No, he’s not just a go-to bass player in the East. Re-meet Adam Bauer, kirtan wallah. Best known as the man in the back with the bass onstage with Shyamdas and many others in recent years (and with Krishna Das before that), Bauer is taking a bold “leap of faith,” in his words, and moving from the back of the band to front and center. “This is a big move for me,” Bauer told The Bhakti Beat in an interview. “It’s been a very long, very rich journey of 10 feet.”
On his debut CD, Shyam Lila, he’s trading his trusty 5-string bass for a harmonium with Neem Karoli Baba’s face peering out from above the keys. Bauer started learning the harmonium about three years ago, around the time he attended one of Jai Uttal’s Kirtan Camps. He describes leading kirtan at the camp as a “nervewracking” kind of coming-out for his voice, but one that helped him gain confidence to dive deeper, fueled by encouragement from Uttal and Daniel Paul. He now regularly hosts living room kirtans in his Northampton, Mass. home and has begun to have his own sets at smaller festivals like Vermantra (video below), and most recently at an upstate New York Shyamdas tribute.
His kirtans are gentle, comtemplative — “devotionally quiet,” he says — the kind that fade away gradually and sweetly into that long deep silence that “nobody in their right mind would whoop or clap after.” Soft, meditative, drift-away-on-the-melody kirtan prayers. That will be the vibe in Shyam Lila.
A collection of traditional chants to Radhe and Krishna done to original arrangements, Shyam Lila is “a deep bow from me to Shyamdas,” Bauer said, “an expression of my gratitude for sharing such intimate space for so long.”
He stops short of calling the new album a “tribute” to Shyamdas per se, yet it was in no small way inspired by the beloved bhakti scholar and wallah extraordinaire, who left his body in January. “I wouldn’t be who I am in the same way without these last eight years with Shyamdas,” Bauer said. “He was the closest I’ve ever gotten to the devotional heart of India.”
Bauer had finally arranged his life around spending more time with Shyamdas in India, and was due to be with his friend and mentor just two weeks after the motorcycle accident that changed everything. He arrived in India just in time for the traditional cremation and final rituals with Shyam’s family and closest friends, a series of events that were “very moving and very difficult, a total mind blow,” Bauer said.
The songs of Shyam Lila came to him during the torturous weeks that followed, as Bauer wrestled with the reality of Life Without Shyamdas. “I was trying to wrap my own head around how Shyamdas’s passing is part of God’s lila. I was thinking, ‘You really f***ing chirped on this one’,” he snarked, instantly recognizing it as the “very human reaction.”
‘A Deep Bow of Gratitude’ to Shyamdas
After that, Bauer said “Singing with my own voice just felt like the only thing left to do that resonated in a really strong way.” The songs fleshed themselves out over the weeks in India, as he sang them alone and in satsang with Sadhu Maharaja and friends. “These songs helped me get through that period.”
Gaura Vani, who Bauer calls his “bhakti love-bear,” will produce the CD, for which recording got underway in the wake of Omega Spring Chant, the first big kirtan event where Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav. With Ehrin Hanson on tabla, John McDowell (producer of Shyamdas’s Beloved Chants) on African hand drums, and Northampton native Charlie Braun on guitar, Bauer says they laid down the bare bones of eight tracks over two days at the Art Farm, a private recording studio in New York’s Hudson Valley. Additional instrumentation will be added to the mix as the process unfolds. Bauer is shooting for a Fall 2013 release.
Here’s a taste of Bauer’s kirtan prayer from Vermantra 2012 in Burlington, Vt…
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