Finding our voice - Interview with Carmella Baynie

There is a quote by Gabriel Roth that goes: "In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: "When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?" 

When did you stop singing?

While those staying at the Krishna Village may be familiar with the sound of joyous singing at any given time of day, for others singing is not so commonplace. There are a myriad of reasons to cut ourselves off from our most natural way of self-expression - from lack of self-confidence to the pressure of societal expectations. One ridiculing childhood comment can be enough for us to turn inwards and shut down our voice for good. This natural act which we embrace as children can become an elusive activity rather than an everyday occurrence, confined to the privacy of our own cars or showers. 

Renew your connection

World renowned devotional singer Carmella ‘Gitanjali’ Baynie seeks to renew our connection with one of our most powerful tools. We got together with the woman herself to discuss the power of voice - from Kirtan and devotional singing to Bob Dylan and everything in between.  

Carmella, you have over thirty years of experience in the performing arts. But what is your earliest memory when it comes to singing and performing? Did you always have a passion for this, even as a child?

I was seven years old and my father invited me to join the diocese (collection of parishes) for a midnight mass. I was right at the bottom of the altar and remember being so nervous! My beautiful father was this staunch Maronite (Lebanese Catholic) and the mass was in Arabic. 

I would go to the Maronite church, but all my aunties kept their connection to Latin mass, so I would go to English to Arabic to Latin mass as a child, it wasn’t just one memory but a collection. We lived near an abbey and our weekends were spent running around hanging out with clergy and at grottos and orphanages where the nuns were with Aboriginal kids, completely drenched in sacred music.

In the early 80s, every Sunday night we’d have a rock mass with guitars, all there at the font. And at age 16 I had my first yoga class and I was gone. I was seriously practicing aged 19 and my obsession with yoga moved into philosophy and study of the Vedas, then I fell in love with Krishna and discovered Kirtan through Krishna Consciousness... So my life is steeped in sacred singing, it’s something I’ll do for eternity.

You have studied of classical singing for 12 years and borrow from various genres when crafting your own songs. What in particular drew you towards devotional music?  

I had the career as a pop singer age 21 and the music industry was very corrupt and male dominated, materialistic... There was something really missing in my heart because my spiritual life was progressing so rapidly it was a little incongruous to be feeding the beast of the music industry.

I was chanting the Maha Mantra when the label fell apart, and through a very clever arrangement of the universe I kept getting invited to Kirtans - and that was it! Singing chants is Bhakti yoga in its purest form and is so beautiful, I just wanted to share that. In the pop scene music is for your own pleasure, but then when it moves into this it becomes medicine, panacea, it affects the very ether around you. Science is now proving positive sound vibration alters/penetrates matter. So when we are chanting these very pure mantras, we are permeating the very fabric of the air around us. A mind blowing concept!

Would you share with us an anecdote of a real breakthrough moment with a client or a favourite memory of an individual who has really gone on to flourish after studying with you? 

A client used to come to me every week without fail and had never sung during her whole adult life. She remembered singing as a young child and being kicked out of the choir by a nasty teacher and burying that desire early on and never singing again. She said she just wanted to come every week for chakra meditation and I said 'absolutely', and we did that every week for a year without fail.

Then she met a man and they fell in love and she found out he had cancer. She finally came to me ready to learn a song and she said it's going to be Carole King. Not long after this I left town and received an email from her. She told me that her husband had passed away as she sat beside him and sang Carole King’s ‘Way Over Yonder’ as he was leaving his body and he went from struggling to being peaceful. She said ‘I used my voice to take him through to the other life and I will be thankful for the rest of my life.’

That email changed my life... I was successful as an artist then, but when that came through I said ‘Ok, this is what I have to do, I can’t waste my time feeding my ego.’

Which singers or speakers have inspired you the most?

I have so many broad influences I don’t know where to begin... I was always in love with Bob Dylan as a teenager for the magic of his melodies and words. His voice wasn’t that good but it was the power of his messages... I’ve always really been into words. When I left school, I enjoyed all the American writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac, and enjoyed the stream of consciousness writing - it really influenced me in my songwriting. I also fell in love with the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and still can’t get a grip on the potency of their writing. It’s a passion which will never change.

What three top tips would you give to people who find it hard to express themselves verbally? 

1. Know your truth even if you can’t express it.

Learn this through self-enquiry: What is your truth in this moment? What do you want to say? My voice was always challenged - by my Lebanese father, by the Catholic church, but something pushed me to keep going.

2. Establish and deepen your connection to your breathing.

Your breath is fuel to the voice.

3. Have the courage to say the wrong thing and screw up!

The critical mind is very useful but very debilitating, it can cut that natural pathway between brain and voice in the blink of an eye, and if you are going for perfection all the time, you might not open your mouth. Just recently my voice was doing strange things at a concert but I was crying out to God - it’s raw and not easy and life is not perfect. The sound might not be ‘perfect’, but we got it out and did it and made a connection. 

You can want something and talk about it for years until the cows come home, but you can also just do it in one quantum leap - do it now. People get great results because it’s natural, it’s innate to have a voice and to use it.

For details on Carmella's upcoming retreat at visit the Power of Voice info page.