If you’ve listened to Krishna Das, or interacted with his work in any way including viewing the kirtan history-making 2013 Grammy pre-Award telecast, then you have been affected by Nina Rao. Since 1996, Rao has served as Krishna Das’s assistant, response singer, and kartal player. Additionally, she is a pillar of the NYC kirtan community: she organizes the annual 108 Hanuman Chalisas on New Year’s Day, assists in planning the yearly charity Bhajan Boat that circles the isle of Manhattan, and leads chants at the Broome Street Temple and the Brooklyn Yoga School. Did I mention she is a fantastic mom, too?
In Rao’s first solo album Antarayaami: Knower of All Hearts, the texture of Rao’s life is woven into the fullness of her voice. This double disc begins with an inviting version of “Bhajagovindam Narayana” that showcases her range, practice, and devotion. Adding to this album’s orchestral sound is the hauntingly exquisite execution of the violin by Genevieve Walker, the unmistakable tabla beat of Arjun Bruggema, and bass bombs by Mark Gorman. Nina is also accompanied by Eric Fraser, Naren Budhakar, Benjy Wertheimer, Camila Celin, and producer Devadas Labrecque.
The second disc offers five Hanuman Chalisas in various flavors; from the soulful “Samadhi Hanuman Chalisa” to the joyful duet with Krishna Das, “Ocean of Ram Hanuman Chalisa”. Rao’s daughter, Uma, even leads a Chalisa.
Nina Rao’s Antarayaami: Knower Of All Hearts is a tapestry of sound, guaranteed to illuminate all hearts. For more info visit: chantkirtan.com
Reviewed by author, producer, and yogini Amy V. Dewhurst whose “Heartbreak Yoga” is now available in Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.com