The Asheville music community suffered a staggering loss this week with the untimely passing of multi-instrumentalist Andrew Barnett, aka Renjith Iya. Renjith was a member of a number of local groups including Sangita Devi, Arundas and The Rootz Family.
Renjith was one of the founders of Sangita Davi, a musical and spiritual group that has lead weekly kirtan practice in Asheville for most of a decade. In its early days, the group met in a Montford home and as its following grew, it moved to various yoga centers and community spaces. Its current home is at Nourish & Florish, Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. Learn more about the local kirtan scene and Renjith’s role in its development here.
In addition to leading kirtan with Sangita Devi, Renjith and members of Sangita Devi helped to bring to Asheville (and then served as a backing band for) reknowned kirtan leaders such as Bhagavan Das and Jai Uttal.
But a person didn’t have to share an interest in devotional chanting to be touched by Renjith’s bright smile and generous spirit. His performances with local world music collective Arundas drew sell-out crowds. He also performed with the likes of Shimshai, Tina Malia, Arjun and the Guardians, Wah and others.
Watch a video of Renjith performing with his band, The Rootz Family:
Renjith will be dearly missed at LEAF this weekend, where he and Sangita Devi have long led kirtan practice. The group had the honor of opening past LEAF gatherings. He will also be missed as a figure around Asheville; not only as a musician but as a friend and shining light at festivals, concerts, potlucks and in the checkout line at Greenlife. Those close to him knew that he made a conscious choice a few years back to leave full-time employment in order to whole-heartedly pursue his career as a musician. It was a brave move, and one that inspired many around him. Renjith was a devotee of Amma, embracing her message of compassion.
Renjith passed away at his family’s home in Tennessee, and the family held funeral services today (Friday, Oct. 21). A public memorial service for Renjith’s Asheville-based community, friends and extended family takes place on Friday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m. at the Warren Wilson College Chapel. Donations are being accepted to help with the cost of the celebration of Renjith’s life.
Though all too brief — only 37 years — Renjith’s life is indeed one worth celebrating whether at his memorial service,by sharing a message on his Facebook page, by attending kirtan or simply by sharing with each other the sort of warm kindness Renjith shared with all of us.