Almost 25 years ago, mantra music superstars Deva Premal & Miten met and fell in love in Pune, India, at their guru Osho’s ashram. They’ve been singing together ever since. Their worldwide concerts and best-selling albums have introduced millions of Westerners to spiritually based songs and mantras from the Eastern meditation traditions. Today, their fans include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Cher, and Eckhart Tolle.
In this interview, Deva Premal & Miten talk about their new album, Songs for the Sangha, what they learned about music from their guru, and how to find silence in a noisy world.
Q: What’s unique about your new album, Songs for the Sangha?
Deva Premal: It’s not a typical mantra CD with a lot of mantra repetition. The English lyrics and the Sanskrit mantras really come together on this album.
Miten: And it’s more of a band album. On Songs for the Sangha, we are five individual musicians creating something new together: Manose and his magical bansuri from Nepal, Spencer Cozens from the U.K. on keyboards, Joby Baker from Canada on bass guitar, upright bass, vocals, and drums, and of course Deva and myself. We came from four corners of the world to attempt to expand our horizons, musical and otherwise, and to explore unknown terrain.
With Songs for the Sangha, we have a great balance between the invitation to sing and the invitation to be uplifted and supported by some great music, too.
In the 22 years we’ve been sharing the mantras in concerts together, Deva and I have always focused on musical simplicity, inviting our friends in the audience to sing with us, rather than be passive participants and rather than being led in a chant, as in the call-and-response style of kirtan. We like choirs, with everyone singing harmoniously together. With Songs for the Sangha, we have a great balance between the invitation to sing and the invitation to be uplifted and supported by some great music, too.
We’re taking the new songs through Europe in 2015 and to America in 2016.
Q: What does the word “sangha” mean, and why did you include it in the album’s title?
Miten: The word sangha, translated from Sanskrit, means “spiritual family,” and that’s how we see this album—as an offering, a celebration, a heart connection to our spiritual brothers and sisters on the Path.
We sang some of the songs on this album in Osho’s ashram in Pune, India, and we wanted to share something of the ecstasy we felt during those darshans. Music is such a powerful healing force, and we saw many people—us included—become healed and rejuvenated in spirit as a result of chanting these songs. It was time to share them.
In our concerts, everybody chants—and sits in silence—with us. Sitting in silence with so many people cannot be underestimated. It’s the most powerful experience—even as much, if not more, than the chanting itself.
We all long for some respite in our daily lives, but where do we go to find it? Bars, clubs, movies, TV? We are seeing that many people around the world have found solace in mantras and chanting.
Deva Premal: We have become a sangha—the five of us in the band—and our connection is reflected in the music. We feel like we have made a gift to the worldwide sangha—to sing, celebrate, and to listen to in their cars or on their earbuds as they walk though their cities. Songs for the Sangha is the feeling of connection, the feeling of sacredness, and the feeling that music brings us peace and joy—and leads us, eventually, to an ecstatic experience of silence.
We have become a sangha—the five of us in the band—and our connection is reflected in the music.
What does the album sound and feel like?
Miten: What you hear on Songs for the Sangha is an example of the kind of diversity of spirit that you’d hear in the music in Osho’s ashram in the ’70s and ’80s.
Osho was not a traditionalist. He always encouraged us to play our own music. “Play who you are. You don't have to copy the Indian tradition…”
He encouraged us to express ourselves unself-consciously. That's why on Songs for the Sangha we can go from a 14-minute anthem on the opening track, “Parameshwara Mantra/Deep in Love,” to something as powerfully stark and strong as the “Sarveshaam Mantra” and still maintain harmonious flow.
One day we’ll do an album of all those great Osho songs.
Q: What is your dharma?
Miten: For Deva and me, chanting and singing is our life. We have been singing together almost from the first day we met.
We look on the mantras as if we've been given a very precious plant to take care of—a plant so powerful that it heals others. And we see that our dharma in this life is to make sure that the plant is taken care of, that it has the right soil. We love to watch it flower and grow. We love to watch others who come for the healing power of its fragrance.
We look on the mantras as if we've been given a very precious plant to take care of—a plant so powerful that it heals others.
And that's the way we see our life and our music. We’re messengers, flame carriers. And those who recognize the fragrance of these flowers join us on our journey. And those who don’t, simply don’t. And that’s totally fine!
But us—we’re hypnotized by the fragrance. We’re ecstatic just being in the presence of that sacred plant, and to be entrusted to take care of it. Well, that’s more of a blessing than we could ever have imagined!
Listen to a free track from Songs for the Sangha here.