“People call me a musician, but I feel more like a teacher who is used by music.” – Livtar Singh
We recently had the pleasure to speak with Livtar Singh about “Mountain of Smoke“. An album that reflects his love and devotion, 50 years of meditation and hard spiritual work.
Livtar has been writing and playing music since 1969 when he discovered Yoga and Meditation. He was part of the Peace Family Band with Snatam Kaur and GuruGanesha and is also well known for composing the “Song of the Khalsa”, a song that is sung by Sikhs and seekers all over the world.
For the first time in over 35 years, Livtar releases an album of his own songs, a deeply distilled essence of his experience with the One, offering this music as a prayer to bring love, peace and hope to the world.
Discover more about the story of the music in our interview:
Spirit Voyage: What was your inspiration for this album?
Livtar Singh: This is the love song of my soul. I have seen the ONE. I knew no other way than to sing. These are songs from the ONE to the ONE.
Spirit Voyage: What makes this album different from your previous albums?
Livtar Singh: This album is from the part of my life where I got what I came here for. It is not philosophy, but reality of being in ALL. My earlier albums were describing it. This album is reporting from within it.
Spirit Voyage:Can you share a story from the making of this album?
Livtar Singh: The last track, “Gobinday I Love You”, is a mantra from the first White Tantric Yoga course that Yogi Bhajan ever taught in Washington DC. It was 1971.
He told the men to chant Gobinday Mukunday Udhaaray Apaaray… mantra. He told the women to sing “I Love You” in between each word of the mantra. He gave no more instructions than that on how to chant it. He didn’t demonstrate the melody or anything. He left it to us and the sound current.
We were in a college gym. It was a wooden gym with an arched ceiling, perfect for creating mystical, wonderful sound.
Miraculously, with no guidance or musical accompaniment, the women began to sing in perfect unison while the men chanted in monotone. It was a heart opening meditation The women were lightly thumping the heart center of their partners in rhythm with the chanting. That beat is in the recording.
The women became a chorus of perfect angels, with their voices echoing seemingly all around the heavens, while the men balanced it to earth with the deep monotone mantra.
After it was over, Yogi Ji leaned back with a look of wonder on his face and said “Did you hear that? I have never heard such a thing.” It was such a sound that I have never forgotten it in 48 years. As far as I know, it was never used again in White Tantric courses.
It is on this album because I wanted to try to recreate it as close as possible so all those who weren’t there could have the experience. Plus, I really wanted to hear it again myself after all those years.
Mahan Kalpa Singh, the Producer and Engineer of this album, brought his recording equipment to New Mexico for Summer Solstice. He set up the equipment near a large event we were having. Then we went and gathered volunteers come and add their voices to recreate this fantastic sound. It is such a beautiful group effort.
Spirit Voyage: Can you give us a sneak peak into your creative process?
Livtar Singh: Oddly, I rarely listen to music. Don’t ask me why. I don’t constantly create, I’m much more tortoise than hare. I think I have averaged 1.5 songs a year maybe.
When I do create, it is virtually always my guitar that starts it. I pick it up, my fingers go somewhere on the neck and do something new. I listen. Sometimes it catches me. Then I work on it. I start playing the music and wait for the topic. Mostly, the topic comes right out of the music. It is opening a channel to the Ethers, and getting out of the way.
Spirit Voyage: Is there something that your fans would love to know from the making of this album?
Livtar Singh: The first song “Beyond the Far Horizon” was written in early 2018. I had been trying to record the album for years. Once we actually got started in the process toward recording, I had planned on finishing it within a few months. If I had succeeded with my original schedule, that song would not have been included.
It took 3 years from the day we decided to do it until it was finished. Every day in the process was there for a reason. People were bugging me, “When will the album be done?” and I kept trying. But it turns out, while we were planning, the ONE was laughing.
Spirit Voyage: Are there any special contributors to this album? If so, tell us about them! *
Livtar Singh: There are magical people in the world, and I have just worked with some of them.
Snatam Kaur on vocals. Angels can’t hang out on Earth so they sent a representative.
Mahan Kalpa Singh, produced and engineered. Aside from being a dedicated yogi, he is the lead singer of Zero Boys, a very well known punk rock band. Look him up on Youtube (Paul Mahern) and tell me if you thought this guy could have the sensitivity to take you to bliss. Punk Rock is his hobby. Taking you on a spiritual musical Odyssey is his day job.
Heidi Lynne Gluck. Piano, organ, guitars, etc. OMG. I have never actually worked with a musical genius/prodigy before. She took this album from plain old songs to an experience of ecstasy. I can’t say enough about how awesome Heidi is.
Shannon Hayden on Cello. Listen for yourself to pure perfection. She took the whole sound into orbit.
And my dear old friends Amar Singh and Sahib Amar Kaur on clarinet and Viola. They merged with the sound current so long ago it became part of us. Beauty and perfection.
Percussion: Ben Lumsdaine. Percussion can be a sensitive topic in meditative music. Too much, or the wrong type can ruin it so fast. He nailed it beyond anything I thought possible. Fantastic job.
All the Yogis and Saints who added their voices to the chanting.
And last but first, all those who contributed to the fund raising that made this possible. Jai Dev Singh and Simrit Kaur who kicked it all off. Bruce Perlowin of Hemp Inc. gets a special supporter shout out.
Spirit Voyage: What do you hope your listeners experience or learn as they listen to your album?
Livtar Singh: Ecstasy. In unity. Peace. Courage. Self.
Spirit Voyage: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are – what your passions are?
Livtar Singh: I have been practicing and teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. I am a Khalsa. I can only see one purpose to the creation. It exists so that the One can love, feel, and experience death. I try to pass along what I have been given in spite of my personal challenges and hurdles. That often comes in the form of music.
Spirit Voyage: What are three things you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Livtar Singh: Liberation, liberation, and, let’s see, liberation.
Spirit Voyage: How did come to start practicing Kundalini Yoga?
Livtar Singh: I met John Twombly in Orlando in August 1969. He had just come from the Hog Farm Solstice in New Mexico. Yogi Bhajan had gone there and taught. John had done 2 yoga sets there and remembered enough to teach me when I met him in Orlando.
We gathered a few students and got enough money to buy a plane ticket for Yogi ji to come to Orlando in Oct ’69. We set up a class for him so I met him there. (I couldn’t meet him at the airport because my parents had put me in the hospital for mental observation when they found out I wanted to be a yogi. I had to sneak out of the mental ward to go see him. But that’s a story for another time.)
He shook my hand and said “Very nice to meet you”. I laughed. Because I knew at that moment, even though I was a thoroughly pre-yoga westerner, that I should be bowing my head and not shaking his hand like a diplomatic event.
I knew instantly he was and had been my teacher. I mentally said “All these years until now have been a waste, let’s go!”. I went to L.A. and studied with him personally from Jan to June 1970. Then he sent me to Atlanta to start the ashram where I have been stationed since.
In that long ago Summer of 1969, there weren’t yoga studios around every corner, teachers in every street. In all of the 365,000 square miles of the Southeastern U.S., there was only one person who could connect me to Yogi ji and my destiny. And yet, our two little paths crossed against all odds. We think the Earth is large and things happen by chance. Nothing is big or small. It is the exchange of energy which creates the illusion. We are the still center. The illusion swirls around us. We get what our souls have prayed for.
Spirit Voyage: What do you love most about your Kundalini Yoga practice?
Livtar Singh: That it, along with Sikh Dharma, through the channel of Yogi Bhajan, gave me everything. I have experienced and seen the ONE in all. That is what I came here for.
Spirit Voyage: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Livtar Singh: You are already perfect. Realizing it is the trick. Relax, listen, let it come.