Not many of us develop a unique style of presenting devotional music at a young age; fewer still blend Gurbani with modern rhythms and tunes which appeal to the young and old alike, and far too few devote their singing to various causes they feel passionate about. Not many of us develop a unique style of presenting devotional music at a young age; fewer still blend Gurbani with modern rhythms and tunes which appeal to the young and old alike, and far too few devote their singing to various causes they feel passionate about.
In an Interview with Manika, she expresses the real need to connect the younger generation to spiritual music and more.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your childhood.
I’m a kirtan artist, writer, and philanthropist.
My connection to kirtan has its roots in my childhood. Born and raised in Australia, my family were deeply involved in the dissemination of the Sikh Holy Scripture and the teachings of the religion’s founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Growing up my home was filled with stories of honored gurus, temples of gold, epic journeys and enlightened masters. After an evening soaking up these vivid tales, my siblings and I would play kirtan together, jamming out on tabla, harmonium and voice. So it was at a young age I learned to communicate, meditate and resonate so naturally via the medium of music, at the time I had no idea that this would become my path.
After getting married in 2006 I moved to Dubai and it was there I recorded my first album Bandhanaa which was made in collaboration with bhangra legend Sukhbir Singh. The sales of this album raised over a 1,000,000 AED (approx. over 270,000 USD) which was directly donated to the construction of the Guru Nanak Darbar in Dubai.
In 2009 I released a music video for the track ‘Maagnaa’ from this album which has been viewed over 2,000,000 times on YouTube. Bandhanaa was praised for its fresh take on kirtan and I was given a Sikh Channel Award ‘In recognition of outstanding services to the Sikh community’.
In 2013 I released a music video for a new track ‘Guru Ram Das Rakho Sarnaee’ which has received over 4.5 million views worldwide and was awarded ‘Best Short Film’ at the 2013 Sikhlens (Sikh Arts and Film Festival).
My second album I Bow To You Waheguru (2015) featured multi-award winner Talvin Singh OBE and followed with a sell-out show at London’s Union Chapel. The album placed kirtan in the World Music Charts Europe and garnered rave reviews (PopMatters, Songlines Magazine, BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio London).
In 2016 I was the recipient of the ‘Sikhs in Entertainment’ award at the Sikh Awards in London. I was also invited to sing in Houses of Parliament in the UK for Guru Nanak Ji’s gurpurab which was a unique experience and a week later I performed kirtan in Trafalgar Square, London in front of a crowd of 25,000 and was also invited to deliver a speech to the large gathering. Having the opportunity to speak about 1984 but also the epidemic in Punjab today and the help that is desperately needed was invaluable.
This year my album ‘Sacred Words’ features incredible musicians. I was very fortunate to work with James Yorkston, Jyotsna Srikant, Tigerstyle, Talvin Singh OBE and Martin ‘YOUTH’ Glover to name a few. I am very excited to be signed to Suriya Records (UK) and their partners Six Degrees Records (USA) for the international release of this album. This is a huge achievement and honour for me and has the potential to connect my spiritual Kirtan music and the work of my foundation Kirtan for Causes with the hearts of many more brothers and sisters around the world.
At its core the melodies I compose are an expression of love for Waheguru. Using kirtan to explore the beauty of the Sikh faith I want my work to affect real change in the rural Punjab which is how I started my foundation ‘Kirtan for Causes’. I also hope that the kirtan we are creating will spread a message of peace and love the world-over.
As well as pursuing my singing and charitable work, I’ve always put words together and carved poetry from my reflections on the world. Last year I released a piece titled ‘We Are Love’ after feeling frustrated with world politics. The response on social media was staggering with over 500,000 views on Facebook, it allowed me to realize that so many people feel as I do and long for a more peaceful world.
My work in Punjab constantly inspires me. I created a video for a poem I have written called ‘Dear Punjab, I’m Sorry’. It’s my love letter to the beautiful, spiritual land of Punjab acknowledging the trials and tribulations they face and together we will overcome.
Currently, I am writing my first book which has truly been a humbling experience. I often wonder how I ever thought I could take on such a task but it has also been a gift as the book features many stories about the Sikh Gurus and researching them and developing a deeper understanding has created within me a stronger connection to Sikhi.
I live in Dubai with my husband and 7 year old son and we are expecting twins in August of this year.
Who are you most influenced by and why?
The stories of the Sikh gurus have always been a great source of inspiration in my life. They have influenced me in many ways to keep bettering myself, to be more loving, more compassionate in the most difficult of situations. I hope to love, selflessly in the way they did.
These stories that filled my heart were relayed to me by my parents and so they have impacted my life significantly. It’s much more than the stories they passed on, my parents taught us through example. My parents were involved in many different seva’s (selfless service), this was a vital part of our upbringing. They would take us to visit the elderly, to orphanages in Melbourne and involve us in community work. We would travel to Punjab every year and be involved in projects to uplift the impoverished. This work transformed me and still motivates my life’s mission till this day.
Why did you choose Kirtan rather than any other type of music?
When I discovered kirtan it was like uncovering a piece of myself. Kirtan is where music is composed to passages from the Sikh Holy Scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). It is devotional music and is non – denominational, the universal language of the soul. Kirtan is a simple and powerful way to meditate and can create this ‘quiet’ within. Prayer and meditation play a significant role in my life. Through these methods awareness of the ‘self’ arises. The process of recognising and overcoming my ego begins there. The painful task of reflecting within is the most difficult of all – this is the true spiritual journey and the path I want to walk.
What were the challenges the family had to tackle to connect with Sikhism on a foreign land?
Melbourne was a sleepy town when I was growing up and this was such a blessing because it forced us to be close as a family and allowed us to connect to our roots. I dealt with adversities such as being bullied at school due to being different and awkward but a loving and stable home really allowed me to overcome these things. Learning to pray, sing kirtan and being involved in seva (selfless service or charity work) from a young age allowed me to accept and embrace my differences and not succumb to peer pressure.
Tell us a little bit about ‘Kirtan for Causes’.
Kirtan for Causes is a non – profit organisation. We aim to create beautiful devotional music that creates an atmosphere of peace for the listener whilst serving humanity and uplifting communities through educating impoverished children, building homes and working to understand and meet the needs of communities living in poverty in Punjab.
Kirtan for Causes uplifts impoverished communities via education and construction projects the organization seeks to break cycles of poverty and advocates for long-term solutions. Kirtan is the vehicle I use to raise awareness of the vital seva that is needed in Punjab and how education can transform lives.
One hundred percent of the revenue from my music career is directly channeled into the work of ‘Kirtan for Causes’. We currently support 200 children through education and have built two homes for disadvantaged families enrolled in the scheme. I travel to Punjab every year to visit the ‘Kirtan for Causes’ families and develop strategies with them for the next year’s work.
‘Kirtan for Causes’ partners with ‘Educate to Save’ (www.educatetosave.com ) to achieve our shared charitable mission. Together we focus on providing cost-effective, quality holistic schooling that integrates and provides a modern educational infrastructure. ‘Kirtan for Causes’ works independently of any individual, political or institutional influence.
Visit www.educatetosave.com to find out how you can directly support a child’s education with whatever you can afford. For just a dollar a day you could transform someone’s life.
One of our success stories Gurpreet Kaur
What is the idea behind the album and what inspired you?
Sacred Words has a new age sound and pushes the boundaries of what we would traditionally hear in kirtan. It respects what came before whilst drawing on what is happening today within music. Working with musicians who are one with their instruments brings a deeper meditation to the tracks. Several of the tracks have been produced by Talvin Singh OBE who I have gained a wealth of knowledge from. The way in which he creates sound is boundless and will challenge what people are accustomed to when listening to kirtan but I am inspired to keep breaking barriers to create connections with the infinite Waheguru (Architect of Destiny).
The other half of this album is produced by Glaswegian Bhangra duo Tigerstyle. With this project, I wanted to create an album focusing on shabads (passages) within the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Holy Scriptures) that were written by Islamic Scholars, Sheikh Fareed Ji, and Bhagat Kabeer Ji. As someone who lives in an Islamic nation, these shared lineages fascinate me. These ancient words of love have the potential to unite us across religious and social boundaries – this was also very much the foundation of Sikhi – Oneness. I have been creatively inspired to compose around these themes, exploring parts of the Sikh scripture I haven’t sung before. Brother duo Tigerstyle were schooled in Punjabi folk as children before expanding their sound to draw on influences from hip hop, drum and bass and RnB. It was enjoyable working with them to produce my compositions and vision.
You are also coming up with your first book. Give us a little bit of insight.
The book revolves around two main characters who are twin sisters and their experiences. It is about arranged marriages, love versus duty, society’s double standards towards women, family, forbidden love and even sex. The book will also share beautiful Inspirational Sikh stories as well as a little bit about Sikh history.
What is your personal strength?
I have a strong emotional quotient and this has been my greatest weakness and strength. When this part of me is unbalanced then I find myself over emotional and this can lead to self-pity and be being unproductive. My parents noticed this in me as a young girl and gave me the tools to bring it into balance through meditation and sewa. When this part of me is within my understanding I am able to channel it for good.
Why is the new generation so detached from spirituality? And what can we do connect the new generation with spiritual music?
Osho, a well-known philosopher once said: “The spiritual path is a treacherous one”. I believe this is the most difficult road to walk. It requires stripping away our Ego which is our sense of self-image, self-importance etc. The Ego has its role in us all, it takes us out to have experiences in order for us to have learnings and realizations about ourselves, these learnings are integral to our spiritual growth. We will all blossom when we are meant to.
Music is boundless and has the ability to reach the depths of our souls regardless of language. I hope that with the kirtan music we create we can reach more hearts and aid in this awakening.
Explain the cover of your album. What is the idea behind it?
Kirtan is very much a male-dominated space. The sound, look and aesthetic of the kirtan we are creating is completely new. The cover is a woman who is in many ways traditional, in the way she is dressed, with her head covered and with beautiful Indian jewelry but she is also strong, confident and modern. She respects her past but she is also looking at the future.
Few words for your fans?
I am just so thankful to those who support my work because it aids my charitable mission in Punjab.