Q: You’ve been described as an artist at the forefront of the emerging “kirtronica” music genre. What is kirtronica? Where is one most likely to experience it?
Suzanne Sterling: Kirtronica is a hybrid of styles that are influencing modern "conscious culture," especially here in California. I spent years doing original devotional music and then years doing electronic dance music and then began to fuse those styles. The traditional kirtan is very ecstatic. With the western influence of gospel and R&B things have started to move into a place where the participants both sing and dance, and I wanted to speak to that mix specifically.
Basically, kirtronica is a blend of the best of both worlds, the ancient and quite potent language of Sanskrit with a modern interpretation of the spiritual journey and the best of electronic and ambient sound capabilities. I am a big fan of singing and dancing together (in fact I think it’s our birthright as humans to do so on a regular basis) and if I can be a catalyst for that kind of active bliss, then I have done my job well.
One is most likely to experience the emerging new sound at places like "conscious" music festivals such as Wanderlust, Earthdance, Harmony Festival, Beloved Festival, and Bhaktifest. Also, there are some albums coming out which take traditional chant recordings and make dance remixes that can be played in many situations. Cheb i Sabbah and Karsh Kale have been doing this in dance clubs for years.
Many of the West Coast dance parties and events have some mix of dance music and devotional music in live performance, such as Groove Garden, the Yoga Journal trance dance event. More and more yoga studios are expanding their own events to include aspects of this new culture and including the full spectrum of the spiritual communities that are developing. It really is exciting to be on this wave of new creation and yet still be introducing an ancient form of spiritual practice (kirtan) to folks who might otherwise never come across it because they don't practice asana-based yoga.
Q: What was your inspiration for creating Blue Fire Soul? Who will most enjoy its music?
SS: Blue Fire Soul came about because I teach a class called The Yoga of Sound and Singing and needed music that would inspire people to practice but also to use their voices at the same time. I decided to create it myself...music with open space for the teacher to be able to talk over, but also repeated mantras that yogis could sing/repeat during the practice.
Singing is actually one of the most healing things we can do for ourselves—I call it the feng shui of the body—and combined with asana and pranayama can have a profound impact on our health and well being, not to mention our sense of connection with Divine creative intelligence and our own self expression. I can't tell you how many people tell me that they "can't" sing and yet have a deep soul desire to do so. This is tragic and breaks my heart. So, part of my mission is to help people to find their truth, find their voice and take the risk of expressing themselves and in that expression, know themselves as a whole and creative human.
We all have beauty inside of us, just waiting to be given life, and our modern society has somehow made us think that only some of us deserve to offer our gifts. Yet humans have danced and sung together around fires for centuries without excluding anyone or judging their "skill" level. That is not to say that all of us should or could be professional singers, but that we all have a right to express our human truths—joys, sorrows, ecstasy, wildness and deepest serenity.
My hope is that teachers will use this album for all kinds of transformational journeys such as massage, yoga, movement, 5Rhythms dance and deep ritual and that many listeners will listen to it as they work and sing along in their cars (the last vestige of singing with wild abandon is the modern commute!).
Q: How does your dance and performance background influence the compositions on Blue Fire Soul?
SS: This is an interesting question and has allowed me to realize some pieces of my own evolution as an artist. I started making music after a long stretch as an actress and dancer and at first the songs were very wordy and very personal. As my own spiritual practice has moved forward, I am much less concerned with telling my own story and more interested in creating ecstatic experiences in a group setting. This has opened new possibilities up and as a result I find myself interested in sounds that speak to us on a non-verbal level.
Sound being a very visceral thing means it has such deep power and is indeed a carrier of consciousness. It literally changes us at the vibrational level and that means that I can communicate through sound and beyond concept. That is not to say that I have left behind poetry or wordsmithing (in fact my next album will be much more story based and personal), but that I have come to see that sometimes sound alone is what we need to heal.
I almost see sound and movement as being two sides of the same coin. They are full expressions of our being that can speak our truths beyond concepts of "who" and "what" we are. These are truths that were brought forward to us through the Nada Yoga (sound yoga) teachings and were part of the most ancient yogic texts, only now being forged into modern yogic culture. Blue Fire Soul represents, to me, the power of sound and mantra to take us directly to states of devotion and bliss beyond human interpretation.
Q: You teach that the use of sound is important to “a complete yoga practice.” How does sound make practice complete?
SS: Singing is pranayama, in that we can use singing—and likewise breathing—as a tool for awareness of how our prana (life force) is moving. And one of the telltale signs of life is movement; a healthy system is one in which energy is flowing. As we become conscious of the subtle energy body through the purification of yogic practices and the creation of different vibrational frequencies, i.e. creation of sound, we can use sound and singing to literally bring ourselves to certain states of consciousness.
Ancient mystics knew this well and now modern medicine is beginning to understand the incredible healing tool that we have at our disposal. Modern science is investigating using sound to not only destroy tumors and the like, but to alter our brain waves very specifically. The shaman’s rattle going at 240 beats per minute can have the effect of bringing the listener to the theta brain wave state. In other words, sound can literally move, awaken and activate us as much as asana and pranayama can, so when we combine these practices, we double our pleasure and enhance the efficacy of our transformational experience. Add ancient mantra to the mix and we have some serious spiritual fire power!
Q: How does ritual support personal transformation? Community transformation?
SS: I have spent my entire adult life creating ritual in various settings and environments. It is my deep-seated belief that part of the malaise of modern life is that we have lost connection with how to create meaningful ritual that is relevant to our experience and assists us in becoming more loving, joyful and connected to each other. Included in the myriad of ways that we have become disconnected is the indisputable truth that we are now destroying the life forms that we are dependent upon for our very existence.
In other words, as we disconnect from our bodies, emotions, relationships and experiences, we disconnect with the imminent life force in nature and the fact that God, or Source, is in everything. So ritual, at its best, can serve to reconnect us to what is most important—union with self/Self as the yogis say—and help us to remember that each of us is a crucial part of the picture. Each of us has the power to be visionaries and humble and yet powerful agents for change.
Here is a quote from my website: “Ritual asks us to become our own spiritual authority and to create moments of beauty and moments of power where we stand in community, declaring who we are, what we want and how we are willing to create. It is an act of courage, hope and artistry. All of us, in some hidden part of our soul, remember our divine and wild roots. Modern, co-creative ritual can bring these wisdoms back into our lives in meaningful, deeply spiritual and healing ways...empowering each of us to know that we have something important to offer and that the future is ours to consciously create with our eyes wide open and our full senses intact. As we meet the present with knowledge and imagination, we create a future beyond our wildest dreams.”
This is what I deeply want to see happen for us as a species.
Q: You are a movement artist, vocalist, recording artist, “urban priestess,” transformational workshop facilitator…truly multifaceted. What vision connects these expressions?
SS: Simply put, I am interested in connecting with Source, expressing my yearning, devotion and bliss, staying awake (even when it hurts), assisting others in their journey to living passionately and creating a world where needless suffering is eradicated and reverence for life and celebration is the norm. That is the thread that runs through all of my work in the world.
Q: You also are a dedicated social activist. What do you see as the link between yoga practice and social responsibility?
SS: Well, part of what we teach in our Off the Mat, Into the World® Intensives is that the mind and body are intimately connected and that how we approach our yoga practice is much like how we approach our lives. When things get challenging, how do we respond? Do we blame others? Self beat? Try to escape? Shut down and go numb? All of these coping mechanisms can be seen all around us both personally and culturally and one of the first steps we can take as conscious activists is to take responsibility for the ways in which we are at war within ourselves.
Then and only then can we communicate and collaborate with others to make real, sustainable change in the world. Yoga practice is an opportunity for deep self inquiry and a stripping away of the distractions so that we can find our true calling, service and dharma (sacred work in the world) and so that when we do serve, we do so cleanly and with an open heart, truly unattached to the outcome. This is challenging work but the interest in these ideas and concepts tells me that we are collectively ready to do this work.
The yoga community is ready to activate and serve, and the activist community is ready to deepen the sacred container and context for it's work. We want to help create a force for change that is so creative and exciting that it magnetizes the change we seek. It is a very exciting time to be alive!
Q: Tell us more about Off the Mat, Into the World® and the Bare Witness Tour, two of the non-profit service ventures you’ve helped to create.
SS: Off the Mat, Into the World® is a non-profit project bridging yoga and activism, co-founded by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and myself. We have many facets to what we do, including the Intensive Trainings, grassroots community building, and lots of projects aimed at serving communities in crisis both locally and also in countries affected by genocide, poverty, war and disease.
Our goal has been to unify and utilize the incredible resources (both practical and spiritual) of the yoga community to serve those who are suffering most. The Bare Witness Tour is a humanitarian tour that is offered to those participants who, through outreach and community building in their own yoga communities, raise significant funds. Each year we will take those who have met the goal on a work trip "in the field" for hands-on experience with the organizations that they have supported through their fundraising efforts.
To date, we have raised over $1 million for our partners doing direct service work in both Cambodia and Uganda, and each year we will be supporting efforts in both Third World countries and in at-risk communities in America. This has been an amazing journey for us and we are thrilled at the outpouring of enthusiasm and practical service that has been generated in the short time that we have been in partnership. Please visit our website to get the full picture.
Our experience has shown us that almost everyone would like to be of service in some way, and yet so many of us are waiting for permission to start or waiting until we "get our act together." Our message is that there is no time to wait and that there is no person who can offer your gifts to the world better than you! Or, as Rumi says, "let the beauty we love, be what we do...there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."