Tribe Gathering: Kirtan

Tribe Gathering: Kirtan
At least once a year I have the incredible karma of being in the presence of my holy teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life; the co-founders of the Jivamukti Yoga Method. The annual Tribe Gathering is when Sharon-ji and David-ji, along with senior Jivamukti Yoga teachers from across the globe lead a series of challenging masterclasses, workshops and open classes. I do my best to try and act cool but honestly,  I hang out for it every year like many teenage boys hang out for the latest edition of Call of Duty.
If I were to write a list of all the exceptional moments of this year’s gathering it would take a whole blog post. And it would be impossible to list them in order of coolness anyway. But if I were to pick one, just ONE, it would be back-up singing for kirtanologist, Arjun Baba.
My beloved mentor, Jessica Sage Stickler, a dedicated student of Arjun, set it all up: we were to sing the response parts to Arjun’s exquisite calls for two separate gigs as part of Tribe: NYE at the New York Centre and a later gathering at Prince George Ballroom. Now let me just set it up good and proper: Arjun is no ordinary Kirtan wallah. He is quite exceptional. Being a jazz musician, I get swept away with how Arjun improvises simultaneously on harmonium and voice; using ancient ragas and chants in an effortlessly  modern context. I find myself smiling from the inside out and then with every fibre of my being. It is another experience entirely to be singing on stage with this young master. One way to describe it is samadhi. And to top it all off he looks something like a middle-eastern Bob Marley with smiling eyes that tell you he is deeply happy.
Kir in Kirtan means to cut. When we sing the ancient names of God – each with their own defining qualities – we cut through the ignorance of separation.  For example, when we sing Ganesha Sharanam we sing to the god-given quality in all of us that has the power to remove all obstacles if we only just surrender. It is not esoteric, it is transforming thoughts into word and deed using the powerful vehicle of music.
Singing with Arjun, Jessica and Radhe (Arjun’s drummer who resembles a hipster Allen Ginsberg) was a transcendent experience if ever I had one. The way Arjun coaxed the punters into first of all testing the waters of each chant to eventually having people  lose themselves in ecstasy was better than any performance. Kirtan goes beyond performance because the drama that unfolds is one where there is no separation between performer and audience. In music, we melt into one. And together we lose any sense of strict meter, going from slow to fast and back again, literally cheating time. It is like nothing else.
At several points throughout both gigs, I literally lost all sense of where I was in both time and space. I mean I could have been right there in freezing cold New York sitting next to my mentor who was also quite clearly in ecstasy. But I could have just as easily been back in downtown sunny Sydney twenty years ago getting high as a kite by simply chanting Hare Krishna with other young devotees. Kirtan does that to you. You lose yourself to remember yourself.
Kirtan is not escapism. You get to the depth of the experience by becoming the experience; by becoming the sound itself. But please don’t take my word for it. Kirtan is growing in the west and you only have to do a quick search online to find a Kirtan gig near you. You might even see me there.

Leave a Comment

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic! Please keep in mind that comments are moderated. Thanks for dropping by!