Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview with David Newman (Durga Das)

In this interview, our January Kirtan OMbassador, talks about the center of the Universe, his spiritual name, a beautiful moment with his father, the Stay Strong Project, "schlep yoga", a special addition to his band, and much more! Thank you David for your time!

David Newman (Durga Das)

Place of Birth:
Philadelphia. According to my mother, the center of the Universe.

First instrument played:
Violin, but my lessons were canceled when I was found using the bow as a baseball bat!

Who gave you your spiritual name?
Bhagavan Das

What does it mean to you?
It literally means servant of the Mother. To me it means striving to embody the qualities of Motherly love such as kindness, compassion, understanding, empathy, patience and selfless service to others.

How did you come to yoga and kirtan?
I first came to meditation as a child when my parents took my brother and me to be initiated in TM- Transcendental Meditation (it was in vogue in the 70’s). Yoga came later in college, first through a book and then through classes at the Sivananda Yoga Center on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. I was introduced to Kirtan while in Law School as a result of visits to Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, and the Siddha Yoga Ashram in South Fallsburg, NY.

Do you have a favorite kirtan "moment"?
Hmmm there have been so many… Well, since this is an interview for Bhakti Fest, I will say that last year the energy of debuting the song Stay Strong at Bhakti Fest definitely gets a God bump award! (Editor's note: watch the here) We were filming the song in our apartment and the message and energy of the song were very much in the forefront of my awareness. So when the song and chant took off, the electricity was palpable. I felt like we were all being lifted by the Shakti of the moment. The greatest joy in Kirtan, for me, is when the many hearts and voices present come together as one. That merging brings indescribable bliss.

Another special moment that comes to mind was early in my traveling days. I had gone to Berlin, Germany with my Father. He had a medical convention, and I gave a yoga workshop and kirtan there. He decided to attend the Kirtan. Up until then, I got the sense that he really didn’t understand my passion for kirtan, though he was very supportive. Anyway, about two-thirds into the kirtan, we were deep in an Om Namah Shivaya chant. The Bhava was delightful, and full of that levity and peace that chanting to Shiva brings. At that time, I was playing a harmonium. At some point I opened my eyes and looked up at my Father. He looked back at me, smiled, and gave me ‘two thumbs up’. I knew he got it. What a great and loving affirmation that was for me!

Do you have a favorite mantra?
Honestly, they are all my favorites at different times. It is interesting how from Kirtan to Kirtan, that magic can shift between various mantras. One Kirtan, Jai MA takes the Bhava cake and the next one belongs to the Maha Mantra, and so on. One thing I’ve learned from my many years of chanting… that every mantra moment is unique and special in it’s own way. I do my best to stay open to the moment and I very much honor the grace of spontaneity! Of course, my Sat Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, continuously repeated the name of Rama. So, Ram Nam, as a practice, is very dear to me.

When did you write your first song?
Soon after my uncle bought me my first guitar for my bar mitzvah at 13. I always gravitated to writing songs rather than practicing my scales.

Can you tell us about Stay Strong and what it means to you:
Stay Strong is a song I wrote that is accompanied by a Rama Bolo chant. I wrote it during the time when all of us were distraught about the Gulf Coast Oil Spill in the summer of 2010. It was also a time when the economy had taken a down turn. On my travels, I saw that so many felt helpless and hopeless. So, in response to this, I wrote the song, on which the chorus is ‘Stay Strong: Keep Your Faith Alive’. My wife, Mira and I had an idea to record the song and invite the Chant and Yoga community to join us. We also thought it timely to have the proceeds of the song benefit the Gulf Coast recovery and the environment. This vision gave rise to The Stay Strong Project that unfolded with an abundance of grace. The filming was done at Bhakti Fest in September, and the song and video will be released on February 8th, with all proceeds going to Global Green USA, a non-profit environmental organization!

How do you feel the kirtan movement is growing?
It continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Last year I called Bhakti Fest ‘Heaven on Earth’, which is how I felt. For me, regardless of faith, culture or nationality, Kirtan speaks directly to the heart which is why I believe that so many from all around the world have gravitated to Kirtan! It is a perfect, direct, joyful, and simple remedy to the challenges and complexities of modern life.

Have you ever performed somewhere where it was unlikely that they would be receptive to kirtan but were delightfully surprised?
Yes, you can never guess where you will be greeted with the most enthusiasm. It is not necessarily where you think it will be. I find that all it really takes are a few Kirtan enthusiasts to light up an entire community. Sometimes it takes a little time, but it ultimately always grows into something special. Bhakti energy not only thrives in big cities, but has blossomed in small towns that you would have never expected it to be.

Have you ever performed somewhere where it was unlikely that they would be receptive to kirtan and they weren't?
Not that I can remember, but maybe I’ve blocked it out.

What is touring like for you?
Touring is just a joy. What could be more wonderful than singing kirtan night after night and connecting with so many kindred spirits in loving communities? I feel really blessed and am deeply gratitude to be doing this. Plus I get to travel together with my wonderful wife Mira, and some deeply gifted musicians, who are also good friends. Ok maybe all the actual travel, and luggage aren’t all that glamorous, but believe me, I’m not complaining!! I jokingly say that over the years I’ve been mastering a very specific yoga sadhana that I call ‘Schlep Yoga’ :-). Coming soon, we will have an extra member of our traveling posse. In May, my wife Mira and I are expecting our first child… that should add a whole new element to the journey. One that we’re very much looking forward to!

More more information on David Newman, click here. Don't miss David Newman and Mira at Bhakti Yoga Shala on January 29th @ 7:30pm! More info.

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