West Marin World Music Star Fires Up New Album in August

Best known musically for his heartfelt renditions and upbeat adaptations of classic Kirtans, West Marin world music artist Jai Uttal is renowned worldwide for his mixture of instrumental and spiritual offerings.

The son of a record company executive, Uttal grew up in New York and moved to the Bay Area in 1969 to study sarode and voice with Khan at the Ali Akbar School of Music.

Over the course of his career, Uttal has released over 20 albums that blend elements of reggae, jazz, Indian, samba and rock ’n’ roll.

Last year, Uttal continued to create music while dealing with the challenges of Covid-19, the intense wildfires that affected Marin County and the entire state of California, and political and social strife.

This summer, the 70-year-old Uttal releases his 21st studio album, Let Me Burn, on August 4 and plans his return to live shows for the first time in more than 15 months.

Let Me Burn is a showcase of Uttal’s signature vocals, devotional mantras, eclectic instrumentation and gorgeous production, created as a “balm for pandemic stress.”

The album’s opening track “Campfire Sri Ram” is a sweet, country-esque tune that’s been a favorite from the livestreams and online camps Uttal hosted while unable to tour. 

Uttal employs one of his favorite instruments, the banjo, on the album’s second track, “Ladder of Longing.” The song offers inspiration to climb higher on the devotional path. 

The epic title track “Let Me Burn” features acclaimed bansuri flutist Manose and multicultural music education organization the Chicago Children’s Choir. The song was written previously for a planned opera of the ancient Hindu epic, The Ramayana.

The album’s fourth track, “Asotoma,” is a song of the Pavamana Mantra, which was composed around 700 BCE.

Finally, “After The Burn (Shiva’s Lullaby)” completes the album with dreamy, meditative devotional Om Namah Shivaya, the ultimate reverence to Lord Shiva. 

“After The Burn (Shiva’s Lullaby)” was actually the first single from the forthcoming album, released in June as Uttal celebrated his 70th birthday and performed virtually as part of the successful Chant For India event that raised over $100,000 for Covid relief in that country.

That charity event was one of several ways that the West Marin musician raised awareness for those affected by the pandemic and other hardships over the last year.

Last summer, Uttal recorded and released the single “Behind the Walls.” The song addressed the Covid-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, where he works with inmates in an interfaith program.

“2020 was a year full of challenges, but it has also been a year of deep healing, personal growth and more intimate family interaction,” Uttal says in a statement. “The recent loosening of restrictions and the recent opportunity to give back to India, a country that has given me so much, has given me hope that 2021 will be a vast improvement over last year.”

On August 4, Uttal performs a virtual album-release concert. Uttal and guest artist Lucia Lilikoi will play the album as well as other songs written during the last year.

Next, on August 21, Uttal performs live with an evening of Kirtan outdoors at Subud Hall in Sebastopol. Tickets for both shows and links to pre-order Let Me Burn are available at jaiuttal.com.

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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