'Lotus Feet' Brings Indian Tradition to U.S. Pop Singer Durga Das performs music known as Kirtan, a form of very old call-and-response devotional music from India. But now, as Kirtan finds its way into American culture, it is evolving in unexpected ways. Part of the change is being led by a Jewish man from Philadelphia named David Newman — or, on stage, Durga Das.

'Lotus Feet' Brings Indian Tradition to U.S. Pop

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

An ancient form of devotional music from India is thriving and evolving in this country. It's called Kirtan and it's growing along with the practice of Yoga.

Marika Partridge has a review of one CD that is pushing Kirtan into new places.

MARKIA PARTRIDGE reporting:

Traditional Kirtan involves a leader and a chorus and they progress through a musical prayer of sorts featuring the names of God. Names like Krishna, Ram, Shiva, Hanuman. These are some of the incarnations of God in Hinduism. But note, this Kirtan singer is not a Hindu nor is he from India

(Soundbite of Durga Das)

PARTRIDGE: This is Durga Das, also known as David Newman. He's a Jew from Philadelphia. He's a former Yoga teacher and musician and now he's a rising star in the international sub-genre of chant artist or mantric musician. He calls his approach to Kirtan a revolution.

DURGA DAS: (Singing) Put your feet into the river. Give your life to something bigger. Put your feet into the river. Give your life to something bigger.

PARTRIDGE: Kirtan is typically sung in Sanskrit so adding English is part of it, but the main revolution is in the sound. Producer Frank Wolf spent nine months on this project. He recorded the unadorned singing of Durga Das and friends and then added what he calls orchestration, real and sampled instruments, voice effects and layers of rhythm. He was aiming for something that might call to mind lets say The Beatles' Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and still be Kirtan.

(Soundbite of Durga Das)

PARTRIDGE: As for singing along, live Kirtan is happening all over the country in venues from Yoga studios to mediation centers, to music festivals. David Newman, Durga Das, makes the case that we're a nation hungry for spirituality. Most of us are not afraid to taste food from other cultures, he says. In fact, we often find it nourishing and fulfilling for the body. So why, he asks, would we shy away from music that might be equally satisfying for the soul?

SIEGEL: The CD by David Newman is called Lotus Feet: A Kirtan Revolution. Our reviewer is Marika Partridge.

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