Bhajan Karaoke

Sailaja Sree Parasa • Aug 15, 2020

COVID-19 has drastically changed our lifestyles; however, it has also brought us closer to God by proving his omnipresence. He is ever so available to listen to our offerings through various mediums.

Pre-Covid, we had in-person devotional bhajan offerings for Swami every Sunday, but since the shelter-in-place orders, we haven’t been able to meet to sing His glory!

During this time, one day, my sister sent me karaoke recordings of her singing old film songs. As I was listening, a thought flashed into my mind, “How about bhajan karaoke? Do we have anything like that?”. My understanding so far was that Karaoke was only meant for film songs.

Next day during my Pooja, I asked Swami, “Swami, is there a bhajan karaoke?” and then simply forgot about this thought. A week later, the Fremont Sai Center officers came across the bhajan karaokes available on Radio Sai. When the officers announced that we would be using this resource, I was thrilled!!! I immediately looked at Swami and thanked him with immense gratitude. Once again, Swami proved that He is hridayavasi, and He is watching and listening to all our thoughts.

In the beginning...

The karaoke journey started with a simple spreadsheet listing volume-1 bhajans. Our task was to sign up for the various roles: lead and chorus singers for the bhajans in the volume. We’ve been blessed with a talented and eager audio team that provided a workshop on how to do the recordings with the karaoke tracks.

Initially, we used two devices: a Laptop and a phone. The Laptop was used to listen to karaoke tracks and the phone was used to record our bhajans. This started with fewer-than-ideal center member participation, but eventually with Swami’s guidance and the excellent subsequent support of all the members, we were successfully able to complete recording bhajan karaokes for almost 5 volumes. At first, our center officers coordinated the members to get signups for the tracks. After a couple of volumes, I was asked to help coordinate the bhajans. As per Swami’s will, I took the opportunity and coordinated weekly bhajan practice, regularly collaborated with our karaoke team of singers and the audio team to ensure we were on the schedule for our weekly devotional offering. Throughout the entire collaboration I felt very joyful. This journey of practicing and offering bhajans to Swami regularly immensely satisfied our souls. We connected with Swami continuously, experienced the bliss of bhajan singing, and had the opportunity to learn so many new bhajans.

Recording with a computer and phone.

The evolution...

This enthusiastic participation energized everyone and our audio team took it to the next level. We began using specialized software for bhajan recordings: Bandlab and GarageBand. We even got the opportunity to learn audio editing to better the outcome. We started to correctly edit the bhajans to help the audio team in making excellent quality bhajans which ran smoothly upon mixing and mastering. So far, we have completed 7 bhajan volumes of karaokes.

When I think about how it all started, the journey thus far and the current stage of where we are as a Sai family, an immense sense of bliss overcomes me, again taking me into the next level of bhajan singing!! I must say that in this journey I never felt stressed or restless because the divine energy was evidently flowing through all of us as we sang.

Using BandLab

Bandlab from a user perspective is a very simple application which is browser-based and easy to use.

Setting up with BandLab

Prerequisite: You should have either a desktop or laptop (Mac or Windows)

Step-1: In any browser, please input

Step-2: You can either sign-up for a new account by clicking “signup” or click on “continue with Google” if you already have a Gmail account.

Step-3: A list of questions gauging your interest will come up. If you are a vocalist, or guitar player etc., you can select on those options. Otherwise, you can skip this section.

Step-4: Once you have your user ID, you will need to share that with the karaoke group so that the admin can add you as collaborators. Thereafter, you can login and sing chorus directly into the project (see video below).

Recording a Bhajan

Step-1: When you enter the “Editor” mode of the bhajan, please click “Add Track”. You will see that a new track has been created for you to record the bhajan.

Step-2: Name the track with your name-chorus, example: “Ram-chorus”

Step-3: To avoid overwriting existing tracks on the bhajan, please click “Collaborators” on the bottom right of the Editor screen and click “Start Live Session”. This will let others know that you are editing the project and will prevent them from recording until you end your session.

Step-4: After your recording is done, click “Save” and then click “End Session”.

As the video shows, singers can now listen to the track live, and record exactly at the points that they should, helping the audio mixers align the track, get the right timing and have the ability to redo very easily if there are mistakes. Moreover, this approach of listening to our center members lead a Bhajan and then follow along with others' voices recreates the feeling of familiar communal singing that we so long for! Thank you Swami!

Singers' Experiences

Here are a few snippets of the center karaoke singers’ experiences:

At first, the process of recording bhajans alone didn’t appeal. The stark contrast between the feeling of communal singing and singing by myself felt a bit much. However, it’s become quite fulfilling to know that my voice will be joined with others’ voices in the final product, which will then be shared with even more people.- Ellesha Wanigasekera

Singing along with Karaoke was a different and fun experience altogether. I got to learn many bhajans which I might not have listened to at all otherwise. The tracks were simple, easy to follow and I could redo the recordings if they did not come out well. This is not possible in live singing! Practising bhajans was very easy with the reference track. With the Sai Rhythms app, I could play the reference track repeatedly and practice along with it while doing chores. The more times I sang, the more I remembered Swami. Many thanks for the team who worked hard to put it together. Looking forward for more bhajans. Sairam.- Saroja Potturi

I think that this Bhajan Karaoke is a very great Idea to express love for Swami even though we can’t come together as one. Bhajan Karaoke has helped me express myself for the better and it helped me become a confident person when I speak. At first I used to dislike the feeling of singing to a big audience and it overwhelmed me a lot when I used to think people expected a perfect song. But with the COVID situation my mother told me about the Bhajan Karaoke and I took a chance and signed up as a lead for one of the bhajans. It felt like I was in a recording studio with headphones, and a mic when using BandLab. It felt exhilarating, and over all that experience actually was a real good breath of fresh air! I can express myself through this instead!- Aditi Thirumannamalai (SSE Student Group 3)

Not everything about COVID is bad. I say this as the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Fremont has come up with a creative solution to continue the Sunday Bhajan singing activity at this time when everyone is locked down in their homes.”Karaoke bhajan singing!!” Yes, you heard it right. With numerous tracks available, a lot of members are now singing and recording lead and chorus tracks. The audio team helps us mix these and voila! We have a wonderful bhajan with accompaniment chorus et al. Many such pieces put together results in a bhajan session. This seems to be the silver lining of the ominous dark cloud that COVID is. Jai Sairam!- Geeta Midde Seshadri

Alongside these unique challenging times, we do find many blessings. Overnight, your spiritual, social, business life are all online. We are all forced to learn new techniques to adapt to the new normal. One such tech craft I had to learn was to record karaoke bhajans in a BandLab. For a non-music connoisseur like me, Karaoke bhajans have been a wonderful and blissful experience. When we sang the chorus at the center, I did not pay much attention as all the voices merged together, but while recording for Karaoke, I am more aware of my bhava, raga & tala. Since I record solo voices, the tendency is to make it your best token of love for Swami. First, we were recording with multiple gadgets and now with BandLab is much easier. Sai Ram- Mallika Desu

Karaoke is one of the best techniques through which we can render our bhajans during the Covid pandemic. This technology is a very good approach to sync our bhajans together along with the music (Lead & Choruses). The BandLab website/app makes recordings very simple and flexible to slice, and align the bhajans. Overall, our experience is amazing and spectacular. Thanks to our center team members who have put in great efforts. - Chitra Sekar