Soulful Singer: Q&A with Krishna Das

Krishna Das

Releasing 14 albums over the past 15 years, Krishna Das has won worldwide recognition for performing kirtan, a call-and-response chant described as meditation with music. Along with creating original melodies for traditional chants in Sanskrit, India's classical language, he also contributes his own English-language verses for the first time on his most recent album, Heart as Wide as the World. The U.S.-born musician became vegetarian in 1967, before his initial sojourn to India over 40 years ago, when he was introduced to kirtan.

Q  How did you react to kirtan when you first heard it?

A  It was a gut reaction. I thought, Wow, I've got to have more of this. I see the chants as a way to enter more deeply into our hearts. I sing a line, and the audience repeats it; we keep going, and it keeps building. Your day starts to fade away, and you begin to get more present in the moment and more involved in the chanting, and you go deeper into yourself.

Q  What inspired you to pair English verses with traditional Sanskrit chants?

A  The deeper the practice of chanting takes you, the closer you're brought to your true self, the source of joy, happiness, peace, and love. As I became more comfortable in myself, it became more natural for me to chant in English. English is the language I grew up with. It's the language of my thoughts. In some ways, (for us English native speakers) English is the language of our suffering; it is also the language we manipulate others with to get what we want. To carry the simplicity, beauty, and purity of chanting with this language is not the easiest thing to do.

Q  What message do you hope your music sends to others?

I hope that people will recognize it is possible to be happy in this world, regardless of the amount of suffering going on around us. And it doesn't involve putting up walls and barricades and hiding in fear, in order to try to find some peace, because that's not peace. My hope is that people can know there really is a spiritual path and it's a truth, it works, and all we have to do is to begin to understand and help ourselves and other people.