By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
One of the best-known singers in the Indian kirtan tradition — a Hindi devotional tradition involving call-and-response between the singer and the audience — is Krishna Das, originally known as Jeffrey Kagel. After studies in India with the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba (also known as Maharaj-ji), the singer took up singing variations on the Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional to the Hindu deity Hanuman. He brings his warmly intense, devotional singing to Seattle on June 28, at the Center for Spiritual Living.
Last week, Krishna Das answered some questions over e-mail.
NWAW: Who were your earliest inspirations in singing?
Krishna Das: My mother used to sing me to sleep every night. I used to watch the “Singing Cowboys” in movies and on TV. It was amazing to see them roaming around without a care in the world on their horses through the beautiful countryside, kind of like what I do now… without the horse.
NWAW: What do you think those early inspirations taught you?
Krishna Das: That singing is a very powerful tool.
NWAW: What were your thoughts and impressions on your very first visit to India, before meeting Maharaj-ji?
Krishna Das: I had met Maharaj-ji internally before I went to India, the first time I met Ram Dass. So I already knew he was my guru before I went to meet him physically.
NWAW: What were your very first impressions of Maharaj-ji?
Krishna Das: I felt that all the beauty and love in the universe were wrapped up in his blanket.
NWAW: How have you gone about choosing variations on the Hanuman Chalisa to play and sing?
Krishna Das: I don’t choose. The melodies just come to me somehow.
NWAW: How has your performance changed over the years?
Krishna Das: It gets deeper all the time for me. I am more and more able to be undistracted and able to sing from a deeper place in my being.
NWAW: Have you played in Seattle before? If so, where, and what kind of reception did you get?
Krishna Das: I have done kirtan in Seattle many times. My old friends who own Samadhi Yoga brought me there many years ago in the late ’90s and I have been coming ever since. It’s always been wonderful.
NWAW: What would you say are the biggest struggles of following Maharaj-ji’s path, and how have you responded to those challenges?
Krisha Das: Maharaj-ji was not a teacher. He didn’t tell us what to do…he made us find our way by learning to listen to our hearts. He is the Antaryamin…the Indwelling Presence within.
NWAW: Have you ever faced down an audience that resisted your energy?
Krishna Das: There is never any issue with the “audience.” I simply go and share my practice with whoever happens to be there. I am not singing for an audience. I am singing to the Soul of All.
NWAW: Which collaborators do you have with you and how does each add to the overall energy?
Krishna Das: Everyone I sing with is a “collaborator” in a way. Without the people who come to sing with me, I would just be at home watching TV.
NWAW: How have your recordings varied over the years?
Krishna Das: I don’t think they have changed.
NWAW: Which recording are you happiest with, and why?
Krishna Das: The most fun I had in the studio was making “All One” [from 2005]. We were in there for three days and it became like an ashram. No one wanted to leave.
NWAW: You recently had a documentary, “One Track Heart,” released about your life. Was there anything missing from the film you would have liked to include?
Krishna Das: There is so much in a person’s life. It can’t fit into a short film. I thought it was a good representation of what my life is like. Maybe a little too serious.
NWAW: Which English language songs do you include in your repertoire and why?
Krishna Das: I have written a few songs with English in them, and I often sing a gospel song, “Jesus On The Mainline.”
NWAW: What are your plans for the future, after this tour?
Krishna Das: Keep touring as long as I can. (end)
Krishna Das performs June 28, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., at the Center for Spiritual Living, 5801 Sand Point Way N.E. in Seattle. For information, call 206-527-8801.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.