Deva Premal is easily the best-known and most popular female chanter in New Age music today, and she will chant at the Unitarian Society next Wednesday. She and her partner, Miten, spoke with me by phone earlier this month.
When you’re in town, will you be leading kirtan or will you be performing?
Miten: Well, we are not kirtan singers. We don’t do call and response. And we actually don’t perform. We sit on the platform, but the audience is as much a performer as we are. We don’t really like to have any barrier between so-called performer and audience. They become one.
Deva Premal: We tell people the words beforehand, and we choose mantras or chants that are quite easy that don’t have too many words so we can really relax into the singing and you don’t have to try to remember or be too concerned with the words. We make it clear that the invitation is always open to sing with us.
M: The thing is now that this whole movement of yoga, kirtan, and chanting has grown into such a beautiful sangha-just another word for family-it almost doesn’t need any instruction or direction anymore. You know, people come bringing the vibe with them. There are young people and old people and they have very varied backgrounds. It’s really beautiful.
How would you compare the CDs and the live events?
M: We see them as two different entities. The concerts are not so augmented instrumentally as the CDs are, but yes, it is the same pieces. We have seven CDs to draw the material from and we like to keep the program very loose. We like to respond to the moment and the way the feeling is, and people also like to request certain mantras and songs so we like to keep it open.
DP: There’s that feeling of community, which I think is more and more missing in this modern world; it’s difficult to find a place where you can enjoy something together, not separate like in a concert where you don’t sing. With us when you sing together, you sing in the same rhythm, you breathe in the same rhythm, you become one organism.
Tell me about the response to the CDs when they first started coming out :
DP: It was pretty overwhelming, actually. First of all, the quantity. We’ve sold so many. The Essence is the first mantra CD we put out and it is still selling on Amazon.com like it’s the first day. It isn’t just a fashion that disappears. And then, the emails and messages we get from people-it’s incredible what happens with the CDs and how they literally change people’s lives. They bring them from depression to some more joyous feeling. They use them for dying, for childbirth. Sometimes I get these messages, and I think, if we just made this CD for this one person, it was all worth it, but there are so many of them, so it’s very humbling.
M: It’s very humbling; that’s how we interpret this wave of love we find ourselves in. We didn’t set out to do this. We just set out to be singing for our spiritual community and giving them a CD they could use for their meditations. We watched the whole thing open like a flower.
DP: In the end, we realized we did make them for our spiritual family, we just hadn’t realized how big that family was.
Deva Premal will perform at the Unitarian Society (1535 Santa Barbara St.) on Wednesday, October 3, at 7:30 p.m. Call 965-4583.