“Music is the universal language of mankind,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Listening to Kamini Natarajan and Oleg Smirnov’s EP “Amrita”, I’m convinced that music also can communicate – and, to some extent, translate – ancient texts and make them available to a modern audience. You don’t have to know a word of Sanskrit to enjoy Natarajan’s kirtan singing. It is all thanks to Smirnov’s studio wizardry, which interprets the ancient mantras for us. “Amrita” offers a unique, colorful, and deeply rewarding listening experience.
Kamini Natarajan is one of the leading Indian Classical and kirtan singers. Kamini started learning Indian classical music at the age of 6 and proceeded to graduate in vocal Hindustani music. She currently lives in Simi Valley, CA where she teaches, performs traditional as well as world music. In 2016 she released the album “Shiva Meditation”, and “Chants For Meditation, Vol. 2” together with Ken Elkinson. Oleg Smirnov is a Los Angeles based music producer, composer, and voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards). Smirnov is a recipient of the Outstanding Musicianship Award from Berklee; his works were performed at 16 international music festivals and reviewed in major music media such as Billboard.
“Amrita” means “immortality”, which is a guiding star for the whole EP. The first 10 seconds of the opening piece “Om Tare” are hyper-modern. The vinyl scratch sounds, club synths, and bass drums are hip hop and cool, before Natarajan’s vocal cuts in. This mix of urban and ethnic is, in a way, a perfect illustration of globalization and the melting pot of today’s world. It feels both real and constructed simultaneously – and that I believe is exactly the effect that Natarajan and Smirnov are looking for. “Om Tare” is about being liberated from pain and suffering. I very much enjoy the rhythm, and the soundscape is multilayered. You will notice something new on each listen. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. The complete EP is available on Youtube:
The next song on the EP is “Shri Krishan Sharanam Mamah”, the famous eight-syllable mantra dedicated to Lord Krishna. I love the selection of synths, the gentle ambient melody, and rhythm. It is powerful, but never overpowering. There’s a fine line there, especially with meaningful mantras, but it is done to perfection. There is even an electric guitar here, making the song as colorful as a traditional Lord Krishna illustration. Bravo!
Om Namah Shivaya
I wrote above that “Amrita” means “immortality” – but that is “only” the ultimate goal. Each of the songs is about the healing process. On “Om Namah Shivaya” Natarajan asks us to bow before Shiva, one of the supreme beings who creates, protects, and transforms the universe. There is also a destructive force at play, indicated by the powerful synths in the beginning. The soundscape feels massive, infinite even; the song could go on forever. The ethnic percussions are inspired.
After “Om Namah Shivaya”, “Sohum” feels relaxing and chilled. Sohum is, according to Wikipedia, a Hindu mantra, meaning “I am She/He/That” in Sanskrit. I like the EP’s build-up; we are now closer to “Amrita” and immortality, as we are identifying ourselves with the universe and the ultimate reality. “Sohum” is an incredibly meditative piece. Put it on replay and experience it for yourself.
“Loka Samasta” is a hopeful song that finishes off the album beautifully, showcasing much more of Natarajan and Smirnov’s impressive skills. The nylon string guitar, rapid chants, and the tasteful synths and percussion are a winning combination. It makes us feel happy and free, which is what the song is all about.
In conclusion: “Amrita” by Kamini Natarajan and Oleg Smirnov pushes the boundaries of what music can do, and that in less than 23 minutes. Natarajan’s incredible vocals and Smirnov’s synths and studio technology make the ancient Sanskrit text available to us. The best part is that “Amrita” may inspire the listener to learn more about the mantras and their background. Many people today are interested in meditation but find that simply meditating without a context is meaningless. After listening to “Amrita,” I found myself checking out the other releases by Natarajan and reading up on their spiritual background – and discovered a whole new world of purposeful meditation music.
In the current social and political climate, we badly need “Amrita” and the tradition it represents. Check it out – and believe me; before long, you will be recommending it to your friends.
Score: 96/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information about Amrita, please visit https://www.idiomproductions.com/amrita
Here is Oleg Smirnov’s webpage: https://www.idiomproductions.com/composer
Here is Kamini Natarajan’s webpage: http://kaminimusic.com/about-kamini/