Sacred Music with Snatam Kaur

Chanting to Change the World

Snatam Kaur performing with Krishan in Eugene, Oregon, in 2006.

There’s a certain mystique to songs in other languages. It’s as if the lyrics and melody transport us to somewhere else, yet that somewhere else can be somehow closer to our own sources of inspiration. This is certainly the case with Snatam Kaur’s devotional music. The first time I entered a room where Kaur was singing, I was inspired by the quality of her voice, the harmony created by her musicians, and by the nature of the songs themselves.

Snatam Kaur’s name actually means “universal friend to all.” She embodies this name when she sings in her signature blend of the Indian languages Sanskrit and Gurmukhi as well as in English. Kaur’s music comes from the spiritual tradition she practices. Her parents became devotees in the Sikh tradition, as taught by the late spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan, not long after her birth in 1972. Through playing the violin and other instruments as well as singing and chanting, music has been part of her life since she was very young.

But now it is an even larger part of her life. While her May 7 performance will be her ensemble’s first time singing for a Santa Barbara audience, Kaur recently performed her 200th concert since 2005. That statistic means that Kaur and her band are on the road much of the year. It’s also a testament to her popularity. She’s the best-selling artist on sacred music label Spirit Voyage, and she has released seven albums since 2002.

Each concert she gives is an interactive event in the tradition of kirtan. Kaur expects and wants people to sing along. Even if the audience/participants begin by not knowing any of the words, the repetitive chants lend themselves to a rhythmic and joyful chorus of voices joining in.

Kaur sees sacred chant as a special form of communication-one that can create transformation. “We have conversations and thoughts every day in which our communication consists entirely of complaints or worries, and this translates into our words and actions so that these negatives become what everything in the universe around us responds to,” she said. The repetition of the names of the divine, of spiritual teachers, and of uplifting phrases offers an alternative to this negativity. Kaur believes that “each of us has the ability to transform the reality of living so we can live in a state of divinity. It’s very powerful. I’ve noticed for myself, when I begin to use phrases or positive affirmations, divine recitations in life, they affect reality.” Chanting can affect our everyday life through changing our awareness. We continue to become more conscious and more present long after the musicians have put away their instruments.

This is how a single evening’s event can become so much more. The practice of kirtan transcends any single tradition; it doesn’t matter what a person’s personal spiritual practice is when they sing. The song itself can change their minds. As Kaur explained it, “When people come to concerts, they experience the power of prayer and chanting and become inspired to incorporate some sort of peaceful practice in their life, no matter their path or tradition. In that sense, we can change the consciousness of the planet.”


Snatam Kaur, along with her accompanying musicians, perform Wednesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Unity Church (227 E. Arrellaga St.). For tickets, visit Paradise Found (17 E. Anapamu St., 564-3573), or visit Tickets are $25-$35 in advance and $30-$40 at the door.


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