This last December my nomadic German friend, Ilka, swept through town, in the delightful way she does, and downloaded on to my laptop a long list of songs by devotional singers. The type of musical genre that the artists list on this particular playlist could be described in a couple different ways. Some reminded me of the call and response Kirtan devotional music that I listened to with friends in the Bay Area when attending an evening with the Indian guru Amma-chi, fondly nicknamed the hugging saint. Others were mantra meditation songs, where Sanskrit mantras were repeated over and over.
All of this chanting and devotional music was uplifting and easily put me in such a relaxed state that my mind would go still. The women often sounded angelic. I adored this track of music and would fall asleep to it at night, or wake up to it in the morning, doing my household chores while playing these songs.
I became a fan of all the artists on this play list; yet found a couple of the artist’s particularly impressive. One such artist was Snatam Kaur. When I listened to her I had very real fantasies of becoming a new age Indian devotional music singer myself, touring the country with my Kirtan posse and playing the harmonium. I swear, I could totally see myself doing it.
Sometimes I’d have her music streaming in with ear buds while walking our dog, and I’d imagine my tour schedule, how extensive it would be, what kind of devotional music I’d play and where I would get all my training to start doing this.
I was so impressed with the expansive feeling her music manifested in me that I looked up her touring schedule,deciding to see her live in person. So, with a couple friends I was visiting we hit up the Palladium Theater in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Many people in the audience were dressed in white. Snatam Kaur (Kaur means princess in Sanskrit) is a devotee of the American Sikh tradition. Sikhs traditionally wear a white turban around their head and white clothes. This is how Snatam Kaur always dresses.
Besides having a beautiful angelic voice, Snatam is very approachable, warm and inviting. She plays the harmonium while singing. A harmonium is also called a reed organ or pump organ, and can be played while sitting on the floor. You pull a handle back and forth with one hand to pump air through the bellows, which are made of reeds, while using the other hand to play the keys. It is used in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and other Asian countries as an accompaniment instrument for genres like Bhajan, Hindustani classical, Sufi and devotional music. To my ear, this instrument produces a unique and pleasing sound.
Snatam would talk with the audience between songs and I felt like she was exceptional at making us all feel comfortable.We all felt on equal level with her in this game of life we are all trying to navigate with grace and compassion,because she holds herself in such a humble way. There is not a vein of entitlement or haughtiness to her, nor a ‘holier than-thou’ type feel. Then again, with the type of music she sings, it wouldn’t really fit.
She took us on a long beautiful journey that was a salve, or balm, for your soul. At certain points, she got us up to move and dance. I appreciated that when she asked us to move or dance, she would do it too. She encouraged us to move,explaininghow it activated the potency of the mantras more. The recitation of sound and releasing sacred energy is a Sikh term called Shabad. When we sat back down, the singing and chanting indeed felt more effective. It was delightful.
When the show was over, people gathered around her in a large circle, wanting to meet her, talk with her and give her a hug. Snatam radiated goodness; giving everyone who wanted an opportunity to greet her. My friends, who were not familiar with this type of music, walked away from the night saying they enjoyed themselves very much. It made me very happy to have shared the experience with them and see how they enjoyed the whole evening.
I bought a ticket to a second concert for another artist I admired on my playlist. This was to see the duo, Deva Premal and Miten. They had been touring with the bansuri flutist, Manose, for 7 years, so he was also an integral part of their show. Their Temple at Midnight Tour had them coming through Southern California, so I saw them in the San Diego area. Deva Premal means Divine Loving in Sanskrit.
According to their website, this duo is at the forefront of the burgeoning world-wide chant phenomenon. They are major contributors on soundtracks for just about every 21st century alternative healing modality. Their music is a merging of ancient mantras from India and Tibet, offered within a contemporary musical setting.
I researched the term mantra since it is such a major aspect of their music. Mantra means “mind” and “to free from”, therefore it is a tool for freeing the mind. No wonder my mind would go still so easily whenever I listened to them.
The floor of the stage was covered in pink and red petals. Deva Premal and Miten were very engaging with the audience, often poking fun at each other. Miten explained a bit of their story for those in the audience who had no prior knowledge. They have a unique way of gently guiding andsteering the audiencethrough many songs. Constantly encouraging us to sing with them, imploring us to see this as a collective gathering for healing,to develop compassion and forgiveness for oneself and others.
It was musical balm that calmed the nerves, provided relief to tortured spirits and nourished souls.An opportunity to let go!At one point they asked us to look at a neighbor and sing to them. Then they asked us to continue to sing, but to another neighbor, then switch again to yet another neighbor. I only had one neighbor in the balcony seating area, so we both got to witness the audience engaging with each other in this way. This suggestion was sweet, yet a bit syrupy for my taste.
An integral aspect of their music is actively engaging in silence when a song ends. As explained, this silence is potent and as important as the words themselves. This potent silence is a time to sit in the Eternal,with some people describing it as feeling like they have come home.
In the second half of the show, I found my way to an empty seat close to the front, allowing me to appreciate how captivatingDeva Premal is and how she has such a commanding voice. A true talent.I give them big props for really lifting up the energy of the audience.
The genre of these two concerts I attended is not well known in the mainstream, thus a major reason I chose to write about them. With wholehearted veracity I can say I did not expect them to have sucha powerful effect on me. I absolutely believe there is a place and time for this type of music foreveryone.
It’s incredible music to listen to when going through transition in your life, for early mornings when you don’t have to rush around yet, for unwinding in the evening, taking a bath or going for a solitary walk. The sprawling effect this music produces stills the mind, providing a perfect way to segue into meditation.
At both concerts I attended, the audience wanted to engage and hug the performers once they got off stage. This isn’t something I often see after a concert. To me, this shows the music created a powerful effect on the audience that was healing in nature, bringing the audience together as few performers can do. Now, that is what makes for awesome musical experiences and something this world, currently mired in a lot of emotional angst, needs now more than ever.
I sincerely hope you give a listen to some of the artists listed below. Who knows, you may just find yourself seeing the world from a whole new perspective.
Where to find these artists:
You can also find them on YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and other music provider services.
Other Artist’s To Consider:
Edo & Jo