"Dave Stringer has integrated his interest in Kirtan, an Indian tradition of devotional chanting, with his masterful grasp of Western popular music, creating an exciting style of psychedelic pop as informed by traditional Eastern music as the Beatles." — All Music Guide
“A volcano of a voice! Stringer transported us to another time and place. His fiery, soulful voice gave the entire room a feeling of a down-home gospel jam and one could not help but sing along.”
– LA Yoga Magazine
“A departure from ancient kirtan. Stringer’s performance shaped the experience into a far more compelling musical encounter.” – The Los Angeles Times
Dave Stringer has been widely profiled in publications all over the world as one of the most innovative artists of the new Kirtan movement. Stringer’s sound marries the transcendent mysticism of traditional Indian instruments with the exuberant, groove-oriented sensibility of American gospel.
Initially trained as a visual artist, filmmaker and jazz musician, Stringer’s work underwent a significant shift when video editing work brought him to an ashram in Ganeshpuri, India in 1990. It has also been informed by a subsequent period of service teaching meditation to prison inmates, and expanded by his interest and research in neuroscience.
An articulate and engaging public speaker, Stringer probes the dilemmas of the spirit with a wry and unorthodox sense of humor. His work intends to create a modern and participatory theatrical experience out of the ancient traditions of kirtan and yoga, open to a multiplicity of interpretations, and accessible to all.
In the last decade, Yoga has grown from Indian roots into a global cultural phenomenon. Simultaneously, Kirtan, an ecstasy-inducing, call-and-response form of mantra chanting, has experienced a worldwide renaissance. Stringer and a diverse ensemble of accompanying musicians travel extensively, headlining festivals in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia .
Stringer often collaborates with internationally celebrated yoga teachers, creating music for workshops led by Shiva Rea, Bryan Kest, Gurmukh, Saul David Raye, John Friend, and many others. He has released six CDs under his own name, and his music is played in yoga studios worldwide. His voice also appears on numerous soundtracks, including the blockbuster film Matrix Revolutions and the video game Myst.
Stringer’s newest CD, “Yatra”, a collaboration with singer Spring Groove, has recently been released by Mantralogy Records in the USA and Silenzio in Europe.
Kirtan is a folk musical form that arose from the devotional Bhakti yoga movement of 15th century India. The primary musical feature of kirtan is the use of call and response, a figure that also deeply informs Western bluegrass, gospel music and jazz. The form is simple: a lead group calls out the melodies and the mantras. The crowd responds, clapping and dancing as the rhythms build and accelerate.
The intention of Kirtan is consciousness-transformative, directing the singers to vanish into the song as drops merge into the ocean. Sanskrit is the mother tongue of many modern languages, and a kind of periodic table of elemental sound meaning. The mantras are primarily recitations of names given to the divine. But perhaps the true understanding of the mantras can be found in the sense of unity, well-being and timelessness that they elicit. The mantras quiet the mind, and the music frees the heart. Ecstasy is both the process and the product.
The Bhaktis wrote ecstatic love poems, and went around singing all the time. They saw the expression and form of the divine in every direction they looked. Their message was simple: Cultivate joy. See the divine in one another. They taught Sanskrit mantras to common people using simple melodies, accompanied by handclaps and finger cymbals and drums. The Bhaktis had no use for orthodoxy. They saw the expression and form of the divine in every direction they looked. From this perspective, even music that cannot be characterized as traditional can still be expressive of the Bhaktis' original intention.
Mantras are intended as a tool with which the spirit can release itself from the prison of attachments that the mind creates. It's not unfair to say that the chanting of mantras is intended to be a completely mindless activity, since the intention of chanting is to create an ecstatic state of awareness that is beyond mind. Yoga doesn't ask us to believe, it asks us to practice, examining our experience until we can witness the truth in the book of our own heart. No one else can read it for us, or tell us what it means. Ultimately, whether mantras are ancient wisdom or psychological metaphor or complete nonsense depends on the intention and experience of the participant.
"India blasted me into billions of spinning particles and then slowly reshaped me, a process that was somehow simultaneously both excruciating and ecstatic. I can't begin to claim complete knowledge about all of the layers of history and philosophy and theology represented by the mantras I learned to chant while I was there, but I can attest to their power. I'm not a Sanskrit scholar and not always a particularly focused practitioner, but I am deeply committed to the process of inquiry that the practice of yoga suggests.
I do know that my sustained encounter with mantra chanting has acquainted me with a state of expansive stillness and conscious repose, and that this encounter has irrevocably shifted the course of my art. I once read that Thomas Jefferson took a copy of the Bible and cut out the parts that most resonated with him, then reassembled his selections into a work that reflected his own way of saying his prayers. I suppose it is fair to say that as an artist, I am engaged in something of a similar process with yoga. I don't know exactly where the journey I am making ends. I'm just trying to report honestly from where I am.
One of the things that interests me most about kirtan is how the responsory aspects of it blur the distinction between performer and audience. I was trained as a visual artist and as a jazz musician, so the lens that I view kirtan through is informed by the perspectives and concerns of the art world. I didn't start out as a devotee or a bhakti, I became involved with chanting when I was hired to go to India to make some films for an ashram. I was an outsider trying to comprehend what it was that I found so compelling about kirtan, and this outsider perspective has continued to inform and enable the ways that I introduce chanting to the uninitiated.
Kirtan is rooted in a very old and profoundly joyful Eastern tradition. But I don't know that it is possible for me to be traditional. I'm a Westerner, and I can't help but bring my own cultural biases with me. My intention, however, is be authentic, in the sense that what I am doing originates in my heart. Yoga points toward awareness of the essential oneness of things, so from this perspective, to align the individual-dissolving Eastern tradition of kirtan with the individual-expressing Western traditions of gospel and jazz and rock music is no contradiction, as they both arise from the same impulse toward expressing what is ecstatic and liberating and transcendent." — Dave Stringer