Stringer has been widely profiled as one of the most innovative artists of the new American kirtan movement in publications as diverse as Time, Billboard, Yoga Journal and In Style.
Stringer’s sound marries the transcendent mysticism of traditional Indian instruments with the exuberant, groove-oriented sensibility of American gospel, and he is regarded as one of the most gifted singers in the genre. Stringer, who is also an accomplished composer and multi-instrumentalist, has a special ability to bring people together and inspire them to sing. His work intends to create a modern and participatory theatrical experience out of the ancient traditions of kirtan and yoga, open to a multiplicity of interpretations, and accessible to all.
Initially trained as a visual artist, filmmaker and jazz musician, Stringer had his formative experiences with chanting when film editing work brought him to the Siddha Yoga ashram in Ganeshpuri, India in 1990. A subsequent period of residence at the ashram laid the foundation for his continuing study of the ideas, practices and music of yoga.
He has introduced chanting for the first time to many seemingly unlikely cities, and through his consistent touring, has been instrumental in the development of a number of thriving local kirtan communities. He has also served as a volunteer teaching meditation and chanting to inmates at a number of correctional facilities in the United States.
“India blasted me into billions of spinning particles and then slowly reshaped me, a process that was somehow simultaneously both excruciating and ecstatic. I can’t begin to claim complete knowledge about all of the layers of history and philosophy and theology represented by the mantras I learned to chant while I was there, but I can attest to their power. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar and not always a particularly focused practitioner, but I am deeply committed to the process of inquiry that the practice of yoga suggests.
I do know that my sustained encounter with mantra chanting has acquainted me with a state of expansive stillness and conscious repose, and that this encounter has irrevocably shifted the course of my art. I once read that Thomas Jefferson took a copy of the Bible and cut out the parts that most resonated with him, then reassembled his selections into a work that reflected his own way of saying his prayers. I suppose it is fair to say that as an artist, I am engaged in something of a similar process with yoga. I don’t know exactly where the journey I am making ends. I’m just trying to report honestly from where I am.
One of the things that interests me most about kirtan is how the responsory aspects of it blur the distinction between performer and audience. I was trained as a visual artist and as a jazz musician, so the lens that I view kirtan through is informed by the perspectives and concerns of the art world. I didn’t start out as a devotee or a bhakti, I became involved with chanting when I was hired to go to India to make some films for an ashram. I was an outsider trying to comprehend what it was that I found so compelling about kirtan, and this outsider perspective has continued to inform and enable the ways that I introduce chanting to the uninitiated.
Kirtan is rooted in a very old and profoundly joyful Eastern tradition. But I don’t know that it is possible for me to be traditional. I’m a Westerner, and I can’t help but bring my own cultural biases with me. My intention, however, is be authentic, in the sense that what I am doing originates in my heart. Yoga points toward awareness of the essential oneness of things, so from this perspective, to align the individual-dissolving Eastern tradition of kirtan with the individual-expressing Western traditions of gospel and jazz and rock music is no contradiction, as they both arise from the same impulse toward expressing what is ecstatic and liberating and transcendent.”
SWAHA performs music that is both inspired and uplifting. It is an enticing blend of ethereal Sanskrit vocals soaring over rich earthy rhythms. The songs are composed by Meenakshi and Ron Reid. Swaha invited the soul to sing, and Meenakshi and Ron and the grooves of the band are contagious!
Meenakshi’s experience with chanting began in 1988 on her first trip to India to study in the Himalyas yoga philosophy and meditation. Her background was in the performing arts, but her Bhakti (devotion) for God came through her experiences of meditation and chanting. She recorded her first CD of Sanskrit chants in India in July 2000 entitled “Prayers”. Since then she has been leading kirtan, chanting workshops and classes, meditation, yoga philosophy, Sanskrit and Ashtanga and Restorative Yoga in Canada, the U.S. The UK, Europe and Asia. She also teaches Sanskrit and yoga philosophies in many Teacher Training programs. Her voice has a sweet, ethereal and open-hearted quality, full of devotion and surrender.
Ron Reid is co-owner and director of Downward Dog Yoga Centre in Toronto, Canada (www.downwarddog.com). Prior to the opening of Downward Dog in July 1997, he spent many years in the music business performing and writing music for performance, film and dance. His music influences are vast, and his connection to the spirit and soul of music is seen in his deep understanding of Yoga both on a physical level and etheric level. He bridges Hatha Yoga and Nada Yoga (the Yoga of Sound) effortlessly.
Currently travelling internationally sharing their love of music and the art of yoga, Meenakshi and Ron enjoy the opportunity to dive into the depths of a complete practice with people, filled with Bhakti, laughter, the beauty of the physicality of the yoga practice as well as the deep philosophical basis for it’s existence.
Canadian Devotional Chant artist, Brenda McMorrow, began her musical career in the early 1990’s as a singer/songwriter. She co-founded the London, Ontario folk/rock band Julia Propeller – a campus radio and CBC favourite – which opened for and shared festival rosters with acts like Ani Difranco and Bruce Cockburn. Brenda’s rich musical exploration led her from folk to bluegrass to jazz and now – as meditation, yoga and expanding consciousness have become integral parts of her life – her true heart offering is to share her unique blend of original melodies, world beats and sacred Indian devotional chants.
It was when Brenda participated in her first Sanskrit chant while attending a Yoga workshop in 2004, that she had a profound knowing her musical journey was leading her to places more expansive and heart-opening than she had ever imagined. Brenda remembers: “It was a very simple chant (Om Namah Shivaya), and at the time I had no idea what it signified: all I knew was that every cell in my body started vibrating, and I felt absolute joy”. While in India soon thereafter, Brenda began combining her own songwriting with ancient Sanskrit chants – and she has been flowing with this divine wave of Bhakti energy ever since.