Deva Premal and Co.

“Sheema, Sheema, Sheema, Sheeee-Maa” sang the artists on stage;
Deva Premal seated by her electronic organ, dressed in a Red silk Indian sari; Mitten, her partner, both on and off the stage, a long time Rajneesh devotee, who has been inspired to play music for his teacher; Manos, the native American, long haired flute player who has become part of the duo chanters, turned underground rock star; and an American keyboard player. Together they have arrived to city of Palma in Mallorca, though Mitten excited the crowd when he mentions how he lived on the Island in his early twenties, in a small village that now has become a popular tourist attraction.
“Sheema, Sheema, Sheema, Sheeee-Maa” the chant continues.
This is no ordinary concert.
It was only a week ago that I sat with my friends in the Truman Center in Independence, MO, just outside Kansas City, to participate in a similar event, t his time led by Dave Stringer and the Kirtan Band (composed of local musician among the two permanent members of the Stringer band).
When he took the stage, Dave shared with the crowd that this is not a concert, but rather a participation. “A concert alienates the crowd, a Kirtan is a blur of the obvious. The crowd is the chorus, where the band on stage only offers notes to explore. Now the band does not have to hire a chorus, and the crowd gets a band for its sound.”
“The quickest way I have found to experience the magic of existence, the beauty that surrounds us, the Love we seek, is to sing and dance,” the soft spoken American, with his English hat smiles at the crowd. There are only 30 of us sitting on the floor, and perhaps another 20 on the bleachers (compared to the 1100 that are seated at the Palma Theater center). “I know from experience.”
I know as well. Which is why I am here. There is something magical when we sing, when we dance. No wonder Rumi wrote: ‘you dance inside my heart, where no one can see you. But sometimes I see you. And in those moments Art is created.’
Where Dave Stringer and his band drummed, on keyboards, Indian tablas, violin, guitars and thimbles continuously for almost 3 hours, and without the restriction of chairs we had the opportunity to jump, sing and dance, the Palma experience was set as an old movie with an intermission. I jokingly tell my friend Howard, as I sip on my cervesa (beer in Spanish), “they must have cut a deal with the theater so people would buy drinks and food.”
The crowd observes all the rules of behavior one would in any movie theater, and while it would seem that everyone should be familiar with the call and response of the Kirtan experience, in the first half Mitten constantly has to re-invite the crowd to sing.
To our defense though Deva and Mitten are not creating a “true” kirtan experience. It’s not that they needed to use their high tech abilities to post the words on the screen behind them like Dave Stringer did, but they don’t repeat one or two single sounds as is the common experience throughout the world.
Kirtan is a form of connecting to the divine sound all around. The leader calls out Sanskrit sounds, that have no memories attached to them. Think, for a moment, of any word in your language and you will discover it has associated memories with it, both collective and personal. Take the common word ‘the’ for instance. It will carry with it the memory of  anything you wanted and never received, that which you did obtain and eventually you forgot about.
Take the sound ‘Om’ and your mind will go blank. It has no meaning. More over, all other sounds in the Sanskrit language have their origin in this universal sound. Albert Einstein himself shared with the world his insight that the universe arose from a sound, a big bang, if you like.
Most chants will repeat two or three sounds together, and will establish a continuous repetition, basically creating a meditation for all.
The first half of our Friday night experience is filled with complex sounds that require prior memorization (such as the Gayatri Mantra, an ancient chant composed of 14 sounds). While most of us are familiar with these chants from listening to their albums, there is a reluctance to share the vibration of our own sounds throughout the crowd.
Mitten does his best to break us free from our self enclosed captivity, as if we were song birds held in a cage, unwilling, or uninspired to offer it’s natural heart felt feeling through it’s beak. He makes just the men sing, then just the women, but the feeling of quiet observation is very much felt in the air.
The beer, wine, water or coca-cola, must have done something because we come back to our seats and from the first song of the set I can feel that the crowd will end up, finally, on their feet.
“Sheema, Sheema, Sheema, Sheeee-Maaa” The band and the crowd are chanting together.
“Sheema comes form the Hopi tradition,” Mitten interjects as the other members carry the tune. “Sheema means Love.”
I have known the chant for years, but always wondered how it ended up with Sanskrit ones, and honestly always thought it was some word in an Indian dialect. I suppose it is an Indian dialect, only the Indians of the America as opposed to one from the many dialects in India. I feel a surge of inspiration. It was just under a year ago that I sat in a synagogue in Poland feeling a surge of Love rush through me on my first weekend of my European teaching tour. At the time I was listening to an Israeli flute player, playing a Jewish tune for Peace on a Native American Flute.
“Sheema, Sheema, Sheema, Sheeee-Maaa” we listen to Mitten words, and also continue filling the hall with love.
“Will all the men stand up,” Mitten is calling us into action. “And chant to all the women here.”
“There is nothing sexier than men singing to women, isn’t it?”
The women clap in approval.
“Now all the women stand up and join the men.”
We are all on our feet now.
“I am going to teach you the Hopi dance that follows this song. Bring your hands together, in prayer like fashion, in ‘Namaste.’ Now look at the person to your left and sing to them.”
I turn to and catch eyes with Howard, chanting ‘sheema, sheema, sheema, sheee-Maa.’
“Now turn to your right.”
I catch eyes with an elderly lady and chant ‘sheema, sheema, sheema, sheee-maa’
“Now chant to someone you have not chanted to.”
And thus the band got us all to dance on our feet, with each ‘sentence’ chanting to someone new.
I chanted to men and women, all sizes and all ages, flushed at my heart with how my last trip had such a presence of the Mother, both my personal Ima (Hebrew for mother), and the grand Mother that takes care of all.
“Are there any men out there who are brave enough to come on stage and sing?” Mitten is on a roll.
I rush to the stage along with a few other brave souls, though by the time I sit down and chant a few lines, the disnticntion between men and women disappears and the stage fills up with bodies, all carrying the tune ‘sheema, sheema, sheema, sheeee-maa.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: