Grammys 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?