I never made it as a Hare Krishna. There were just too many different gods going on. It’s not that I didn’t give it the ol’ college try. The whole Hindu thing seemed really hip for a while—gorgeous temples, interesting people and captivating music. But what it came down to was that it just felt too hedonistic and human-oriented to qualify in my book as a suitable religion. I was baptized Catholic, and we need guilt and pain to feel okay with ourselves.
But I continued to focus on hedonism—in the clubs, on the streets and in the backseat of cars. It worked great. With the excitement and liberation of the party scene came ample amounts of things to talk about in the confessional every week.
World fusion musician Jai Uttal, who’s bringing his music to Maui on Dec. 16, took a different path. The whole India kirtan, ragas, sarid, baul, chanting thing was what he needed to center himself, and it stuck.
Kirtan is the act of singing sacred hymns–it’s a form of worship and is said to promote healing. The difference between Uttal and many of the other artists who perform this type of music is that he chants to really dope beats.
In fact, Uttal describes his music on Myspace as, “Crazy Indian music mixed up with Appalachian hillbilly stuff and some reggae and trip-hoppy hippy jam music and jazz and R&B and electronic with vocals and chants and lots of exotic instruments and hopefully lots of heart and passion and devotion.”
Basically, Uttal tries to bridge the gap between the sacred and profane–the temple and the nightclub. Sounds kinda blasphemous, but the more I think about it, the more sense it begins to make. What better way to reach an audience than by going to it instead of waiting for them to come to you? I mean, Jesus did hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes…
In 2002, Uttal’s album Mondo Rama (Everything is God) was nominated for a Grammy as the “Best New Age Album.” Today, he travels the world sharing kirtan with both large and small audiences.
Originally from New York, Uttal’s interest in music began as a young child while learning classical piano at the age of seven. He can also play the banjo, harmonica and guitar. But it wasn’t until he traveled to India as an adult, studying Hinduism and Buddhism as well as spending time with the Bauls—the mysterious wandering street musicians of Bengal—that he found the groove which would become Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra.
“A few really important things happened in my life,” he says on his Myspace page. “I met my Guru when I was 19 and what was a planet lost and spinning out of control was pulled into an orbit of love, longing and spiritual protection. Of course, I promptly got lost again until, after many years of running, I entered a drug treatment place and restarted my life, my heart and my soul. I actually feel that my Guru saved my life…I guess that over the years music, particularly chanting, has been my salvation, my spirit connection and my life support system.”
Amen to that. Or would it be Om to that? MTW