One of the things we love about this “mantra revolution” is how many largely unsung local bands are out there doing their thing, bringing the bhav to their communities, just waiting for people to wake up to this thing called kirtan. The Unknown Bhakti Band. Of course, they’re not unknown to those in the know…but there must be thousands of them, right? Under-the-radar ensembles and Monday night quartets, each with their own unique expression of bhakti, quietly offering music and mantras for anyone who will come out and chant with them?
Chantlanta grew out of this kind of community in Atlanta and beyond. Seven local and regional bands ended up on the “free” part of Chantlanta’s two-day line-up in the sanctuary of the Druid Hills Baptist Church, representing kirtan in a broad range of incarnations. From traditional Sufi chants to Hebrew Shabbath prayers, from Hindu scripture to contemporary Gospel, and from Paul Simon to the Beatles, Chantlanta embraced it all.
We’re putting each one of these bands on our “Wallahs to Watch” list. You might want to too. Just sayin’.
This is Part 1 of 2, because…well, there were seven of them, and they each deserve attention. And blogs aren’t supposed to be 1,600 words long.
First up, Friday night’s line-up of Mantra Ma, Wynne Paris and Chaitanya. Don’t miss Part 2, with Kirtan Bandits, Sunmoon Pie, Phil McWilliams and Blue Spirit Wheel. Video highlights from each artist, some still uploading…(hello, wifi?)
Mantra Ma, aka singing moms Jocelyn Rose and Shonali Banerjee from Atlanta, opened us up softly with a long, layered Ganesha chant, then graced us with Gayatri, the mother of all mantras. With Crystal Stafford on acoustic guitar and Rose on harmonium, the mood was meditative, soft and earthy, reverent and reassuring…
At one point Banerjee invited everyone to open their palms to the sky and repeat “I am open to receive all of life’s blessings.” Communal abundance prayer…we swear it sent a ripple of energy right down our collective spine.
Worldbeat troubadour Wynne Paris from Florida can hardly be considered unknown — more like a musician’s musician. He’s played with, well just about everybody (quite a few of them made it onto Groovananda, his latest CD). He had his own set on the main stage at Bhakti Fest last year. (What? You missed that 4 a.m. set?) We were there, and it was worth staying up for the sarod serenade alone.
He brought his sarod to Chantlanta, thankfully, playing a couple of songs on it before switching to harmonium, then guitar. The set started traditionally with an invocation to Ganesh, then rollicked right into He Ma Durga with the crowd clapping along. A detour to the 1960’s with a Beatles-inspired Krishna love medley was followed by a full-on gospel jam-dance in the contemporary “sacred steel” tradition popularized by the Lee Brothers and Florida’s House of God church. This little roof-raiser had everyone jumping and hollering like…well, like we were at a Baptist church in the South… Even Druid Hills Pastor Mimi Walker joined the joy parade on the altar-turned-stage. Watch it here.
In the end, Paris went back to his sarod to close the set with a hypnotic Om Namah Shivaya he learned from Bhagavan Das. Lori Michele Love and Dorianne Aillery sang back-up; Jeffrey Lidke and Rishi Waterman on percussion.
Chaitanya took the Friday night bhav to the next level with a high-energy set of traditional mantras swept along on a jam-band medley of rhythm and strings. It was clear these Asheville, N.C. bhaktas weren’t going to let the night end without a shaktified dance jam. Jai Jagadambe fit the bill nicely. Watch the video here.
This band has been a perennial favorite at Chantlanta for four years running, so we’ve heard. Now we know why.
Sylvia Riverwind shared lead vocals with Koriander, whose harmonium was the bloodline of the band (though she switched it up for an acoustic guitar occasionally). Overlayed with some serious fiddling by Laurie Fisher, Rishi Waterman on percussion and Tom Aldrich on bass, it was hard NOT to move.