I had the chance to meet David Newman and Mira, extremely talented kirtan singers at Kirtan College, a once a year offering of instruction in the ancient art of kirtan at Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, Florida. For those not in the know, kirtan is all about spiritual singing to whatever deity or god you love. It is extremely heartfelt and inspiring, consisting, among other things, of sacred mantras sung together in a call and response style.
In kirtan, what is unique is that the audience is as integral to the group as the lead singers themselves since it is the blending of the voices that provides the soul lifting and spiritual resonance of the pieces. The music and chanting then become a meditative offering by all.
Throughout the country the ancient practice of kirtan grows. One of the reasons, according to David and Mira, is that there is a blending of western music sound and styles with the ancient kirtan mantras. According to David, in the U.S.A. the new breed of kirtan singers are being referred to as Chant Artists.
Sitting down with David Newman later, I asked him how his interest in kirtan had arisen. He told me that that while his background had always been musical, interest in kirtan had arisen as a result of his involvement with yoga and particularly by the influence of both Bhagavan Das and Krishna Das, both devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. David had his own singular spiritual experience with Baba in an inner vision that awakened his heart. As a result of that vision where he began to see “the divine thread in everything, David began to pursue what he calls “bhakti yoga,” dedication of one’s life to the service and love of humanity. When I listened to David and Mira’s music at Kirtan College, that divine infusion of love is readily heard in their self-styled chants. L.A. Yoga Magazine has said, “David is reminiscent of George Harrison, Dylan and Paul Simon when they are in soul mode.”
Ever the “romantic,” I asked David Newman how he came to be with Mira and he told me that he met Mira first when she was a teenager and then later as she traveled in concert with Bhagawan Das; their relationship grew from being just good friends to the marriage partners they are today. I thought to myself how lucky they both were to be with somebody who inspires them both spiritually and musically.
David is well on his career path, having released five CD’s already. In 2004 David met well known New York City Producer and Mix engineer Frank Wolf who has worked with artists such as Pink, Santana, Dido and JLO. Immediately finding a natural musical rapport ,they recorded their groundbreaking Lotus Feet: A Kirtan Revolution, which became an instant classic in the newly emerging Kirtan field. David went on to record Love Peace Chant, a contemporary progressive kirtan with lots of eclectic musicality and world beats. David’s wife, Mira, as singer and percussionist, played a prominent role in this record, adding her unique rhythmic groove and delicate angelic vocal style.
The Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional love song to Lord Hanuman, becomes an ambient and meditative lullaby for the soul in Leap of Grace. It is the recitation of the Chalisa eleven times against an ethereal musical backdrop, an auspicious number that is traditional for bestowing Hanuman’s blessings on sacred occasions.
His CD and DVD Collection Into the Bliss is sung from an intimate setting in Topanga Canyon, California, and Yoga Magazine has called it: “One of the best kirtan CD’s we have heard.”
Having heard David’s music and particularly his striking original stylistic arrangements, we anxiously anticipate the release of his new album this April, called To Be Home. It contains a touching piece recorded from David’s experience as he meditated before a picture of Baba, acknowledging Baba as his spiritual home. David told me that To Be Home is a two-fold combination of original melodies; one, utilizing kirtan mantras with original melodies and arrangements around them, and the other being original lyrics and melodies composed by David.
While kirtan music might be considered a niche market at this time, we think, because of their universality of style and musicality, that David and Mira will find their music increasingly and popularly mainstreamed for sure!
Kirtan College as led by David and Mira is a training program for those wishing to develop a regular chanting practice, utilize healing application of chanting in daily life and cultivate musical skills to accompany, compose and lead kirtan in a group. For more information about David Newman or Kashi Ashram.