Bhakti music for the Grammys

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Melbourne-based bhajan singer heads to LA. SAHANA GHOSH reports

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 (Hindu devotional music) 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),” he admits. “But then again, 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?”

Bhakti Without Borders is the debut album from Das, a former Hollywood entertainment executive now working in the Australian film and TV industry.

He grew up in the Vaishnava tradition of Bhakti yoga.

Madi Das.Indian Link

Up for Best New Age Album (a category of non-Christian sacred music) for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards to be held on 15 Feb, 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 says.

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 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 took 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?

Madi Das.Indian Link

“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,” Das concedes. “And indeed there are still some strong hippie influences in some practitioners of modern kirtan”.

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,” he elaborates.

At the moment, the popularity of kirtan music is “exploding” in the US what with bhakti festivals, radio shows and retreats, says 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 concludes.

All profits from the sales of Bhakti Without Borders are ear-marked for helping underprivileged girls in Vrindavan, India, the hometown of Lord Krishna.