Kirtan singers unite for Somerville event

By Justin Quinn
Published: October 2010

Three of the biggest names in kirtan joined forces for the Om Trinity Fall Estatic Chant at the Somerville Center for the Arts on October 23.
Donna De Lory, Girish, and David Newman (aka Durga Durga Das), all distinguished kirtan singers, performed throughout the six-hour event.
Events similar to this occur frequently in places like California where there are numerous yoga and chanting festivals throughout the year, yet in the Boston area, they are less common.
All three singers have performed separately in the area, but this event marked the first time they played together onstage in Boston.
Kirtan originated in India centuries ago and has exploded relatively recently in Western culture as yoga has gained popularity. It literally means “to repeat in Sanskrit, and traditional kirtan is in the form of call-and-response chanting between the singer and the audience. But these three artists demonstrated the wide variation possible in the genre.
De Lory kicked off the event, backed by both Girish and Newman in the absence of her regular touring band. With a new remix album, “Remixes, released the previous week, many of her songs were given invigorating new arrangements and were further reinterpreted with the help of the other artists.
Playing a set consisting of mostly Sanskrit mantras, De Lory set the tone for the entire night. She opened with the slow mantra “Aham Prema (meaning “I am divine love), and soon the audience was chanting along with “Ganapati Om, and up dancing to a tribal version of “Om Nama Shivaya.
Her songs are a unique blend of Sanskrit and English, as in “He Ma Durga, the moving and personal closing number.
De Lory played both harmonium and synthesizer when she wasn’t dancing on stage, and it was easily apparent that she enjoyed playing and harmonizing alongside Girish and Newman, both friends and collaborates of hers.
After a short intermission, Girish took the stage, playing guitar and harmonium with his band.
Girish takes mantras and sets them to a jazzy instrumentation, and the positive atmosphere after De Lory’s performance continued into this set.
Girish played a few songs off his new album “Diamonds in the Sun, all extended versions for the audience to song along to.
Through call-and-response chants like “Kali Durge, or poignant numbers like the title track of his album, Girish was able to incorporate the audience, all eager to participate. At one point he explained that “bolo (a word repeated in the song “Shiva Shambo) means “chant, as he encouraged the audience to sing along, which they did energetically.
After singing the melodious song, “All Good and Long Time Sun, Girish exited the stage for Newman’s closing set.
Newman performed on his guitar with his band and wife Mira. Taking a more folk approach to kirtan, he sang many of his verses in English and brought the audience in singing in Sanskrit as he improvised and extended his songs.
The enthusiastic energy of the audience from De Lory and Girish’s performances continued as Newman went through songs such as “Like Rain/ Radhe Bolo and “Hare Krishna.
His anecdotes and comments during the songs added humor to the sometimes-serious tones.
Towards the end of the set, Newman premiered a new song he has been working on called “Stay Strong.
He said this is the “We are the World of the kirtan world as he invited any young children to come on the stage and sing with him. By the end, everyone in the room was on their feet, with hands up, swaying to the inspirational lyrics.
The Om Trinity event proved successful and Shunyam Productions, who brought this event to Somerville, are already planning a similar event in June with a new lineup of artists.
It was a unique experience for the Boston area community, with such a large number of like-minded people from all walks of life gathered for a night of kirtan.
It just shows the growth of the genre and local appreciation it is gaining.
All three singers were clearly excited to play together and their individual passion and talent for music inspired the crowd to chant along in the true nature of kirtan.
“I feel so blessed and my heart is so full to be playing with these guys, De Lory said, smiling as she closed her set.

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