It's a wrap! We had an extraordinary and long recording session down in New York City this past Thursday. I found a great little studio in the Flatiron District called VRCL Entertainment, which was recommended by my friend and soul sister Karen Blood. Karen always has good instincts, and she is very tapped into the universe and the stars, so I knew this was a good lead. Anyway, once I saw the studio and felt its energy, and then met the super-sweet and talented engineer Terry Derkach, I knew we had found a home. Plus, there was a painting of a giant Buddha on the wall.
The goal was to record backup vocals on two tracks: "Shiva Shakti" (which has a disco groove) and the Prajnaparamita Mantra (which has a gospel sound). For the Shiva track I really wanted to work with Kirtan Soul Revival--a group of young singers consisting of Calia Marshall, Helen Tocci and Todd Keller. The Reverend Kim Lesley---who is a staple at Ananda Ashram and who has sung on the CDs of many of my friends, including Sruti Ram and Ishwarm Lynn Keller of Sri Kirtan and Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya of Prema Hara-- also joined them on this track.
It turned out that Todd could not make it to the session because, sadly, his cat Monkey died. We sent healing energy to Todd and Monkey before the session began. I always like to start my vocals sessions with some group toning, so as we toned the sounds OM and NG, we sent the energy to our friends. Have a gentle journey, Monkey!
Anyway, it was a truly magical day. The Shiva Shakti session was seamless (sorry for the alliteration) because these singers are such pros. I can't wait to hear the final track! We still have a lot of work to do on that one, including creating a pre-track and adding some Bollywood strings.
A few additional singers (John James, Keith Fluitt and Rashmi Pierce) came for the second session, which was a gospel rendition of the Prajnaparamita Mantra. I am so honored to have had this opportunity to meet and work with these singers, especially John James and Keith Fluitt. John sings with Stevie Wonder! Ahhh! I can't express how talented they are. They literally blew me out of my seat. John arrived just in time to add a perfect, perfect, chilling and Shiva-esque solo to the "Shiva Shakti" chant and then we got started on Prajnaparamita.
I began with the session with a quick talk on the meaning of the mantra and I also played a recording of the Karmapa chanting it with his sangha. (I also offered the caveat that the Dalai Lama has given three full day talks on this mantra and the Heart Sutra and that my explanation was not the be-all-end-all. By far). But I figured that, given that I was the only Buddhist practitioner in the room, it would be helpful to explain to the singers how this mantra works energetically, and how I envisioned it helping other people who happen to hear our recording. There were seven singers in the room at that point--some were lovers of Christ, some of us were devotees of Amma, some were interfaith ministers (Kim) and interfaith practitioners, and others simply loved to sing mantras. It was such a blessing to be with them all.
What a day this was! We spent seven hours recording layers and layers and layers of backup vocals on this track (and honestly we did not even finish. This is a vocal-rich track)... and if you've ever chanted Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha for even seven minutes, you can imagine how charged we all were with the power of this mantra. I'll never forgot the looks on their faces as they sang. I was watching the choir from the control room, viewing them through a glass panel. Everyone had their eyes closed, faces lifted, hearts open, palms held toward the heavens, and everyone was positively glowing with love and joy. I knew it was the mantra working through them, for them, with them. I can't describe how moved I was and still am. Even though each one of us present came from different traditions and studied with different masters, we all felt the power of the mantra, which is the power of transcendence, of moving beyond our minds and, yes, into our hearts. That's not quite a "strictly Buddhist" interpretation, but energetically that's how it feels. This mantra brings us out of our mind-space and into what I call a heart-space. Where pure love reins. Where the Christ energy reins. All these devotional practices lead us to the same place--we just have different words to describe it, I guess.
Anyway, I am so grateful to each and everyo one of these singers, and to engineers Terry Derkart and Anthony Molina, and producer Gaura Vani Buchwald, and to Lama Karma Drodul and Lama Karma Thendup (the other backup singers on Gate) and all the others who have supported this project along the way. May all beings benefit from this gorgeous music we created together as one.