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En‘chant'ment
Jennifer Meyers / The CitizenActivities abound for 50-plus group in Cayuga County

To introduce Das and Chandra to new audiences in Auburn, The Citizen interviewed each artist about their music.

Chandra first appeared on the world music map with the British Asian fusion band Monsoon in the early '80s. When the group concluded, she started a solo recording career that has spanned nine releases and more than a quarter of a million album sales. She recently returned to live performing after a lengthy absence from the stage due to limits on her vocal cords.

Krishna Das

The Citizen: How did you get into music?

Krishna Das: I've always loved music my whole life. My parents used to sing to me, and they were both very musical. My dad was a piano player as well as a psychologist. So music has always been very important to me. It wasn't until I heard Indian chanting that I understood the power that music has to actually transform a life rather than just give a temporary pleasurable experience. So as I began to understand that transformative power of music, I started to get deeper and deeper into the practice of it because my desire is not be a musician, but to be a whole human being.

C: How would you describe your music?

D: I'd say it's very simple, musically. Basically it's garage band rock 'n' roll with three or four chords, and I repeat and sing certain phrases in the Indian language, either Sanskrit or Hindi. It's very simple, not long or complicated phrases, they're simple phrases over and over to different melodies. The setting is call and response - I'll sing and the audience will respond and sing it back. It builds up in energy, and there is a feeling in the room of everyone participating as it's practiced together.

C: How have your studies and travels to India affected your music?

D: India is my spiritual home. It's the home of my heart, and when I went there, I found a way to connect to a much deeper place in my heart; it's a deeper, fuller feeling of myself. And in that sense, India is the home of my inspiration as far as this practice of chanting goes. And over these many years, my whole life has really oriented around the practice of chanting, which is all I do. I travel to sing with people or I rest up so I can go back and practice and sing with people.

C: What is the role of the chant in Bhakti yoga?

D: It's very simple … it's a love story. It's like some friend of yours tells you about a person and describes someone they met and tells you how beautiful they are and all these incredible things about them and all of a sudden, without meeting them, you fall in love with the person. You're attracted to what they told you and you want to meet that person and your friend told you their name, so you start calling out their name, trying to get their attention so they can come see you. And that's the practice. Your friend is the guru, who showed you what's possible, and the practice of chanting is the calling out to that one you want to meet who, of course, lives within your own heart. And this whole thing is called yoga.

C: Do you feel your music must be experienced spiritually in order to be enjoyed?

D: I don't believe in the word spiritual; there's just life. You come, sing and you'll do it again. If it doesn't interest you, you won't. There's no buying anything and you don't have to believe anything. If you're at all interested, you'll do it and if not, fine. There's nothing to join and nothing to keep you prisoner. It's just life and everyone wants the same thing, everyone wants to be happy. The question is how to find happiness, how to find real love that doesn't come and go. Nobody can give it to you and nobody can take it away because it's who we are. So in that sense, everyone's spiritual or everyone's not. There's no issue with that. You don't have to put on white clothes and be a vegetarian to come sing. That would eliminate 99 percent of the planet.

C: What do you enjoy most about performing?

D: The feeling of family in the room, the feeling of meeting old friends again and again and the opportunity to use that moment to go deeper into my own heart with everybody … for us all to go deeper into our own hearts.

C: How do you feel about performing with Sheila Chandra?

D: I'm completely on her. I think she's one of the great singers and musicians on the planet. Normally I would open for her. But because she can only sing a short time because of her throat issues, we decided I would follow her, but in the real world I would be the one opening.

C: Why come to a smaller area like Auburn?

D: I was invited. I've only made two phone calls in my life about singing. I called a friend in (Los Angeles) to sing over there and then I went down to a yoga center in New York and asked if they wanted me to sing. After that, it's all been invitations; I'm very lucky that way.

C: How would you describe the atmosphere of your performances?

D: Well, it's not a performance, it's kind of a down-home revival meeting. Everybody knows they're there to do this chanting, that it's a really good opportunity to find a way inside and to let go for a moment of the troubles of the day.

C: What would you like your audiences to experience during your shows?

D: I'd like them to feel comfortable and at ease. I'd like them to be able to relax and enjoy the simple act of chanting. People should understand that you don't have to accept anything. There are no religious issues here and nothing you have to believe or buy into. Just bring yourself in and sit down, taste it and if you like it, it's good.

Sheila Chandra

The Citizen: How did you get into music?

Sheila Chandra: My voice broke when I was 12 and I suddenly had a fully fledged instrument, which was literally not there one day and then was (there) the next. It was such a pleasure to sing that I didn't want to stop.

C: How would you describe your music?

S: It's very difficult for me to describe, as I have been an artist since 1981 and my work has changed quite a lot over the years. What I am most known for is being fascinated by the possibilities of the voice and for using techniques and vocal styles from around the world.

C: What have been the personal highlights of your musical career?

S: Having a hit around the world with “Ever So Lonely” when I was 16 in 1982 and the fact that it was a dance floor hit too, before the term “world music” was even thought about, is something of which I will always be proud. And I always feel proud to be regarded so well by my fellow musicians.

C: What motivates you when you write music?

S: I really have to push myself to write! I am not a natural writer. However, there are some things that I can only write (for) my own voice and which no one else can do for me. I have to lock myself away in the house for months on end. When I do start to enjoy it, it is because I have found some musical element that delights me and that I want to put in a good setting and expand on.

C: What message(s) do you hope to communicate with your music?

S: I don't do “messages.” I simply share with my listeners the things that have brought me joy musically where I can. I often hear things in my head which I am not capable of singing (just not skilled enough). I wish I could communicate those too but I just have to let them go.

C: What do you enjoy most about performing?

S: (The) connection with the audience. They are different every time and they make it special every time. I used to have terrible stage fright. I used to tremble and hyperventilate (which is not great if you're a singer!) but I have spent the last eight years working on that, and now I love being on stage and sharing what I do.

C: Why come to a smaller area like Auburn?

S: I have been away from performing a long time and promoters are only just starting to realize that I'm available. This sounds like a lovely venue and they asked me! It's as simple as that.

C: Why did you decide to return to performing after such a lengthy absence?

S: I had a vocal problem, which persisted for some years, and in terms of stamina and pain (it) is still an issue. It has taken me all this time to build my strength up, get over the stage fright and get back to it. I have had returning to performance in mind as a determined goal for some time.

C: How would you describe the atmosphere of your performances?

S: I don't think I am any kind of judge. I was asking the promoter at Grace Cathedral (San Francisco), where I have just given a concert, whether visibility was likely to be a problem and whether it would be sensible to wear white so that people could pick me out easily. He said, “You've no idea how large a presence you are onstage, have you?” I feel very small and informal. I simply am glad to see my audience and to do what I do. I am usually full of technical concerns surrounding the sound and the stage and managing those too, whilst trying to remain “present” in the songs. People seem to experience something entirely different, in relation to what I feel, from what they say. You will have to ask them how it feels.

C: How do you feel about performing with Krishna Das?

S: (It's) always an honor to share the bill with any good musician. Krishna Das (real name Jeffrey Kagel) has spent almost 40 years taking trips to India and practicing Bhakti yoga, a devotional form of the discipline. He has since released several albums of yoga chants, known as Kirtans, which serve as a vital part of Bhakti.

(Chandra was interviewed by e-mail.)

If you go

What/When: Two Evenings with Sheila Chandra and Krishna Das, 8 p.m. Friday and Sunday, Oct. 5 and 7; One Night with Krishna Das, 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6

Where: Auburn Public Theater, 108 Genesee St., Auburn

Tickets: $62 per show

To purchase tickets:

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