They look good and they sound good. A real international kirtan crew who perform modern kirtan with expertise and genuine devotion. I met up with Vijaya Krsna via the cyberweb for a chat about the group’s history and upcoming plans.
Where in the world are you right now?
How do you occupy yourself on long flights?
Mostly by listening to music for inspiration, reading Vaisnava literature or sometimes I put a movie on to put me to sleep. Japa is the most preferred and ideal way to spend my time though.
Favourite kirtan CD(s)?
Mostly I listen to recordings rather than studio produced Kirtan albums and CDs. I love Srila Prabhupada’s recordings, my Gurudeva – Srila Narayana Maharaja’s wonderful old Kirtan tapes, Acyutananda Prabhu and Agnideva Prabhu are my original Kirtan heroes and I’ll love their tapes forever. I’m fascinated with Bengali village Kirtans too.
Can you recommend to us some conscious music from outside of the kirtan tradition?
Qawwali is the closest devotional musical expression that I’ve seen to Kirtan. I’m very fond of this music as it glorifies the Divine as well as being very musical and spontaneous.
You’ve got a ticket to an all expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’d go to India… Vrinavana….
Wouldn’t you rather be playing rock music? Why not?
Kirtan is close to my heart, its simple and can be done any time and place. I like some rock, but I wouldn’t play it myself.
Congratulations on releasing such a wonderful album, you must be thrilled with it. How’s the response been?
Releasing “Heart & Soul” was a very special accomplishment for us as it was our first ever music production. Our hearts and soul literally went into making this record. We came across so many challenges in the recording process on so many levels… My wife Sarasvati and I are both the kind of people that really like to have a good grip on things. At some points we found ourselves faced with situations that weren’t really within our power to fix, so we had an interesting understanding: that if we have our hands in everything, where do we leave space for Krishna’s hands? So in this way we had to exercise surrender. In turn, things worked out and in the end something so wonderful, beyond our own power was manifest before us.
How did you all meet and how did that lead to you forming a kirtan group?
We all met on different occasions on the same pilgrimage to Vrindavana, Krishna’s playground In India. in 2003 I met Nitai, 2004 I met Rasika and 2005 Sarasvati. In 2009 I decided to make a group that would travel around the world singing Kirtan wherever we went, so I made some calls to my friends and we met a month or so later.
Kirtan is something that has been a part of our lives since we were in the womb of our mothers. There is no time in our lives that kirtan wasn’t there. The effect that its had on our lives is that it’s our favorite thing to do, service to our Gurus, a way that we can help others and our highest devotional aspiration.
“Hari Hari” is a well known bhajan and yet your beautifully haunting version of it on the Heart and Soul album uses a melody I’ve never heard before, did you pick it up in India or is it an original creation?
My version of Hari Hari has come from a very special place in India called Manipura. Sripad Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Maharaja presented the melody on a sweet recording that I heard. I adapted the melody a little and when we got together we came up with the violin and esraj parts.
You seem to be a real international crowd, where are you all from?
We are indeed from different corners of the World. Sarasvati was born in the UK but grew up in Germany. Rasika grew up in Florida and is part Costa Rican. Nitai is from Hawaii and is part Okinowan and I’m from the UK and am part Caribbean. I love our colorful little group.
Do you tend to agree on artistic/musical matters within the group?
You worked with Jai Uttal on the track Krishna Govinda, how was that?
It was wonderful. Jai is a very special guy who is very close to our mood and feelings in Bhakti and seemed to fit. We were so honored when he offered to be a part of it…
Vijay krishna, how did your drum playing develop so nicely? Have you dedicated time to serious study or did your playing evolve from playing endless hours of kirtan?
All I did from the ages of 11 thru my 20’s was listen to Kirtan recordings. Thousands of hours of Kirtan listening. I’ve actually listened to more Kirtan than I’ve played. acquiring different styles of playing Mrdanga has been an adventure. There are so many styles for different types of Kirtan. Even from temple to temple in Vrindavana you can see a different style. I’ve learned thru listening.
We did a live mix process where we performed the Kirtan and then did necessary overdubs. Our goal was to capture the live spirit of the Kirtan in as presentable way as possible.
You’re traveling and performing kirtan all over the world, have you found that people in different places react and participate differently?
Sometimes people are more on the shy side, sometimes they’re more explosive! but when it comes to actually chanting, the effects are the same no matter where you are. The mantras have their power and it goes beyond language and culture. Joy is the general effect. Some countries like Brazil specifically are very very fond of getting up and dancing in Kirtan… they can’t help themselves.
Adding Krishna means to apply Krishna into every thought and process. If we take care of deeds with Krishna in mind, we are likely to be inspired by Krishna’s desire. This continues to go deeper and deeper in the process of Bhakti. at some point one comes to the point of not just doing everything with Krishna in mind, rather, everything for Krishna. This is what I would like to aspire for. Performing Kirtan for the benefit of myself and the benefit of others is the practical way I add Krishna into my life.