Cat Matlock and Japa put on a far from typical barroom show for their CD release party, Kirtan Music for the Sacred Journey to Motherhood at the White Horse in Black Mountain on Oct. 16. A small altar with offerings to Hindu gods and goddesses took center stage, band members were barefoot and Matlock led the band with Sanskrit vocals and a harmonium. Audience members ranged from seniors to newborns; many of the women present were mothers and moms-to-be that have been listening to the music in Matlock’s prenatal yoga classes.
It was the mamas that inspired Matlock, owner of West Asheville Yoga, to pursue recording the album. For years, Matlock has been teaching prenatal yoga and singing Sanskrit mantras to her pregnant students while they rest in savasana — a resting pose that concludes a yoga sequence. “I love working with prenatal women,” says Matlock. “It felt so powerful to bring that into my yoga classes with pregnant mamas to support them in their journey … I started getting a lot of requests, starting about five to six years ago, to make a CD for them so that they could continue to sing at home, to sing to their new babies, or to use the music for their delivery.”
While the mantras were chosen for their special relevance to birth and motherhood, Matlock says that the mantras are helpful for anyone creating or “birthing” a new project.
Matlock and her band, which consists of local artists Alvin Young, Jeffrey Schmitt, and Scott Mills with guest musicians Taylor Johnson, Anya Hinkle, Stacy Claude, and Chris Rosser, performed all the songs on the album, beginning with a call to the goddess Ganesha and concluding with a Kirtan-style lullaby. Special guests included vocalists Luna Kristin Ray and Melanie Leenhouts as well as the Asheville Mama Chorus, a small group of Asheville mothers. Matlock’s daughter, Kayla, also joined the band for a guest vocal performance. Audience members clapped their hands, sang, and danced along to the music, chanting the names of Hindu deities such as Shiva, Lakshmi and Krishna.
For many Asheville yogis and spiritual seekers, Kirtan — a call and response singing of Sanskrit mantras — is a regular practice. Matlock says that the tradition is “huge” in the Asheville yoga and wellness community because of its positive effect on the mind. “The word mantra comes from two roots, ‘manas’ is mind and ‘tra’ or ‘tri’ is freedom from, or protection,” explains Matlock, “So, it’s freedom from the mind or protection of the mind. A lot of my yoga practice is chanting mantras … I have, for many years, used mantras when I notice that I’m thinking negative thoughts or I’m about to do something that is not good for me. I pause and take a breath and start chanting a mantra to change the channel in my mind. It helps me to feel healthier and stronger and to make better choices.”
Matlock explains that chanting mantras is a practice within yoga that one might not readily associate with the more mainstream, physical practice; it’s called Bhakti yoga, or, the yoga of devotion. “You are honoring and giving your heart over to the energies that you’re calling in,” says Matlock. “I say energies instead of gods or goddesses because they are shown in those forms, but ultimately, the tradition of Hinduism is truly monotheistic; we all come from one source, but that source divides itself in billions of ways … Ganesha is the energy that removes obstacles and Lakshmi is the one that showers us with blessings. We are chanting these mantras and we do the same ones over and over again to help us to clear our hearts and help us to actually become a channel for the energies that we’re singing to.”
Furthermore, Matlock’s focus on motherhood and birth is very intentional. “There is some tough stuff going on in the world,” says Matlock. “We need mamas to be supported…so that they are raising children that are loved and strong and creative. We are going to need creative beings who are loved and who have a solid foundation to stand on to address the changing world ahead and so this is my offering to that.”
The album, Kirtan Music for the Sacred Journey to Motherhood is available for purchase on CD Baby.