Los Angeles Band White Sun on How Yogic Mantras Won Them a Grammy
‘White Sun II’, which also topped the New Age and World Music charts, beat out the likes of Enya and Vangelis to win the Best New Age Album this year
The Grammys seem to have taken a shine to Indian-rooted music of late, in all earnestness. In 2015, they awarded the Best New Age Album to Bengaluru-based producer-composer Ricky Kej for Winds of Samsara, while Los Angeles-based German-American Madi Das’ spiritual album Bhakti Without Borders was nominated in 2016 in the same category.
And earlier this year in February, another L.A. group, White Sun, who put together their renditions of yogic mantras on White Sun II, won the Grammy for Best New Age album. They were nominated alongside pioneers of the ambient, world music and New Age genres – from Vangelis to Enya to multi-nominee Peter Kater.
The trio – comprising vocalist Gurujas, instrumentalist Harijiwan and composer Adam Berry – went to the awards show without any expectations. Gurujas, the angelic face of the band, says over email, “It was super exciting. This was my first awards show. Adam Berry has won two Emmys and has been nominated nine times, so he is the veteran. But both Harijiwan and I, this is our first Grammy nomination. The whole time we kept thinking, and we didn’t get a chance to meet her, that Enya was in the room. She is an absolute legend.”
On their 11-track second album, the follow-up to their 2015 eponymous debut, White Sun have a range of influences – from gospel blues and folk to ambient. All laid over Gurujas’s soft ethereal chants of verses from the Guru Granth Sahib and those by Guru Gobind Singh. As much as it might sound like a put-on to some Indian listeners, the album packs in many years of influence from yoga for both Gurujas and Harijiwan, who are as much teachers as they are musicians.
Gurujas, who began performing with the Cleveland Orchestra’s Children’s Chorus at the age of 11, says she still listens to everything from Western classical and pop to dance music. She says, “I’ll listen to anything that comes out. Hip-hop had a huge influence on me—I loved the beat, and felt the beat move and propel me.”
They teamed up with Adam Berry, the man behind that quirky intro music to animated comedy South Park and two decades composing music for TV and film. The collaborators adding flavors on White Sun II include Grammy-winning Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate, Fiddle player Gabe Witcher, prolific singers Julia Waters, Maxine Waters and Oren Waters, and tabla player and UCLA lecturer Abhiman Kaushal. Gurujas adds, “These are the songs of the yogis, these mantras, these ancient sounds want to be heard within new musical landscapes.”
The aim, of course, is to create music that heals and “makes people feel better,” as Gurujas says. At a time when Sikhs and Indians may feel an air of hostility in the United States, White Sun’s music does well to calm a few nerves for sure. Gurujas adds, “When you feel better you can think clearer, and when you can think clearer you can act better, and then old ignorant ideas and cultural prejudices start to drop out of your consciousness.”
The words come from a space of complete spiritual belief, but White Sun’s Grammy win sees them continue their prolific streak. They’ve made two albums within two years and they’re already working on White Sun III. One major difference – Gurujas will be recording her first album after becoming a mother. However, she adds, “We recorded White Sun II during my pregnancy, and I was still laying down vocals a week after my due date.” Almost jokingly, she says, “I’m finding on this new album that it’s a lot easier to sing when I’m not pregnant.”
India shows are also on the cards, as well, along with a world tour after recording White Sun III. “We are very much looking forward to coming to India. I am also a kundalini yoga teacher trainer, and I give courses around the world with my teacher, Harijiwan.”
Listen to White Sun II