Here at Call and Response Foundation we welcome questions about the work we do and all of our programs. Here is an excerpt from an interview we did talking about the organization, the Kirtan scene in general and one of our outreach programs in particular
If you have questions or curiosities, please contact us.
Can you tell me a little about the organization – how it began, what it does ?
We started 7 years ago when three colleagues and lovers of kirtan realized there was little or sno spport available for those organizing, planning and hosting kirtans. In 2010 a small group of enthusiastic and inspired lovers of bhakti came together with the idea of supporting and creating mantra music for more audiences through community outreach, concerts and related projects. They were inspired to do this by creating new models of how to offer transcendent sound. This included connecting community members, musicians, yoga practitioners, universities, and other unique partners. The initial philosophy also included the desire to make the practice of presenting mantra music more easeful for the affiliated musicians and to provide them with communication and managerial support. To answer these needs and as part of their purpose in life they formed the Call and Response Foundation, a grassroots non-profit organization, now a registered 501(c)3 charity with tax deductible status
How has the Kirtan scene changed over say the last 10 – 15 years ?
It’s become more organized here in the west…and in some was more commercialized. Some folks now lead kirtan for a “living!” There are debates about whether it is being done true to tradition. (To learn more, check out this interesting article in Elephant Journal). We tend to stay on the middle path…understanding folks need to make a living and providing free or donation based events.
Can you tell me a little about your outreach work in jails and other correctional facilities ? How did you first get to organise Kirtan there ? Did you approach them or did they approach you ?
Our prison work started with Benjy and Heather Wertheimer. When we began working with them the program grew and we were able to connect with other prisons and bring more artists in.
Perhaps our most memorable visit was with Krishna Das. Click here to see a video.
How did the inmates react first of all to your Kirtan ? How has that changed over time ? It can be a very emotional practice – did it take time for a relationship of trust to be built ?
In all our prison visits the response has been marvelous. The artists report that inmates look forward to their visits. From Jai Uttal in San Quentin: “Friday night Kirtan at San Quentin Prison was a completely mind-blowing experience. I’ve tried to describe it to several people, but I’ve found that words have failed me. I’ve been going into the prison on and off for about three years, along with my Bhakti brother and sister Radhanath Das and Kilimba, and we’ve always had very uplifting, albeit somewhat draining, kirtans there. The guys are so hungry for spirit, love, connection and hope. Usually around 15 men sing, one or two even dance, and the rest of the inmates watch us with very serious faces. It’s impossible to know what they’re thinking. However something different happened this past Friday. Perhaps because there was a very gentle and sensitive film crew with us, recording the event for the Mantra Movie. Perhaps because, this time, we were joined by Ben Leinbach on bass AND drums and Prajna Vieira singing her heart out. Perhaps it was the stars — but definitely a miracle happened. About halfway through the kirtan, Radhanath started dancing with his Mridanga, as he usually does. But this time, one by one, inspired by the rhythm and the mantra, all the guys got up and began dancing together — black, white, Hispanic, Indian — and singing at the top of their lungs “RADHE RADHE RADHE,” bathing in bliss. The eyes of these very tough guys, many of them in prison for life sentences, were radiating love and joy and light. It was simply awe inspiring. How did this happen?” As we were packing up our equipment one of the incarcerated bhaktas came up to me with tears in his eyes saying, “This is the untold story!!! Please, please tell it to the world. Men of all races, spending their lives behind these prison walls, can and DO sing, dance and pray together as brothers. Please tell it to everyone! This is our ‘House of Healing’….”We left the prison walking on air, amazed at the mystery of God’s grace. Love and peace, Jai
As well as the prison programme – what other initiatives / projects are you involved in and how successful are they ? What sort of reactions do you get the first time people hear Kirtan and does that change over time ?
Another great resource is the movie coming out: Mantra Sounds into Silence