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Meet Kamini Natarajan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kamini Natarajan.

Kamini, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My musical journey started as a kid. My mother and grandmother both studied music and taught me from a young age. They would often say that I sang before I could speak 🙂 My grandmother was a great narrator and would often narrate stories from Hindi Scriptures and teach me devotional traditional songs called Bhajans and Kirtans. I continued my passion for music and had a rigorous training under well-renowned musicians of Indian Classical music for well over 15 years in India and also graduated in music. I gave several performances on stage as well as on public television and radio.

I moved to Los Angeles area in 2002 initially I was on a dependent H4visa which at that time did not allow me to work or be employed. However I had music with me to fill my days, experiment with composing, creating a fusion blend of different sounds, learning how to record, set up a home studio for myself, etc. I reached out to different world music composers, music producers, bands and started jamming with a few.

It was a proud moment for me when my song “Devi” with music producer Evan Eder was picked for a compilation music album Tantra Lounge alongside the world renowned Anoshka Shankar and Talvin Singh.

I continued recording and jamming with world musicians and one such connection led me into a Kirtan music band. Back then in early-mid 2000s yoga and kirtan scenes were very different in LA from what it is now. I loved being a part of this Kirtan group and playing with them at various locations within the LA area as this music connected me with my roots. This music was the part that I missed the most living several thousands of miles away from my birth country.

However, I could not ignore the fact that there was quite some lack of knowledge around this traditional form of music. So I started offering lessons to those who seek authentically traditional Kirtan and Indian Classical music. I teach kids and adults not only music but also right diction of Sanskrit/Hindi chants and mantras.

In 2014 I moved to Simi Valley where I noticed a lack of Kirtan gatherings and started my organizing a monthly Kirtan meetup. I also started performing a lot within California as well as in Europe and Southeast Asia.

I have since then released two full-length music albums for meditation – Shiva Meditation and Chants for Meditation. I have also published an E-book for Kirtans called Indian Ragas for Kirtans as an easy and affordable way of learning five ragas and kirtans in each one of them.

I worked with various musicians of different genres such as rock, Armenian, Persian, etc and my voice has been featured in albums such as “Unspoken.” etc. More recently my music was featured in a movie called Child Of Nature.

I also founded my World Music Band called Atmasandhi and as a band, we perform at various world music festivals.

Has it been a smooth road?
It is never a smooth road I believe! There has to be some struggle, some difficulty that one has to overcome in order for a person or business to grow.

Initially, I had to learn/re-learn this entirely new way of life. Coming from a country that is very different culturally and traditionally, it took me some time to get used to.

Being a mom and working a totally different 9-5 doesn’t make it easier either. During the day I work in a senior executive level digital marketing position and teach music in evenings and Sundays. Thankfully most of my performances are during weekends so I am able to manage both. I have an amazing eight-year-old daughter who not only is my biggest fan but also one of my best students. She is also my best critic. 🙂 It is a balancing act between 9-5, music performance, music teaching and family – certainly not in that order- but thanks to my family, we are able to do it! I often travel to music festivals with my family for my performance and it makes for a great family time. It helps that both my daughter and my husband like music.

Another challenge musically – and this one continues to be one challenge that I face to date is the fact that Indian Classical Music is a very niche genre of music not only in this country but even in India. It is getting popular here thankfully due to some instruments like Sitar, Sarod, etc making their way into “Kirtan/yoga/meditation” music. However, there is some miseducation around it as well. It isn’t easy to find paying gigs/performance opportunities as there would be for popular music.

One internal challenge that I faced within myself was to be accepting of the Kirtan culture here. Initially, when I heard Kirtans here I was either annoyed or amused. I was annoyed because to me it was cultural appropriation- taking from Indian culture and making it sound fancy, totally mispronouncing words and chants, turning sacred music into a party, dance music. However, I also met some very sincere American yoginis and yogis who adopted Indian culture not to shame it but wholeheartedly. They tried their best to pronounce sounds that were non-existent in their native tongue. I really appreciated and still appreciate that aspect. When the effort is sincere and it does not appear like mocking a 3000 + year old culture and civilization, I am happy.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
I am a Kirtan and World Music Singer. I perform, record and teach Indian Classical Music, devotional Kirtan music and organize monthly meetups where I sing in the call and response style of Kirtan music.

Kirtan music has become pretty well known specially amongst people who are into yoga and meditation. What sets me apart is the fact that I sing traditional and authentic chants. I compose my kirtans in certain “Ragas.” “Ragas” serve as the backbone of Indian classical music and are deeply connected with evoking a certain emotion. When combined with sacred mantras and chants, Ragas enhance them significantly and takes listeners and participants to a higher state of consciousness.

I offer classes for Kirtan singing and Harmonium as well as Indian Classical Music. I conduct workshops and seminars on music and spirituality. I also do special workshops on Mantras and chants with a focus on pronunciation and meaning.

I love to collaborate and explore other genres of music. I regularly work with musicians from rock, jazz, western classical, EDM, etc. I really enjoy spontaneous jam sessions and have fun jamming with different musicians.

I am available for Indian Classical, Kirtan music performances and so is my band Atmasandhi.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I like the fact that it is very diverse. People are open to new cultures and are eager to learn more about the cultures and traditions of the world. I also like the fact that we can expose our kids to various cultures, cuisines and traditions right here.

Least thing to like would be a lack of public transportation. I come from a country that has pretty cheap and solid public transport and I am used to walking, taking a train or bus to commute. It not only reduces carbon footprint it is also a good way to meet other human beings and be social.

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All Images credit: Chandrashekar Sivaraman

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