The proceeds from a unique new kirtan album, “Kirtan Shakti,” will all go towards educating underprivileged young women at the Sandipani Muni girls’ school in Vrindavana, India -- Lord Krishna’s birthplace.
Producer Madi Brinkmann, the son of Hare Krishna devotee parents, spent many of his own formative years in Vrindavana, studying at the Bhaktivedanta Swami Gurukula there between 1984 and 1995, from the age of seven.
From Mangala-arati in the early morning to the prayers he said before eating, kirtan was everywhere. “It was woven into the fabric of my childhood, just as it was with everyone who grew up in the Hare Krishna movement,” he says.
As a teenager, Madi is now somewhat embarrassed to admit, he got caught up in pursuing popularity and competitive showmanship as a mridanga-drum player – whom he calls, with his characteristic wit, “the jocks of the Hare Krishna world.”
But now, as a married father of two, he finds true joy in singing to the Deities of Rukmini-Dwarkadish at home in Los Angeles without worrying who’s watching or listening – whether there’s no one in the temple or 500 people.
Despite being asked about “when his album would come out,” Madi demurred, not wanting to commercialize kirtan and feeling that its purest form was live in the temple room for the Deities.
But when he visited the Sandipani Muni Schools in India, run by Food For Life Vrindavana and its director Rupa Raghunath Das, and began sponsoring a child there, he found a reason to record an album. It would be a charity record, something that would give back – and to an extremely worthy cause.
Food For Life Vrindavana’s two Sandipani Muni Schools (with two more to be built soon) currently provide free education, uniforms, books, stationary, healthy meals and medical care for around 1,300 girls and young women in need from kindergarten through to twelveth grade. A portion of contributions is also set aside for them for when they complete their studies, as an incentive to stay in school.
The Sandipani Muni Schools focus mainly on helping girls, for good reason. In many rural communities in India, boys are considered an asset and given many more opportunities, whereas girls are considered a sufferance and – if they escape infanticide – receive less food, medical care, and educational opportunities.
Many are taken out of school and married off at a young age before they complete their education or learn a trade, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. “Later in life, they are unable to find skilled work and, often with many children of their own to look after, they are forced to do the most degrading and exploitative work for very low pay,” explains the Food For Life Vrindavana website.
As the parent of a little girl himself, and as a Hare Krishna devotee, this is a cause close to Madi’s heart.
“So much of the broader Vedic culture focuses on respecting and protecting women,” he says. “And specifically as Gaudiya Vaishnava devotees, our whole goal is to cultivate compassion for others and acknowledge the spirit soul in everyone’s heart, man or woman. After all, it’s not the “Krishna” movement, it’s the “Hare Krishna” movement.”
Madi is currently raising $12,400 on crowdfunding website Indiegogo to record an album of traditional Gaudiya Vaishnava call-and-response chanting, Kirtan Shakti. When the album is released – by November, he hopes – all proceeds will go to the Sandipani Muni Schools.
The project comes complete with a charming campaign video featuring Madi and his kids, and donors can expect a list of varied perks including copies of the album, personalized voicemail greetings, a portrait of Srila Prabhupada by artist Srinivasa Das, private music lessons and concerts, and even a VIP tour of the Sandipani Muni Schools.
Meanwhile the album itself promises to be a thoroughly devotion-inspiring affair, with nine international Vaishnavi singers joining Madi, all of whom grew up singing kirtan.
There’s powerhouse kirtaniya Achyuta Gopi from New York; bestselling New Age artist Gaurangi (Pia) from England; Jahnavi Harrison, who toured internationally with both Gaura Vani and Sita and the Hanumen; Karnamrita of award-winning album Dasi: Prayers by Women, and Chaytanya Nitai of the Dub Kirtan All Stars.
There’s also Sudevi, who has toured 26 countries doing kirtan with her husband Kishori Mohan; Gaura Mani, who lives in Vrindavana and shared kirtan with 40,000 people on World Holy Name Day, and Malika from Australia, who sang as part of the Krishna Kids on the 1986 album petitioning Mikhail Gorbachev to release imprisoned Soviet Hare Krishnas.
“I wanted to create an album that showcases male and female voices working together, a musical allegory that celebrates the genders living in respectful harmony, an album that will create change by channeling the transformative power of kirtan,” says Madi.
Although Kirtan Shakti will feature only traditional kirtan songs and melodies, with no English tracks, it may incorporate some Western instruments such as bass and trumpet along with harmonium, mridanga, kartalas, and flute; and the international artists may bring subtle flavors of western genres like funk, soul, and country with them.
Madi hopes the album will have a broad appeal to not only Hare Krishna devotees but also the yoga community and beyond.
“I’m excited, and hopeful that the album does well and that it generates a meaningful amount of funds for the school, as well as a greater awareness of what’s happening with women in India,” he says. “And I hope it’s the first of many albums, that can help generate funds for different causes."
To donate towards the cause, please visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kirtan-shakti-the-album
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