Whenever things overwhelm me—writing deadlines, messy house, whiny kids—I find that Hindu devotional music cures my anxiety. And in times of soul-crushing stress, my go-to disc is anything by Krishna Das, Grammy-nominated (for Best New Age Album) U.S. singer-songwriter who has been recording Indian chants for the last 20 years. In that time span, he has sold more than 300,000 albums.
Indeed, Das, 67, is da bomb as far as meditative music goes. The American yogi has collaborated with Sting on an album (1998’s Pilgrim Heart) and been the subject of a recent documentary (One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das). I had a chance to chat briefly with Das as he and his band drove to a sold-out Vancouver show in support of the just-released album Kirtan Wallah, the production of which was financed via online crowdfunding.
“It was wonderful to see the community [of Krishna Das fans] support us,” he says. “It gave us a feeling of being part of a real family.”
Like previous releases, Kirtan is a hybrid of live and studio recordings—only this album contains a stirring cover of—not kidding—’80s power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Surprisingly, Das didn’t feel the need to scrape any cheese off, or add any kitschy irony to, the Foreigner tune.
“I actually think [the song] is a beautiful and sincere expression of the human longing for love,” he says. “The very first time I heard it on the radio, I was driving across the desert. I almost drove off the road crying. It’s such a powerful song.”
Emotional upheavals aside, Das’ new disc offers plenty of lighthearted moments, too. Case in counterpoint, the title of the lovely, loping, tabla (Indian hand drum)-powered “I Phoned Govinda.”
“I had tried to sing it in front of a live audience, and couldn’t remember how it went until my bass player cued a demo version of the song on his iPhone onstage. That’s how the title came about.”
Many people today, immersed in an increasingly secular and technological world, seem to require devotional music as a corrective. But for Das, 21st-century existence doesn’t pose a question of balance. It is more about craving what is genuine.
“A desire for devotional music stems from the deep need we all have to be connected to some deeper reality,” he says.
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