“One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das” 3.5 / 5 stars - “I think of him as someone who can convey emotion and belief and spirit with his voice, and that makes it very powerful.”
Famed record producer Rick Rubin is speaking about kirtan singer Krishna Das, and friends, colleagues, intellectuals, and the man himself chronicle his winding and spiritual journey to become “The Chant Master of American Yoga” (as quoted by the New York Times).
In his first feature documentary, director Jeremy Frindel lays out - along with fascinating pictures and video - Krishna Das’s rise to stardom.
Born Jeffrey Kagel in 1947 and growing up with insecurities and self-doubt which can frequently torment any teenager, he unexpectedly found - in his early 20‘s - devout interest in India and the teachings of a Hindu guru, Maharaj-ji.
Moving back and forth between New York and India over the course of 30 or so years, he continually reached his arms towards enlightenment, but his demons continually plagued him.
Frindel does a good job of capturing this struggle.
Often sitting on a sofa and wearing a red plaid shirt or t-shirt, Krishna Das speaks to Frindel’s camera with complete frankness about his music and his love for Maharaji-ji, but also his abusive drug use.
We’ve seen many stories of struggling musicians on VH-1‘s “Behind the Music” series over the years, but this one applies a different twist by exploring the relatively unexplored topic of kirtan.
Several clips warmly show Krishna Das - who is always armed with a harmonium (a type of small pump organ) - and his bandmates comfortably sitting on stage and playing traditional kirtan music in front accepting audiences.
With the kneeling crowds closing their eyes, raising their arms and swaying with the music like devout followers, some of the concert footage, admittedly, may seem a bit cultish or odd to western movie audiences.
This particular movie critic enjoys yoga, but I hadn’t even heard of Krishna Das - or for that matter, kirtan - until nine days ago.
After listening to the music in this movie and other random youtube clips, it’s easy to recognize the spiritual quality and positive essence conveyed from musicians to audience and vice-versa.
The movie offers a plethora of very good concert footage of Krishna Das’s connection with his audiences, but the film’s most moving scene is a one-on-one musical performance for a man (Jason Becker) suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It’s a moment that truly captures the affecting power of music.
With a runtime of only 74 minutes, I wanted Frindel to spend more such moments interviewing the average fan, and unfortunately, he doesn't.
It’s not a terrible miss, but certainly a missed opportunity to better translate Krishna Das’s music to moviegoers (and me too).
That said, Krishna Das’s fans will rightfully embrace this film, and for others, “One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das” provides a good introduction to kirtan and to a man “who can convey emotion and belief and spirit with his voice.”
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