By Al Kaufman
Yes, Krishna Das is a yoga master, and yes, Heart as Wide as the World is a CD of chants, but don’t stop reading just yet. For Krishna Das, born Jeffrey Kagel, is the rock star of the yoga world.
When he was in college at Stony Brook University, he joined up with a heavy metal band called Soft White Underbelly, who went on to become (after Das left) Blue Oyster Cult. He went on to pursue Eastern Philosophy, but his love of rock and roll never left him. He has been produced by Rick Rubin and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, and artists as diverse as Sting, Madonna, Def Leppard’s Rick Allen, and Beastie Boy Mike D are all fans.
What Das does on Heart as Wide as the World is combine his two passions. For most non-devotees of yoga (including this reviewer), chants are nothing more than repetitive dronings. Not so with Das. His voice is rich and sensual, like that of bluesman Bill Withers. He blends both English lyrics with Sanskrit chants. His call and response songs, in the tradition of kirtan chantings, start softly and slowly crescendo, as his daughter, Janaki Kagel, and the Kosmic Kirtan Posse of New York, provide the exuberant and gospel-like responses. The repetitive nature of the music and lyrics is soothing and inspiring, even more so upon repeated listens.
Das not only brings together Eastern and Western musicians, but also songs. The chant “Narayana” morphs seamlessly into the Yardbirds’ classic “For Your Love.” It feels organic and right. And while that song will no doubt garner Das the most ink, the following track, the fourteen-plus minute “Hallelujah Shri Ram” is even more gorgeous, inspirational, and downright joyful. It, like all seven songs on this CD, slowly seeps into the listener’s subconscious, where it serves as a musical happy pill that would make pharmaceutical companies a mint if they could put it in tablet form. Troubles fall away as toes tap and relaxation washes over. Music as medicine. There has never been a better example than Krishna Das.