Time for kirtan/bhajan music to be recognised: Grammy-nominated Madi Das (IANS Interview)

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Kolkata, Jan 6 (IANS) For Madi Das, scoring a Grammy nomination for his album of bhajans “Bhakti Without Borders” alongside the likes of singing sensation Taylor Swift and rapper Kendrick Lamar, is a “completely strange” feeling. But Das, who spent eight years learning kirtans and bhajans in India, believes it’s time the genre gets its due recognition as an important tradition.

“It is completely strange, yes (to be featured as a nominee alongside Taylor Swift and others). But also, this music has so much more history than pop or R&B. This music has been around for centuries; so is it not time for it to be recognised as a rich and important tradition?” wondered Das, a former Hollywood entertainment executive now working in the Australian film and TV industry.

“Bhakti Without Borders” is the debut album from Das who grew up in the Vaishnava tradition of Bhakti yoga.

Up for Best New Age Album (a category of non-Christian sacred music) for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards to be announced next month, the record marks only the third time that a kirtan album has been nominated; the emerging genre has never won yet.

Featuring 11 bhajans, it is produced by well-known kirtan artist Dave Stringer. Das sings a duet with a different female vocalist on each track.

“I describe my music as world music with sacred origins, like the Hindu equivalent of gospel music,” Das told IANS in an email interview from Melbourne.

Born in Germany to an American mother and German father, Das’s upbringing was an assimilation of different music genres.

At the age of seven, he went to a boarding school in India (in Vrindavan and Mayapur). He spent eight years learning kirtans and bhajans and becoming fluent in Hindi. He subsequently lived in Ireland, where he was exposed to traditional Celtic music. Film school brought him to the US.

It is this mixture of Irish and Indian music that comes through in his album. Western music influences in the US added to his repertoire to create a blend of country and eastern sounds in the album.

But what about the tag of ‘hippie music’ that is often shoved on western artistes who pick up such spiritual sounds?

“Perhaps because the first influences of Indian music integrating into the West harks back to the Beatles and Ravi Shankar, which took place during the hippie explosion, there is a tendency to categorise it like that.

“… and indeed there are still some strong hippie influences in some practitioners of modern kirtan,” Das conceded.

But he also acknowledges there is also a “growing movement of authentic western artistes who have taken the time to study and learn the eastern traditions”.

“And they are now creating something that has strong foundational roots in the East while still adding the more commercial broad strokes appeal to people who like Western music,” Das explained.

At the moment, the popularity of kirtan music is “exploding” in the US what with bhakti festivals, radio shows and retreats, said Das, adding everyone can enjoy the music.

“If we can enjoy each other’s music regardless of faith or culture, perhaps we can gain some understanding and empathy for each other… then that will put an end to intolerance,” he signed off.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in <mailto:sahana.g@ians.in>)


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