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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirtan Grammy Win Would Be a First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Dazzling.

We’re not sure she’d call herself a “wallah,” but regardless of labels, Jai-Jagdeesh is a rising star in the chant world.  Her music is firmly rooted in the Sikh/Kundalini tradition of Gurmukhi-language chants (the tradition of Snatam Kaur, most famously), but with a modern edge that gives her music almost a pop-inspired feel.  And she’s not above breaking out in an old favorite — like she did at Sat Nam Fest with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s luscious Hallelujah…

 

Nothing Sikh about that, and the hard-core kundalini yogis at the festival ate it up.

Which, as an aside, proves a point about Sat Nam Fest that maybe some of us — including this writer, until I went to the festival — don’t completely get:  it’s not ALL hard-core kundalini yoga, and you don’t have to be a hard-core kundalini yogi (whatever that is) to love this festival.  I’m not, and I did.  (Of course, there is plenty of hard-core yoga on the bill — you wouldn’t believe how long Gurmukh had those yogis holding tree pose! I, of course, needed to take pictures…ahem.)

Jai-Jagdeesh, with Tripp Dudley on percussion and Leonardo Har Prakash on sitar

One of the highlights for this SNF newbie was, without doubt, Jai-Jagdeesh’s set on Saturday morning (it started at 8:30, which was like, lunchtime for some of the hard cores who had been up since 4 a.m. for morning prayers). 

Now, we may have been biased going into it, because GuruGanesha Singh, the founder (and now minority owner) of Spirit Voyage, the record label that produces all of the Sat Nam Fest artists, had singled out Jai-Jagdeesh as someone not to miss.  He called her style “a little bit more eclectic” in comparison to the stalwart of the label, Snatam Kaur, or Nirinjan Kaur, a young Sikh artist Singh also proclaimed “up-and-coming.”   (Both Snatam and Nirinjan, Singh said in his inimitable style, are “like, realllly ‘Sikh-y’.”)

Nirinjan Kaur, also rising...

Sat Nam Fest, Singh pointed out, has been a boon to young artists like Jai-Jagdeesh and Nirinjan, because it gives them an opportunity to “get out in front of a bigger audience.” In the case of Jai-Jagdeesh, who debuted on the festival schedule last year, “it was a real confidence-builder.  People responded really favorably to her.”

We can vouch for that reaction at this year’s East Coast fest (in Waynesboro, Penn. Sept. 13-16).  The crowd loved her.  They cheered when the curtain first drew back to reveal her at her harmonium, percussionist Tripp Dudley on her right and sitar player Leonardo Har Prakash on her left.  They applauded long and strong after each song.  They whistled and hooted when she stood up to offer a Bollywood-inspired classical Indian dance piece (you’ll see why in the video below). 

It’s clear this young woman, steeped in yogic tradition and Indian music since she was a child, hardened up on the streets of L.A. pursuing an acting career, then resoftened perhaps as sacred music reclaimed the forefront of her life, is a favorite daughter of the kundalini crowd — and beyond. 

Just look at what she does with her neck…

How does she do that?

Jai-Jagdeesh’s debut album, I Am Thine, has reportedly been one of Spirit Voyage’s top sellers in recent months.  No wonder; it’s a luscious mix of traditional Gurmukhi chants and love-infused English lyrics, backed up by the exquisite musicianship of Krishan on piano, guitar and gentle percussion and Hans Christian on cello, sitara, sarangi and nickelharpa.  She recently launched an ambitious tour in the Eastern U.S. and Canada that wraps up Oct. 13 in Vienna, Va.

For more, also see:
www.spiritvoyage.com/Jai-Jagdeesh
www.satnamfest.com

 

Additional Coverage from The Bhakti Beat’s Big Bhavalicious Adventure to Omega Chant, Bhakti Fest West and Sat Nam Fest East:
 
Bringing Home The Bhav: Bhakti-Fried Bliss-Chaser Faces ‘The Laundry’ of Life (Video)
With Deva’s Miten, Krishna Das Does Dylan and Shyamdas Does the Blues (Videos)
‘It Is Not Dying:’ Geoffrey Gordon (1952-2012) Remembered in Bhakti Fest Tributes and Haunting Video
Photo Journals from all 3 festivals on our facebook page.
Check our YouTube channel for the latest video uploads.
 
Stay tuned to this site for more coverage coming soon! Subscribe here.
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Ram Dass, beaming from Maui

We often get asked: “What are the can’t-miss chant events of the year?”  It’s a loaded question, for sure, since everyone has their own idea about what is “can’t-miss.”  Including us.  So we’re sharing our picks for “The Big 5” chant events that are worth getting to, no matter where you’re coming from.  Here’s part 1; stay tuned to this space for the rest (subscribe here).  And tell us what your top picks are!

Omega’s Ecstatic Chant is the original.  Now moving into its second decade as the annual destination for hard-core chantaholics, its roots can be traced back to Ram Dass’s annual retreats at the Rhinebeck, N.Y. campus in the ’80’s. 

Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen told us that, in those days, Ram Dass would invite Krishna Das or Jai Uttal to come and chant with the gathering as evening entertainment, and it became so popular that chanting became a central aspect of the weekend. When Ram Dass could no longer attend due to his health, the chanting continued.  These days, Ram Dass beams in from Maui through the magic of interactive video, delivering his wisdom, humor and reflections of Neem Karoli Baba from a large screen.

What’s So Special About Omega? 

Radhanath Swami (ctr) with Shyamdas and Deva Premal

 Omega is different from everything else on The Big 5 list because it is chant and only chant.  It’s also the only one that is not a “festival” per se — more like a “retreat.”  Or, in Omega parlance,  a weekend workshop (The Yoga of Voice).  The program is chanting.  That’s it.  No simultaneous yoga classes across campus.  No lectures or experiential workshops to compete for your time.  Just chant, chant and chant some more. 

Manose

On the second day, there is an extraordinary all-night session that, if you are game, is pretty much guaranteed to take you so deep into the bhav that you just might, as Swami Satchidananda said, “forget everything.”  Participants fairly camp out in the Main Hall, variously dancing furiously or quietly meditating, dozing or chatting in between sets… and before you know it, dawn is rising, right in tune with the lilting flute-play of Manose and Steve Gorn.

But what makes Omega stand out for us are those completely unpredictable moments that are pure gold for the soul — like Radhanath Swami wailing on the harmonica with Deva Premal and Miten.  Or Donna De Lory joining C.C. White to sing Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.  Or this little gem from Shyamdas, who never fails to liven things up with his stories and shenanigans:
 

‘The Super Bowl of Chant’

Miten, with Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen

Jai Uttal once famously called Omega Chant “the Super Bowl of chant fests,” maybe because only a handful of artists make it to the line-up and the competition to be on the schedule is intense.  (Each artist typically plays at least two full sets over the course of the weekend, and many play a third time at the Labor Day bonus session.)  Rechtschaffen, who makes the line-up decisions, says he is inundated with artists’ CDs and promo tapes and is always on the look-out for bands with a “unique” sound, but knows that bringing in someone “new” means someone else gets bumped, even if they’ve been on the Omega line-up for years. 

C.C. White was at fall Chant for the first time last year, and Dave Stringer returned after a few years’ absence.  Snatam Kaur and Wah!, both long-time Omega regulars, were noticeably absent last fall, as was David Newman (Wah! played at Omega’s smaller Spring Chant in May; Newman and Kaur both led workshop at the retreat center this summer).  Rechtschaffen openly lamented the absence of each of these favorites at fall Chant.   

The 2012 Line-Up 

KD and Arjun Bruggeman

Krishna Das, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal (with Daniel Paul) are constants on the Omega schedule.  They have been leading the Omega Chant pack since the early days and it’s hard to imagine Chant Weekend without all of them.  They can usually be counted on to be stage center during the famous closing session, when all the wallahs and musicians join together on stage for a final free-for-all.   Typically, you can find Shyamdas directing the action, Jai Uttal playfully rebelling, and Krishna Das playfully grumpy at having to be in the spotlight at such an “early” hour (it’s only 11:30 a.m. or so, after all). 

The ever-popular Deva Premal and Miten and Sikh songstress Snatam Kaur round out the top-bill headliners at this year’s Chant.

Vishal Vaid astounds

Vishal Vaid, who has trained in traditional ghazal (an ancient form of poetry in song that translates to “conversation with the divine”), astounds audiences every year (watch this for example) and seems to have a pretty solid position on the Omega roster.  The Mayapuris, the Florida-based band of “Krishna Kids” who have leaped — literally — into the international kirtan scene are back for a third year, and if previous years’ pattern holds true, will join just about everyone else’s bands as well.  

C.C. White

C.C. White is back for her second year, having solidified her return with two crowd-rousing sets last fall showcasing songs from her debut solo CD, This IS Soul Kirtan, which was “pre-released” at Omega.  Gaura Vani and bansuri flute virtuosos Manose and Steve Gorn complete the bill of musicians.  Radhanath Swami, who caused all sorts of excitement last fall when he joined Deva Premal and Miten on stage for an impromptu (and seriously wailin’) harmonica solo, will also be on hand.  We hope he brings his harmonica.

The Deets

When:  Aug. 31-Sept. 3, with a special 10-Hour Labor Day session on Sept. 3.  (If you still haven’t had enough, Krishna Das keeps the bhav flowing with a separate workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 4.)

 

Radhanath Swami & Donna De Lory

Where:  Omega Institute is located in Rhinebeck, NY, smack in the middle of the “Bhajan Belt,” the upstate New York region known for a confluence of kirtan.  It’s about 90 miles north of NYC and roughly the same distance from Albany.  There’s an Amtrak station nearby and a commuter train to NYC.

How Much:   This is the only bug in the ointment.  Tuition alone for Ecstatic Chant is $395.  The Labor Day session is $125, or $75 if you’re doing the weekend retreat also.  Accomodations are additional, and on-site cabins or dorms tend to be, shall we say, “rustic” (but pleasant enough).  See http://eomega.org/workshops/ecstatic-chant for details.

What Else? Rhinebeck is a quaint and boho-chic Hudson Valley town with lots of restaurants, shopping and an indie movie house.  But you may never want to leave the Omega campus, a rolling oasis with a small lake where you can kayak, hiking paths, great vegetarian meals, a wellness spa with all manner of body-work and subtle-energy treatments available, a soothing sanctuary at the top of the hill, and the charged energy of 30 years as a destination for spiritual masters and seekers of all stripes. 

So, what do you say?  Will you be going to Ecstatic Chant this year?  Why or why not?

 

 

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Where’s the Bhav? Snatam Kaur Tours East

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Buoyed by a surprise birthday concert for none other than Oprah Winfrey and an avalanche of publicity surrounding it, Snatam Kaur is back in the East with a new band for a series of concerts and workshops in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

The Sikh songstress and Kundalini yogi, who practically grew up at the feet of Kundalini yoga founder Yogi Bhajan, has enchanted packed live audiences for years and has emerged, arguably, as the most widely known artist in the “sacred chant” world.   And if the Oprah story is any indication, the rest of the world may be starting to wake up.  (Does anything say “mainstream” more than Oprah?)

Answer to a Heart Prayer

Absent this tour are Snatam’s long-time travelmate, band leader and manager GuruGanesha Singh (whose own tour with The GuruGanesha Band is storming the East Coast right now) and tabla maestro Ramesh Kannan (who played two shows in Northern California with Snatam earlier this month).

The new troupe includes the brilliant guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Todd Boston (who played with Snatam for Oprah, along with Daniel Paul on tabla), Jason Parmar on tabla, and Matthew Shoening (Shane-ing) on the electric cello. Yeah, the electric cello. You gotta hear this — the usually-solo Shoening does this live-looping thing on the cello that creates layers of rhythms and depth in the music that is truly innovative.

“This is what happens when God turns a page in your life and opens your heart,” Snatam says in a new promotional video about the tour.  “This whole band came together from a prayer from our heart.”

Boston, New York and Beyond

The tour opens with two nights (5/24 and 5/25) at the historic Regent Theater in Arlington, just north of Boston. (Get tickets for Boston here.)  It will be Snatam’s third trip to Boston hosted by Shunyam Productions, the husband-and-wife team behind the Boston Yoga and Chant Fest, now in its third year and quickly making a name as one of the country’s premier annual gatherings of kirtan artists.

Awakening the Kundalini

From Boston, the band heads to New York City for a weekend workshop in which Snatam “will share the technology of Kundalini Yoga and Mantra that awakens the Kundalini energy flow within” and two evening concerts (5/26 and 5/27) at Integral Yoga NYC.  The tour continues with a concert in Washington Depot, Conn. 5/29 and a workshop in Keene, N.H. 5/30, before the group heads to Kripalu Retreat Center in Lenox, Mass. for two multi-day mantra-practice workshops — Mantras of Spiritual Warriers (6/1-6/3) and  Mantra Medicine Wheel (6/3-6/6) — where Snatam will be joined by her husband Sopurkh Singh Khalsa.

For the full schedule, visit Spirit Voyage’s Website.

Here’s a little taste of the nectar Snatam consistently delivers, from her appearance at 700 Voices Sacred Music Concert in West Branford, Conn. last May…

If you’ve never experienced the divine presence of this lit-from-within enchantress in the flowing white veils and voice of liquid velvet, well…what are you waiting for?  If you have, you know what we mean, right?

Also see:

www.snatamkaur.com

www.spiritvoyage.com

 

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Where’s the Bhav? Omega Spring Chant!

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The spring chant-fest season has officially arrived, and the bhav starts flowing Friday night 5/3 with Spring Ecstatic Chant at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y.  This weekend’s chant retreat, now in its fifth year, is the little sister to Omega’s epic Ecstatic Chant weekend over Labor Day, a don’t-miss destination for chantaholics for more than a decade.

Spring Chant headliner Jai Uttal has had to bow out of this weekend’s festivities due to an ongoing battle with pneumonia — and the whole bhakti community is praying for his complete, speedy recovery.  Even without Jai, the line-up shines:  Shyamdas, Wah!, Donna DeLory, SRI Kirtan, Gaura Vani, and — just announced and at Omega Chant for the first time ever — Masood Ali Khan, who will be joined by tabla virtuoso Daniel Paul and multi-instrumentalist phenom Sheela Bringi.

Ali Khan and Bringi are two rising stars in the sacred music scene, and their addition to the Spring Chant line-up cements their reputations as world-class artists in the “yoga music” genre.  Ali Khan’s second album, “The Yoga Sessions: Hang With Angels,” released last September, features his percussive magic on the hang drum (pronounced “hung”) in collaboration with a star-studded list of world musicians that include bansuri flute master Steve Gorn, guitarist Ray Ippolito and vocal harmonies by the likes of Visvambhar Seth of the Mayapuris, Kamaniya Devi of Prema Hara, and West Coast yogi-wallah Suzanne Sterling.  For a little taste of the magic that can be expected during Ali Khan’s set Friday night, check out this video:

For those who have never experienced a chant retreat Omega-style, put it on your bucket list!  There’s something about Omega that sets the Hudson Valley center’s famous chant weekends apart from the rest.  Maybe it’s the fact that there is nothing to do but chant, chant, chant and chant some more — there are no competing yoga classes or workshops to entice you away from the calling of the names.  Or maybe it’s the fact that the audience tends to be “hard-core” chanters — everyone knows the words and they’re not afraid to sing them out, creating a resounding response chorus that you won’t hear many other places.  Or maybe it’s just simply the magic of the Omega campus, a former Jewish camp at the foot of the Catskill Mountains converted to a high-end holistic wellness retreat center,  where countless thousands of seekers have gone in search of enlightenment (or at least to get a little closer to it).

Whatever it is, there’s nothing quite like it.  And while the younger and less-likely-to-be-sold-out Spring Chant doesn’t have the big headliners that Fall Chant has — including Krishna Das, Deva Premal & Miten, and Snatam Kaur —  it remains a perennial highlight on our short list of must-do kirtan events.

Shyamdas will be there of course — he told The Bhakti Beat at last year’s Spring Chant that he has been there every year and wouldn’t miss it for the world.  The Sanskrit scholar and wallah extraordinare’s inimitable style of Hari Katha — chanting intermingled with stories and teachings from Hindu scriptures — will be on display throughout the weekend, and he will lead the closing session on Sunday.  That session has always been a highlight for us, as the whole kit and kaboodle of wallahs join together on stage for a last rousing round of Hari Bols (check out the video below for a taste of the fun from last year).

SRI Kirtan, the divine duo of Ishwari and Sruti Ram, will be joining Spring Chant for the third year straight, and we’re hoping they will be permanently on the line-up.  Because they rock the bhakti, baby.  They never fail to deliver a set that is pure heart-stirring joy and exploding with devotion, calling upon their diverse musical backgrounds (ranging from Gregorian Chant to punk rock!) to bring down the house.  Or more accurately, bring UP the house?

Spring Chant this year also sees the return of Wah!, Gaura Vani and Donna DeLory — each world-class chant wallahs in their own right who have become Omega mainstays.  Yes, Jai Uttal will be missed — it’s hard to imagine Omega Chant without him.

Nothing left to do but chant, chant, chant…

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

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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!

THANK YOU FOR SHARING THE BHAKTI BEAT WHEREVER YOU SOCIALIZE, ONLINE & OFF!

 

 

 

 

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