Interview With Simrit Kaur, A Bright Light, Kundalini Vocalist And Practitioner
By Ashley Shires
Simrit Kaur is a stunningly talented vocalist, a Kundalini practitioner whose sound is hailed as haunting and hypnotic, majestic and healing. Her work has topped the world music charts, lauded by Snatam Kaur and Belinda Carlisle, who said, “I’m such a fan of Simrit. The first time I saw her live, I thought, wow, she’s kind of punk rock…Simrit, to me, is the voice of this new day and age.”
SF Yoga Magazine was thrilled to catch up with Simrit while she was in SF.
AS: Can you tell us a little about how you found Kundalini yoga and why it resonated with you?
SK: I came upon my first Kundalini yoga class when I was a junior at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. I was already practicing Reiki and Hatha Yoga, but I was calling in something that I would resonate with as a daily practice that was different than Hatha or Reiki. I came across my first Kundalini Yoga class within months of that calling, and within the first three minutes of the class I knew I was going to be working with the Kundalini Yoga lifestyle tools for the rest of my life. It was like that for me. Instantly. I still practice Reiki and feel very grateful for all of these tools in my life. Kundalini yoga, however, is a very eccentric style of yoga, and I tend to love eccentric things.
AS: Your background is so fascinating – you were born in Greece, from a lineage of Greek women singers and then adopted by another Greek family in the United States. Did you grow up knowing about the musical history of your biological family?
SK: Thank you – yes, parents told me when I was four years old about being adopted. I remember clearly one afternoon shucking corn with my mom in the kitchen and she looked over at me and told me the whole thing so casually and made it no big deal.
She told me that she and my dad actually met my birth mother after they saw her perform. I was living with a foster family at the time on farm outside of Athens. I was adopted when I was a little over a year old. So I knew that my biological mother was a great singer who was well known in the country of Greece. My parents also told me that we look alike and even sound alike when we sing. That is really neat to me, and I would love the opportunity to meet her one day, as she is only 17 years older than me. Then I found out more recently that my great-grandmother is the Greek beloved singer Tula Demetriou. She was famous in Greece in her time and is still alive today at 90 years old. It would be amazing to me to meet all the ladies in my lineage from my birth mother to my great-grandmother when I return to Greece in either 2016 or 2017.
AS: Did you grow up with music?
SK: I grew up singing and playing music from a very young age. My parents kept me and my brother in music lessons from a very young age, and I also sang in the Greek Orthodox Church choir. So I was steeped in the ancient and mystical Byzantine hymns of the Orthodox Church. I still love that music so much. I learned a lot from it as well, and it totally influences my style. I also studied in many different traditions of music for vocals and percussion, including Middle Eastern, Indian, western and African.
My mom tells me that when I was a baby, I would sit in the middle of the floor at her hair stylist's salon, and I would just sit there and sing. I remember so vividly being in elementary school and coming home and making up songs and recording them on my tape player in a corner of the house. I would sit there for hours doing this. So what I'm doing today is continuation of my childhood.
AS: How did you begin performing?
SK: I first started singing in the church choir, and then I joined choruses at my schools where I would perform solos. I started to sing in bands in high school and college every now and then, but my first real performance was in my husband's yoga class when we were just friends in college together. I was so nervous that it took me about twenty minutes to actually start singing after the music had started.
AS: Can you tell us a little about your daily Kundalini practice?
SK: I do about fifteen minutes of warm up exercises, and then I do a powerful kriya called Sat Kriya, and I do it with the flat palms. I've been doing this kriya for about fifteen years now. It balances all the chakras and keeps me healthy and my digestion strong. It also helps me to stay centered in who I am, which results in greater confidence in myself as a human being with purpose. I feel great, and therefore I keep doing the practice. I have a list of eight mantras that I chant each 11-25 times a day. These help me to keep my mind clear. I love the way the mantras roll off the tongue, and it's fun for me to chant them. The language I chant in is Gurmukhi. It is an ancient language derived from Sanskrit, created for the lay person so they could experience the profound benefits of the sacred languages that came from the tongues of the Sages. Gurmukhi is from the Northwestern corner of India in the Punjab region. It reminds me a little bit of the Greek language. Although it's not the spoken language of the Punjab, it is the sacred language of the Saints, and it causes many beautiful effects when chanted, spoke, or read aloud or silently.
AS: Do you have any favorite chants?
SK: Yes! Well, hmm....a lot of them…in any tradition. I really love repeating chants over and over. That's my jam. It's like playing a deep drum beat over and over and getting in the zone from that. If I had to name a couple I would say the MUL MANTRA and KAL AKAAL. They both help remove blocks and propel one on their destiny path.
AS: Your music is so moving that it has connected with diverse people all over the world. Can you share any particularly poignant moments or connections?
SK: Thank you. Wow. I am fortunate to say that there are many poignant moments and connections all over the world. To name a couple, I had a very deep connection to the land and the people of China when I went over there last year to tour. We have such a misconception in the USA about the Chinese culture, food, and the people. Despite all the incredible pollution there, the people are just like you and me. The pollution was so intense, though, that it looked like a thick fog where the sun never shined and you could barely see across the street. The food was some of the best I'd ever had, though – so fresh and delicious. Russia was also amazing in that way for me.
People are people, no matter where you go. What I have found to be true across the board in every country I've visited is this: ultimately most people want the same things, to love and be loved.
AS: Do you have any favorite memories from the Bay Area?
SK: One of my favorite memories of the Bay Area, besides all the amazing music that I've experienced, was meeting up with my mom there for her birthday weekend. We are so close, and I love just being around her. She is such a beautiful and graceful woman, and she carries a lot of wisdom that she so generously shares with me. We stayed in a nice hotel for three nights and had a long girls weekend, eating at amazing restaurants, seeing amazing shows, and talking and walking around the streets of San Francisco. One of the highlights for me was seeing a street performer playing drums on buckets, jugs, poles, you name it. And he was incredible, too – it was so fun.
Check out Simrit’s tour schedule here: simritkaurmusic.com.