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There is a long-held theory that states that the most inspiring art is the kind that’s born of contradiction: the deaf piano player that composes a stunning symphony; the profoundly wise teacher who has the radiance and lightness of a child; or the band that results when an ex-nu metal frontman meets a former blues singer, a rock drummer, and they write pop songs based on five thousand year-old chants.

That’s the beguiling riddle of Butterthief (formerly Bhakti), the band consisting of Manish Tandon (vocals & guitar), Mary Walker (Vocals) and Joey Repice (Percussion and drums). And in one further contradiction, the purpose of Butterthief is not to entertain – it’s to inspire, to uplift and to enable healing. Butterthief are the rare group that runs from the limelight. “We’re really just facilitators,” explains Tandon. “We don’t really want this band to be about us – it’s a way for us to facilitate that energy that comes from these chants, and to help people have a profound experience for themselves.” Walker concurs. “What we do is not a performance,” she says. “It’s a communion of people singing and playing music together that raises the energy.”
That communion is born of a shared belief: the members of Butterthief all follow The Art of Living, the meditation principles established and taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It is The Art of Living that unifies the members of Butterthief, despite their different backgrounds, and it was because of The Art of Living that the band got its start.

“I went to an Art of Living talk back in 1998,” Tandon – the ex-metal frontman – recalls, “And before Sri Sri Ravi Shankar came on, there was a man and a woman on stage playing music and singing. And I didn’t think much of it at first, but as I started paying attention, I realized that they were singing in Sanskrit. Now, because I’m Indian, I had heard Sanskrit singing when I was a child, but it didn’t have the same joy or lightness to it that this did.” Though that initial experience was Tandon’s first introduction to chant-based singing, it wasn’t until several years later that he decided to bring his own musical background to bear on his newfound beliefs. Many of his future bandmates had begun doing the same thing. The group evolved organically, its members meeting at various Art of Living programs around New York City. “I got involved with the program shortly after 9/11,” Walker says. “I had lost my job and was pretty stressed, but I found that by constantly practicing the breathing techniques and meditation, that so many of the stumbling blocks in my life have gone away.” Repice agrees, saying “The lineage of these practices is just so powerful. I fell in love immediately.”

Butterthief’s music is a natural outgrowth of that shared love. Though their songs are based on ancient chants – designed to be performed in the traditional call-and-response format – they incorporate a vast array of musical styles. In Buttterthief songs, you can hear burbling electro-dance rhythms, the lithe, mysterious harmonies of traditional Indian music, sweet, soothing folk and explosive yet melodic Brit rock. It’s a brash, eclectic array of styles and influences that combine to create a singular effect. “Sound carries energy,” Tandon explains, “and the words we sing are thousands of years old, so they’re charged with a lot of that energy. The words that we use – the melody, the tempo, even the sequence we do the chants in – that’s all crucial. When we lead a kirtan, the goal is for the thoughts of everyone in the room to come into harmony, because we’re all saying the same words.”

“Sanskrit chanting can have profound affect on the nervous system,”Walker explains. “It’s an ancient language that resonates down to the being.” Repice elaborates, saying, “It’s the energy of the community that makes it special.”
Butterthief’s unique, genre-gobbling approach to songwriting has already netted them considerable attention. They have performed everywhere from Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, New York’s Town Hall, The United Nations to the Bonnaroo festival. But for Butterthief, while those experiences may be rewarding, they’re not the end goal.
“I’ve looked out into crowds of thousands of people, all of them dancing, smiling letting go and having a blast without any drugs or anything,” Repice says. “Knowing that what I was doing was a part of their experience – that was mind-blowing.”
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