First, some context: My girlfriend Heather and I went to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass., back in August. It was our first trip to Kripalu; we were given day passes to celebrate Heather’s finishing her Master’s Degree. Both of us are amateur yoga enthusiasts, and interested in learning more about yoga and Kripalu’s many other educational and recreational opportunities.
I was also curious about the kinds of music connected with yoga and meditation – chants are common in Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and other traditions. Whole genres of contemporary interpretations of traditional chants and mantras has sprung forth. Combined with the blossoming of New Age music some decades back, there is plenty for the contemplative listener to enjoy, and the yoga student to stretch or meditate to. I had heard New Age music, and liked some of it, but where to begin with mantras?
I was looking through Kripalu’s calendar of events that afternoon, having already done yoga, breakfasted, and gone kayaking on Stockbridge Bowl, when a photo caught my eye. A Sikh musician and yoga teacher, Ajeet Kaur, was going to hold a retreat in November. As I said, the photo made me stop.
“I’d swear I saw her in the dining hall today,” I said to Heather.
She looked. “Yeah. She’s here.”
I later found out that Ajeet Kaur and her band were at Kripalu catching a little R&R before the launch of her new album. If you have ever had a moment when the universe seems to tap you on the shoulder and say “Try that way” you’ll understand my response. I wanted to try this music, and the universe made a suggestion. When we got home, I looked up Ajeet Kaur’s music and, while the rest might not be history, it is becoming a blog post.
Her new album came out in due course, and, as my introduction to this sort of music, it fulfills my every need. Ajeet (I’m not on a first-name basis, having never met her, but Kaur is a surname adopted by Sikh women, and it will only complicate matters if I start mentioning others*) has a fine, clear voice, and a well-picked group of musicians around her. There are enough of the usual instruments, such as tabla and flute, to please traditionalists, but Ajeet’s songs are often more than just mantras put to music. The title song – “Haseya” means “she rises” – reminded me a little of one of my favorite groups, Rising Appalachia, though I don’t know that either is aware of the other. Particularly nice are vocals by guest artist Peia, who brings a Sarah McLachlan-esque quality to her harmonies. You can see the video for “Haseya” here.
Could I quibble? Hard to do. After seeing several videos of Ajeet in concert, I might wish the album had a greater presence from guitarist Ezra Landis, whose deft playing brings extra color and depth while being respectful of the material. I can think of a laundry list of instruments/musicians I’d like to hear her work with, but hey, this is not the White Album, and Ajeet is not the Beatles. (That’s nothing to be ashamed of; no one is the Beatles except the Beatles.) She’s young – in the first half of her twenties – and her albums to date foretell a lot of good music to come.
Nature is the theme throughout the album, with the sound of birds and water slipping in here and there. Whether it is a song to the land and the moon (“Kiss the Earth”) or a chant encompassing all the powers of the universe (“Ra Ma Da Sa Healing”) this is mysticism with a keen sense of the world around us. It’s not necessary to be a Sikh, or to have any definable spirituality, to enjoy the disc. If fairly mellow music is not your cup of tea, you’ve probably (and rightly) decided that this is not for you.
First world problems: how to file a record when it’s the only one I have of its kind? Shall I set it next to Dave Matthews Band, or Yes, or Ella Fitzgerald, or Steve Reich? (Don’t even suggest alphabetical order; I wandered off that path a long time ago.) Sometimes order is stifling. I’ll shut my eyes and pick a shelf, and let the Fates decide. After all, wasn’t it happenstance that led me to Ajeet Kaur’s music in the first place?