Jai Uttal Roots, Rock, Rama! Album Release Concert
About the event
Wanderlust Hollywood is proud to present North American kirtanwallah Jai Uttal performing songs from his new double album. A fresh take on kirtan, his new "Roots, Rock, Rama" album fuses reggae, rock, folk, and Brazilian music making for a sacred dance of the devas. Participate in devotional call and response and experience deep peace and spiritual insight through the sacred sound current. Come together to dive deep with Jai and the Southern California bhakti community.
Jai Uttal has been rightly hailed as a world music pioneer. Singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer, he was among the first to hear the universal heartbeat in the variegated rhythms of the globe. But his powerful, plangent voice and panoramic musical vision have also long been at the core of the yoga community’s tradition of call-and response devotional chanting known as kirtan. While his music is deeply rooted in Indian classical tradition—he studied long and hard under the Indian sarod master Ali Akbar Khan—it is also plentifully imbued with echoes of reggae, rock, folk, Brazilian music, Bollywood and other sounds from across the musical universe. All of these diverse and colorful strands are woven together beautifully on Roots, Rock, Rama!
The title Roots, Rock, Rama! is a play on the name of the Bob Marley song “Roots, Rock, Reggae.” Marley is one of Jai’s key musical influences, and the first disc of his new album is deeply steeped in reggae’s earthy rhythms, hypnotic bass lines, jubilant horn charts and soulful vocal harmonies. Jai calls this disc the “Rama Sun” CD.
The second CD, known as “Rama Moon,” evokes an entirely different mood. Grounded in the gentle, lilting sway of Brazilian samba, it also touches on the pastoral splendor of the more acoustic tracks from the Beatles’ White Album. The Beatles are another major influence, and Jai has brought their pioneering fusion of Indian music and Western pop into the 21st century.
Jai Uttal’s musical journey began at an early age. Growing up in Manhattan, the son of record executive Larry Uttal, he was ideally suited to absorb pop music’s ‘50s and ‘60s golden age. Jai learned to play piano, guitar, banjo and harmonica while still quite young. But a first encounter with Indian music at age 17 proved to be a life-changing experience. He would later say that this music “touched my heart like the sounds of home.” Soon he was studying with Indian sarod virtuoso Ali Akbar Khan. His endeavor to master the challenging Indian stringed instrument also led to the discovery of his singing voice.
Music and spiritual practice became inextricably linked for Jai when he became a student of Indian spiritual master Neem Karoli Baba in 1971. Maharaji, as the guru is known to his students, encouraged the practice of bhakti (devotional) yoga as expressed through kirtan, the call-and-response chanting of sacred names, over and over again until they become deeply instilled in the consciousness, providing an experience of profound peace and spiritual insight. Kirtan would become the center of Jai’s musical and spiritual life.
But while all this was unfolding, Jai was also exploring other music forms, including a stint as electric guitarist for Jamaican reggae artists Earl Zero. In time, he began searching for ways to integrate all the diverse musical styles and traditions he’d absorbed.
“I felt that the harmonic structure of Western music couldn’t really support the subtlety of the melodies in Indian music,” he says. “So that’s where I started on my very first album, Footprints [in 1990]. I tried to make that leap between Indian melody and Western harmony.”
With contributions from jazz trumpet innovator Don Cherry and Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar, Footprints was the first in what has become a deep and diverse catalog of Jai Uttal albums that includes 2002’s Grammy-nominated Mondo Rama, 2009’s Thunder Love and the 2011 children’s album, Kirtan Kids. Many of these recordings were produced by his longtime musical associate Ben Leinbach, who also played the main production role on Roots, Rock, Rama!
So Roots, Rock, Rama! represents not only a grand summation of Jai Uttal’s musical and devotional journey but also a new chapter in conscious music-making. After all these years and so many recordings, concerts and workshops, he’s still wide open to new musical epiphanies.
“The universe is filled with colors and melodies,” he says. “They’re just everywhere, if only we could see and hear them more clearly. I feel that all art exists to enhance devotional practice and devotional expression. So I just try to hear the melodies.”