Jai Uttal

Photo of ()\

Jai Uttal is a Grammy®-nominated pioneer in the world music community. His eclectic East-meets-West sound has put his music at the forefront of the world fusion movement. Jai's musical roots embrace a rich variety of cultures and traditions that span the globe and the centuries. From the hillbilly music of the Appalachian Mountains to the passionate strains of Bengali street singers, from the haunting rhythms and melodies of ancient India to contemporary electric rock sounds, Jai's music distills the essence of diverse musical forms.

As a child in New York City, Jai's home was filled with music. He began studying classical piano at the age of seven, and later learned to play old-time banjo, harmonica, and guitar. His musical interests encompassed a wide variety of styles, and over the years he experimented with many forms of musical expression.

Eventually this led him to the work of India's National Living Treasure, Ali Akbar Khan. At the age of 19, Jai moved to California to become a student of Khansahib for traditional voice training and to learn the sarod, a 25-stringed Indian instrument. Later he traveled to India where he was deeply inspired by the Bauls, the wandering street musicians of Bengal. Jai settled among them, communicating only through music, which ultimately helped establish his unique style.

During these early visits to India, Jai also met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and spent time with many great beings of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He became deeply absorbed in the practice of kirtan, the ancient yoga of chanting, or singing to God. This form of prayer became the core of his musical and spiritual life.

When Jai returned to the US, his music had been transformed. He continued to study Indian music diligently while also performing in reggae, Motown, punk, and blues bands. He also began leading kirtan groups all over the country. The combination of Jai's exceptional vocals and exotic instrumentation produced a new and captivating sound. In 1991 Triloka Records released his debut album, Footprints, featuring world music innovator Don Cherry and Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar. The album received critical acclaim and led Jai and his band, the Pagan Love Orchestra, to international prominence. By the time his second album, Monkey, was released in 1993, Jai and the Pagan Love Orchestra had an enormous fan base with a top ten record on the world music charts. In 1994, Beggars and Saints was released—a tribute to the Bauls of Bengal—and again the album received international recognition, solidifying Jai Uttal's position as a world music visionary. During this time, Jai also produced two CDs for his teacher Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Combining the brilliance of Khansahib's playing and composing with Western orchestration, Journey and Garden of Dreams became extremely popular in the Indian community.

Jai's fourth release, Shiva Station, was another leap forward. Capturing the raw urgency of his live performances with the Pagan Love Orchestra, and adding the mixing wizardry of veteran producer Bill Laswell, Shiva Station presented traditional chants in a totally new way. The concerts at that time united the temple and the nightclub, the sacred and the worldly, emphasizing the underlying theme that spirituality and devotion can pervade all aspects of life. Meanwhile, with the rise of interest in Yoga, Jai was receiving more and more requests to lead kirtan workshops and concerts all over the world. In the last few years, chanting has brought him to Israel, Fiji, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, and India. Jai released a live kirtan CD entitled Nectar to begin to chronicle these powerful events.

In 2002, Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra released Mondo Rama on Narada Records. The product of several years of deep musical and self-exploration through a time of true darkness, Mondo Rama has been called Jai's most personal expression to date and went on to be nominated for a Grammy as "Best New Age Album."

As Jai's work increasingly became devoted to kirtan, in 2003 he began the first of several recordings focused on the practice of bhakti yoga (kirtan) for the Sounds True label. These have included Kirtan! The Art and Practice of Ecstatic Chant, Music for Yoga and Other Joys, Loveland, Dial 'M' for Mantra, and Pranayama, a collaboration with his wife, yoga teacher and bhakti dancer Nubia Teixeira. It is this marriage and the subsequent birth of son Ezra that fueled a creative rebirth for Jai that culminated in the 2008 recording Thunder Love, a sonic approximation of darkness giving way to dawn and finally opening up to love. In 2010 Jai followed-up his very popular Music For Yoga and Other Joys with a 2nd edition to the series called Bhakti Bazaar. 2011 saw the release of two new albums, Queen of Hearts (Nutone), a unique mixture of reggae, ska, and samba rhythms, used as a backdrop for call and response, dance-oriented kirtan; as well as Kirtan Kids (Sounds True), the first record of its kind, created for families to sing, laugh, dance, and celebrate life together through call-and-response singing.

Jai adds, "World music is music from everywhere. Music that creates bridges. Music that unites hearts and cultures. Music that brings peace."

Author photo © Stephanie Mohan

Also By Author

Chanting as a Heart-path to God

Tami Simon speaks with Jai Uttal, a Grammy-nominated musician who is best known as a world-renowned kirtan artist, kirtan being ecstatic chant in a call-and-response format. His music is an eclectic mix of contemporary and ancient musical elements from various cultures throughout the Eastern and Western worlds. Jai has created five albums with Sounds True, including Kirtan!, and his latest release, Bhakti Bazaar. Jai discusses chanting as a devotional practice, the story of Jai’s first trip to India, his experience meeting his guru, and his understanding of the many Hindu god and goddess figures. (67 minutes)

Products By Author

There are currently no products for this author

You Might Also Enjoy

The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

Nature Meditation by a Window

With many people home-bound, we may need to get creative in seeking ways to connect with the natural world.  Sitting by an open window is one excellent practice for connecting with the outdoors, and it can be a powerful form of nature meditation as well.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Orator of the Blackfoot Confederacy

  1. Find a comfortable seat by an open window that looks outdoors.  
  2. Morning, during the dawn chorus when birds are most active, can be a perfect time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea as you observe a new day emerge.
  3. Set an intention to stay present, letting go of thoughts or stories in your mind as they arise, and instead focusing your attention on whatever is fascinating in your environment.
  4. Sit for at least 15-30 minutes if you can.  Practice regularly to help alleviate stress, increase your sense of connection with your local environment, and awaken your senses.

Micah Mortali Facebook Live clickable image for guided meditation earthday

 

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

Thich Nhat Hanh: Meditation Is for Everyone

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, peace activist, and the author of over 100 books and numerous Sounds True learning programs, including The Art of Mindful Living and Living Without Stress or Fear. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Hanh about the core of Buddhist practice: discovering liberation through present-moment mindfulness. Hanh relates some of his experiences as a young monk in Vietnam, including his involvement in the “engaged Buddhism” movement. Finally, Tami and Hanh discuss why meditation is available no matter where you are or what condition you are in. (46 minutes)

>