I've spent the better part of the morning listening to kirtan music to find songs for a project we're doing. It continues to surprise me how many of the artists are of Western descent and training. And it reminds me of this video I watched in a religion class about how all of this cultural borrowing is diluting the sacredness of oral tradition and custom.
It actually used to bother me a lot that people listened to Sanskrit mantra, sitar and chanting done by Western musicians. Why not go to the source? Why should all of these people be able to pick up a guitar and think they could lead kirtan and satsangs?
Of course, this was my own narrow-mindedness. First of all, kirtan and mantra are forms of bhakti yoga. And any type of yoga should be open to any type of person. Clarity of mind, connection with consciousness; you can't put a nationality on that. Secondly, some of these artists (Wah!, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Ragani) are extremely talented with both their music and their energy. They have thoroughly researched the art of kirtan and put their personal touch on the presentation. The result is a huge launch of awareness about these sacred vibrations.
The world is also shrinking by the instant. With globalization and the mixing of culture comes new perspective altogether. Instead of fighting to keep a hypocritical boundary on spiritual practice, we should be able to share and learn what we need from all wellsprings of ideas as our roots become more tangled and convoluted. Like that sentence I just wrote.
So my double-standards have gone down the celestial drain. Instead of being annoyed that the majority of well-known yoga musicians are not Indian, I should be annoyed that more Indians are not cultivating more of this tradition embedded in their own culture. Or maybe I just shouldn't be annoyed at all.
All of that aside, I really wish someone would teach Sanskrit pronunciation classes to all kirtan singers of all backgrounds. If I hear "shan-tee" one more time....