A soulful new single by gurukuli Hari Kirtan Kaufmann, featuring Lilashakti Sesanti and Vrindavan Favors, blends Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s Bengali bhajan “Sri Vraja Dhama Mahimamrta” with English spoken word poetry to deeply moving effect. The epic 9-minute track, with its strikingly artistic music video featuring performances from international devotee artists, captures the feeling of hankering after Vrindavan Dhama and devotee association during the pandemic, and the lifelong journey towards giving oneself completely to Lord Krishna.
Music has been a major part of Hari Kirtan’s life, and his spiritual journey, from a young age. He first started taking piano lessons at age 15 while attending New Vrindaban gurukula, then began learning guitar and joined his first band, Lifeforce, with other New Vrindaban gurukulis while living in Malaysia. Later, he played chart music with a cover band while touring Europe for many years, but became disenchanted with the mundanity of the experience.
“I didn’t touch my guitar for seven years,” he says. “It was actually doing kirtan that revived my interest in playing music and writing songs.”
Now living in Mayapur, ISKCON’s West Bengal headquarters, Hari Kirtan recently contributed several tracks to the label Mantra live and has live-streamed mantra music with musician Padmarani in his Soulful Saturday YouTube series. But perhaps his most ambitious project is When Will I See You Again, created in lockdown in the early months of the pandemic, with various devotee artists around the world working remotely and sending their contributions in.
“We had never experienced something like that in our lives before, to be restricted in movement,” Hari Kirtan says. “India went into lockdown for five months straight. The challenge of remaining sane and staying busy was the soil the seed of this song grew in. It’s about missing the association of devotees, festivals, going to the temple, and eating prasadam with everyone. And Krishnadas Kaviraja’s original “Jaya Radhe, Jaya Krishna, Jaya Vrindavan” bhajan is in the same mood because he's remembering Vrindavan from a distance.”
Hari Kirtan recorded his vocals for the song, as well as his guitar, in Mayapur. Meanwhile, Lila Shakti recorded her backing vocals in South Africa, Johannesburg. Latin GRAMMY winner Havi Das recorded his synthesizer in Alachua. Classical violinist Barsana Priya Tirsu recorded her instrument in Vienna, Austria, and Narahari Moncrieff his bansuri flute in Mayapur. Madhu and Padmarani mixed the track at their studio in Mayapur, while the song was mastered by Andy Baldwin (who works with Mantra Lounge) at Metropolis Studios in London.
Meanwhile, Vrindavaneshvari (Vrindavan Favors), Hari Kirtan’s wife, wrote and performed the spoken word, based on Krishnadas Kaviraja’s words, that gives the song such powerful emotional depth. “A fading memory of walking barefoot in the dust of Vraj / makes me dream of embarking on a journey towards You,” she intones. “But the space between us feels insurmountable / Will I ever enter Your sacred land again?”
“The pandemic has been such a big crisis, and so many people have had mental health struggles and relationship breakdowns,” explains Vrindavaneshvari, a gurukuli and Bhakti Tirtha Swami disciple from England. “A lot of the inspiration for what I wrote came from desperation and raw feelings of brokenness, of wanting to be accepted by the Lord. Because whatever we’re going through, He is our only shelter.”
Like the music, the accompanying video was also shot and performed by different artists around the world. Vraja Sundari of the Samadhi Dance Company shot her contemporary dance in the Netherlands, with her own crew. Kamala Saara, a professional ballet dancer, shot her incredibly evocative dance piece, which ties in with Vrindavaneshvari’s spoken word, in New York with Vasudeva Jones. Hari Kirtan and flute player Narahari shot their scenes in Mayapur. So did Savitri, Vrindavaneshvari, and Hari Kirtan’s daughter, who portrays the devotee sitting at her computer during the lockdown, pining for Vrindavan. The video also contains footage of Vrindavan, shot by Gaura Govinda Das and Madhava Naidoo.
Hari Kirtan hopes that as well as Hare Krishna devotees, the heartfelt song will reach an audience of people drawn to bettering their lives through conscious living and spiritual practice.
“I think that community is growing rapidly at the moment, since people are quite frustrated with material life, as they were when Prabhupada came to the West, and are searching for something more satisfying,” he says. “Hopefully, they will relate to the emotion in this track.”
Judging by the positive response so far, that’s already happening. And Hari Kirtan is already working on producing more music for those inspired by When Will I See You Again. “We’ll definitely be following up and putting out more tracks in the near future,” he says.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APgOekoS8uc
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