Kirtan Music Transports Listeners to a Deeper Place
PHOTO BY PAYAL KUMAR
Influential spiritual leader Ram Dass has described Krishna Das (Jeffrey Kagel) as an example of someone whose “heartsongs” open channels to God. The Grammy-nominated kirtan artist, long considered yoga’s rock star, consistently plays to sold-out crowds worldwide. The Long Island native’s journey has gone from being a member of a popular rock band to going to India, where as a student of spiritual leader Neem Karoli Baba, the trajectory of his life and music shifted and expanded.
His 1996 debut album, One Track Heart, focused on updated chants from the ancient tradition of bhakti yoga, followed in 1998 byPilgrim Heart, with a guest appearance by Sting. Since then, a steady stream of 14 albums and DVDs produced on his own label have provided the soundtrack for yoga classes everywhere; the soothing rhythmic chants performed in a deep, rich timbre complements instruction in the spiritual element of the exercise.
Das’ specialty, kirtan, updates an ancient tradition of devotional chanting as meditation accompanied by instruments. A kirtan concert invites audience members to join in the experience through chanting, clapping and dancing and is characterized as a journey into the self that also connects us with each other.
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Across the country and around the world, yoga practitioners are chanting the names of God in tongues including Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi and English. They’re taking kirtan music out of the temples and the yoga studios and into dance halls, universities, cathedrals and other unexpected places.
In the last decade, India’s traditional call-and-response form of chanting has been reinvented by modern devotional artists blending traditional kirtan with modern genres such as rock, rhythm and blues, hip-hop and electronica—breathing new life and devotion into yoga’s sacred chants.