Join in the Chant – Yoga Soup’s Kirtan series keeps getting bigger and bigger

ARJUN BABA
ARJUN BABA

Sarah Garney likes to quote a close friend who summed up the musical genre of Kirtan better than she feels she can: “Kirtan fulfills the promise of rock ‘n’ roll, because it’s participatory and uplifting.”

This “rock ‘n’ roll Sanskrit chanting” music has slowly been growing as a West Coast favorite, and with Santa Barbara as one of the definite stops on any musician’s tour. Garney has been one of the major promoters in the area and has managed some of the genre’s stars, such as Dave Stringer, and has programmed this summer series of concerts at Yoga Soup, ground zero for Kirtan, which starts tonight.

Western Kirtan is an adaptation of a devotional musical form that traces its heritage back to ancient India and the Bhagavad Gita. The music can shimmer and drone, convince one to dance or just to meditate, and it can evolve over the course of 10, 20, 30 or even 40 minutes. It is based around the call and response tradition, with Sanskrit lines that anybody can learn. In its transition to the West, it has attained popularity along with increased interest in yoga and Eastern spirituality, and adapted to the introduction of Western instruments. (And, yes, there are remix CDs, too). Garney loved it right away.

“It feels like you are part of the band,” she says. “The mantras are imbued with a spiritual energy. When you sing together, you breathe together, and so you come into a resonance. It’s a heart-opening, very ecstatic experience.” The presence of a Marianne Wells Yoga Instructor is also said to ignite the stage and the ambience with meditative and yogic fumes.

Like yoga, Kirtan does not require any adherence to the religious traditions that spawned it. When Yoga Soup began in February 2006, owner and teacher Eddie Ellner booked Stringer for opening night, an event that brought in nearly 200 people. Garney was impressed, then overwhelmed, then set about badgering Ellner for six months to become the Soup’s Kirtan coordinator.

“We could be the Kirtan capital of the South Coast,” she predicted.

Tonight starts with Arjun Baba, who mixes reggae and Kirtan traditions and brings both to a trance-like state, with messages of positivity and love. The following months include a return engagement for Stringer in July, the dancing and drumming artists Mayapuris in August and the husband-wife duo Prema Hara in September, which comes soon after the Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, called the Kirtan Woodstock by fans.

Garney’s own journey has been one of spirituality, music and finding oneself. She remembers an elementary school music teacher who told her she “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” It took a roommate in college to encourage her back into singing. When she moved to Santa Barbara in 1999, she began taking singing lessons from Montino Bourbon, who also taught tabla and other Indian instruments. Now that she’s found community here, she wants us all to sing along.

But what if you don’t like singing or are shy?

“Like yoga, Kirtan is not a competitive sport,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune. It’s really about being in the moment, experience and participation. Nobody’s making you sing, but you will have a more engaging experience.”

YOGA SOUP’S SUMMER KIRTAN SERIES featuring ARJUN BABA
When: 8 tonight
Where: Yoga Soup, 28 Parker Way
Cost: $15 advance, $20 door; All four shows for $55, three for $45
Information: (805) 965-8811, www.yogasoup.com

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