The music of Rasa – Hans Christian and Kim Waters – is based on Indian devotional love songs from the Vaishnava tradition, sung in Bengali and arranged with both Western and Indian elements. Rasa honors the spiritual values of the Vedic culture while expanding the traditional threshold of devotional music. All of their CDs to date have received world-wide acclaim.
RASA’s first three releases on Hearts of Space (Devotion, Union and Rasa in Concert) were widely applauded and received great reviews. More recently the duo has released Shelter, Temple of Love, and Saffron Blue on New Earth Records.
Hans Christian’s musical journey began many years ago in Germany by studying the cello. “I started to play when I was nine years old and had a private teacher for 10 years. Although my teacher imposed a strict and disciplined approach to learning the instrument I remember him fondly; he was preparing me to go to the music conservatory to become a professional cellist. Deep in my heart, though, I knew all along that this was not going to happen.” His life was to unfold along different lines.
Kim Waters is a distinguished illustrator and singer whose publications include Illuminations from the Bhagavad Gita, Enchanted Tales, The Butter Thief, The Vrindavan Fold-out Temple, and Devi, a fold-out altar. She has been singing devotional songs of the Vaisnava saints for many years, inspired by the mystical teachings and rich cultural heritage of India. To describe the path that led Kim Waters into the public eye as the singer of RASA one has to sift through many stories and historical anecdotes.
Recalling her first memories, she remembers that “In early childhood I spent summers on a lake in a beautiful forest preserve called Mt. Riga. It was there that my desires to be an artist and folksinger first arose. My first artistic inspiration was my father who always had a canvass in progress; but my mother also encouraged me, teaching me various crafts and singing with us. Both my sister and I enjoyed a very creative upbringing…”
In a live concert, Kim Waters’ singing in Bengali and Sanskrit is accompanied by Hans Christian on cello, sarangi, nyckelharpa, sitara, and electric bass. In addition, the artists are also using a sophisticated setup of samplers and live-looping devices to create an unusually rich and textured sound. Their concerts are both meditative and invigorating, full of virtuosity and devotion.
Top quality devotional music. - Donovan
Beautiful devotional music that combines ancient eastern mystical prayers with lush western orchestration and ambience. This music really touches my heart. - Jai Uttal
INDIAN POST: What really lead to the birth of fusion music as a separate field?
RASA: Perhaps it all started in the 1960s, when a whole new generation of Western people discovered Indian spirituality, with the help of the Beatles, and of Ravi Shankar. It was a natural development to use Indian musical elements in Western music, and it really exploded in the last ten years.
How would you define your music?
We have been calling our music ‘Transcendental music from India and beyond,’ because it is based on Indian devotional songs that also incorporate our own unique musical style. Rasa’s music is not Indian but it honors the spiritual values of the Vaishnava tradition and combines Indian and Western elements. We are rooted in the Western musical language and interpret Indian bhajans in that context.
How were you motivated to get into this field?
Kim met A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in the early 1970s while working on the ‘Illuminations from the Bhagavad Gita’ project, illustrations of verses that were translated by him. She also loved the music of George Harrison, who inspired her with albums like the ‘Radha Krishna Temple’ album. Kim started to visit Krishna temples, went to India, and became absorbed in the music of the Vaishnavas. Hans approached this music very differently- through musical explorations on the cello and bass that ultimately led him to play the sarangi and to compose music with tablas and other esoteric instruments. So, Kim’s beautiful singing and Hans’ expressive playing became a perfect combination for Rasa.
How many years has it been for you both performing together?
We met in 1999 and started to perform in 2000. Since then we have performed over 100 concerts around the United States and have recorded four CDs, called Devotion, Union, In Concert, and Shelter. For us, the difference is a spiritual quality in the music. While, generally speaking, popular music may not have any spiritual intention behind it, our music integrates a musical and spiritual element for the listener. The word fusion is such a general term, it literally means to blend styles. But for us it goes further – to blend musical styles in service of a spiritual experience.
How difficult is it for a person of non-Indian origin to grasp the various nuances of Indian Classical Music?
Indian Classical music is indeed complex for us. The rhythmic elements of the Indian tradition are difficult to learn, and so is the high level of mastery of the various instruments and vocal technique. Likewise, in Western music, you have a complex system of harmony and orchestration. We do not aspire to sound like Indian musicians, but to offer music that has a universal quality to it. People all over the world can immediately grasp our sound.
For many singers who have taken to Indian music here in the West, a major influence has been the Hindu tradition and its tenets, has religion had an impact?
We’d rather not not subscribe to the term “religion.” Religion makes people kill each other. We’d rather say that the philosophy of the Vedic tradition is at the heart of our music, since we are performing songs by Bhaktivinode Thakur, Narottama Dasa, and other recognized writers in this field. The subject matter of these songs is very universal and pertains to the human condition throughout the world.
If religion has had an impact, then what was it, which really sparked your interest and creativity?
It was an intuitive calling. We do not consider ourselves preachers who have to increase their flock- instead it is a way to express our deepest feelings and aspirations through music.
What is the acceptance level of fusion music here among the masses?
Again, the term fusion music is very broad. We have experienced a surprisingly large level of interest in our music, and it is increasing even more through the widespread yoga movement and interest in meditation everywhere.
What about people of Indian origin, what has their receptiveness been like?
We are delighted that Indian listeners have embraced our music with open arms. A lot of people of Indian origin in this country seem to have lost a connection to their own spiritual tradition and are inspired by our renditions of these sacred songs. But even the older Indian generation in this country, and the devotees at the temples, have expressed heartfelt appreciation for our efforts – we are very thankful for that.
What are the albums that you are working on?
We are starting to work on our next release but will keep it a secret which pieces might end up on it.
How would you be experimenting with your style of music in the future?
We’d like to keep you in suspense on that, too.
Kim combines music with another beautiful form of expression – painting. Do you see a parallel between the two?
Of course there is a connection – both a creative forms of prayer and worship, both take a lot of time, and both transport the viewer / listener to the transcendental world of Lord Krishna. For Kim, painting and singing go hand in hand on a daily basis.