Sisters Andrea and Sara Forman, the front women of pop-Sanskrit group Shanti Shanti, sit on a coffee shop couch in coordinated vests, white shirts and jeans. They look unmistakably related—both with full lips, huge eyes and wavy hair. Andrea, 27, is outspoken; Sara, 24, though not shy, is less aggressive. They finish each other’s sentences, interweaving their words.
“Collectively, we’re one perfect person,” says Sara. “Individually, we’re idiots,” jokes Andrea.
Hardly idiots, Andrea and Sara discovered at the respective ages of 9 and 7 that Sanskrit—a language 5,000-10,000 years old—came relatively easy to them. Their passion for putting Sanskrit into songs and chants has taken then touring all over the country.
They’ve had to learn some things the hard way during the three years since their last album—things that shaped a clearer focus for their new release, East Meets South.
“It’s not the traditional stuff,” says Sara of the CD. “But it’s so us.”
The women and their family members—producer, backup singer and father Robert; media spokesperson and mother Linda; and 15-year-old brother Micah, whose voice took a sharp turn downward recently, giving their songs a deep resonance in contrast to the women’s sweet soprano register—had been on a grinding schedule of 56 concerts a year, including an appearance on The Tonight Show. In 2004, the family decided to move to Colorado for a break.
There, they hooked up with some Denver managers, who tried to distance them from their Sanskrit chanting and singing. “They were trying to change us into Buddha meets Britney Spears,” says Andrea.
Meanwhile, the entire family was coming down with flu-like symptoms, which even doctors couldn’t explain. They asked the EPA to check out the house. Sure enough, for the six months they lived in that house, they were being slowly poisoned with carbon monoxide. “The doctors say it’s miraculous we’re alive,” says Andrea.
The experience was a wake-up call to stop listening to managers who wanted to put them in a pink-ribboned box. It was time to get back to their original message, which, they say, is to give people a “Sanskrit buzz.” The sisters describe it as “consciousness,” or the feeling of being the “truest expression of yourself.”
“When your life is threatened, you realize you’re here to do something, and you don’t have the time to lose your direction,” says Sara.
The family moved back to Sparks in June 2005 and began working on this album, as well as a soon-to-be-released book called Learn Sanskrit in Just 300 Years. Sara quickly wrote one of the album’s first songs, “I’m A-Goin’ Home,” which is aided greatly by the soulful singing of The Ambassadors, a Reno Baptist church choir, making it more like an African-American spiritual than a song of Sanskrit chanting. This Southern gospel feel on some songs lent East Meets South its name.
The album incorporates plenty of Sanskrit chanting, but it also has English pop songs, which sometimes include chanting, as well as Latin (as in “Ave Maria” Latin, not salsa Latin) and, of course, songs with the Baptist choir. Their sound is hard to nail down, but they’re most comfortably described as New Age.
“We gave up trying to fit into music industry genres,” says Sara. “We’re selling an experience.”
Andrea and Sara say that as bad as their time was in Colorado, they wouldn’t be where they are now without it.
“Everything we experienced in Colorado influenced who we are now,” says Sara. “We’re stronger, and we know who we are.”