by Andrew Ross Collins
Lea – when and where did you first experience kirtan ? Please tell us how it impacted you – would it be fair to say it was a transformative moment ?
Yes, it was a spiritual awakening moment for me. In January of 2006 , I visited India for the first time in Auroville, and attended a Yoga Chanting retreat where mantras and the Yoga of Sound was introduced. We chanted daily with Indian masters. It was a major discovery for me since I had never heard of such a practice in Yoga. The mantra had entered my mind and soul, and my whole life changed thereafter.
How did this influence your path as a musician and performer ?
The influence of mantra transformed the way I sing and the way I feel about music in general. Coming from a western music education, my whole musical world had been altered. Everything that seemed musically “OFF”, was now in tune, in a harmonic sense. My own texts, (words) melodies, and songwriting did not resonate with me anymore. When I sang, I had a deeper connection with mantra. It was like I was hypnotized.
Tell us a bit about what you had been doing musically prior to going to India in 2006 ?
Prior to India, I wrote and sang songs, mostly jazz and pop songs. Some were standards and many were my own compositions. I had many of my songs placed and licensed in popular movies and TV shows like Dawson’s Creek, Cheaper by the Dozen, Felicity, Party of Five, and many more . I even won a National Songwriting Competition where my song played on Hit radio stations in Canada and was distributed by Universal Canada, a major Music company.
What lead to you deciding to train to teach Kundalini Yoga, where did you take your teacher training and what advice would you have to others contemplating a similar path ?
After India, I wanted to deepen my chanting practice and there was a teacher training course on Kundalini Yoga, where Mantra Meditation was a large part of the teachings. I attended a yoga class and enjoyed the teacher very much, so I signed up immediately to educate myself. The only advice I can give is follow your heart. As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”…. That is exactly what happened to me,
Can you talk a little about the benefits of mantra meditation ? Should people make an effort to understand the meaning of the words they are chanting ?
There are many benefits of mantra meditation, as decreased anxiety, inner peace, exercising mindfulness, releasing locked up emotions, opening the heart chakra, and letting the joy become more present, are just a few benefits of the practice. This practice brought me inner peace, and a sense of calmness to my active mental chatter.
I think the effort should be placed more on the pronunciation (as there is a science behind the actual sound production produced in the soft palate) than the actual meaning of the mantra. However, I do believe we should have an idea of what we are chanting, to strengthen the power behind these ancient sacred texts and to those repeating them.
As well as being an active musician you also launched the Annual Yoga Music Kirtan Festival in Montreal in 2012. Can you talk about some of the highlights and also about your plans for this festival in the future ?
In 2012, we hosted Gurumatha Amma, whom graced us with her unconditional love. Being a community Kirtan Festival , the mission has been to grow kirtan in Montreal to expose this kind of practice to everyone, even those who has never attended a yoga class.
Therefore, 90% of all artists are Quebec-based and donate their time to fulfill this mission with me. I am very grateful to have a beautiful family of Montreal Kirtan artists and community whom share the same vision. There has been a growth in Montreal kirtan artists since 2012 and our Montreal Kirtan group has been growing as well, which can be found on FB and on my website.
For anyone interested in Kirtan in Montreal what opportunities to practise are out there ?
Many! I would suggest to join our FB MONTREAL KIRTAN COMMUNITY GROUP to stay updated.
What music projects are you working on now ?
LOL, more than I can handle … I sing in several projects- one being a jazz quartet. I missed singing the jazz standards so we occasionally go out and play. My last album, “Songs of A Siren”, I fused mantra with some jazz standards and wrote some jazzy songs. It was well received from New Age Radio and community, however, I am trying to find more venues where I can fit this musical style. My friend and kirtan artist, Guru Ganesha, calls it ‘Sacred Jazz”.
I always chant and lead my 1st Fridays of the Month kirtans, I call the “ZEN EXPERIENCE” in various Yoga studios around town. I also produce the Montreal Chant Festival yearly so my plate is pretty full.
How has chanting influenced your creative process as a writer ? When you compose do you usually start with your voice, a keyboard or… ?
HA ! A great question ! It has improved my creative process a BILLION times over !
This may sound kinda weird, but I sometimes compose ON the SPOT even at a KIRTAN , right in front of people, and it never amazes me where the melodies come from…. My “Peace Chants” album was created that way. I have to admit, I have no musical fear anymore. The music just comes to me in a divine universal way. I am truly blessed. I feel like I can write anything, as long as I am tuned in to an idea or a “note” and something will “show up”. ☺
I was lucky to live and study in Montreal years ago and consider it to be without doubt the best city in Canada. To someone who has yet to visit how would you describe the city of Montreal and the general vibe there ? Chill, Chill, Chill with a European flare. I love Old Montreal and downtown Montreal is simply beautiful. There is a large cultural sense of community.
Is there a question that I didn’t ask that you’d like to answer ?
If you would like to have a private mantra meditation session with me, I now lead private sessions by Skype ☺ I love this practice and it is a joy to share the magic. I can be reached via my website: www.lealongo.com Namaste , Lea xo