Photo Credit: Carl Kerridge

An Evening with the GuruGanesha Band

Imagine a great world beat concert—the whole room throbbing with sinuous grooves and mesmerizing tonal colors from all over the globe. Now imagine an uplifting evening of kirtan—devotional chanting. Feel yourself being led deeper and deeper into the blissful heart of ancient mantras by a group of experienced kirtan wallahs, a convocation of beautiful souls who have long trodden the spiritual path.

This is what it’s like to experience the GuruGanesha Band in concert. The group is led by world devotional music pioneer GuruGanesha Singh, renowned for his work with singers Snatam Kaur, Tina Malia and Nirinjan Kaur; widely respected as the founder of Spirit Voyage records. An avuncular figure in turban, kurta and long white beard, GuruGanesha handles his guitars with easygoing mastery, bouncing trippy, inventive, melodic leads off the ceiling and casting polyrhythmic glitter all over the grooves.

Grounding the GuruGanesha Band’s joyous earth beat are tabla ace Daniel Paul, a seasoned world percussion dynamo and first-rate harmony vocalist, and bassist Gurusangat Singh, a soulful jazzman with an exceptionally supple feel and cosmic connection to the supreme groove. These two lock in like Gemini rhythm twins, and before long the whole room is up and dancing. Daniel’s been on the kirtan scene for decades, playing with Jai Uttal, Jaya Lakshmi, Snatam Kaur and others. Gurusangat put aside studies in Brazilian guitar to man the bass for the GuruGanesha Band. From the way he’s taken to the instrument, it’s clear he’s got some serious bass karma.

Spicing the beat like a expert fusion chef is rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Sat Kartar Singh, old friend, highly accomplished yogi and dapper counterpart to GuruGanesha. The deeply sympathetic way in which Sat Kartar blends his voice and guitar with those of GuruGanesha bespeaks an understatedly high level of musicianship and a lifelong brotherhood. GuruGanesha frequently jokes about how he and Sat Kartar are often mistaken for one another. But then GuruGanesha tells a lot of jokes over the course of an evening. He’s a bit of a divine prankster.

The GuruGanesha Bands’s rainbow tapestry of sonic hues is magnificently enriched by multi-instrumentalist Hans Christian, who performs on cello, sarangi, sitara and nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle). Combining ancient instruments with modern electronics, he casts a potent spell with looped waves of shimmering beauty that echo into infinity. A much in-demand session musician, Hans has played with everyone from Robbie Robertson to RASA to Donna DeLory. To hear him perform live with a great band like the GuruGanesha Band is a rare and exceptional treat.

And then there’s Michelle Hurtado, the GuruGanesha Band’s divinely enchanting singer. Her unforgettable performances combine heartrending beauty, vocal virtuosity and a sense of total surrender to Spirit. Seated at a harmonium, dressed in flowing garments and gossamer shawl, she commands center stage like a present-day incarnation of Saraswati, goddess of music, art and wisdom. Michelle goes into a deeply meditative trance when she sings. She brings her entire life and soul to every note—her Cuban family background, her deep grounding in Kundalini yoga, her world travels, her ardent studies in everything from Sanskrit to flamenco dance. When the music moves her, she springs to her feet and launches into spontaneous, rapturous dance, her long dark hair flying in every direction, arms raised gracefully heavenward.

Michelle also calls herself by the name her grandmother gave her, Paloma—Spanish for dove—and when she sings, you understand why. Her voice soars as if it had wings. The dove is, after all, an age-old signifier for the divine Spirit.

The music of the GuruGanesha Band is drawn from many sources—raga, gospel, rock, folk, even a touch of the blues. In performance, these myriad musical tributaries merge in a glistening, flowing river of sound. Much of their material is drawn from GuruGanesha’s 2011 album Kundalini Surjhee, but the band has also begun to incorporate some brand new compositions into its live performances. Their creativity seems as boundless as their onstage Kundalini energy.

Fresh from an triumphant inaugural tour of the West Coast, the GuruGanesha Band embarks on an East Coast tour that is sure to win many more new fans. Their concerts are an experience not to be missed. In the short time they’ve been together they’ve established themselves as a formidable new presence on the world devotional stage. The future of mantra music has arrived.

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