COVID-19 has drastically changed our lifestyles; it has also changed the way we make devotional offerings every week. The Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Fremont, faced with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, discovered fresh and  novel ways of carrying out their online devotional sessions when they adopted karaoke bhajan singing. It began when a Sai devotee received a karaoke recording of her sister singing old film songs. She wondered whether a similar recording could be created for bhajans. A week later, the Fremont Sai Center officers came across devotional singing karaoke tracks available on Radio Sai and decided to use them. The devotee was thrilled! It was proof that Swami is within all our hearts and listens to the smallest of our wishes. 

A simple spreadsheet of devotional songs was created for Center members to sign up as lead or chorus singers. An experienced audio team provided a workshop on how to make recordings with the karaoke tracks.  Initially, they used two devices: a laptop and a phone. The laptop was used to listen to the karaoke tracks and the phone to record the bhajan. While the initiative began with a few center members, in time more members joined so that the Center was able to record 5 volumes of bhajan karaoke. Soon the audio team took it to the next level, and began using specialized software: Bandlab and GarageBand. Center members even learned audio editing to help the audio team make excellent quality bhajans which ran smoothly with some mixing and mastering.

Here are some of the reflections of the Center members on their karaoke experience.

One singer reflected, “Singing along with karaoke was a different and fun experience altogether. I got to learn many bhajans which I might not have listened to 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! Practicing bhajans was very easy with the reference track. With the Sai Rhythms app, I could play the reference track repeatedly and practice 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.”

Another singer shared, “I think that this bhajan karaoke is a very great idea to express our love for Swami even though we can’t come together as a center. Bhajan karaoke has helped me become a more confident person. At first I disliked the idea of singing to a big audience because it overwhelmed me to think people were expecting a perfect song. But 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 overall that experience turned out to be a good breath of fresh air! “

Though these are unique challenging times, we found many blessings. We were forced to learn new techniques, and to adapt to a new normal. Karaoke is one of the best techniques which allows us to render our bhajans during the COVID pandemic. The Bandlab website/app makes audio recording very simple, and offers flexibility to slice and align the bhajans. Thanks to the efforts of our Center members, our bhajan karoake experience has been truly amazing.