Some artists can bring true commitment to age-old meditations, urging everyone from pop stars to theater audiences to fall in love with the words of ancient sages. Some artists have a presence that both engages and soothes, an ear that can hear the resonances that bridge continents and souls.
Vocalist and songwriter Simrit, born in Athens, Greece, adopted and raised in the American South, is one of these artists. Her music and artistry, which have attracted fans such as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s, is known for it’s depth, haunting beauty, edge, and psychedelic atmosphere. Drawing on the harmonic beauty and melodic sensibilities of the ancient Byzantine, Greek Orthodox chants she grew up with, adding the pulse of the West African drum traditions she studied, and fused with her training in piano and vocals from different traditions, Simrit and her band tease out distinct facets of mystical poetry and the intimate ardors of the spirit. Over the last several years they have created waves with packed theaters and concert halls, chart-topping albums, and raving fans that have powered a palpable musical movement.
She is a Renaissance woman who is the CEO of her independent record label, SIMRIT KAUR MUSIC, and she has topped World Music Charts including iTunes at #1 for consecutive weeks at a time, many times over, and Billboard Music’s top 5 and 10 with her last four consecutive releases.
It all began in Athens, when a young singer from a prominent musical family had to give up her newborn daughter. That child was embraced by an American Greek couple, who took Simrit, born Stavroula, as a toddler to South Carolina. She grew up dancing traditional Greek dances, learning Greek, and singing in the Greek Orthodox church choir, mesmerized by the chants and hymns.
“There was a specific system used to teach us the melodies and it made them very interesting to learn,” says Simrit. “Many are in these haunting minor keys, with this deep, mystical sound. I was steeped in that from the time I was really young. That sound is home to me. It’s still some of my favorite music and has had a huge impact on my work,” though the youthful musician also loved dreamy rock like Mazzy Star, songwriters like Jeff Buckley, folk goddess Loreena McKennitt, rock gods Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, roots reggae, and world music from the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent.
Simrit’s musical inclinations–even as a preschooler, she was always humming her own tunes–were supported by her parents with piano, drum and voice lessons. As she headed to college, she found herself magnetized to African drumming, and after hearing the Ghanaian Odunde Ensemble at the Spoleto Festival, she was very inspired to start learning and playing African drums. “I wanted so much to be a part of this. I approached the drum master from Ghana, though there weren’t any women in the group,” recalls Simrit. “I said I was very excited about what they were doing, and I’d love to learn to drum with them in the group setting.” They invited me to come to practice the next week to try out, and they gave me a djembe and some rhythms to play. I was ecstatic, and as soon as I knew it I was a part of the drumming company.”
Simrit’s unique sound and artistic contributions have inspired and pushed the boundaries of world and chant music into new places, throwing off old conventions. She mixes distilled philosophical statements with ethereal and hooky arrangements, turns 16th-century Gurmukhi poetry into hypnotically grooving songs, develops anthemic melodies and feels, and creates epic soundscapes threaded with mantras. She brings the depth of the sacred and ancient to the modern.
Simrit is a student, practitioner and a certified teacher of Kundalini Yoga and Naad Yoga (the sciences of sound and consciousness). She is also a certified level II Reiki practitioner. Her highly acclaimed yoga of the voice and sound course, ‘The Supreme Sound’, continues to be studied by thousands worldwide. She records, composes, produces music, and tours with her band giving concerts and workshops across the globe.