Srila Prabhupada disciple and popular Venezuelan musician Havi Das (Ilan Chester) delivered a deep and powerful Krishna conscious message while receiving a Latin Grammy award recently.
The speech and its message of substance, amidst more typical award acceptance fare, was well received by the audience.
Havi was being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a special awards event in the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, during the 18th annual Latin Grammys on November 15th.
This was Havi’s second Latin Grammy, having previously received Best Folk Album for his 2010 record “Tesoros De La Música Venezolana.”
Introducing him onstage, Latin Recording Academy Trustee Eva Cebrián praised him for a long and successful career. Havi Das first appeared on TV in Venezuela playing piano at the age of five. By the time he was a teenager he was touring in rock and pop bands, even supporting the band Queen in 1979.
In 1982, he was signed to the record label Sonográfica, launched his solo career and began selling out massive auditoriums and theaters. His songs, which included elements of classical music, jazz, afro-caribbean and Venezuelan folk music, were covered by Latin stars like Marc Anthony and became international hits.
Since 1999, he has been producing his own renditions of traditional Venezuelan folk songs, to even bigger success, including the platinum-selling album “Navideno Heart” and a 6 CD collection that sold more than 500,000 units in Venezuela alone.
Speaking to ISKCON News, however, Havi is a little sheepish about such a celebration of his career, commenting, “I read an article by Radhanath Swami the other day, where he said, ‘As a devotee advances, he feels much more disturbed receiving honors than being dishonored.’ That’s how I felt.”
Havi chants at this year’s Bhakti Sangam festival in Ukraine
He was, however, delighted by one shot in an introductory video of his life, which showed him as a young brahmachari, with sikha and dhoti, giving class in an ISKCON temple in Caracas. “At that point, my four daughters Sraddha, Dhanya, Daniella and Ananda, who were in the audience, shouted, ‘Jaya! Haribol!’” he laughs.
Upon receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award, Havi delivered a thoughtful speech inspired by four senior Vaishnavas he consulted beforehand – Jayadvaita Swami, Yogesvara Das, Sivarama Swami and Vaisesika Das.
Addressing the audience, he broke the ice by saying:
“On one occasion Dustin Hoffman asked the Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier, ‘What motivates us to do the work we do?’ And Olivier responded, ‘It’s very simple: Look at me, look at me, look at me.’ Now that you’re watching and listening, I would like to share a short reflection, inspired by sacred texts from India that I consider important.”
Havi continued: “We speak of democracy, equality and liberty, however since the inception of the United Nations in 1945, we humans have fought 140 wars. In World War I alone, 240 million people died. On the other hand, few people know that 65 billion animals are massacred each year in the name of ‘protein’ or ‘the great culinary arts.’
“We sing and speak of love, yet since 1980, we humans have performed 1.5 billion abortions; what to speak of the levels of alcohol, drug and pornographic consumption, racial discrimination, pedophilia, the systematic destruction of the forests, the contamination of our waters, etc. These are all just a few symptoms of the disease. And nature responds – because every action that ignores the laws of God and nature, inevitably will generate suffering; individual and collective suffering. Karma reaches a critical point and something happens – conflicts, wars, sickness, earthquakes, tsunamis, miserable governments, and more.
“I have a friend, a great devotee of Krishna, who I love and admire,” Havi concluded, referring to fellow Prabhupada disciple and teacher Vaisesika Das. “On the occasion of this recognition in Las Vegas, I told him that I wish to say something meaningful and important; something that could benefit anyone who might be listening to or watching me.
“Within 15 minutes he sent me a beautiful text that I totally identify with. He wrote that there are undoubtedly good causes in the world; however, the greatest cause is the one that leads us within, to self-discovery. Much deeper than just skin and bones, is to find out that we are actually eternal spiritual beings, parts of the divine. As a result of this crucial discovery, he wrote, we will be much more useful in doing good to others, while offering the best version of ourselves to the world.
“Thank you very much.”
Havi’s speech, cutting to the core, was very well received. “I wanted to stir things up a bit, instead of just being superficial,” he says. “And by the reaction of thousands on social media, I can see that it generated an impact. I am grateful to have been coached by advanced Vaishnavas to do that.”
Havi has always been open about his connection with Krishna consciousness, ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada to the public and the media.
His songs, like George Harrison’s, all include hidden spiritual meanings. George Harrison’s lyric “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover,” for instance, was in fact written about Lord Krishna. Similarly, Havi’s song “Sea Tide” includes the lyric, “She is inviting me to sit down and talk; it doesn’t make sense to be separated from one another,” which is actually talking about the relationship between the Lord and the soul.
“Besides that, on stage I would always ask for two spotlights,” Havi says. “Because I would imagine within my mind that they were the eyes of Krishna looking at me – and I would sing into His eyes.”
Still, Havi feels that after being initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1973 at 19 years old, he was distracted by the pull of artistic ambitions – and he clearly has some regret about the path he chose.
“My spiritual life froze, and I was bombarded with name, fame, and so on,” he recalls. “Hridayananda Das Goswami says, ‘If I could rewind the tape, I would play another song.’ I would, too, if I could rewind back to that time I opened for Queen.”
Havi values special moments in his spiritual life, such as the time he got to wash Srila Prabhupada’s feet in Venezuela in 1975, much more than he does any of his career achievements.
He is eager to warn younger generations of devotees enamored with the idea of fame and the Grammys that there is a dark side to the music business, with predatory record labels taking advantage of artists, morally bankrupt companies like McDonald’s sponsoring awards shows, and more.
And ultimately, he says, people worship pop idols because they’re disconnected from their relationship with Krishna.
Havi, for his part, would rather reconnect people with Lord Krishna, their original lover and friend, than be part of reinforcing the disconnect.
“To be honest, I’m waiting for the first opportunity to open the door and run away,” he says. “I’m 65 years old – enough is enough! I want to dedicate the rest of my life to serving the Vaishnavas and talking to people about Krishna. And if the fact that they think I’m important helps me, well, then I’ll use that.”
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