Charanpal is a Santa Cruz-based devotional singer whose music is rooted in the practice of Kundalini yoga. Her new album, Aeons, reached #4 on the iTunes World Music Charts within five hours of its release on September 8th.Local Santa Cruz: What’s going on in your world right now, Charanpal?
Charanpal: Well, I just wrapped up editing a music video for a song called “The Lighthouse,” which is on Aeons. It was just sort of a last-minute “Hey, let’s do this!” We went to Twin Lakes Beach, where there’s a beautiful lighthouse, and just took some beautiful pictures. My friend Nicole Nelson shot the video, but I really wanted to edit it, because I enjoy editing so much, for some reason. There’s something about it—it’s like putting together a puzzle, which I’ve always liked to do. After the shots were all done, I got the footage into the computer and kind of let it tell me what it wanted, because my mind can make something up, like, “This is what I want it to be,” but the true essence of the process of art, I feel, is in surrendering and saying, “Could it be even better if I take my mind out of it?” So everything lined up in ways that I never would have thought of prior to [doing the editing]. It’s a sweet, very simple storyline. It’s aesthetically pleasing, with the beach, the sunset, the lighthouse and dance.
The music you’re making now is far removed from the rock, funk and pop you used to create as a solo act and as the leader of Naomi & the Courteous Rudeboys. [Charanpal’s past musical efforts also include the pop/EDM project Victory Sweet.] What inspired the change?
I still love that style of music. I don’t listen to it as much as I used to, but it greatly shaped me as a musician and artist. In 2010, when I started focusing my physical practice and yogic practice in Kundalini yoga, I experienced a lot of shifts taking place within me. One thing led to another, and it was a very, very clear decision that came forward in my heart and mind that I did not want to play at bars anymore; I did not want to play where there were alcoholic beverages being served and people were becoming intoxicated. It was just that I stopped becoming intoxicated! [Laughs] Being around that energy—I can hang with it, but it’s not my preference. And so I realized that the next step in my growth as a musician and artist was to play music that people felt intoxicated [by] in a blissful sense, without any external stimulants. The next step was obvious to me: to start chanting mantra for people to join in and chant with me. It certainly felt like, “I am starting from scratch! I have my skills as a musician and vocalist, but this is a whole new genre and a whole new realm.” So I became a nobody again! [Laughs] In a sense, I had to work my way back up into a musical scene to where I was trusted and people wanted to work with me.
With the style of music you were doing before, you could write songs about whatever was on your mind. Are you OK with the relatively limited range of song subjects that are appropriate to devotional music?
Yes. At first I felt limited, because if I was feeling emotional, my natural tendency was to go write a song about it and get the emotion out, and I’d feel better. It was a cathartic release. In this devotional music genre, the essence of the music is to turn the emotion to devotion. While you may hear some emotive qualities in my voice when singing mantra, the essence of it is to lift up beyond it—to leave feeling uplifted and not get stuck in the emotion. There are beautiful, sad songs in more secular music that I listen to, and it’s what I need at that time. But there is something to it, where if you create a song, and it’s heartbreaking, well, that’s the emotion it’s going to bring you into every time you listen to it. With chanting, just like with yoga, the purpose is to uplift and to elevate. While the emotional realm is not something to be shamed, judged or shunned, we don’t want to get stuck in it. I don’t want to get stuck in it! [Laughs] I’ll just speak first-person. Some people enjoy getting stuck in it, and I’ve certainly had my days. [But my intent with this music is to] use emotion to revel in the human experience and then give it all to the divine and say, “I don’t need to carry this, but I’ve learned so much from it.” And in that sense, the limitations lifted, and I could begin to write songs that are both in Gurbani, which is the elevated language of Punjabi, and English. I realized that I could just do my own thing with it as long as I was being respectful.
Tell me a little more about your choice to interweave English lyrics with Gurbani chants in some of the songs on Aeons.
This is what’s interesting about mantras: they’ll come into your life at a time when you need it. They each have a different essence and a different power about them. For Aeons, there were certain mantras that came in, and it became clear that this was a mantra I needed to record and sing often. With that clarity came the reason why the mantra came in at the time: “Oh, I was going through this, and this human experience is very relevant in relation to this particular mantra.” So I just went with it and sang in English, not only ’cause it was accessible to others, but it’s accessible to me, too, in relation to the mantra.For more about Charanpal, go to charanpalmusic.com, facebook.com/charanpalmusic and youtube.com/yogacharanpal.