In the intimate setting of the New Orleans Healing Center, performers from diverse faiths and cultures will gather Saturday for the Sacred Music Festival — a celebration that incorporates music, chanting and ceremonies.

“With so much tension and division … we want to help celebrate the connection, the universal thread that we all have as human beings,” said Sean Johnson, co-founder of the Sacred Music Festival and vocalist and harmonium player for Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band.

The festival offers a rare opportunity to experience Tibetan Buddhist chants and dance, spoken word poetry, medieval hymns, Japanese Shinto drumming, cantorial prayer, spirituals, blues, gospel, the Muslim call to prayer, mantra music and, for the first time this year, Sufi music.

Steering away from the feeling of being stuck in church, many of the performances are interactive and educational, teaching people about faiths and cultures they are otherwise never exposed to.

Kirtan music, for example, has deep roots in the practice of yoga in India.

“The practice of Kirtan is really designed to help people open up their hearts and sing through any numbness and dullness that they may feel inside themselves,” Johnson said.

The Wild Lotus Band takes Kirtan music and the traditional mantras — a word or sound repeated to aid meditation — and blends that with genres such as rock, gospel and folk music.

“The mantras in many cases have been chanted for thousands of years,” said Johnson. “Each of the mantras are associated with a particular kind of universal quality or strength that we have inside of us, and when we chant these mantras, it is a way of engaging the attribute that we all have, no matter what our beliefs are, the language we speak or where we come from.”

With each mantra or song, lasting for about 15 to 20 minutes, Kirtan music is designed to be interactive and participatory.

“It is a really electrifying feeling when everybody is singing along and participating. It takes it to a whole other level, and it becomes less of a performance and more of an actual visceral experience,” Johnson said.  Read the full article here.