Some artists have a presence that is both a siren and soothing, an ear that can hear the resonances that bridge continents and souls. Simrit is one of those artists.
Some have called her epic and cinematic, grounded in groove yet transcendently mystical vibe the musical equivalent of the edgy, enigmatic style of directors David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. Grammy nominated Indian devotional singer Snatam Kaur says, “For Simrit, singing is not a performance, it is sacred worship of the Divine.” Steven Tyler and Belinda Carlisle among her friends and devotees. With a deeply emotional, spiritually intuitive and richly textured synthesis of sounds that take you to an otherworldly place, Simrit and her band over the last several years have created a flow of empowering energy, packing theatres and concert halls around the world, recording chart-topping albums and inspiring fans to listen, be transformed and fuel a palpable musical movement.
A modern-day Renaissance woman who defines musical entrepreneurship in the age of DIY, Simrit is the founder and CEO of her independent record label Simrit Kaur Music. Launching her recording career with The Sweetest Nectar in 2010, she has topped numerous world music charts, including iTunes, where her recordings have been at #1 for consecutive weeks at a time. The singer’s last three recordings placed on the Top Ten on the Billboard New Age Albums chart – including From the Ancient Form (2015), which hit #3; Songs of Resilience (2016), which reached #6; and Live, Spring 2017, which peaked at #8. Songs of Resilience also hit #8 on Billboard’s World Albums chart.
“The music I write myself and the music that I also write with with my bandmates and perform reflects where I/we are in one moment of life, and the mystical vibe that I/we like to inhabit within it,” Simrit says. “Each album is simply a marker of what came through me in that moment, via a stream of consciousness. If I really like it and resonate with it, then I put it out. Usually before I put an album out for the public, I’m already on to the next project. The way that I develop a strong relationship with the songs is by playing them live with my incredible band, which allows the pieces themselves to tell me what they are all about – and that is never a static thing. The music is truly my teacher and it never keeps the same meaning. The same song can take on 20 different meanings on a tour, depending on what we feel the particular night and where we are playing.”
As thousands of fans throughout the world know, unique instrumentation is an intrinsic part of Simrit’s limitless musical palette, which starts with her highly penetrating and ethereal vocals and unique way of playing the harmonium, a pump-organ type instrument that originated in France which the British later brought to India in the early 1900’s. Each member of her band plays an integral role in the creation of her live and studio experience. Classical cellist Shannon Haden often plays live on a vintage cello from the early 1800’s and uses a pedalboard to create sonic effects around it. Salif Bamakora plays the kora, a West African (Mali) 21-string gourd whose strings are made from fishing line and generate a sound that is somewhere between harp, guitar and piano. Salif has been studying for 20 years in Africa with famous kora players Madou Diabate and Toumani. Multi-talented jazz bassist Jared May plays electric bass, standup bass and Moog synthesizer in the band, while drummer Devon Ashley plays both a kit and hand drums.
Ashley has played with artists like Beck and also The Lemonheads for crowds of over 100,000 at Coachella. Simrit’s vast array of musical influences tell the fascinating story of her life. It begins in Athens, where a young singer from a prominent musical family had to give up her newborn daughter.
That child was orphaned and then adopted by an American Greek couple, who took Simrit, born Stavroula (sometimes Americanized as Stefani) as a toddler to South Carolina. Her upbringing in the strong Greek culture laid a dynamic foundation for her later musical endeavors, as she grew up learning traditional Greek dances, learning the Greek language and singing and chanting 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.”
Simrit’s musical inclinations were supported by her parents with piano, drum and voice lessons, and even as a preschooler, she was always humming her own tunes. As she grew up, Simrit’s musical sensibilities expanded to include The Grateful Dead, rock and roll gods Led Zeppelin, dream rockers Mazzy Star, heartfelt songwriters like Jeff Buckley, art rockers Dead Can Dance and folk goddess Loreena McKennitt. She also embraced roots reggae and world music from the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent.
Another dynamic piece to the puzzle is her passion for African drumming. As Simrit headed to college, she found herself magnetized to this art form. After hearing the Ghanaian Odunde Ensemble at the Spoleto Festival, she was inspired to start learning and playing African drums. “I wanted so much to be a part of this,” says Simrit. “I approached the drum master from Ghana, though there weren’t any women in the group. 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 then I was a part of the drumming company.” Transcending genre boundaries and traditional musical conventions, Simrit’s unique sound and intricate tapestry of artistic expressions have inspired and pushed the boundaries of music into fresh and innovative new territories. She mixes distilled philosophical statements with ethereal and hooky arrangements; turns 16th-century Gurmukhi poetry into hypnotically grooving songs; develops anthemic melodies and pulsing sensations; and creates earthbound yet surreal soundscapes richly threaded with ancient mantras. With the keen ability to bring the depth of the sacred and ancient to the modern world and contemporary music, Simrit says, “The Revolution is the strength to walk alone knowing we are not alone, and it is the strength to walk together into the unknown” 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,” and her new women’s course, “Clear & Confident,” continue to be studied by thousands worldwide. In addition to composing, recording and producing music and touring with her band, she conducts workshops across the globe. Simrit’s latest album When We Return will be released in early November 2019.