Kirtan has been steadily growing in popularity throughout the United States since Paramhansa Yogananda, chanted with 3,000 people at Carnegie Hall in 1923. Kirtan, a call and response practice performed in Indias’s spiritual traditions has roots that go back over 500 years. It is sung to the accompaniment of instruments such as the harmonium, cymbals and tablas. (drums) In Sanskrit, Kirtan means to repeat and so the practice involves the chanting and singing of hymns and mantras. Since its introduction, a Western tradition has developed with singers from the United States such as Krishna Das and Jai Uttal.
Although Kirtan is rooted in India’s devotional religions and involves chanting the names of God, Krishna Das says the practice requires no allegiance to any deity or set of beliefs.
“It’s not about belief in any religions, so people are coming from all walks of life.
It is not surprising, group singing traditions exist in virtually every culture on the globe and they satisfy an increasingly understood facet of humanity. By singing we use a different area of the brain from the area involved in speech. Conclusive scientific data shows that singing can trigger profound physical and emotional effects. “Melodic intonation ” is an established medical therapy for stroke patients, teaching them to sing “rewires” their brains, helping them recover their speech.
Today on the West side of Los Angeles, the tradition is reaching ever-growing audiences as the pursuit continues its growth and transformation. Spurred by the ascending popularity of Yoga, Kirtans are held in growing frequency in studios and other venues.
Overflowing with cross pollination, Kirtan, in its Los Angeles manifestation, can be seen as a crossroads of musical, cultural and spiritual traditions. According to Rabbi Andrew Hahn who conducts Kirtans in Hebrew as Reb Drew,
“Whether one sings in Hebrew, Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Latin – whatever – Kirtan is a unique ‘technology’ that brings one closer to God.”
Standing firmly at this crossroads are two Los Angeles singers who can be included as leaders in this movement of devotion wed to music. On a recent starlit night in the Upper Mojave desert, I was able to talk to them as they took a break from weaving a tapestry of sound.
Joey Lugassy has just released Interim, it includes many of the chants he has been bringing into Yoga rooms and and other venues throughout the city.
From a Morrocan family; at age seven, Lugassy was selected by world renowned singer and composer of Sephardic sacred music, Cantor Isaac Behar, as his protege to sing at Temple-Tifereth Israel in Los Angeles. Thereafter, Lugassy chanted in the Temple every Friday night for most of his childhood with performances before thousands at the Lindy Opera House in Los Angeles. Today he is also a gifted writer, scholar and teacher. Lugassy exemplifies the new currents in Kirtan, bringing a wealth of cultural traditions to bear on the practice. According to the singer,
“Kirtan is a democratic place for those who have realized they no longer need to be told what is sacred.“
In a welcoming space for all spiritual traditions, each individual participates in the way that suits them. The Interim album reflects this philosophy of loving devotion or Bhakti, with a wide range of instruments including cello, drums, sitar, flute, guitar and a choir of singers. Lugassy’s performance is characterized by kindness and warmth; his distinctive and stylish voice allows the music to perform its magic and the listener is never disappointed. joeylugassy.com. Click here for a sample
Increasingly known for his collaborations and involvement with the Yoga /Kirtan community, Morroccan guitarist and singer, MoMo Loudiyi, has just released Loud Oasis. The recording shows the influence of a wide variety of musical traditions while crossing boundaries and cultures. Raised in a secular home, Loudiyi was influenced both by rock and roll as well as popular music from his homeland. In Loud Oasis, Sufi traditions are fused with Morrocan and Western styles. Loudiyi enters the sacred in a celebratory and joyful manner, accomplishing the task with dexterity and keen musicianship. Recorded in Los Angeles as well as Maarrakech, Fes, Casablanca and Tangiers, the album is a testament to the wide reaching influences at work in the musician’s craft.
Having lived in Morroco and France and traveled extensively before settling in Los Angeles, Momo Loudiyi is an important influence on the sacred music and Kirtan community that continues to grow and develop in the city of Angels.
Francisco Letelier http://franciscoletelierwrittenworks.blogspot.com/