For devotees and spiritual people looking for devotional music in a different genre than kirtan, but just as transformational, Russian husband-and-wife duo Nilambary’s debut album, the lush film-score-like “Eternal Prayers,” could be the answer.
The record is out on February 10th. And from the sweeping strings of opener “Mangalacarana” to the classy swing of “Jiv Jago,” to the cleansing, pure chorus of “Tulasi,” to the thumping crescendo of closer “Sita Ram,” it’s a skillful orchestral offering that goes beyond album to full-on spiritual experience.
Both Nilambary Dasi – whom the group is named after – and her husband Sundara Govinda Das come from a rich musical background. Born and raised in a family of musicians, including great-grandfather Leonis Sobinov – a famous opera singer in the Bolshoi theater – Sundara Govinda taught himself piano from the age of 12 and began composing his own music at 14.
Starting an indie rock band in 2005, he eventually became disenchanted with the music business and relinquished his career dreams to become an ISKCON devotee in 2010.
Nilambary, meanwhile, grew up with an elder sister who was studying music, and played violin herself from the age of five, before moving on to piano and opera singing. Because her sister became a Hare Krishna devotee in the 1990s, she was familiar with the practice of Krishna consciousness from a young age, and joined ISKCON herself in 2004 at the age of just 17.
The couple met in 2013 at Sundara Govinda’s family home, a large 1913-era flat in downtown Moscow where he would host weekly kirtans that sometimes drew as many as 100 people.
Husband and wife duo Nilambary (Sundara Govinda Das and Nilambary Dasi)
“One day Nilambary came to sing, and I was absolutely fascinated,” says Sundara. “I never could have imagined she would be that good!”
Over the next few years, many people would approach both Sundara Govinda and Nilambary, saying that they should make an album. Sundara, now a professional graphic designer, thought he was done with music for good. But Krishna clearly had a plan. First, Sundara became deeply inspired by Havi Das’ record “Symphony for the Soul.” Next, godbrother Raghunath Pran Das, a professional commercial and music video director, said he wanted to make a music video of Sundara performing Parama Koruna, a much-loved bhajan at his Wednesday night kirtans.
“I said okay, I’ll do it for you, but that’s it,” Sundara recalls.
Once the floodgates had opened, however, there was no stopping them. Devotees encouraged Nilambary to collaborate with her husband, and the two became inspired to share the bhajans they loved most with the world.
“We just felt like we wanted to record things the way we hear and feel them,” Sundara Govinda says.
The Parama Karuna piece
Recorded over two years, “Eternal Prayers” features eight tracks – Gratitude (Mangalacarana), Devotion (Sarvasva Tomar), Wake Up! (Jiv Jago), Effulgent (Ujvala Varana), Jaya Radha Madhava, Tulasi, Merciful (Parama Koruna), and Sita Ram.
“The number of tracks is significant,” says Sundara Govinda. “The figure eight is an astrological number for Nilambary, and the horizontal eight is an eternity symbol. Also, there are many bhajans in bhakti yoga philosophy that have eight verses.”
Classified as World Music, the album blends a variety of musical genres such as jazz, neoclassical, and some programmed beats to create its own unique sound. It features Sundara’s old bandmates on drums, bass and guitar, as well as musicians from various orchestras on violin, cello, double bass, and timpani.
The grand piano used on the album, meanwhile, was chosen and played upon by the famous Russian composer Rachmaninoff before being given as a gift to Sundara Govinda’s great-grandfather. All instruments were recorded live to give the record a real, emotional feel; and of course, over the top of it all is Nilambary’s clear, soaring voice.
Other contributors include Evgeny Babenko, a devotee and professional classical arranger who is in the famous Russian pop group Marsel, and who made the orchestral arrangement for the song “Tulasi.” Finally, renowned Russian kirtaniya Adirasa Das (formerly known as Aditi Dukhaha) sings on the song “Jiv Jago.”
“Since Nilambary and I met, it was our dream to do something with him,” Sundara Govinda says. “He was accidentally in Moscow for one day, and we only had him for five minutes – but it was worth it!”
The cover of Nilambary's debut album 'Eternal Prayers.'
The audience for the album are devotees, as well as anyone who is interested in self-realization and a higher purpose in life, and appreciates quality music.
“Some of the track are dramatic – we wanted the record to sound like a film score for your spiritual life,” says Nilambary.
Adding to the transformative, cinematic experience is the fact that the duo is filming a music video for every track on the album – Nilambary is also an expert photographer.
Current video “Tulasi,” available on the duo’s Youtube page, begins with a heartbreakingly cute shot of the couple’s then two-year-old daughter, Malini, as Sanat Kumar, with her vocals opening the track. It then delivers soaring aerial views of Vrindavan and scenes of devotion, which, when combined with the sincere, choir-like vocals, evokes the kind of simple purity that devotees experienced in the early days of ISKCON with Srila Prabhupada, and deeply inspires the listener to dive into their spiritual life.
A new video will be released every two to three weeks, including Raghunatha Prana’s promo of an alternate acoustic version of Parama Koruna.
Live performance videos will also be released simultaneously, as part of the Mantra Live project by Moscow-based devotee-run record label 108 Records. The first, of album opener Mangalacarana, is now available to watch.
Nilambary also plan to do a series of live acoustic performances, beginning with Goloka Fest in Moscow on April 26th. Eventually, they aim to do a full live production with professional orchestra musicians, replicating the sound of the album.
Until then, they hope people are spiritually inspired by the Eternal Prayers album and music videos.
“It’s all about expressing our inner world through the means of art,” says Nilambary. “I just want to show that this process, this beautiful bhakti philosophy, is so profound and deep. And I hope that our offering will invoke deeper feelings and emotions in people. I’ve always felt that music is the most powerful tool with which to change the heart.”
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Eternal Prayers is now available for pre-order, and will be out on February 10th here: https://www.amazon.com/Eternal-Prayers-Nilambary/dp/B084DHRL46/
Watch the accompanying music videos and live videos here:music ] [ nilambary ]