for ISKCON News on Nov. 11, 2011
With kirtan, the ancient call-and-response style of chanting God’s names, growing more and more popular all over North America and the world, kids are now getting their very own kirtan album.
This October saw Grammy nominee Jai Uttal, who has done a lot towards popularizing kirtan with the masses in recent times, release Kirtan Kids. The album mixes English and Sanskrit lyrics, an eclectic variety of instruments including a glockenspiel, a toy piano, and the sounds of banging pots and pans, and five choirs featuring kids of various ages, to create a rich offering that children will have great fun with. It’s also a celebration of the inherent innocence, joyful devotion and purity of children that adults can learn a lot from.
Jai Uttal was first struck by how naturally children take to kirtan when he began to make guest appearances at his son Ezra Gopal’s preschool in 2008. When he saw how much his son’s friends loved the devotional singing, he began to host children’s kirtan events at yoga studios near his home in Northern California.
Children would sit in a circle, and listen to Jai tell fascinating stories from the Ramayana and other Vedic scriptures, punctuated by special versions of kirtan chants that were shorter and more kid-friendly.
“I wanted Ezra to have a way to get together with other kids his age who were into kirtan,” Jai says. “It gave him his own sangha (community).”
Kirtan Kids is a natural extension of these events that will hopefully give children around the world a sense of spiritual community.
“I think one of the best things about kirtan is that it’s all-inclusive,” says Gaura Vani of kirtan group As Kindred Spirits, who met Jai Uttal during the Chant 4 Change event in 2009 and has worked with him on several recordings and performances since. “Growing up in ISKCON, we see that sometimes people have to take their kids out if they’re making noise during a lecture. But during kirtan, everyone’s welcome. It’s such a great way to invite young people into the beautiful tradition of bhakti.”
Kirtan Kids is itself a community endeavor, with thirty children including Jai’s son Ezra Gopal, many of the children of his friends and associates, and seven different ISKCON children singing on the album.
“At Jai’s request I recorded my own daughters, Revati, who is seven, and Kairava, who is five, in our Mantralogy studio in Washington D.C.,’ says Gaura Vani. “I also brought my studio equipment with me to New York, where I camped out in Akuntita Dasi and Damodara Dasa’s house in Queens and recorded their sons—thirteen-year-old Govinda, eleven-year-old Vasudeva, and seven-year-old Keshava. Finally we also recorded Takurani, the daughter of second generation devotees Jagannath Kirtan Dasa and Lalita Shyam Dasi.”
Gaura Vani says that working with his kids was an educational experience for him.
“Truly great musicians focus more on the mood of the piece than on technical perfection, because they know that if it has a great vibe, it will transcend analysis,” he explains. “Kids intrinsically know this without having to be taught it. When recording, my kids gave the best they could, and when I asked them if we could go back and re-do it, they just looked at me like, ‘It’s fine, move on…’ They didn’t want to do it, because they knew they had already given their best. And sure enough, although I was worried about it, when I sent what I had to Jai he was delighted. So I learned a valuable lesson from my kids—be more focused on the mood and the intention behind the thing than the material perfection of it.”
In fact, Jai Uttal loved Revati and Kairava’s singing so much that he had them not just feature in the choir portions of the album, but also sing their own lead vocals on several tracks.
There’s “Jump Hanuman Jump,” in which the children invoke the great monkey warrior and servant of Lord Rama, “Shri Ram Stars,” and Namaste, in which five-year-old Kairava sings with heartbreaking sincerity, “Namaste, Namaste/We love to sing Kirtan every day.” Meanwhile Takurani Czenstochouski gets her own solo bit on “Chanting Hare Krishna.”
Altogether the album features nine joyful songs, including Blue Cowboy Blues, with the Sanskrit lyrics “Devakinandana Gopala,” and Everything In You, about how Lord Gopala is the source of everything. Interspersed with these are stories from the ancient scriptures told in an irresistibly folky style by “Poppa Jai,” including one about mother Yashoda looking for dirt in Krishna’s mouth and finding the entire universe.
“Kirtan Kids is a very important album, because the fact that there’s now a need for kids’ kirtan music for the wider community shows how much Bhakti yoga and kirtan culture is growing in America,” Gaura Vani says.
The album is also a milestone because it features the next generation of kirtan artists—the children and family members of established kirtaniyas. There’s Jai’s son Ezra, Gaura Vani’s daughters Revati and Kairava, and Govinda, Vasudeva and Keshava Jones, who are the nephews of As Kindred Spirits band members Achyuta Gopi and Ananta Govinda.
“Jai has found a very nice way to encourage the new generation and pass the torch on to them,” Gaura says.
For Jai Uttal’s part, he hopes parents and kids will jam with the album during car rides or at home. Chanting kirtan, he believes, is a joyful way to introduce children to Bhakti yoga. “Kids are completely spiritual beings, and part of our job as parents is just to keep reminding them of this fact,” he says. “Joyously repeating the holy names with rhythm and melody effortlessly does that. lt reminds us, grownups and kids alike, that our true natures are just droplets of divine love.”
For more info and to buy the album, please visit