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Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits Break Through With New Release

By: on May 17, 2009
Opinion
As Kindred Spirits performing at Yoga Mala DC

It’s not very often that an ISKCON-produced album of kirtan,
India’s ancient practice of call and response chanting, makes a real impact on
the general public. ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s original 1966 LP did it,
getting airplay on the hippy beat radio stations and drawing many to Krishna
consciousness. So did 1971’s Radha
Krishna Temple,
which was produced by George Harrison and spawned two hit
singles in the British charts – Govindam
and The Hare Krishna Mantra.


Since then, despite the contributions of well-respected ISKCON kirtan artists, perhaps nothing has made quite the same impact.





Yet listening to Ten
Million Moons
, the second album by Gaura
Vani & As Kindred Spirits
, I get the feeling that it could be the landmark
record we’ve all been waiting for.





This is partly because kirtan is becoming hugely popular in
the USA, with stars such as Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and Dave Stringer drawing
thousands and playing in not just yoga studios, but mainstream venues too. And
with the yoga community at 11 million practioners and growing, kirtan as a
genre is about to explode.





But it’s also because Ten
Million Moons
is just that good. While As
Kindred Spirits
’ first album, cult classic Nectar of Devotion, showed much promise, it felt more aimed at an
internal devotee crowd. With Ten Million
Moons,
however, the band are trying their best to reach out to a larger
audience, stretching their sound and creativity as far as they can – and it
works.



From opener My Body Is
A Temple (Krishna Murari)
the impeccable production by Gaura Vani, Rasa
Acharya, and Jai Uttal regular Ben Leinbach is apparent. You’re transported to
another world as calls and sounds hark back to village temples in the holy land
of Vrindavana, India. When the beat kicks in, festive images of villagers in
saris and turbans, hurling colorful flowers and cloth into the air and dancing
down the street, float through your mind. The harmonies soar, Acyuta Gopi’s heartfelt
call providing the perfect foil for Gaura Vani’s sure, meditative baritone.





It’s purely Indian flavor, but don’t let that fool you. This
is a band not afraid to experiment and to explore their widely varied
collective musical backgrounds. Stop and Talk (Hey Natha) is a hip-hop
ballad with Sanskrit lyrics, its electronic beats wrapped in futuristic
synthesizer and propelled along by a rumbling bassline. Where Was I Last Night? (Nami Danam Chi Manzil) is an Arabic hymn
with a distinctly middle eastern groove. Sleeping
Soul (Jiv Jago)
melds gospel harmonies in English with a sweet kirtan
melody, creating an instant classic as catchy as any pop song – and one which I
defy anyone with a beating heart and soul to not feel simultaneously overjoyed
and deeply moved by.





The biggest surprise, however, is Surrender. Here Gaura Vani goes it alone, armed with only his
guitar and singing his own lyrics in English. At first it seems completely out
of place on a kirtan album. But emotions begin to stir when you realize that
here we are meeting the man behind the Sanskrit prayers, letting us know who he
really is, what he’s been through, and what kirtan has done for him: “Thirty
long years of doing it my way has brought me here / The road behind me is
littered with the ruins of decisions made in fear / Now I surrender.”





And this is what As
Kindred Spirits
is really about – the personal connection. Gaura himself
listened to nothing but kirtan until the age of nine, while most of the band
are also second generation Hare Krishna kids. “Essentially, we are family,” Gaura
says in an upcoming interview with YogaMates. “We grew up together playing
music and singing kirtan since before we can remember.”





It’s this intrinsic love for kirtan and for Krishna, the simple
kind that comes with growing up with them as part of your life, that makes Ten Million Moons really special. The
title song, for instance, finds Gaura at his best – singing a prayer to one of
Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s founders Nityananda Prabhu, softly and with heartfelt
devotion, all the weight of the original poet’s lyrics behind him. Worship
the Golden Lord (Bhaja Gauranga)
, a Bengali song used in Nilachala Mahaprabhu (a classic
devotional film that many of As Kindred
Spirits
grew up watching), is infused with an achingly beautiful
wistfulness that only genuine feeling can bring. And Pirate Song (Dina Dayal), with its
roaring call and response vocals, conjures up images of a pirate ship lit by
burning torches coursing along in the darkness, as its crew link arms and belt
out the chant in a spirit of lifelong comraderie.





Which
all comes back to the same point – Gaura
Vani & As Kindred Spirits
are going to be big. They’ve been
enthusiastically praised by celebrated kirtan artists Dave Stringer and Jai
Uttal. Their album has been released under an imprint of Warner Bros. They’re embarking on a coast-to-coast tour of the US, as well as
international performances in Brazil,
India, Europe, and Africa. And they will be featured in this year’s Bhakti
Fest, the largest gathering of yoga musicians in the US. (Held from September
11-13 in Joshua Tree, California.)





The band
will also appear on Faith, Music and Culture, an interfaith religion
special to be broadcast Sunday June 7 on the CBS Television Network. The
program looks at modern music inspired within the varied cultures of four
religions: There’s a Jewish rap group, a Sufi orchestra, a Christian a capella
group, and, representing Vaishnavism, Gauravani
& As Kindred Spirits.





Their success elates those of us ISKCON members who felt our
hearts sink this March when we read Sara Eckel’s New York Times article Yoga
Enthusiasts Hear the Call of Kirtan
. In it, popular kirtan singer Krishna
Das said he was dismayed that many associate the chant “Hare Krishna” with
people who begged on the streets and danced in airports in the 1970s.





How surprised would he be to learn that this modern kirtan band, praised by his contemporaries and beloved by yoga audiences, are
comprised of the children of those very people?




For more information or to purchase the new album visit gauravani.com.

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