Chaparral Kirtan Band is a group of Arizona-based musicians blending the traditions of kirtan and American folk music. Seasoned by their shared home in the southwest, Chaparral Kirtan Band is developing an acoustic style and devotional experience that is rooted in the wide desert and open sky of Southern Arizona. Led by Gabrielle Pietrangelo, who shares her angelic voice and original heart-opening music, Chaparral Kirtan Band's sound is a heart centered exchange between female and male voices, accompanied by ethereal bowed-banjo, tabla, harmonium and guitar. The group is working on their debut CD which will be released in February of 2019.
An evening with Chaparral Kirtan Band is filled with beautiful song and opportunity for Bhakti yoga, which uses call-and-response singing to guide participants in achieving an elevated state of consciousness and a greater sense of connection. Most people walk away from an evening of kirtan feeling greater inner peace and compassion. The blend of ancient Sanskrit words and mantra in combination with Chaparral Kirtan Band’s beautiful acoustic music invokes specific emotions and moods, which when shared among a group of people singing together can be a powerful community experience.
What makes Chaparral Kirtan Band unique is their seamless blend of eastern and western styles. A gentle lullaby in English, accompanied by acoustic guitars and banjo, can transform into a mantra in Sanskrit with the addition of tabla, harmonium and bowed banjo. Gabrielle Pietrangelo, lead vocalist and writer for the group explains, “I love to connect a folk song or melody I’ve written with the emotion of a mantra I am working with. It often feels like a wave of energy, with harmonies, pacing and the overall arch of the piece along with how it will be filled out by the group. Each composition is an original, heart-opening musical experience. It is a joy to hear it voiced by the band and then in community. I’ve spent years as a songwriter and performer but this is something different. When we bring the intention of devotion and connection into the work, any musical gift or skill we have feels like it’s being offered as a prayer.”
Members of Chaparral Kirtan Band include Gabrielle Pietrangelo on vocals, guitar and harmonium; Hadji Banjovi on vocals and improvisations on bowed banjo, a dusty Arizona version of the esraj; Matt Moon Nelson on tabla, udus, kartals and other percussion; Bradford Trojan on vocals and acoustic guitar; and Kasey Ackerley on harmonium and vocals. “Because each of our members come from different backgrounds with their own set of musical skills, our sound is a fusion of folk, Americana, Hindustani and classical traditions,” said
Pietrangelo. “Everything we play is influenced by our surroundings – the wide, open sky and lush Sonoran Desert near Tucson – so we sound like where we come from. ‘Chaparral’ actually means southwestern but it’s also the word for creosote, the plentiful desert shrub that fills the whole Tucson basin with the most amazing smell when it rains. It smells like coming home.”
“People need sacred spaces and accessible opportunities to process their lives,” said Pietrangelo. "There is so much going on in our modern culture and taking time to breathe, pray and sing with others, in an environment free from religious dogma is important. We provide beautiful music, as well as a safe and loving space for individuals to come and process whatever and however they need to. You’re not singing to an external deity – you’re allowing your own compassion and wisdom to open in your heart.”
“We are a spiritually-inspired band, and the ras (a Hindi word for “essence” or “juice”) is within our authenticity,”says Matt Moon Nelson, Chaparral Kirtan Band’s percussionist. “But the real magic happens when people show up and participate in the kirtan.”