Snatam Kaur: Peace Diva

In April 2008, GuruGanesha Singh and Snatam Kaur first performed in Fairield, They are returning for another performance on July 24, 2009. Photo by Werner Elmker.

The first time I heard Snatam Kaur sing, I was speechless. Her voice carried me beyond words, beyond any hope of describing. It was so clear and strong and serene, so expanding and evocative and joy-filled. I felt like the universe itself was singing.

Our friend Guy Harvey had gotten a hold of a Snatam Kaur album and couldn’t believe his ears. He decided that he absolutely had to share this music with his friends. So it was thanks to Guy that my wife, Renee, and I found ourselves sitting in the Sondheim Center last year for Snatam’s first concert in Fairfield.

She melted our hearts with the purity of her voice, and then, as the evening progressed, invited us to sing along with her. As we all sang together, the concert hall was transformed into an oasis of peace.

Snatam has an amazing ability to perform traditional chants for peace with a contemporary sound that appeals to the modern ear, and yet still awaken an ancient yearning in the soul. Sacred Sounds Radio calls her music “spiritually uplifting and deeply soul cleansing.” Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now, says “in Snatam’s voice there is purity, clarity, and love.”

Renee told me we had to go the concert, and she was right. How did she know? For seven years Renee had been in the process of discovering Snatam, getting clues, circling inward.

The Search for Snatam

It started in 2001, when Renee and I were living in Eugene, Oregon. Renee attended an interfaith gathering for peace at a local church. What Renee didn’t know was that Snatam Kaur was living in Eugene at the time and had inspired the event. After 9/11, Snatam felt called to create a monthly celebration of peace, a seed that became the Celebrate Peace Tour.

In 2006, after we’d moved to Fairfield, Renee spent two weeks with her mother at a spa in Mexico. During a yoga class, she heard some enchanting devotional music by a female vocalist. When she asked the teacher who the singer was, he said he didn’t know. Just a CD someone had given him.

It’s 2008. We’re on a jet to India. Listening to the airline music, Renee hears the same divine singing. That’s when she discovered it was the voice of Snatam Kaur. As soon as we got back to Fairfield, Renee went to 21st Century Books and bought her first Snatam album. It was the store’s owner, Tony Kainauskas, who told her that Snatam was coming to town.

After the concert, Renee and I immediately bought five more Snatam albums. That’s pretty much all we listened to for the next two months.

A Friend to All

Shortly after her birth, Snatam’s parents turned to the teachings and lifestyle of the Sikh tradition and became students of Kundalini yoga master Yogi Bhajan. As a young child, Snatam would join her parents in their practice of music and chanting. “I loved to get up in the morning and sing with my parents,” she says.

At the age of six, Snatam traveled to India and met her mother’s kirtan (devotional music) teacher, Bhai Hari Singh. After graduating from college, she returned to India to study with him.

Snatam is a classically trained violinist and also plays the guitar. She presents traditional devotional chants in a way that feels totally fresh and personal, as well as performing her own delightful compositions.

Snatam truly personifies the meanings of her name: “universal” and “nucleus” and “friend to all.” As one fan says, “We come to Snatam’s concerts to experience the beautiful atmosphere her voice creates.”

“Our number one mission on the Celebrate Peace Tour is peace in the heart and peace in the homes,” Snatam says. “The best way I can share this message of peace is through what I know best—the mixture of sacred chant, music, and yoga.”

Snatam will be accompanied by guitarist and vocalist GuruGanesha Singh, tabla player Manish Vyas, and Tanmayo, a wonderfully talented young lady from Scotland, on keyboards, violin, and vocals. Snatam’s husband Sopurkh Singh and her infant daughter, Jap Preet Kaur, are also coming to Fairfield.

Manish Vyas grew up in a family passionate about Indian music in its many different forms—from classical to kirtan to folk. His mother started him on the tabla when he was nine, and he studied for five years with tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha. Manish is also a talented composer and versatile master of santoor, harmonium, keyboards and vocals. He collaborated with Prem Joshua on the classic album Water Down the Ganges.

GuruGanesha Singh was born into a family full of music and dance, having both a father and mother in show business. His guitar riffs and solos are a perfect balance to Snatam’s soaring vocals. And did I mention his sense of humor?

GuruGanesha met Snatam when she was just three years old. When he first heard her sing at her parents home, he remembers thinking, “This little girl has an incredible destiny.” Fifteen years later he founded Spirit Voyage to produce and distribute uplifting music worldwide. Over 50,000 of her albums are sold each year, and they’ve topped the New Age Retailer’s Top 20 list every year since 2004. She’s the only artist to have three albums in the Top 20 in a single year.

Snatam Kaur and GuruGanesha Singh stand out in a crowd with their white clothing and turbans. Seeing them perform reminded me of my college days in Eugene back in the ’70s. The American Sikh community was so industrious and disciplined compared to the laid back or unruly student population. There was a shop on 11th Street that sold Golden Temple granola, Yogi Tea, and a sticky confection I loved called the Wha Guru Chew.

Today Golden Temple has a 125,000-square-foot factory in Eugene that makes the Peace Cereal you’ll find on the shelves at any health food store. In 1997, Snatam actually helped develop the Peace Cereal line while working as a food technologist. In 2005, the company declared her a “Peace Ambassador” and helped launch the Celebrate Peace Tour.

Celebrating Peace in Fairfield

Snatam Kaur and GuruGanesha Singh perform at over 100 venues each year, traveling across the U.S and throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific.

“Snatam and I had a very beautiful and blissful experience in Fairfield,” says GuruGanesha. “On our tour, we’re meeting thousands of people that are working for peace. War isn’t breaking out all over. Peace is breaking out all over.”

Snatam adds, “The greatest point in our concerts comes when people begin to experience that peace is possible through their own prayers and projections. There is a moment of magical silence and unmistakable inner empowerment. That is our collective ‘Aha’moment.”

My “Aha” arrived when someone asked me to describe Snatam’s voice.

“It’s divine,” I said.

“No, it’s angelic.”

“Wait a minute. It’s beyond angelic.”

That’s as close as I can get using words. To truly comprehend the transforming power of Snatam’s voice, you have to experience it for yourself.