Airdate: October 12, 2017
Brenda McMorrow, a Canadian devotional kirtan artist with a rich and diverse musical background (ranging from jazz to bluegrass to mantra), joins Ramdesh on this podcast. Brenda recently donated a beautiful track to Kirtan Aid: Chants for Hurricane Relief, an album that includes kirtan artists from many devotional walks of life. Proceeds from the album are being used to help create a new water system in Puerto Rico. The album can be ordered on Satnamfoundation.org.
How did Brenda come to the practice of chanting? “In a surprising way,” she recalls. Brenda had been starting to do “a little yoga” after 15 years of being a musician. A friend invited her to a kirtan workshop in London, Ontario. She had no idea what the practice involved but her friend described it as “singing yoga,” and being a musician, she was intrigued. The second song she heard there was “Om Namah Shivaya.” In the middle of chanting the mantra she felt a shift, “a knowing beyond my mind that I was to do this now, this is what I was to do.” She felt the calling so strongly that she immediately set out to learn and discover all she could about kirtan.
Ameya, the first of her four kirtan albums, was independently released in 2008 and re-released in 2010 by White Swan. After her discovery of kirtan Brenda listened to mantra and read everything she could about the practice. She’d been writing songs for many years and so she began putting mantras to melodies and thinking about whom she would like to work with on an album. Kirtan: The Art and Practice of Ecstatic Chant by Jai Uttal was very inspiring to her so she called the album’s engineer and set up a meeting. Her life as a kirtan artist had begun. “It was magical how it all went down,” she remembers.
Listen first to “Govinda Gopala” one of her very first kirtan songs from Ameya. She was fascinated by and fell in love with Krishna when she learned his story. Inspired by the album Krishna by Wah! which she listened to constantly, Brenda says she was moved to write a song to Krishna. “Govinda Gopala” explores the loving aspects of the Divine. “This is a song about love,” says Ramdesh.
“Ganeshaya” from Ameya is next up. Brenda explains that she loved learning about the many names of Ganesha. “Ganashaya” is not a well-known name for him, but she learned about it when she was in India in 2005. Ganesha is one of her very favorite energies, reflecting the ability to look inside and see where the obstacles are being created — perhaps by our own limiting beliefs, Brenda explains. This mantra helps to loosen up ideas that may be holding us back. She adds that she encourages her students to incorporate chanting to Ganesha as a daily practice.
“All One Song,” the track Brenda graciously and lovingly donated to Kirtan Aid, is next. It’s not a traditional kirtan song; it’s from her latest album My Heart Bows Down to You and is in English. “The energy and the sentiment is the same as kirtan music in that it really comes from a place of feeling the absolute connection between everything and is essentially a song about the oneness of our experience in the world, the oneness of our hearts and the love that animates it all,” she says. The piece came to her after a very deep meditation retreat where she was steeped in the experience of connection.
Brenda also includes some Kundalini mantras on her albums. From Love Abounds, listen to “Ek Ong Kar.” Like the other mantras this version of Ek Ong Kar came in her beginning stages of writing melodies for chants. Inspired by a book called Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand, she found the mantra and it really called to her, so she decided to work on a melody. “The power of that mantra is so profound,” she observes; she wanted to include it on her first album. “It’s so much about truth, and that’s what this whole journey has been about for me, uncovering truth,” Brenda says. The power that mantras have to help us unveil our truth is one of the greatest gifts, she adds.
Find out more about Brenda at BrendaMcMorrow.com. As Ramdesh says, “She has so much to share, and so much to give!”