interview. Jahnavi Harrison takes us on a journey into the dreamy realm of serenity called ‘Into The Forest’

“Forests and nature in general have always been a source of inspiration, rejuvenation and solace for me.”
11 December 2023

Jahnavi Harrison is a name you may recognise for a few reasons. Whether you’ve heard of her through her achievements as a musician or perhaps through her work with BBC Radio, to know her work is to recognise a truly dedicated artist, with an undying passion at the heart of everything she does. 

As a musician, Jahnavi’s achievements are impressive, to say the least. She released her debut album in 2015, and in 2016, she also featured Bhakti Without Borders, a Grammy-nominated charity album. In 2020, she released an EP entitled RISE in collaboration with Willow Smith, earning her millions of streams and even more global recognition.

Jahnavi was raised in England, by Bhakti-yoga practitioners at Bhaktivedanta Manor, a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu temple set in the Hertfordshire countryside. Bhakti yoga is one of the main yoga paths to enlightenment, and by definition, the word Bhakti means ‘‘love, devotion” in Sanskrit. These core values instilled in Jahnavi at a young age have obviously influenced her work tremendously, and she works with music as a medium to channel her creative expression.

As a singer and violinist, she has toured the world over the last decade performing sacred music and call-and-response mantra chanting (kirtan). The sound of her music consists of rich influences from both East and West, and her artistry provides a truly nourishing experience for both body and soul. 

Her latest release, Into the Forest (Live) is far more than just a live recording. This record is a gateway into the dreamy realm of serenity that Jahnavi provides with her music, and a unique chance for anyone to experience it and be enraptured by her ability to transport the listener to a place of deep tranquillity. 

The space of stillness and connection to our own sacred space and inner voice is always relevant

Into the Forest (Live)’: Can you share with us the inspiration behind choosing a live recording for this (fascinating) anniversary release?

I love live recordings. They are obviously a completely different type of offering than a studio album’ – perfectly imperfect’! The most obvious differences are that there are minimal opportunities to change or edit anything, which leads to an immediacy, energy and vibrancy that captures the experience of listening to live music. Secondly, they involve an audience! In the case of the recording we chose from the tour, an audience of 1200 people can be heard, singing their hearts out. That’s very precious!

The ‘Into the Forest tour visited five major cities in the US, each with its unique energy. How did the diverse audiences influence the live recording.

Every audience had their own energy and presence and we deeply appreciated that connection in each city. For us, every audience from the tour is present in the final LA recording because we were still feeling the resonance of day after day of singing with these beautiful hearts and voices.

The concert in Los Angeles was the culmination of the tour and the source for the ‘Into the Forest (Live)’ album. What made the L.A. performance particularly special, and how does it feel to revisit that moment through the recorded release?

I think our choice of the final concert recording to release was a challenging one, because there were magic moments in all of them. Ultimately the selection was more about how much tighter we were as a band at that point, and there was just a special energy on the final night, plus some guest musicians who really added to the sound, such as Radha Botofasina on harp. Revisiting the moment feels completely transportive…it was only a year ago and I still remember the experience vividly when I listen back!

‘Into the Forest’ seems to carry a profound theme centered around nature and its connection to spirituality. Can you elaborate on how you conceptualized and developed this theme throughout the tour?

Forests and nature in general have always been a source of inspiration, rejuvenation and solace for me. Naturally that comes out in my art also. The relationship of nature and spirituality is something we could speak forever about…for millennia, across many cultures, those seeking a deeper quiet and connection to the Divine have retreated to rivers, mountains and forests. Within the last couple years I was particularly inspired by the writings of the environmentalist, John Muir, whose words ‘and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul’ reverberated with me for a long time. He had profound spiritual experiences in nature – living in complete solitude in the mountains for long stretches of time. For the tour, the song featuring those words began the concert and was loosely threaded through the experience with the idea that we can experience this same spiritual connection as found in nature, by connecting with that same sacred energy through sound vibration – so together, we ‘grow a sonic forest’.

Collaborating with Grammy-winning music producer Chris Sholar and featuring a stellar group of musicians must have added a unique dimension to the tour. How did their contributions enhance the live experience, and what was it like working with such accomplished artists?

I love the band that came together so much! I’ve played with them all before, and have known most of them for many, many years, but never all together as a collective. Everyone came together and clicked so quickly and deeply. It was really an unexpected gift.

Your explanation of forests as “temples of nature” and the concept of growing a “sonic forest” through music is intriguing. How do you see music as a tool for connecting individuals to nature and a higher power?

I think that to be connected with music, to listen, to sing, to dance – are our natural state of being. Nature is full of music, and we are a part of nature. The more we align with uplifting vibrations, the closer we come to our true essence.

Into the Forest (Live) provides an opportunity for those who attended the concert to relive the experience and for those who couldn’t attend to connect with the magic. What emotions or messages do you hope listeners take away from this live recording?

I hope people feel transported and supported. My friend Keli Woods used a beautiful word recently that he hopes people feel in encountering his music – ‘solidarity’. That the music, the mantras, the prayers and stories are a friend in good times and bad. I hope people feel the relevance and power of collective prayer and how music can guide us in exploring the deepest questions of life.

Your journey in music, from your debut album in 2015 to collaborations with artists like Willow Smith, showcases a diverse and evolving creative path. How do you envision your music evolving in the future, and are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you can tease for your fans?

Next I’m excited to release a studio album of meditations and songs that evolved over the past couple of years. A lot of the early recordings and demos were born during the continuing isolation of 2021, due to covid-19. Though society in many ways has moved on – the space of stillness and connection to our own sacred space and inner voice is always relevant.

What is your musical guilty pleasure?

Listening in the car on a long drive. Especially blasting it out on a smooth summer evening 🙂

What is your favourite sound in the world?

Impossible to choose. Three are, the sound marigold flowers make when you pick them, the sound of the cello, the voices of my parents.