April 28, 2010

Kirtan music review: Dharma Gypsys.

A couple of weeks ago my pal Joni Yung, the go-to-gal for all things L.A. yoga, raved about a new kirtan album by the Dharma Gypsys.  Joni has attended more kirtan than one can imagine, so if she said it rocked, I knew I had to check out the album.  The Dharma Gypsys is a group of yogis and non-yogis grooving away under the leadership of L.A. superstar yoga teacher and rock musician Daniel Overberger.  Overberger, a former member of several death rock bands, had a life changing experience traveling to Indian where he became immersed in yoga and kirtan.  He is well-known in the L.A. area for teaching classes that are set to rock music, which are called “Sonic Yoga” including an eternally sold out “Yoga on the Dark Side of the Moon.”

The Dharma Gypsys first album is unlike any other kirtan album I’ve heard.  The guitar and drums are reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ “Sister Morphine” and the ambiance echoes Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.”  The vocals of Overberger and Katrina Chester (who has played Janis Joplin on stage) are perfectly matched with the dark guitar solos.  Yet despite the heavily rock-influenced sound, the roots of more well-known kirtan artists such as Jai Uttal and Krishna Das are also echoed throughout the album.  It is clear that the whole band approaches the music from the heart and with a deep passion for their art.  What really works for the Dharma Gypsys’ approach is how their music is able to appeal to both the devotional and the rock that lives in every yogi.  Daniel told me that he was inspired to start the group while listening to Krishna Das.

“I was listening to Krishna Das and I picked up my Les Paul, plugged it into my Marshall and just started… soloing. The hair on my arms was standing straight up. I thought, ‘Wow. I like this.’ That was the beginning, the spark.”

Their marriage of rock and kirtan is successful: resonates deeply and it lingers.

This album is ideal music for not only a yoga class but for so many settings.  I used it while teaching to students who prefer vocally-intensive devotional kirtan and they raved.  It is perfect for a home practice, a drive on a beautiful road or just as the background music to a fun afternoon of mojitos with your local sangha of yogis.  Daniel and the Dharma Gypsys have something here: something dark and resonant and beautiful.  They are looking at the possibility of taking the band on the road for a rock-n-roll kirtan/yoga fest, and are already talking about a second album.  I, for one, am standing on my yoga mat lighter in the air, begging for an encore.

Photo: courtesy of Daniel Overberger

The Dharma Gypsys album can be purchased via CD Baby or iTunes.

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