• FINAL & FILTERED v4 Chants for Challenging Times CD Cover

New Music: Chants for Challenging Times

 December 28, 2020

CHANTS FOR CHALLENGING TIMES

Mike Cohen’s voice is a grounding force of granite lined with velvet.”

The past four years, during which Chants for Challenging Times was composed, recorded, and now released, have been challenging indeed. In the United States we’ve experienced extreme political polarization, left-wing and right-wing identity politics that, along with erosion of social cohesion via social media, have fragmented the body politic. Many of our trusted institutions are failing, corrupt or not up to the task. Amidst great abundance, many search for, but cannot find, meaning in their disenchanted lives. Our country has experienced painful and still unresolved battles over immigration, income inequality, race relations through the Black Lives Matter movement and gender relations via the #MeToo movement. Now, in December 2020, our democracy strains to complete a peaceful transfer of power after what many consider the most consequential presidential election in over 150 years. 

Globally, we struggle to respond to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, regional conflicts, and other wicked problems demanding innovative solutions, just as the United States retreats from its leading role on the global stage.

As we deepen into the digital/informational age, the shadowy content of our collective unconscious has erupted into our awareness, demanding to be seen, healed and integrated. Yet, the world in which we have been living does not seem up to the task. 

How can we make sense of what is going on? The eternal cycle of birth, life and death, followed by rebirth, is instructive. According to Hindu tradition, we are undergoing the dramatic disruption (Shiva) of long standing patterns (Vishnu) that no longer work. We are in dire need of novelty (Brahma) to bring forth a healthier future (a new Vishnu). 

It is a great and terrible test of humanity’s maturity to march courageously into Shiva’s loving disruption, trusting that a better world awaits, before we can see what that world is. 

The challenge of our times is to birth this fresh new world, without destroying each other and the planet. An age of transformation is slowly coming into form, one individual at a time. So our work is to build resilience through this crucible of change, to support the unfolding of a new world—less fractured, increasingly adult (and perhaps even Divine), and more embracing of all humanity across the planet. 

Given that these challenging times are not likely to end soon, how do we build that resilience? How do we cultivate appropriate responses and nourish innovative solutions to these circumstances? 

Kirtan as a Force in Global Transformation

Chanting is one of the most powerful practices available to us. In every culture around the world, the right use of sound, prayer, intention, and visualization is the most potent psycho-spiritual force for all time, in all ways, in all places. Kirtan, as developed and taught by the great Indian gurus and masters brings sophisticated spiritual technologies to each and every human. Kirtan is an extraordinary spiritual force that can alter and shape reality in beneficial ways. So long as we are grounded in our body, sacred chant opens the possibility for greater personal resilience and a collective re-enchanting our world. The practice of chanting Sanskrit mantra is a gift from Indian Saints and Sages for all people—winding its way from the East into the hearts of Westerners.

The Power of Mantra

Kirtan has certainly been used as an escape or spiritual bypass—a way to avoid or ascend out of our painful, triggering, or traumatic memories or circumstances, to bliss out, or to not have our identity challenged. But a more profound and effective use of Kirtan is to allow it to first bring us deeper into our bodies so we can safely surface our traumas for healing. Second, Kirtan can bring us deeper into Presence, opening us to our greatest human potentials. From that place, we are more likely to unfold grounded, appropriate, and innovative responses to complex, multi-dimensional problems that can’t be solved with simplistic solutions. 

How does Kirtan, a deceptively simple practice, help heal the pain of an entire planet?

Kirtan shifts us from being “in our head,” dissociated from our body, and with a closed heart, to being “in our body”, with an open and extending heart, and a quiet, open and receptive head. 

When we are “in our head” and dissociated from our body, we are more at the mercy of our old triggers and reactivity. We blame, scapegoat, overgeneralize, lash out, and make things worse. 

When we are “in our body,” a quiet mind and open heart allow us to become intimate with the traumas, anxiousness, and fears living in our body. Kirtan allows us to befriend our inner turmoil—to“be with” our most trying and intense energies. Kirtan offers us a rest, respite and re-set of our nervous system so we can open to true wisdom, become strong to embody compassion, and choose our actions and words more skillfully. Kirtan can, through this “down and in” movement, help us heal. 

Beyond healing, cultivating a quiet mind, open heart and centered body prepares us to receive INSPIRATION—literally, new information from the realm of spirit. At this deeper level, Kirtan, as a spiritual technology, gives us extraordinary capacity, presence, and consciousness to support the unfolding of innovative responses to complex situations. 

The magic of Kirtan is that it facilitates the movement from the head to the heart, and deeper into the body quickly, simply, and reliably. This is why Kirtan, and forms of chanted prayer, are found in every esoteric teaching on the planet. When we engage with Sanskrit mantras with a willing heart, it works. Every time. And, it can empower us to skillfully redress grievances while possessing a heart full of gratitude.

My deepest wish is that these chants are a balm for your heart, inspiration for your spirit, and nourishment for your resilience in these challenging times. May they accompany you into to a beautiful new world.

ABOUT THE MUSIC

  1. Sita Ram (Soul Version) connects us with powerful Hindu myths that illuminate the obstacles, support, connection and disconnection involved in our attempts to love intimately (Prema) and fulfill our duty (Dharma).
  1. Shiva Prayer invokes the loving disruption of Shiva to unbind us from old patterns that no longer serve and to bring transformation to a new, more inclusive and loving, world. Our surrender to Shiva will hasten the transition to a new world.
  1. In This Together is a call to transcend partisanship and tribalism—an appeal to Unity as well as Diversity. “You and me, can’t you see? We’re ALL in this together.”
  1. Shiva Waltz + Maha Mantra reminds us that life is good, and to be celebrated. 
  1. Om Mani Padme Hum is an invitation to embody and enact true compassion by being with, rather than avoiding or trying to fix, suffering.
  1. Shiva Jam invites us to dance joyfully with the forces of transformation.
  1. Lalita Invocation invokes the Unconditional Love of Lalita, the most Divine form of the Divine Mother. 
  1. Kali + Shiva illuminates the process by which Kali’s Divine Feminine rage and wild passion are transformed into profound love as it is embraced by Shiva’s Divine Masculine consciousness. This is the way out of the gender stalemate in which we find ourselves.
  2. Balaji’s Maha Mantra connects us to the Balji Temple in Tirupti, India, where tens of millions of pilgrims journey each year to fulfill their deepest wishes for inner and outer prosperity.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

“Mike Cohen’s new album Chants for Challenging Times shares relentless enthusiasm with its gospel R&B Blues approach to Sanskrit chanting. Mike’s years of musical coaching have given him a great ear for arrangement and vocal technique. His community of musicians and singers add inspiration and energy to the album. Great production and mixes! Thanks Mike, for keeping the energy high!”

— Wah! Kirtan artist

“Mike Cohen’s Chants for Challenging Times album raises the bar on the musical vehicle that surrounds devotional chant. The album contains great playing by the cast of musicians as well as very thoughtful composing and production by Mike. This offering will be enjoyed by music lovers around the world, whether they are into devotional chanting or simply heartfelt musical offerings.”

— Ty Burhoe, American tabla player, record company owner and live concert producer. Former tabla wiz with Krishna Das.

“Mike Cohen’s fourth full length Kirtan album, Chants for Challenging Times, is cut from straight up Rhythm and Blues. Meeting us in a time of need for joy & nurturance, Cohen and his vocalists offer up haunting melodies, beautifully woven harmonies and other worldly prayers. Moments border on spoken word (the opening of the organ-infused Shiva Jam) which contrast other passages that climax in frenzied ecstasy (the conclusion of his haunting Kali + Shiva). Producer Ben Leinbach provides a wonderful visionary direction to Cohen’s talents. Don’t miss this inventive and heartfelt dive into the soul of modern Kirtan.”

— Gaya Shelton-Ostadi, Yoga Teacher and Kirtan Leader

“I can’t listen to Shiva Prayer without sobbing. It seems to connect to something across lifetimes and beyond words.”

— DC

“Mike Cohen’s album “Chants for Challenging Times” offers a soulful, heart-warming collection of tracks that marry the best of Eastern spiritual tradition and Western musical styles. Mike’s voice is a grounding force of granite lined with velvet, and he’s gathered a talented band of singers and musicians to take you on this journey.”

— Nirmal Chandraratna, yoga instructor, Kirtan leader, artist, musician

“Mike Cohen’s latest album, Chants For Challenging Times is divinely orchestrated, upbeat, and deeply soulful. Mike and his beautiful vocalists embody Shiva and Shakti singing together and apart, like our dance with the Divine. HIs music inspires all the flavors of being human: touching into our play, joy, freedom and ecstasy, as well as the collective grief, sorrow and pain that is true of any human dance of Earth. Through these mantras we are inspired to move towards a higher expression of ourselves. Thank you!!!”

— Jeanie Manchester, yoga instructor, retreat leader

“I love the whole album. It’s remarkably uplifting.”

— Mark Abrams, business consultant, retreat leader

SPECIAL THANKS

Infinite gratitude to Philip Lipetz, Swami Kaleshwar, Shirdi Sai Baba and the Guru Parampara for sharing the wisdom of the Dattatreya lineage. Deep appreciation to the virtuoso musicians featured on this project: gorgeous vocalists Dawnia Dresser, Sandy Griffith, Suzanne Sterling, Lucia Lilikoi and Samantha Keller; funky guitarist Gawain Matthews and bassist Rob Fordyce; renowned producer Ben Leinbach and gifted mastering engineer Michael Fossenkemper. I offer a bow of gratitude to guest artists Noah Rouse, Steve Oda, James Hoskins, Ken Matarazzo, Joss Jaffe and Eric Moon. Finally, I offer heartfelt appreciation to Cindy Marteney for providing a beautiful and welcoming home during the recording sessions.

ABOUT THE MUSIC—A DEEPER CUT

1. SITA RAM (SOUL VERSION)

This chant to Sita (beautiful princess), Ram (warrior prince) and their devoted friend Hanuman comes from the Ramayana. This myth presents the obstacles, victories and setbacks we encounter while attempting fulfill our duty (Dharma) within the social realm. The Maha Mantra connects us with Lord Krishna and his consort, the beautiful Radha. Their many myths illuminate the confusion and clarity, connection and disconnection woven into in our attempts to love intimately (Prema). This sentiment shines through the Beatles A Little Help from My Friends. During these challenging times, who hasn’t looked to their friends for a little help while traversing the intimate and social realms of Love and Duty.  

Sita Ram, Sita Ram. Sita Ram, Jay Hanuman. 

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare. 

Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Sita Ram Sita Ram Jay Jay Hanuman.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare. 

Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends. 

I Get High With a Little Help From My Friends. 

I Try With a Little Help From My Friends.

2. SHIVA PRAYER

Shiva prayer is a deep, heartfelt and tender call for Shiva, the Lord of Transformation. We need Shiva to support us as old ideas and ways of being dissolve, creating space to unfold what will come next. This sweet and soulful track will lift your heart and ignite your soul.

Om Namah Shivaya. Hare Om, Hare Om. 

3. IN THIS TOGETHER

This Motown flavored anthem is a call to transcend partisanship and tribalism—an appeal to Unity as well as Diversity. You and me, can’t you see? We’re ALL in this together. Let’s bring Awareness (Shiva), Peace (Shanti) and Love (Prema) into our world, right here, right now!

Namah Shivaya, Namah Shivay. Namah Shivaya.

Me and You, All Them Too. We’re in this Together. 

You and Me, Can’t You See. We’re in this Together.

Shi, Shi-i-va-ya. Shi, Shi-i-va-ya. Shi, Shi-i-va-ya.

Namah Shivaya. Namah Shivay. Namah Shivaya.

You and Me, Soulfully. We’re in this Together.

Datta, Lalita. They’re in this Together.

Prema Om. Prema Om. Shanti Om. Shanti Om. 

Shi, Shi-i-va-ya. Shi, Shi-i-va-ya. Shi, Shi-i-va-ya.

Namah Shivaya. Namah Shivay. Namah Shivaya.

Let Love Rule. Let Love Rule. 

Prema, Prema Om, Prema Om. Shanti, Shanti Om, Shanti Om.

Together, Let Love Rule, Let Love Rule. 

When We’re Together, Let Love Rule, Let Love Rule.

4. SHIVA WALTZ + MAHA MANTRA

Shiva Waltz + Maha Mantra is a fun jaunt through heart-opening call & response chanting. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!

Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shivaya.

Shivaya Namah Om. Shivaya Namah Om. 

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. 

Hare Rama Hare Rama. Rama Rama Hare Hare. 

5. OM MANI PADME HUM

Deep and tender, Om Mani Padme Hum is an invitation to be with, rather than avoiding or trying to fix, suffering.

Om Mani Padme Hum. Om Mani Padme Hum.

6. SHIVA JAM

Who says Kirtan can’t be funky? This chant to Shiva, Lord of Transcendence, is a fun jam that unites Eastern mantra with Western grooves with a good dose of attitude. An invitation to chant, clap and dance, Shiva Jam will get you tapping your toes and scrunching your nose as you integrate Heaven (Spirituality) and Earth (Worldliness). Chant along to get your groove on as you open your heart and light up your soul.

Om Namah Shivaya. 

Shivo Hum, Shivo Hum, Shivo Hum. 

Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shivaya. 

Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shivaya. 

7. LALITA INVOCATION

We invoke the Goddess Lalita, aka the “Divine-est” Mother. Lalita is “Ma Amba” (creator of the entire manifest universe) and is associated with “Sundari” (Beauty). In the spiritual lineage of my guru Sri Kaleshwar, Lalita is referred to as “ParaShakti,” the highest and most supreme form of feminine energy.

Like her male counterpart Dattatreya, Lalita is of a higher dimension of order, where the integration of polarities is possible. She integrates the polarities of Spiritual/Sensual (Worldly), Masculine/Feminine, Individual/Collective and the energies of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva along with their beloved consorts Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali. This traditional invocation is an invitation to feel fully held and healed by the Unconditional Love of the Divine Mother.

Ma Amba Lalita Devi, Parashakti Sundari. 

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasya Namo Namaha.

Ma Amba Lalita Devi, Mahalakshmi Vaishnavi. 

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasya Namo Namaha.

Ma Amba Lalita Devi, Tvam Brahmani Gayatri. 

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasya Namo Namaha.

Ma Amba Lalita Devi, Parashakti Sundari. 

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasya Namo Namaha.

8. KALI + SHIVA

In an effort to win an epic battle against the forces of negativity, Durga (the goddess of protection) manifests the fierce goddess Kali from her brow. In one famous image, Kali is pictured before orange and red flames, wearing a garland of skulls (representing the ego) and holding a freshly chopped skull. Kali’s unmatched strength turns the tide of battle, repelling the demons of negativity.

Fearsome Kali finds herself intoxicated by a battle lust driving her to dance with a force that destroys everything in her path. She overpowers not only the Forces of Negativity, but also the Good, True and Beautiful. Can her rage be quelled before it destroys the world? 

Kali’s husband Shiva (the Lord of Consciousness) comes and lays down before her. As Kali unknowingly steps on his prone form, Shiva’s loving presence permeates her so fully that her wild energy is transformed from fierce rage into deep passion and love. Her tongue extends, indicating (in the classical interpretation) sincere remorse over her unconscious actions.

The story of Kali and Shiva mirrors our current times. As the light of awareness shines on painful examples of masculine shadow, a Kali rage has erupted. How can we regain balance? Kali’s wild passion calls forth Shiva’s unflinching presence. Only his divine masculine consciousness can bear witness so powerfully that her anger can be transformed, allowing a greater love and deeper integration into our world. This passionate chant tracks Kali’s dance of destruction and Shiva’s emergence from his slumber to minister to his beloved’s raging heart. As Shiva embraces Kali with his steady presence, an exquisite transformation unfolds through the merging of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. This is potent instruction for our times, where the steady presence of masculine consciousness is required to support our women as they courageously move through the portal of pain into ever greater open hearted love and intimate communion. The energy of this chant fortifies the masculine and softens the feminine as they move through this healing dance together. 

Kali Durge, Namoh Namaha. 

Kali Kali Ma, Durge Durge Ma.

Shivaya Namah Shivaya, Shivaya Namah Shivaya.

Durge Ma, Jaya Durge Ma. Durge Ma, Jaya Durge Ma.

Kali Ma, Jaya Kali Ma. Kali Ma, Jaya Kali Ma.

Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shivaya, Om. 

Om Namaha Shivay. Om Namaha Shivay. Om Namaha Shivay, Om.

9. BALAJI’S MAHA MANTRA

Tirupati, a holy city dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is home to the Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple. It is one of the wealthiest and most visited temples in the world with close to one hundred thousand pilgrims on an average day. Ecstatic pilgrims hike uphill to reach the temple, then wait in line for hours to experience just a few delicious seconds of deep connection with this profound deity. The energy of the journey is palpable and exquisite, punctuated with joyful shouts of “Govinda.” Standing before Balaji, pilgrims ask this incarnation of Lord Vishnu (the Sustainer) to fulfill their deepest wishes for inner and outer prosperity, many of which are eventually realized. This chant is dedicated to Balaji and taps into the joy and energy found within a beautiful and ecstatic temple devoted to spiritual and material abundance.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare. 

Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Hare Krishna. Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare. 

Hare Rama. Rama, Rama, Hare Hare.

Ram Ram Sita Ram, Ram Ram Sita Ram, Ram Ram Sita Ram, Jay Hanuman. 

Govinda, Govinda Gopala, Govinda, Govinda Gopala.

TRACKS

  1. Sita Ram (Soul Version)
  2. Shiva Prayer
  3. In This Together
  4. Shiva Waltz + Maha Mantra
  5. Om Mani Padme Hum
  6. Shiva Jam
  7. Lalita Invocation
  8. Kali + Shiva
  9. Balaji’s Maha Mantra

All music composed by Michael H. Cohen © 20016-19 Shiva Datta Music, LLC (BMI). All music produced and released as singles in 2018-2020. Chants for Challenging Times released in 2020, © Shiva Datta Music, LLC. All rights reserved. In This Together contains a sample of Let Love Rule by Leonard A. Kravitz. Sita Ram (Soul Version) contains a sample of With a Little Help from My Friends by Lennon and McCartney. Lalita Invocation (traditional) was deeply inspired by Craig Pruess.

MUSICIANS

Mike Cohen – lead vocals and harmonium

Ben Leinbach – drum and percussion programming, keyboards, electric guitar, choir vocals

Dawnia Dresser – choir, lead and ad lib vocals (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Rob Fordyce – electric bass (1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9)

Sandy Griffith – choir, lead and ad lib vocals (1, 2, 4, 6)

James Hoskins – cello (8)

Joss Jaffe – tablas and percussion (4)

Samantha Keller – choir, lead and ad lib vocals (7)

Lucia Lilikoi – lead and ad lib vocals (5)

Ken Matarazzo – frame drums (8)

Gawain Matthews – electric guitar (1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9)

Eric Moon – organ (1, 6)

Steve Oda – Sarod (4) 

Noah Rouse – diiruba, sitar, hammered dulcimer (5, 7, 9)

Suzanne Sterling – choir, lead and ad lib vocals (3, 8)

Robyn Broyden – choir vocals (6,9)

Damiana Carpizo – choir vocals (4) 

Lakshmi Devi – choir and ad lib vocals (8)

Chava Horowitz – choir vocals (6,9)

Prema Love – choir vocals (4) 

Toni Marinkovich – choir vocals (6,9)

Sarah Waalkes – choir vocals (6,9)

PRODUCTION

Produced by Ben Leinbach at Old Bull Studios in San Anselmo, CA. Additional recording sessions with John McVey at Cinder Sound Studio in Longmont, CO and Evan Reeves at UI Sound Studios in Boulder, CO. Mastering by Michael Fossenkemper (TurtleTone Studio). Chants for Challenging Times features virtuoso guitarist Gawain Matthews, exquisite vocalists Dawnia Dresser, Sandy Griffith, Suzanne Sterling, Lucia Lilikoi and Samantha Keller. Front cover art is Nataraj by Piyali Chakraborty. Cover design by Shae Riley of Brydge Agency.

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