I spent some time with well known Kirtan singer and musician, Dave Stringer after he performed at the Yoga Barn in Bali. Stringer brings together a unique blend of Kirtan and more modern music styles such as Gospel, Blues, and Rock.
Infusing his recitals with dynamic energizing chants, ecstatic melodies, and intensely charged grooves, the American born artist had his audience whooping, dancing, clapping and chanting. His exploration of the wild side of chant may make him a maverick to some, but he believes that he is staying true to Kirtan’s principal of finding the self through song.
Dave Stringer’s cutting edge style aside, he finds the consciousness shifting power of sound, music, and Mantras to be key to Kirtan’s sudden explosion in popularity over the last ten years. Stringer has since eclipsed the yoga studio circuit in Santa Monica where he hit the scene by now performing in front of hundreds and thousands at Festivals in the US and Europe. He predicts Asia is next to experience the Kirtan wave.
The most interesting aspect of Stringer was his personal history and how he came to discover the therapeutic power of song. As a youngster, Dave would sing ”gibberish” to himself—uttering a string of vocal sounds that often made no coherent sense– “it appeared and I just followed it,” he recalled.
Dave describes this practice as a spiritual communication process from within, “it was the kind of nonsense that was meaningful to me.” He acknowledged there were possible shamanic elements to these non-linear vocalizations. And he came to consider them as ways to take negative emotions and to release and replace them with positive ones.
Dave discovered Kirtan later on while traveling in India as a study that gave structure and definition to the inner processes that he had privately engaged in all along. In a sense, Kirtan validated the gibberish.
“It gave my life a rich meaning—I could transform what was dark and difficult into something brighter and allow it to spread. So I went around the world singing.”
Delinking from Mind
While few people in his audience speak Hindi; according to Dave, the Mantras he borrows from ancient texts in his pieces carry within them a universal code.
For this reason, he sees Kirtan as the basis for a “world cultural language.” The extra value coming from use of an ancient language like Sanskrit; Stringer says it “stops the mind from thinking.”
“There’s something quite universal and tremendously positive about Kirtan that unites different people,” Stringer suggests. “It feels like you’re saying a beautiful nonsense, I find the nonsense useful,” he said. “When you come from a place of wonder, then you can slip into pure experience; pure consciousness.”
Indian chant as a unifying global force may seem outlandish—why should Sanskrit succeed where everything else falls flat? But it seems reasonable to believe that we can access a far-reaching intrinsic quality from the power of the tones being sung regardless of the language used to sing them.
This keeps with the ancient Kototama practice that establishes a relationship with the “nature” of the sounds that we verbalize rather than their linguistic significance. It’s not always what we say or what we sing that counts, but how it sounds.
Resonance with sound has implications for people. When Stringer encourages us to feel beyond words and mental meanings, he’s asking us to block out the physical world for a moment and surrender to whatever else exists for each of us- and there is plenty there. I believe there is a deeper subtler part of the self that thrives when we are in this ecstatic state, one that benefits from shutting off a part of the brain.
In Dave Stringer’s own words:
“The body in this state creates calm and excitement at the same time. You get a sense of being in the body and the body being in the world.”
What could be more peaceful or unifying?
Text: Shervin Boloorian