Kalyani: Understanding the balance
Special to The Union
Local singer-songwriter Kalyani remembers her first attempts to entertain as being less than enjoyable.
The daughter of a singer dubbed the Frank Sinatra of San Jose, and a mother who, while supportive, could at times be overbearing, a very young Kalyani was frequently called upon to sing and dance for guests.
The result was the introduction of a little voice inside her head telling her to stop, that those she was singing for didn’t care to hear her. It would be a voice that she would battle to turn off for years.
“Friends would come over and Mom would say ‘sing us a song,’ and I wouldn’t think it was appropriate, but feel like it was something I had to do,” Kalyani said. “So I associated performing with embarrassment. But now, singing is a completely different thing for me; it’s really rewarding.”
Since arriving in Grass Valley a little over a year ago, Kalyani has been busy performing in a variety of Northern California venues, including coffee houses, bistros, churches, farmer’s markets, and psychic fairs.
And other than the fact she really can sing, what sets her apart is her original material, which is closely tied to her spiritual beliefs.
She counts herself a member of the New Thought spirituality movement, and the songs she produces are melodically catchy and lyrically faith-based.
There’s a definite balance an artist must strike when trying to serenade audiences with message music.
Think of the 1970s-era Bob Dylan, who felt the backlash from some resistant fans when he began releasing Christian albums, while at the same time Bob Marley was gaining legendary status for his Rastafarian-soaked material.
Each artist came locked and loaded with a spiritual message, but for some reason one sounded a lot more hip to audiences of the time, than the other.
Kalyani says she understands that balance.
“So much of it depends on how it’s presented, not hard-core-ing your faith,” she said. “It’s really all about sharing a personal experience through music, and that’s what I hope comes through.”
Born in San Jose, most of Kalyani’s grammar school years were spent in Colorado, where she estimates that she attended “something like 12 schools in 12 years.” Immediately after high school, she bolted from Colorado Springs to Minneapolis, where she spent her first night alone in a rented room at a YMCA.
Minneapolis in the 1980s was exploding with popular music, with performers like Prince, the Replacements, and Husker Du leaving their imprint on the American music scene.
Kalyani joined a band called Flower Industry, the high point coming when they opened a show for New Order.
What followed was a stint in San Francisco where she started a 20-year love affair with classical Indian dance, four years of “endless summer” bouncing between Italy and India, then back to the States, where she founded an Indian dance company in Portland.
Looking back on it now, she believes all those experiences were just preparation for her true calling, the life of a six-string troubadour trying to bring people together with song.
Just before 2000, she began to write songs in earnest, her first attempts coming from what she describes as a place of pain involving relationships, then evolving to something decidedly more sacred.
“There was a part of me that felt lost and was trying to get in touch with my higher self,” Kalyani said.
A subsequent move to Hawaii seemed to only add fuel to her creative fire.
“Music became a great medicine for me and because I was living in a very isolated place in Hawaii, that experience taught me how to be in nature and how to listen and how to clear a space for songs to come in,” Kalyani said. “Hawaii was a reclusive time for me, but now it’s time to put my songs out there. If it’s my own personal medicine, then it’s bound to make some other people feel good too. Songs are spiritual tools and I’m privileged to share them.”
Since arriving in Nevada County, she has played with a handful of different musicians backing her in a group she calls Circle Up, the most active member being percussionist Andy Gonzales.
“I saw her perform at an open mic at the Crazy Horse Saloon and something inside told me that I had to play with her,” Gonzales said. “I asked her if she could use a percussionist, and she took me up on the offer.”
Gonzales has been a long-time Grass Valley fixture, playing with many musicians and bands through the years, but his time with Kalyani, while challenging, has been unlike anything he’s done before. One song in particular moves him.
“‘Faith’ is an incredible song,” Gonzales said. “I’ve told Kalyani that my dream is that someday we play it in a cathedral with a full orchestra.”
In the almost 10 years she has been writing and performing her songs, Kalyani has released five CDs, honing her craft to the point where she now feels like the songs she’s producing will stand the test of time.
“I think the whole planet is starting to wake up, focusing on things like integrity and truth,” Kalyani said. “These songs help in that movement. It’s about people tuning into their true natures and recognizing what we share together.”
To hear Kalyani’s music, go to her website at http://www.kalyanibliss.com.
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