By Lynne Meredith Golodner
Snatam Kaur recently got a phone call, asking her to perform at Oprah Winfrey’s Hawaii abode. It just so happened that the sacred chantress from Santa Cruz, California, was around the corner from Oprah’s Hawaii retreat so it was an easy request to grant. She and her band went and hid upstairs in Oprah’s bedroom, then surprised Oprah by walking down the stairs, playing music.
Every night before she goes to sleep, Oprah plays Snatam Kaur’s sacred chants. It speaks to the power of Kaur’s distinctive music, which she is performing nationwide this spring. This week—April 11-14, 2013—she is performing at Joshua Tree, California. Later this month, she will be in Ashville, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. May 10-11, she will be in Chicago. On May 12 and also on May 13, she will be in Birmingham, Michigan. Then, it’s off to Oregon, Washington and California. Her travels continue into summer. You can see her entire schedule at her website by selecting her 2013 concert tour page.
“The world is becoming a much smaller place, especially with Oprah being familiar with all of our chants—that was really quite surreal,” said Snatam Kaur in a recent telephone interview. “It was a beautiful experience to connect with her and see the integrity she holds in her work and her own inner strength as a powerful woman. I walked away from the experience very inspired by being with her and also seeing just how these mantras can really serve a wider population.”
Kaur is a Sikh raised in the Kundalini Yoga tradition under the leadership of Yogi Bhajan. Her music sells widely—more than 70,000 albums a year. She tours the world, bringing her spiritual practice to audiences of people from all walks of life because her universal message praises God and honors the Divine in every being. The daughter of a Grateful Dead manager, Kaur dresses in Sikh attire, wrapping her head in a turban as a sign of modesty. She is married and a mother, and the Gurmukhi mantras she sings in concert are part of a daily practice she herself grew up with.
“I live with these mantras,” she says. “They are very much a part of my life and rhythm and way that I can access the divine every day.”
Children attend her concerts and often doze off in the middle from the soothing sounds of the music swirling around them. During her Michigan visit in early May, Kaur will perform a concert with her band one night and lead a Kundalini Yoga workshop the next night, with her bandmates playing living music alongside.
“Before I started touring, I was teaching,” she says. “It feels like it’s coming full-circle, coming back to the teaching. To empower people to really learn about the power of these chants—I’ve experienced in my own life very profound healing through the chants and so I try to give the concert an experience mode as opposed to a performance mode.”
Kaur is accompanied in concert by Todd Boston on guitar and flute and Ramesh Kannan on percussion.
Snatam Kaur: What Is Mantra?
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word or string of words that people recite in repetitive formation as a way of creating transformation. Mantras originated in the Vedic tradition of India, before the formation of what today is known as Hinduism. Mantra is also prevalent among Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. However, Snatam Kaur’s concerts are not aimed at specific religious groups. Her goal in touring is peacemaking—performing this type of music to bring a simple, soothing and healing sound to everyone.
For the authors of the Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads, the syllable Om represented Brahman, or the godhead, as well as all of creation. It is a sound that is uttered in many yoga studios across North America today as a calming and unifying chant.
Many people, when first coming to yoga or mantra from a Judeo-Christian tradition, feel uncertain as to whether chanting will in some way praise a foreign deity. However, the practice of yoga and mantra in Western settings usually is a religiously neutral discipline, uniting people around the practice of physical posture and music in a way that accepts participants’ individual beliefs.
Snatam Kaur: ‘I Am a Sikh’ shows solidarity in tragedy
Sikhism began in India in the 15th century with the master Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe in living their lives according to the teaching of the Sikh gurus, devoting time to meditation on God and scripture, chanting and living a life that benefits others. Kaur chants in the sacred tradition of Shabad, a term that refers to the sacred energy in speech and sound—similar to some Western traditions of sacred, meditative hymns. Among world religions, Sikhs have a special reverence for the timeless power of words. The Sikh community around the world refers to a holy book of collected writings, the Guru Granth Sahib, as the final teacher in its long line of gurus.
Recently, Kaur recorded an 11-minute YouTube video called I Am a Sikh, after a shooting incident last summer at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh community. (Wikipedia has an overview of the tragedy in which a white supremacist opened fire killing six and injuring four others, before taking his own life.) A petite, Caucasian woman, Kaur’s turbans and all-white clothing mark her as distinctively different as she moves around the country. She produced the video to explain what it means to be a Sikh and to express solidarity with that community in the wake of the shooting. Kaur will be performing a concert there on May 9 at 7 pm to honor the Sikhs in that community. It is open to the public.
The shooting “was just so devastating,” she said. “It felt like it happened right in my own home—that real and personal for me. I had heard about the Sikhs in Oak Creek and how incredible they were, and I was just inspired, and I wanted to do something in service to the Sikh community to get the word out about who the Sikhs are.”
“I see myself as a representative of the Sikh community and because it has such a strong root in healing through sound current and mantra, it’s accessible for people of all walks of life,” she says. “That’s essentially what I represent and share with people.”
“Everyone’s seeking happiness in some way and seeking a way to feel fulfilled. And if they feel just a little sense of healing or happiness, they’re incredibly grateful and don’t really care where it comes from,” she says. While people are often curious about her attire and her devotion, Kaur says she doesn’t run into much stereotyping or judgment. How she lives, what she performs and the message she brings are “gifts for everyone and every walk of life,” Kaur says.
Snatam Kaur in southeast Michigan
Katherine Austin, owner of Karma Yoga in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a fan of Snatam Kaur and of Kundalini Yoga, is producing the May 12-13 events in metro Detroit. Kaur’s concert and yoga workshop will take place at Seaholm High School in Birmingham.
“Over the years, I’ve had a few tracks of Snatam’s albums but it wasn’t until I was in Rishikesh, India, in 2011 that I fell head over heels in love with her singing through the practice of Kundalini yoga,” says Austin. “I was quickly transformed by the purity and power of the mantras and immediately brought them back to Karma for my classes—whether they were Kundalini or Hatha yoga. I felt the power and healing from these ancient mantras and knew they would instantly affect my students in a positive way.”
Austin plays Kaur’s music in class frequently. Many students in her studio, which attracts 3,500 people each month, say they are excited for the upcoming performances. Austin hopes to pack the 900-seat Seaholm auditorium and have hundreds attend the yoga workshop. The concert takes place on Mother’s Day evening, a perfect synergy for the message and the mantras, she says.
Kaur agrees that her concerts are perfect family events, as the soothing, uplifting music is accessible for all ages. At a recent Mexico City yoga workshop, Kaur says there were two 8-year-old girls in attendance who did every pose and posture with ease. At her concerts, children dance and sing and drift off into sleep when the music gets ultra-soothing.
“Mantras are high vibrational sounds that go beyond the thinking mind to clear, reorganize and create new higher thought patterns and emotions that help us make better choices,” says Austin. That they come in musical form means they are even more accessible. The yoga taught at Austin’s studio “has always included the spirituality of yoga,” she says. That said, students come from all walks of life and all faiths. In March of 2012, Austin attended a retreat with Kaur and her band. After that week of “bliss,” she decided she wanted to share Snatam Kaur’s inspirational performances with her students and community.
“I am beyond thrilled that Snatam is coming! Metro Detroit is in for such a gift,” says Austin. “Her unique delivery of the sacred sound current is profound. Everyone will come away with only love and bliss in their hearts after spending these two days with her.”
The concerts themselves become a sacred setting, Kaur says, as the audience grows toward chanting the words together. “It’s an opportunity for transformation for me and for people that come,” she says. “I feel it in every concert. A very deep personal transformation happens.”
SEE SNATAM KAUR’S ENTIRE SCHEDULE AT HER WEBSITE—by finding and clicking on her 2013 concert tour page.
Lynne Meredith Golodner is an author with ReadTheSpirit Books. Visit her author page to learn more about her remarkable career and her newest book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.
(This profile and interview of Snatam Kaur, by Lynne Meredith Golodner, was originally published in https://readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural issues. You can feel free to reproduce this column if you include this credit line and link.)