Music Review:  Ras by Snatam Kaur

Ras means the sublime essence of God’s name

There is a clarity to  Snatam Kaur‘s voice as if she pours so much of her heart through her voice that her spirit is laid completely bare.  It encourages you to be brave enough to do the same.  Snatam’s music has always had the power to uplift and heal; but on her latest album “Ras”, her personal transformations have changed her own self so deeply that her energy is fuller, richer with life experience.  Her fans have the privilege of listening to Snatam’s life on CD…from when she first began to sign professionally, to getting married, becoming pregnant and now being a mother.  Her voice has matured along with the rest of her, and there is a subtlety and depth to “Ras” that is deeply meditative.  “Ras” means the sublime essence of God’s name.  Really, it’s the juice of life; it’s the good stuff.  And this album is very good stuff.

“Ras” opens with the anthemic “So Mai Visar”.  The repeating line “so mai visar na jaee” means “may I never forget the One.”  It opens the album with a direct call to put aside the mundane in your life and enter into a conscious awareness of Spirit. Remember Love, these words urge, right here and now.  The song is taken from the fifth pauri, or stanza, of Japji.  Within these beautiful words first sung by Guru Nanak is the line “Gaavee-ai sunee-ai man rakhi-ai bhaa-o” which means “Sing, and listen and let your mind be filled with love.”  Snatam’s clear voice urges you to sing with her, or listen to her, but to remember the One and let yourself fill with the Spirit of Love.  This mantra is used to overcome a feeling of failure, and once your heart opens to the Divine what failure can there be?  The production, masterfully arranged by Thomas Barquee, supports the message of the mantra perfectly.  There are insistent, driving drumbeats to wake you from your unconscious slumber and a sweet flute harmony to encourage you as you take the first steps into Ras, the sublime essence.

Snatam turns to the shabad “Tithai Too” on the next track, sharing some of her own personal history through the words.  Snatam’s mother sang this song for all her children when they were going through a very challenging time to protect them from negative energy. Years later, Snatam sings it to her own daughter…and to you.  Her pure voice pours out emotion with measured, controlled strength and the harmonies of Thomas Barquee are perfectly supportive.  It makes me see a vast field of darkness, where the song of one woman lights a candle.  From this humble light the whole field catches fire and you are ablaze with strength and peace, set alight with the triumph of love. Snatam moves from the shabad “Tithai Too” into a chorus of the mantra “Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Wahejio”. Part of opening yourself to love is creating a sacred, safe space, and this mantra can do that for you.   Snatam’s gentle vocals swaddle you within the sound current, keeping you safe while you journey into your heart.

The third track, “Earth Song”, comes out of Snatam’s great passion for the environment.  The line “pavan guru paanee pitaa, maataa dharat mahat”, with a sweet regard for the natural world not often seen outside of nature-based religions, means “The air is the teacher, the water the father and the earth our great mother.” She is able to connect with the energy of mother earth in a deep way, now understanding for herself what it means to give life and sustain it.  At the core of what she has learned, is love.  She has written her own poetry on this track reminding us that is with our love that we can rise about any challenges.  She knows now what love really means in a visceral way, and her motherly carries on her voice into your heart.  Thomas Barquee’s production on this track is gentle and flowing, like the energies of air and water, masculine but not overpowering.

“Aap Sahaa-ee Hoa” is a lush and soothing version of this versatile and important mantra.  Aap Saha-ee Hoa can be used to protect yourself from animosity, improve mental self-control, eliminate financial pressure, and walk into the unknown fearlessly.  On this version, the ever-hopeful string instruments inspire and encourage you along your path.  Her voice is strong and clear without a hint of wavering or self-consciousness.  The fearlessness in her voice is contagious.  The mantra has worked on her, and you are inspired to allow it to work on you as well.  This track also includes the shabad that the mantra comes from, and the melodic interludes with the shabad are lovely.  It’s like a waltz with the original writer of these words, the great light Guru Arjan.

If Aap Sahaa-ee Hoa begins to loosen the grip of fear on your heart, the next track “Chattr Chakkr Vartee” blasts fear away.  This mantra is used to overcome fear, anxiety and phobias.  It is a powerful mantra for victory from Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs known as the Warrior Saint.  It opens with exotic instrumentation and an other worldly feel.  Benjy Wertheimer plays the Esraj masterfully and Snatam’s voice soars. Whatever frightens you, whatever battles you must face in the morning, while listening to this song your spirit is instilled with a sense of fearlessness and a certainty of victory.  Sometimes life is a challenging and we must be confident and walk ahead in spite of the challenges.  This song would work as a sound track to help you make that happen.  As the percussion picks up, so does your bravery. With the Divine in your heart, what fear can there be?

The last track on the album is the sweet and intimate “Mere Ram”.  Meaning simply, “My God”, it is a love song to the Divine.  It’s almost like singing “my sweetheart” to the whole universe.  You could spend your whole life singing this as a soundtrack, walking through forests singing “Mere Ram” to the trees and the birds and the sky.  Everything is “Mere Ram”.  The instrumentation is light and gentle, allowing Snatam’s voice to sail and fly offer itself up to the Divine Beloved.  Part of what makes Snatam’s music so beloved is how authentic her devotion is.  The clarity of her devotion makes it easy to remember our own and get into a space where we too sing a love song to the Divine.

“Ras” is all about the juice of life.  Isn’t that love?  Isn’t that fearlessness and light?  This album is mature and understated.  The only real bells and whistles are the ones in her heart.  Every musician who contributed is a master.  Thomas Barquee’s production is outstanding.  And Snatam Kaur is a wise and capable teacher.  She is a kirtan wallah in the old sense.  She may be singing alone, but she sings with the expectation that we will all sing with her, and lend our own voices to this album, contributing our energy and our spirits to it.  We are the “Ras”. It is by singing God’s name that it vibrates and becomes a living energy.  Snatam Kaur’s “Ras” makes it easier for us all to open our hearts and remember our own divinity.  What could be juicier than that?

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