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Jai Uttal
Hometown: New York, NY
Web site:
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Grammy nominated Jai Uttal (2002 Mondo Rama) is a pioneer in the world music community with his eclectic “East-meets-West” sound. Uttal’s album Queen of Hearts (Nutone Records) is a unique mixture of reggae, ska, and samba rhythms, used as a backdrop for call and response, dance-oriented Kirtan.

As a child in New York City, Jai’s home was filled with music. He began studying classical piano at the age of seven, and later learned to play old time banjo, harmonica, and guitar. His exploratory nature soon took him even further afield, resulting in a move to California, where he immersed himself in studies with the legendary Ali Akbar Khan (Ravi Shankar).

Jai then began regular pilgrimages to India, living among the Bauls, the wandering street musicians of Bengal, and singing with the kirtan wallahs in the temples of his guru, the highly revered saint, Neem Karoli Baba. Upon returning to the states, he began weaving those variegated threads together in earnest, earning widespread critical acclaim with the first recording issued under his own name—1991’s Footprints, on which he teamed with jazz icon Don Cherry.

Soon thereafter, Uttal formed the Pagan Love Orchestra, a loosely-knit aggregation that recorded several acclaimed albums in the 90’s, notably Shiva Station, on which he worked closely with producer Bill Laswell—who also contributed on Jai’s 2008 recording Thunder Love.

Uttal has cut a serpentine swath through the musical world over the course of a recording career that’s spanned more than two decades, with treks into multi-cultural world music, avant-garde jazz, electronic rock and traditional Indian kirtan—or sacred chants—his six recordings this past decade with the Sounds True label have become staples of the yoga-practicing community. Now with Queen of Hearts Jai reclaims the vibrancy and liveliness heard in some of his earlier recordings.

About the recording Jai says “I’ve been listening to and loving reggae since I was a teenager and it can be heard in some of my Pagan Love Orchestra work. These songs (from Queen of Hearts) had been percolating inside of me for years; the musical ‘style’, mixing reggae, ska, samba and traditional Bengali Kirtan, seems like it’s been around for ages, but is actually completely fresh and new.”

Recorded in California, the eight track album was written and produced by Uttal alongside his longtime collaborator Ben Leinbach. You can go inside the making of Queen of Hearts by visiting

Additionally, on October 11, 2011 Jai released Kirtan Kids (Sounds True), the first record of its kind, created for families to sing, laugh, dance, and celebrate life together through Call-and-response singing. Featuring a children’s choir accompanying Jai, Kirtan Kids will delight listeners with both Sanskrit and English chants and playful stories.

Jai adds “World music is music from everywhere. Music that creates bridges. Music that unites hearts and cultures. Music that brings peace.”

Jai Uttal
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