LA YOGA MAGAZINE REVIEW “LIVE YOUR LOVE”
SRI Kirtan is Sruti Ram (on harmonium and vocals) and Ishwari (on vocals and acoustic guitar), a duo based in Woodstock, New York They’ve united their talents and their decades of experience in chanting (everything from Sanskrit-based kirtan to chants of the Gregorian variety) and musical styles ranging from opera to folk, punk and electronica. It’s a powerful combination that creates a potent kirtan experience both in person and in recording. On their new album, Live Your Love, they’re joined by such master musicians as flautist Steve Gorn along with Curtis Bahn (dilruba and sitar) Charlie “Govind” Burnham (violin), Noah Hoffeld (cello) and Kyle Esposito (bass and electric guitar).
In Live Your Love, you are transported straight to the Ganga River in India. Their fluid, celebratory sound is heard in “Ganga Ma,” a track that supports an awakening of joy in your heart chakra. Whether you’re new to kirtan or a kirtan wallah yourself, you cannot help but move to the vibrations of the healing sounds on “Govinda”, which is a mega-mix of the “Maha Mantra.” This version even has a strong rap interlude that brings the hip-hop element to an already very modern take on classical bhajans.
The album’s title, and the title track, reflects the bhav or spiritual emotion inherent in the kirtan tradition. “Live Your Love” includes English phrases such as, “Flowers showered from heaven, the world drenched in bliss… overflowing with nectar, for this I wish.” These phrases are consistently and seamlessly woven throughout many songs.
Bottom line: don’t be surprised if, while listening to SRI Kirtan’s Live Your Love, you feel an explosive burst of energy and find yourself moving – make that skipping – through your day, blessed-out and blessed-out and chanting their catchy melodies.
–– Reviewed by Ashley Wynn, RYT, a kirtan wallah who teaches at Bhakti Yoga Shala: bhaktiyogashala.com.
Between songs, the room grows quiet.
For many kirtan fans, those moments before Sruti Ram breaks the silence with an ancient Hindu chant are particularly powerful. People participate in kirtan concerts, a type of Bhakti or devotional yoga, for a spiritual and a sensual experience that can literally and figuratively change the atmosphere of a space.
Though Sruti Ram and Ishwari lead the music – kirtan is really about collective sound. According to Sruti Ram, singing together makes the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of loneliness stop firing. It is kirtan’s explanation of why almost all of the world’s religions have a tradition of group singing or chanting.
“Our kirtan is an invitation to let go, to share your whole heart in a sacred environment. We hope that by offering our hearts completely we can find an inner freedom that increases our ability to express our fullest light into the world,” Ishwari said.
At Jivamukti, the whole room sings. Many of the chants come from their new CD “Fire of Devotion.” [click link to hear some selections] Those who do not know the words by heart read off a lyric sheet, repeating mantras such as “Jaya Jagadambe” or “Om Guru,” to an upbeat, contemporary melody. At first, people sit on blankets with their legs crossed and their palms up. By the middle of a chant, however, they sway, shake, and dance, engaging in the “spontaneous movement” Sruti Ram and Ishwari talk about.
“For me, [kirtan] is the fullest outward expression of connecting to the oneness. It also happens in meditation, but that is personal and inward. I enjoy the sharing of that love energy with a group. Otherwise, why are we here together?” Ishwari asks.
Neither Sruti Ram nor Ishwari started out as kirtan leaders. Ishwari wrote and performed what she calls “hypnotic pop” for almost twenty years, until she started training to become an Interfaith minister. Soon after, she bought kirtan CDs from Jivamukti.
“I was instantly taken to another realm, and felt there was a place for me there. [It’s] a place for my voice and my form of expression. It is ecstatic music, so going full tilt is acceptable,” Ishwari said.
Sruti Ram, too, experimented with different forms of music before discovering Kirtan. He has been interested in chanting since he was an altar boy at his church
The pair met in 2004 at a kirtan event. They released “Fire of Devotion!” in 2007, and launched a concert tour around the same time. Sruti Ram plays the harmonium and kartals of traditional Indian kirtan. Ishwari plays acoustic guitar. Some chants, or “ragas” feature backup musicians on tabla, djembe, cello and bansuri flute.
“The important factor is to sing. Not to judge or observe the quality of the sound but to become one with the action of doing together,” Sruti Ram said.
Concert Review: Sruti Ram & Ishwari at Jivamukti Yoga School, NYC 1/28/09
January 30, 2009
Sruti Ram sings, plays harmonium and percussion; Ishwari plays acoustic guitar and sings, the two taking turns with what were essentially lead vocals throughout their long, practically two-hour show. Sruti Ram & Ishwari’s new cd Fire of Devotion features a wide, assorted cast of musicians; at this show, the duo were augmented by two percussionists and the audience. Many seated in the spacious upstairs room knew the words (a lyric sheet handed out by school staff helped), clapping and singing along. What Sruti Ram & Ishwari play is a new spin on kirtan music, in this case ancient Hindu yoga chants set to catchy pop melodies. Like Christian gospel music or qawwali, kirtan (the word is Sanskrit for “repeat” and translates as “worship service”) is an integral, functional part of the service, in this case a yoga ceremony; unsurprisingly, this show was much a workshop in how to sing along to this stuff as it was a concert.
The songs were as catchy as they were hypnotic, going on for at least ten minutes at a clip, rising and falling, often using a verse/chorus pattern to establish the dynamics, the singers’ beautiful harmonies frequently aided by the audience. A couple of the melodies evoked rustic 70s British folk-rock in the vein of Fairport Convention. Another song took a happy, catchy garage rock chord progression, running it over and over again until it was practically trance-inducing. Yet another one, dedicated to an earth mother figure, had a strikingly dark, austere melody that would have been completely at home on a folk-rock record from the 60s. The overall effect ranged from rousing and inspired to inescapably soothing. Testament to the healing power of some types of music, at least one person (guess who) arrived with a barking lower back but left the performance pain-free. If the show is any indication, the new cd could be enjoyed not only by experienced yoga practitioners but also by anyone who likes pleasant, melodically attractive, late-night sleepy-time music. Sruti Ram & Ishwari are back at Jivamukti on 2/25; if the reaction of the audience at this show is any indication, you can expect an experience that could range from peaceful and relaxing to completely blissed-out, depending on your frame of mind.
The chances of a CD of kirtan chanting becoming one of my picks of the year are astronomically small but here’s Sruti Ram & Ishwari and Fire of Devotion, an album I played night after night and often took into my bedroom CD player, which is an inner sanctum of thunderstorm and rain sound CDs occasionally breached by Loreena McKennitt or Bonnie Rideout or Enya.
Raul’s regulars will remember Lynn Keller from the Reversible Cords but under the name Ishwari, she and her partner Sruti Ram have created a rich and compelling musical offering in the repetition of sacred Sankrit names against a tightly woven tapestry of Indian and Western instruments. It’s not exactly the sort of music where you pick the hit single yet the opening “Krishna Govinda” and “Jaya Jagadambe” are as richly rendered and spiritually uplifting to me as the best Christian hymns. This transformation of ancient words into modern music reminds me how wonderfully Fairport Convention did this with Child ballads in the 1970s. Fire of Devotion is a spectacularly gorgeous aural gift, recommended for anyone whose ears are open to the music of the world here and beyond.
I Love Your CD!
Your new CD is alluring in the way Radha is with Krishna. Both ephemeral and and powerful, it keeps me on the edge waiting for the next twist in a phrase; totally unexpected. It is full of surprises and the counterbalanced harmonies are delightful and at times even haunting. The musicians are excellent and support the vocals in a lyrical way that keeps me asking for more. The vocals by you and Iswari are reversed; you the feminine and she the masculine and both very mature.
CEO Vision Arts
I loooovvvee your cd. I put it on in the taxi on the way to the airport, because we were in terrible traffic and the radio was driving me crazy, the delancy driver Pedro, liked it too! The opening gopala number (Krishna Govinda) came on and he said “Romantic! A word I would have not chosen, yet I understood what he meant.
“Both unique in style and energy this new cd offers both newcomers and old timers a wonderful opportunity to experience the magic and joy of chanting. Sruti Ram and Ishwari bring the listener a seamless union of devotional song. Much care and love went into this creation and the payoff is terrific! The refreshing synthesis of professional musicians only enhances the recording.”
WOW! love the cd. you have such a wonderful voice. last night and
listening today sublimely uplifting.
The CD release party was a wonderful experience. The entire ensemble were so joyous and electrifying that I have carried the chanting with me through my daily life and into my sleeping life, as well.Through the entire CD Sruti Ram and Ishwari have the most unlikely perfect meld of voices. Their differences really work well together. The last cut “Rama Bolo” sung solo by Sruti was the perfect balance and grounding the CD needed. Sruti’s voice has the calmness of velvet, like a human singing bowl.
Thank you, over and over!!!Lynne
Fire of Devotion is exquisite!!! As was the opening concert…I have been listening to it constantly. Hope this CD gets the attention and circulation it deserves…
Much love, Dorothy
The first thing I did on Thursday was to play your cd in my
car.I was so compelled to hear the whole cd I almost forgot why I was sitting in the parking lot of the Hurley Ridge Market. I finally pulled myself away only to eagerly get back into the car to listen to the rest of it. I did not go home until I experienced the whole cd. What a treat. what a wonderful work of art. Listening to it totally fulfilled me like a great wine where all the flavors blend so beautifully together or for me like a great painting where all the elements brilliantly compliment each other to create a great work art. A work that leaves the viewer totally fulfilled in a wondrous way. I wish you and Lynn great success. In addition, while putting the cd on my ipod, Robin listened to it. He was blown away with the orchestration. He found it to be a very contemporary sound and really enjoyed listening to it. I thought that you might like to know how someone who never experienced your music responded to the cd.
Saw you guys for the first time this past summer at Omega Ecstatic Chant weekend. Fell in love with both of you! Your voices are haunting and beautiful. I loved each and every chant you did, such heartfelt devotion and yearning.
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA!!!