Kirtan Rabbi’s Hebrew Kirtans

“Many people say, ‘I can’t sing.’ And, you know, they’re right: They can’t sing. But everyone can chant!

This is how Kirtan Rabbi will often begin one of his special evenings, an evening of music and song known as “Hebrew Kirtan.”

Kirtan Rabbi and some friends have had the fortune to take part in Sanskrit kirtans led by inspired musicians such as Krishna Das, Wah!, Deva Premal and Miten, and others. It occurred to them that the kirtan form would work very well with the Hebrew language. Words flow and melt into one another. Changes effected by open vowels to make soft consonants render Hebrew wonderfully sing-able. As a matter of fact, several scientific studies have numbered Hebrew among one of a handful of “vibrational languages.” It seemed only natural to Kirtan Rabbi and others who had danced in synagogues and pounded more than a few Shabbat tables that Hebrew would work wonderfully in a kirtan framework. So, Hebrew Kirtan was born.

Kirtan Rabbi’s Hebrew kirtan’s tend to use niggunim and zemirot (tunes and songs) which already feel familiar — even if you’ve never heard them before! Kirtan Rabbi does not usually seat the Hebrew in Indian classical music. He uses the kirtan form — call-and-response — but prefers to utilize more traditional Jewish modes of notation. These are drawn from both European and Eastern sources, as well as from contemporary composers. He also tends to set the chants in non-Western modalities. The result is an effect, which is both alluring and mysterious, common yet surprising. Kirtan Rabbi plays a harmonium and uses it as a kind of movable background drone.

Along with the music, Kirtan Rabbi will often pepper a kirtan with helpful meditation techniques learned from his martial arts practice, along with short teachings, which explain the source and meaning of the language.