Editor’s Note: We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jai-Jagdeesh about Sat Nam Fest, playing music in yoga classes, and more. Learn more about Jai-Jagdeesh, one of yoga music’s bright new stars!
Liz: What are you looking forward to about Sat Nam Fest East?
Jai-Jagdeesh: That’s sort of a challenging question to answer because there’s a lot to look forward to! So my first answer, which is probably the most obvious answer, is: everything! If I had to be specific, I’d say playing with Har Prakash (sitar) and Tripp (percussion). I played with both of them at Sat Nam Fest West this year and had such a delicious time. It’s been a couple of months since we’ve all jammed together, so I’m looking forward to doing that again. And it’ll be the launch point for a Northeast tour that I’m going on, so I’m looking forward to celebrating the beginning of a tour in this way.
Liz: Do you, Tripp, and Har Prakash get to play together often, or just at Sat Nam Fests?
Jai-Jagdeesh: We had a little Southwest tour that led up to Sat Nam Fest West last year. That was our first tour together. We’d met each other at the 3HO 11-11-11 event in Espanola, New Mexico. Dharam, a member of Angels of Awakening, heard part of my set at Sat Nam Fest East last year and was moved to reach out and ask if I wanted to be a part of the 11-11-11 event. And of course my answer was yes! Dharam said he had a great band, and would I mind merging with them for the 11-11 concert; I said that sounded good to me. I’m always open to meeting new musicians, and perked up when he said sitar because it’s an instrument I hadn’t gotten to work with at that point. So I met them and we did our 11-11 concert and I loved it so much! The two of them have such an incredible musical synergy as it is, and when the 3 of us merge together it feels very special. So we hit it off in a really great way, and they both happened to be available this past spring to come on the Southwest tour… which went beautifully and of course led to more planning of more tours. We’re not an official band, but we’re 3 music-makers who really enjoy making music together. I’m totally honored to get to work with them.
Liz: I remember watching you dance during your set at Sat Nam Fest West, and thinking how beautiful it was with the sitar music. The fact that you had all just met recently prior to that point is amazing!
Jai-Jagdeesh: I grew up listening to Indian music, to a lot of stuff that had sitar and tabla in it. And for the longest time whenever I did dance performances it was either to Bollywood pieces or to classical Indian music that had sitar and tabla. So it was a wish fulfilled to have a sitarist join the ensemble. It resonated with me as a singer in a way I hadn’t imagined, so deeply and completely. And definitely, because of my creative history, it resonated as a dancer.
We didn’t really rehearse what we’d do for the dance piece – we blocked it out and created a framework so we’d been on the same page energetically. Starting slow with just the sitar and gentle, grounded movement; building it up in both complexity and texture; bringing in some strong and exciting percussion. Tripp had a tabla solo built in as well, which I always love. But we didn’t actually structure the steps with the notes, we just let it be whatever it was going to be in the moment. And that to me was really exciting and really creatively fulfilling.
Liz: I feel that sense of improvisation and spontaneity from your dancing when you sing as well. It seems more like listening to a vocal meditation rather than listening to exactly what is on your album I Am Thine.
Jai-Jagdeesh: That’s a part of the goal! Of course we always have a structure for what we create musically, but at the same time we leave room to breathe so whatever belongs in the moment will exist as created by the moment. So we go from one chord progression to another, and we know we’re going to lift up the tempo at a certain place. But we’re not locked into the music being or sounding a certain way. We feed off of each other’s energies. Sometimes Tripp, who is just amazing at going warp speed, picks up on the fact that Har Prakash and I are open to hitting that next level of speed, and off he goes! It’s definitely a collaborative effort by the 3 of us, and also brought into being by whomever is there in the community, the sangat, the audience. That energy definitely feeds what we create.
Liz: With such an improvisational style how do you approach a performance?
Jai-Jagdeesh: I always sit down with a meditation on Guru Ram Das, asking that the energy of the Divine be involved in whatever we create as a group, and surrender to whatever is meant to be in that moment. That way I can feel free to take risks and not worry about making a mistake, a flat or a sharp note. When I turn it over to the Divine I feel 100% comfortable taking all of those risks and seeing where it goes.
I try to take this approach along with me through all different aspects of life. If we focus on a mistake when it happens, that impacts the rest of what comes next, it takes us away from being in the joy of the moment so we aren’t able to create from that heart space. We’re too busy focusing on what we’ve done that we think is incorrect. And there are no mistakes, there are no accidents, we’ve never done a wrong thing in our lives. So I love the concept of taking a moment at the beginning of anything to turn it over to the Divine, and say I trust that You’re going to create whatever you’d like to exist here. I’m just going to play and be. That’s what makes it such a joy for me, rather than a job, or a task, or any of the other things that a person’s vocation can be. This is just sheer joy, total bliss.
Liz: When you play in classes, for Sat Siri and Akasha, is it the same sort of process – tuning into the energy of the class and what they’re teaching? How does that work for you?
Jai-Jagdeesh: It’s similar to a concert or a set of music, but at the same time very different. We tune in to the Golden Chain, and we let go in the same way as I do with kirtan… but that’s within a structure that’s created by the teacher. He or she has their planned kriya and meditation, and they may have some intuitive inspiration to teach something else that wasn’t planned. So for a yoga class setting, it’s going with whatever flow is created by the teacher. Sometimes we’re able to create a framework, the teacher and I, as to which mantras and melodies belong with this exercise or that meditation, and what kind of tempo we need for a particularly challenging exercise. Sat Siri and I sat down and planned what we were going to do for her class at Sat Nam Fest West. But it ended up shifting in the moment! Same with Akasha – while it had the same structure as our intention, it was still totally different from what either of us planned for. At one point he turned around and whispered “Chant Ong Sohung”, which we’d never discussed… but off I went chanting Ong Sohung! So while it’s wonderful for us to be communicative in advance, sort of creating a road map, it’s important for us to recognize that the Divine flow is in charge, not us! Which makes it exciting as a performer because you never know what’s going to pop up. And, as you know, I do try to do things that way even in the context of a concert. I’m just having fun riding the energy.
Liz: Do you ever get to participate in the festival – do you get to watch other artists or do yoga classes?
Jai-Jagdeesh: I participate as much as I can, because the setting and the context and community is all so special. But I also try to get a lot of rest to be ready for everything I’m there to do. Doesn’t always go as I plan, though: At Sat Nam Fest West, there was a concert I stayed up for even though I had every intention of going to bed early. It was Gurunam’s, and it was actually my first opportunity to see Tripp play. I’d only ever played with Tripp, I’d never seen him in action. I was pretty tired, so I stayed for the first song thinking I’ll go to bed after the second song. By the 4th song I realized I’m in it for the long haul! I just needed to stay put and enjoy, so I did! I also took half of Guru Singh’s class at Sat Nam Fest West, and then they invited all of the artists on stage to sing, which led into the closing song.
Liz: So you have a tour, which Sat Nam Fest East is kicking off. Where can people find out about that?
Jai-Jagdeesh: Spirit Voyage just launched the amazing Ticket Guru, and that’s my information hub. It’s really a wonderful resource and I’m grateful that they have it for everybody. It’s serving to get the word out not only about Spirit Voyage artists, but also for anyone who wants make tickets available in a global network such as Spirit Voyage happens to be.
Liz: What message do you have for anyone who is still debating whether or not to go to Sat Nam Fest?
Jai-Jagdeesh: I would tell them to follow their heart… and I have a really strong feeling their heart will tell them to come! It’s such a heart-centered experience, and anytime the heart is involved in the decision, it always says “Let’s go do the heart-centered thing and have a heart-centered experience.” So follow your heart–and come!
Thank you Jai-Jagdeesh! We can’t wait to see you at Sat Nam Fest!