has developed a strong local following for her monthly kirtan
sessions. Kirtan is sacred participatory chant music.
The new buzz
words for Wisconsin just might be beer, cheese and kirtan. If youíre
unsure about kirtan, check in with the 300 to 400 people ó police
officers, rabbis, cafeteria workers, business executives, barbers,
even a Lutheran minister ó who spend the first Friday evening of the
month chanting with Ragani at the Unitarian Universalist Church West
Kirtan is sacred
participatory chant music, Ragani explains, which comes from the yoga
tradition and is thousands of years old.
"For me, itís
not a religious experience as such, but it is a spiritual one,"
she says. "It connects to that heart experience that we all have.
The sounds that we use, the practice we do, is called Nada Yoga,
meaning the sound we chant or say evokes that experience in us, just
with those vibrations of sound. The repetition slowly relaxes the
sessions are the largest independent, ongoing kirtan scene in the
country. In the more than 10 years she has been scheduling kirtans in
Milwaukee, the group has outgrown two venues and, she says, will soon
be too large for the Unitarian Church. Chanters who get there early
sit on the floor, others in seats, still others in the
just a powerful energy, everybody just jumps right in and they make
the song, itís like they own it, itís theirs, the event is
theirs," Ragani says, "more so in Milwaukee than any other
place Iíve known."
is firmly rooted in Eastern traditions, Raganiís intent was to make
it accessible to Western audiences as well, so she assembled a band
that blends cultures. The band includes Fred Bliffert, Julio Pablon,
Tim Maher and Dave Blessum on drums, Holly Haebig-Wake on flute and
vocal harmonies, Mike Kashou on fretless bass and Kaita Bliffert on
tanpura. Ragani is lead vocalist and plays harmonium.
How did Ragani,
born in Detroit and raised in South Bend, Ind., become a kirtan
leader? She was just 8 years old when her parents went to a lecture by
the yogi Swami Rama in Chicago, and she met him briefly in a bookstore
before his presentation.
way home I was thinking, ĎI want to study with someone like that. I
want to know what it is to live that kind of life,í" she says.
At age 16, she
spent a summer studying at his Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and
Philosophy in Honesdale, Pa., and returned every summer for 11 years.
When she expressed an interest in kirtan, Swami Rama taught her
traditional Indian music, stressing the most important aspect of the
practice is that participants "need to feel something when they
sing, that it moves them."
Swami Rama gave
her the name Ragani, which means "to give color or mood to or to
be able to shift things," she says.
writes music for film and television shows, and her compilation CD
"Love Holds Everything" made it to No. 24 on the iTunes
chart and was No. 1 on CD Baby for two weeks.
a documentary focusing on Raganiís kirtans and her connection to
Swami Rama, who died in 2000, is scheduled for release later this