and valleys of the changing melodies and rhythms, inviting us all into the intimate dance with the Divine.  Soon there was no distinction between call and response, “performers” and “audience.”  All merged as one voice, one ocean of sound and devotion flowing with the joyful tears of a thousand streams.

It was, for this writer, one of those peak experiences in kirtan — the kind that just make you go, “Wow.” No exclamation point. Just “Wow.”

When it ended, after that long sweet silence where you get to do nothing other than breathe in all that bhav, he looked out at all of us and simply said: “That’s it.”  Silence broken, the crowd thundered.  Shyamdas’ kirtans always stand out, but this one was beyond outstanding, and the chanters let him know it. 

When the hoots and hollers died down, Shyamdas said this: “It’s amazing to float in the bhav — I don’t know whether I was imagining that, and it doesn’t really matter…But man, to be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is …” He paused for just a moment.  “…is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

“To be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

Hear Hear.

After the set, I caught up with Shyam-Ji just off-stage.  I wanted to thank him, to ask him how he did that, what magic did it take to create that experience. Maybe I needed some kind of confirmation that we had all just experienced something truly extraordinary, I don’t know.  I had a hundred questions for him! But when I opened my mouth, all I could muster was, “Wow.”  No exclamation point.  Just, “Wow.”  (And, I imagine, a glazed-eye, stoned-on-the-bhav expression — hey, we’d been chanting day and night for 3 days at this point.)

Despite my bhakti-fried brain-deadness, Shyamdas answered my unspoken question.  I didn’t write down what he said, but it was something along the lines of: “I was just taking it where it needed to go.”  He was reading the room, taking the pulse of the space, feeling the vibe and intuitively guiding us deeper and more completely into that Place That Cannot Be Described, to blissfully drown in a churning sea of ecstatic devotion.

This is Shyamdas as we will remember him, steering the ship on a “tidal wave of bhav” deep into the ocean of devotion, sweeping us all along with him on his boat full of bhakti.

Thank you Shyamdas-Ji. 

A note about the videos: Did I mention this was a 45-minute-long Maha Mantra?  And that I recorded EVERY moment of it?  Now, I know this is the Age of Twitter and 30-second news bites…so I thought about editing this down, cutting and slashing it to a manageable, YouTube-friendly size.  But then something slapped me upside the head (Shyam?) and said, Are you crazy?  This is a work of devotional art.  How dare you mess with it?  So I present it to you as I experienced it, in all its uncut, unedited glory.  In two parts, because the Age of YouTube has a 30-minute attention span (not long enough for kirtan).  Please put aside 45 minutes to watch — really WATCH — because you don’t want to miss a single moment of Shyam-Ji’s in-the-bhav expressionism.  Clear your space because you will want to dance during parts.  Have some tissues because you may cry.  But watch it all.  You will not be sorry. 

Here’s Part 1:

 And Part 2:

 

 Also see:

“Remembering Shyamdas” The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal on facebook

Shyamdas Video Playlist on YouTube

www.shyamdas.com

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You Can Count On Me, the much-anticipated sequel to David Newman’s Stay Strong charitable project for Global Green USA, was released this week with a new single available on iTunes and Amazon and a nice long video of the joy-filled jam session that created it.  Newman spoke with The Bhakti Beat about the project’s Aha! moment, kirtan activism, and how his own practice has evolved in the 20 years since he founded Yoga on Main in Philadelphia (hint: fatherhood has factored!).
Have you seen this video yet?  It’s a bhaktified joyride with a boatload of the wallah world’s favorite musicians singing their hearts out and generally having a blast recording the charity single, You Can Count On Me, in one of the music industry’s most famous recording studios. 

The epic jam session began as a twinkle in David Newman’s eye when he was driving to Los Angeles after Bhakti Fest last September.  “I just got a very strong feeling about doing it,” he said.  “I thought: wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic studio and we recorded this together, and filmed it all?”

Photo courtesy Stay Strong Project

The pieces came together at the speed of an L.A. minute.  iPhones were humming all over Southern California — Newman said everyone was invited by text!– and the response flowed in.  Shiva Baum signed on to co-produce the single with Newman and long-time axeman/collaborator Philippo Franchini. Amy Dewhurst came aboard to produce the video.  The very next day — and lots of thumb-tapping later — anyone in the bhakti world who was in L.A. at the time gathered at the legendary Village Recorder studio to give it up for Global Green USA.

Responding to the call...er, text. (Stay Strong photo)

Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project

“Everything was put together in a 24-hour period,” Newman said. “The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night.”

Talk about instant karma…

Just look at the list of musicians who showed up to collaborate in the band, choir and dance party.   “I guess you could call them the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars,” Newman said, adding that many artists who were invited had already left the area. 

 

You Can Count On Me , written by Newman and Donna De Lory, is a feel-good anthem chant in the songwriter-meets-wallah style Newman is known and loved for.  The medley fuses Newman’s original lyrics evoking an “I’ve got your back” loyalty and kinship with a rollicking Shyam Bolo refrain that you can’t help but sing and dance along with (see the video for evidence of that).  The single — available digitally only as a single short track or a two-track set with the longer Shyam Bolo jam — features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans.  Yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike (she’s officially listed in the credits for “giggles”).  Cuteness overload alert! 

Pulled To Do Something Different

With this song and the original Stay Strong single, which broke the top 5 in the iTunes world-music chart, Newman said he had felt pulled to do something different.  “You could say these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me.”   At Bhakti Fest he sang a somewhat mellower version of Count On Me, and it was during the course of the festival that “it started becoming clear that the song would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong,” he said. 

Mira & Tulsi Newman (Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project)

All proceeds from the song go directly to Global Green’s Green School program, supporting the organization’s effort to build green schools in needy communities and help foster appreciation for sustainability in the next generation, the future stewards of the planet.   With Tulsi as a constant reminder, Newman says these are the topics he thinks about a lot these days.  Read the interview below.

Q&A With David Newman

THE BHAKTI BEAT: You Can Count On Me is a benefit for Global Green, as was the first Stay Strong.  Why this cause?

DAVID NEWMAN: As we’ve seen with Hurricane Sandy, there are lot of issues going on in our environment, and sustainability for our future and for our children’s futures is an important issue.  The idea of green schools is critical to building a sustainable future .

Now that I have a child, I think a lot about what this world is going to be like for her.  The children are really the shepherds of a future sustainable life on this planet Earth, so environmental issues are very dear to me.

Initially, I did Stay Strong with Global Green partially because I really loved what they were doing, and partially because the chief operating officer, Richard Wegman, is a bhakti yogi/Reiki kind of person – he is someone who really sees the relationship between living with an open heart and activism. I have a real strong connection with Richard, so there’s a synergy there between us.

TBB: What inspired you to create this sequel to Stay Strong?

DN: I would say 50 percent or more of what I do on the Stay Strong project in terms of my impetus or inspiration is just simply to put something out there that inspires people, opens hearts and brings a smile to those faces who see it. That’s my main inspiration. 

Secondarily, with both this new song and the first Stay Strong release, there was something unusual about the writing process that motivated me to do something different. I guess you could say, for whatever reason, these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me. When I wrote the song You Can Count on Me, I just felt that I wanted to do something special with the song. Then when I was at Bhakti Fest, it started becoming clear that it would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong.  That’s how it came about.

Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project

The inspiration to do the video at this legendary recording studio called Village Recorders in Los Angeles really came to me while I was driving back from Bhakti Fest to L.A., where I was going to be for a week. I just got a very strong feeling about doing it, I thought wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic recording studio and we recorded this together and filmed it?

What was so graceful about the project was that everybody involved, including the producer, musicians, singers, film-makers, it was all put together in a 24-hour period. The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night. And, talk about the technology of 2012 — every single person invited was invited via text message. 

TBB: Wow. What does that say about this community coming together?

DN: The outpouring of energy was amazing. The evening in the studio was just absolutely charged, really a creatively high experience. To some degree I was limited by the people who were still in L.A. [after Bhakti Fest]; there were others I contacted who had already left the area.  So in a lot of ways this is kind of a Los Angeles project — the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars, I guess you could say.

TBB: Does that mean there will be an East Coast version to balance it out?

DN: I never know.  This all came alive in such a short period of time.  The Stay Strong project to me is a mystery: I didn’t expect it to happen the first time and didn’t expect to do a second release, so who knows what could come from it moving forward.

TBB: We’re seeing a lot of “kirtan activism” these days, from Hurricane Sandy relief to sex trafficking in India.  What role can or should kirtan play in activism?

DN: I think the practice and the sharing of bhakti kirtan is its own form of activism (chuckles), because it activates people’s hearts and that inspires them to follow their bliss and passions and to participate in life in a conscious and joyful way.

For all of us road warriors out there doing door-to-door kirtan, that is activism. It’s playing an active role in the upliftment of the planet.  I think all of us who practice bhakti are connected to serving humanity. I can’t really speak about what the role is in getting involved in more traditional activist settings, but to me, [bhakti yoga] is a means to help in a broader way. That’s always been a big part of what I do, and one of the reasons my presentation of kirtan has a little more of a Western flair is to bring it to more people.

In terms of supporting charities and nonprofit organizations, I can’t speak for other people but it definitely plays a role for me. My last CD, Stars, gave a portion of every CD sold to Peter Gabriel’s Witness.org, a humanitarian organization that distributes cameras and iPhones to people around the world to document human rights violations. The video we made, Love Belongs to Everyone, was dedicated to the work that Witness does.

TBB: You’ve just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the yoga studio you founded in Philadelphia, Yoga on Main. How has your practice evolved in the past two decades?

DN: I think the way in which my practice has evolved is that it has expanded, in a very profound way.  When I was younger I had very strong ideas about what was “spiritual” and what was a “spiritual experience,” so in a way I was confined to identify with that through certain kinds of practices – which were very supportive of my spiritual expansion.

Now 20 years later, there isn’t anything that isn’t spiritual to me. It matters less and less what particular activity I find myself engaged in, whether it’s talking with you or having a cup of tea or practicing yoga or taking a walk.  Whatever it is, to me, it’s all part of the same oneness. It’s really been quite liberating, like letting go of a burden of seeing it in some places and not in other places. To see everything as spiritual, as divine — for me that’s been a big shift.  

Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com

To me this is what we’re working for as bhaktis.  As my guru Neem Karoli Baba said: “See the divine in everything and in everyone.”  

He also said: “The best form to worship god is in every form.” This is the bhakti vision, the divine is in all beings and in everything. So 20 years later, I feel that there’s a much deeper awareness of spirituality in exactly what the moment presents. There is less of a compulsion to make it look different.

TBB: How has fatherhood contributed to that evolution?

DN: In a huge way!  My daughter Tulsi is just full of love and full of awe. She’s so present and so joyful.  Being with her, you just see the transparency of spirit, because she’s so close; she’s living in that. Being serious, being heavy, or being preoccupied just doesn’t work in her presence.

I always say: who needs a guru when you have a child like Tulsi?

 

Banner artwork by Jenni Young

See also:
www.davidnewmanmusic.com
www.staystrongproject.com

You Can Count On Me/Shyam Bolo is available on:
iTunes at: http://tinyurl.com/StayStrong2iTunes
Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/StayStrong2Amazon

 

 

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