The other day I spoke to a dear mentor and devotional musician about the pros and cons of making albums, and he said, “What to do? Frogs must croak.” It made me laugh, and humbled me in an instant. I haven’t posted much on my recording project, but if you know me a little bit, you know it’s something I’ve been working on for the past year now. It’s easy to get carried away with a personal project – getting caught up in how it will appear, what people will think, what the consequences of releasing it into the world will be. His comment reminded me that a devotional project must be just that. A humble offering of our God given abilities, just because that’s what you do, never claiming, controlling or trying to enjoy the outcome.
This project is humble – I am not an accomplished musician or a saintly person. What I have to share is only what I have been given by great souls. It has been a steep learning curve creatively as well as a first experience in leading and directing a more long term project to completion. It started in seed form with encouragement from friends and family, and sprouted under the guidance of my dear big brother and collaborator, Gaura Vani. Much has been created working alone, or in very small groups, but it has really come alive the more that people get involved – lending their voices, instruments, encouragement, financial support or just asking how it’s going once in a while!
Ten days ago I posted up a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise the money needed to finish the project. I have been stunned at the response. Within four days we were well over halfway to the target amount and we’ve just tipped over the goal. Contributions have flowed in from wellwishers all over the world. I’ve scanned the names of donors and have been shocked and touched to see people who I haven’t spoken to in years; elders who I love, respect and look up to; and friends who I know have very few pennies to their names. It’s a fact in life that we are usually unaware of the many who love and support us, sometimes only realising in trying times or when it’s too late to reciprocate. I am reminded of Amish communities, who come together to help build each other’s houses, or ‘raise a barn’. Slowly, slowly, through the kindness of so many, I am seeing this project grow from foundation to rooftop.
Though I feel completely inadequate to reciprocate with the support that has come my way, the experience has impressed deeply on me the power of community. It’s something you can’t take for granted in today’s world. The power of music to bring us together is nothing new. At the beginning of the 20th century almost every home in England had a piano in the living room. Home entertainment was to come together and sing – something foreign to most families today. Whilst arguably any activity performed together with others, from Brazilian martial arts to quilting, can generate a sense of community, I do believe kirtan has a unique power to nurture true community spirit. As I have travelled over the years, so many people have told me that connecting with kirtan has brought them a more powerful sense of community than anything else.
Kirtan affords the deepest sense of unity, because we sing for the pleasure of the one who sits within every heart – known as Krishna, Rama, Govinda. The sound of his name acts like a stream of water, cleansing our heart of all impurity and misconception, and we become ever more able to relate with one another in a loving, selfless and genuine way. Great devotees have shared how this connection goes beyond time and space, beyond age, language or anything else that separates us materially. We are connecting with our source, just like lightbulbs all plugging into the same power supply.
This project is dedicated to my grandfather-guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose bold sharing of kirtan and the culture of devotion all over the world is transforming countless lives. Srila Prabhupada was an ambassador not just of mantra kirtan, but also a lover of the meditative poetry and prayers of the great saints of bhakti yoga. He said of these prayers:
“This sound is above the material platform. It is directly from the spiritual platform. And there is no need of understanding the language. It is just like a thunderburst. Everyone can hear the sound of thunder-there is no misunderstanding. Similarly, these songs are above the material platform, and they crack like thunder within your heart.”
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share some of these songs that were so dear to him with the world.