for mid-day.com on Sept. 5, 2009
Gaura Vani (in purple tee on harmonium) at a practice session.
American musician Gaura Vani is practicing with a motley group of musicians: Bramhachari Ananta Nitai on vocals, Krishna followers Adinath and Bhakth Gaurang on the tabla and Mridangam, faded jeans and sneaker-clad Karan on bass guitar, Florida girl Rupa Manjari on piano, Briton Jhanvi on violin, Prabhu Gaurang on bansuri and Rupa Manjari on vocals. As they croon "Govinda, Gopala", Gaura suddenly says, "Next time, let's chill on that melody. Take it cool guys!"
The music may be kirtan, but the vibe is surely hip. And that's what Gaura, son to a Krishna-loving American mother who converted to Hindusim, wants his band, As Kindred Spirits' genre of music to be known as hip, spiritually-rich world music.
It's been quite a journey. He was once a wannabe teen actor in Hollywood, grabbing a bit role as Michelle Pfeiffer's student in Dangerous Minds. "It's ironic. On its soundtrack, there was a Coolio song called Gangasta's Paradise, which was inspired by a song called Pastime Paradise, originally a Hare Krishna mantra. How's that for fate?" he says breaking into a serene smile.
Hollywood was fun, with beautiful people and plenty of parties, but Gaura "wanted more from life". Having studied at a gurukul in Mathura, he knew what spiritual life felt like, and was aching to get back to his roots. "I was losing focus. I wasn't happy. So, I decided to go back to my childhood love music, and here we are."
The band's music, which sets kirtans to a strictly Western structure, with a mix of blues and jazz accents, is unique if even a bit weird to the uninitiated. The US-based band has performed across both the coasts of US as well as Brazil, India, Europe, and Africa. When they play at a nightclub, they experiment with hip-hop beats and admit to "going crazy". And if the venue is a yoga studio, they keep it calm and subtle.
It's no wonder then that they have been a hit across America's bars while finding mention in this year's Bhakti Fest, the largest gathering of yoga musicians in the US. "This music will take you to another place," Gaura claims. "Even as children, we were aware that though it felt like we were partying when we played music, we were in the physical presence of God, who danced with us. An old friend said he saw me as a baby for the first time, cradled in the arms of my father with a group of devotees, chanting God's ancient names. Hare. Krishna. Rama. It's in my blood."
As he comes out of his reverie, his voice grows soft with pride. "I have to tell you a very strong story. A friend who is serving in Iraq, was following his fellow officer in a Humvee. Suddenly, his colleague's vehicle blew up. In a situation like that, the officers are supposed to empty out the deceased's pockets so that the body can't be identified. As he was doing that, he came across an iPod. That guy was listening to one of our songs when he died!"