(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.) – Internationally renowned Sanskrit chant duo Deva Premal and Miten perform The Yoga of Sacred Song and Chant at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m. The duo will be joined by Nepalese flute maestro Manose for the event, presented by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge.
Deva Premal and Miten, called “the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash of chant,” update the ancient art of Sanskrit chant with contemporary arrangements that incorporate influences as varied as reggae, New Age, Celtic pop, and Indian raga. The two met in India in 1990 and soon began combining song, mantra and meditation into a blend that would bring this ancient form of devotion to millions of listeners through their recordings, concerts and workshops throughout Europe, Australia, South America, Canada and the United States.
German-born Deva Premal is a classically trained musician who grew up singing mantras as bedtime songs. Her mother plays viola da gamba and her father was an artist and a devotee of Zen and yoga who taught himself Sanskrit.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents’ welcome was to sing the Gayatri Mantra throughout the pregnancy,” says Premal. “As I grew up, we continued to chant the Gayatri Mantra together regularly before sleep. I didn’t really know what I was singing … and why. I just did it because I was told to. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate these precious times.”
As a teenager, she moved away from the confines of both her classical music training in voice, violin and piano, and the mantra practice, and began to explore on her own. At age 11, her search brought her to become a disciple of the enlightened mystic Osho, and later, she went to the ashram in India to begin studies in body work, including massage, shiatsu and cranio-sacral therapies.
It was in Osho’s ashram that Premal and Miten met. “Although I was 20 years old and he was 42, our hearts immediately connected,” she says. “I knew he was one of Osho’s musicians, but that was about all I knew – -apart from the fact that I felt good whenever we were together. We laughed a lot… and still do. He writes the most beautiful songs, some of which I knew from the ashram celebrations.”
Miten was born in London and grew up in the 1960s. “At that time, England was alive with rock ‘n’ roll music and the sound of The Beatles,” he recalls. “Everywhere you went it was on the street. It was a time of innocence, a time when you could sense the possibility that life has no boundaries.”
Miten, born Andy Desmond and a founder ofthe folk/rock duo Gothic Horizon with musical partner Richard Garrett, later went on to establish a successful career for himself in the 1970s as a solo singer/songwriter, opening concerts for artists including Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed and Ry Cooder. During this time he released two well-received albums, one produced by the Kinks.
Miten left rock ‘n’ roll behind, even selling his guitars, after discovering Osho when a friend gave him a book on Zen. He dropped out of his career and into a life as a member of a meditation community, where he found a new approach to music:
“It was an amazing revelation. I wasn’t prepared for the healing power of the music that was happening around Osho. This turned my head to what real sacred music was – even though it was Western in style, it still had the most uplifting and spiritual nature. I was hooked on Sufi dance and never missed an opportunity to participate. All this music, along with a life of communal integration, deeper relating, and Osho’s discourses and meditations, healed me from whatever wounds I’d been carrying around music, and life in general.”
By 1990, when he and Deva Premal met, he was leading the music for thousands of people attending the evening meditations at the ashram in India, and eventually invited Premal to join. Later they began offering voice workshops and concerts in Europe.
The duo’s recording The Essence topped New Age and Alternative music charts worldwide and Deva and Miten became “yoga rock stars,” bringing the ancient healing power of mantra into the 21st century. Their concerts and workshops are more than music – they are invitations to share in a deep moment of meditation.
As Deva says, “Without the silence that follows the chants, you get only half the story. It’s like the climax of a good story. The silence is there because it exists in the music. It just needs to be exposed and acknowledged. It’s so easy to overlook the silence inside the music… and it’s that which is healing us… if we allow it to be there. This is really one of the main reasons Miten and I sing – to bathe in silence. It’s our nourishment. It’s what keeps us on the road. For me there is nothing more precious than having sung with an audience, ecstatic with bliss, and then entering the deep silence that the mantra brings… so deep, that with closed eyes you really feel there is ‘nobody’ there at all… all personalities dissolved for a tiny sacred moment.”
Deva and Miten frequently perform with flutist Manose. Manose’s hometown, Boudha, Nepal, stands on the ancient route leading from the Himalayan mountains down into the Kathmandu valley. It is just upriver from Nepal’s most holy Hindu temple, and is home itself to an important Buddhist shrine. An influx of Tibetan refugees who congregated around the great Boudhanath shrine, and the outward growth of Kathmandu city has created there a nexus where everyone from religious pilgrims, to enclaves of traders, and Western adventurers converged to meet, mingle, haggle, and gawk.
From the demanding study of raga music, Manose acquired technical mastery and an astonishing ability to improvise. At the same time, he draws inspiration from samba and the Celtic masters.
Manose has released four solo CDs and has recorded with Grammy-nominated Jai Uttal and bluegrass great Peter Rowan. He has also collaborated with the Chicago Children’s Choir, tabla maestro Swapan Chowdhury, John Densmore of the Doors, and the New Maihar Band, an ensemble created by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
He is a founding member of the classical raga group Sukarma, his music videos air regularly on Nepali TV, he performs annually in Nepal’s jazz festival where he has shared the stage with Australian maestro Don Burrows, and as a member of the nation’s most popular rock band, 1974AD, he has re-popularized traditional flute in Nepal, where he was the first to introduce it as a rock instrument.
The Mahaiwe is at 14 Castle Street in Great Barrington, Mass. Ticket prices range from $27 to $57. Tickets are available for purchase through the Mahaiwe box office at 413.528.0100.
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, a nonprofit educational organization, is the largest yoga and holistic-health retreat center in North America. Each year, approximately 32,000 participants take part in more than 800 programs on a wide range of topics related to health, personal growth, and spirituality. Kripalu also graduates more than 500 yoga teachers each year from its renowned certification trainings, and has a professional association of 2,500 registered yoga teachers, as well as more than 30 affiliated yoga studios.