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Bhai Didar Singh, (d. 1989) The Forgotten Classical Kirtaniya

Discussion in 'Sikh Personalities' started by Admin Singh, Oct 30, 2009.

  1. Admin Singh

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    Bhai Didar Singh, a self-less and highly accomplished Sikh musician who never got his due. obituary by Harjap Singh Aujla

    Bhai Didar Singh was a totally selfless (faqir) Kirtania, who devoted his entire life to the singing of the Guru’s Hymns in the finest classical traditions without seeking any monitory rewards. He lived in poverty and died in poverty, without ever complaining about his plight. Most of the modern day Sikhs have forgotten him completely, but his merit as a maestro and his extreme simplicity deserves that his story, as I understand it, must be told

    During the sixties my father late S. Sochet Singh once attended a post Akhand Path Kirtan programme in rural Hoshiarpur. He was a true connoisseur of “Gurmat Sangeet” and was thoroughly impressed with the sweet versatile voice of a blind black bearded young musician named Bhai Didar Singh. After that cursory reference, I did not hear about this maestro. He was never heard of in a “Kirtan Darbar”, or at any private religious function. To me his name and faint memory remained dormant in a remote corner of my brain for years to come


    Around 1983 someone in Vancouver gave me a tape with handwritten title Bhai Didar Singh Raagi on its cover. On hearing an enchanting unheard of voice, the old memories of my father’s words sprouted up again. I once again recollected my father’s words of the late sixties. The longest duration Shabad in the tape was entitled “Aappe bauh bidh rangla, sakhiye mera laal”. It turned out to be a very professionally rendered “Shabad” in difficult to peform “Guldasta” format and it simply mesmerized me. I listened to this tape again and again and was never tired of it. I made a spare copy of this tape to guard against any damage to the original tape.


    A few months later I met Giani Gurdip Singh ji, the then Head Priest of Gurdwara Richmond Hill New York. This gurdwara was a de-facto place of pilgrimage for all the Sikhs living North of Washington D.C. on the Eastern seaboard of America. I made a casual mention of this newly obtained tape to Giani Gurdip Singh ji. His eyes lit up. He was very knowledgeable and he had already heard this tape. He told me that Darshan Singh Komal had three highly accomplished “Shagirds” (pupils). Out of them Bhai Dharam Singh Zakhmi was very comfortable in lower musical notes, Bhai Beant Singh Bijli is more comfortable in higher notes, but Bhai Didar Singh is so versatile, he moves at ease like a fish between the highest and the lowest notes and does full justice to the intricacies of “Raaga”.


    Bhai Gurdip Singh further said Bhai Didar Singh’s voice is something similar to that of K.L. Saigal and Bade Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan. A few months later I talked to Rabinder Singh Bhamra, the scholarly Vice President of Gurdwara Richmond Hill New York, he told me that their Gurdwara management has sponsored Bhai Didar Singh’s Jatha’s visit to New York for the second half of 1984. Bhai Didar Singh at the head of a four man Raagi Jatha came in October 1984. Sardar Tejinder Singh Kahlon, the long time president of that gurdwara told me that Bhai Didar Singh will stay in Gurdwara Richmond Hill New York for one and a half months and after that I could take his Raagi Jatha to Gurdwara Bridgewater New Jersey. I was thrilled to hear about the offer and on the appointed day I drove this Jatha to Gurdwara Bridgewater sometime in December of 1985.
    Being blind, Bhai Didar Singh had a lot of handicap, and he memorised phenomenal amount of Gurbani before attaining the age of ten. By age twelve, he could recite more than eight hundred Shabads. Roughly at the age of ten, he was initiated into classical music and by the age of fifteen he had become adept in rendition of close to eighty “Raagas” and “Raaginis”.
    Gurdwara Richmond Hill New York is approximately eighty miles away from Gurdwara Bridgewater New Jersey and it was a good two hours plus journey. I had several questions to ask and Bhai Didar Singh had the answers. I seated him on the front seat and his three companions Ajit Singh, Sarbjit Singh and Sukhdev Singh were seated on the rear seats. I started the curious conversation by asking about his initiation into classical music or “Gurmat Sangeet”. Bhai Didar Singh told me that he being blind had a lot of handicap, a blind man cannot read or write, so he was made to cram up as much “Gurbani” as possible before attaining the age of ten. By age twelve he had crammed up more than eight hundred “Shabads”. These “Shabads” he still remembers and sings. Roughly at the age of ten, he was initiated into classical music and by the age of fifteen he had become adept in rendition of close to eighty “Raagas” and “Raaginis”.



    Bhai Didar Singh told me that learning a “Raaga” is the easy part, its repeated “Riyaz” and sticking to its true character like discrete application of “Komal” and “Teevar” “Surs” is the most difficult part of its rendition. He told me that he had been doing “Riyaz” for several hours everyday till the age of twenty five, after that “hours of “Riyaz” were curtailed and daily “Kirtan” in different “Raagas” became a substitute for longer hours of “Riyaz”, but still some “Riyaz” is necessary. Bhai Didar Singh told me that he can proficiently play most of the “Taals” on “Tabla”. In addition, he was groomed to play two string instruments “Sarangi” and Violin.


    His “Ustad” Professor Darshan Singh Komal trained him as a versatile musician. Professor Darshan Singh Komal taught him to play a difficult string instrument “Sarangi” with ease. According to his tutor “Sarangi” was an instrument which could come to his rescue during the worst of times. After imparting adequate knowledge in singing and instrument playing, his “Ustad” established him (Didar Singh) as the lead singer and he himself became his “Saathi” on “Tabla”.


    Bhai Didar Singh lamented that since the nineteen sixties, the appreciation and respect for real good musicians has been declining steadily. Those with virtually no training and having uncultured voices, but possessing good managerial skills, are in great demand. The genuinely good musicians are always seen struggling and the not so good ones are flourishing. At one extremely bad time in his life, the “Sarangi” indeed came to his rescue. When no one wanted to listen to classical music, he improvised a “Dhadi Jatha”. He himself became the “Sarangi” player and two of his students became “Dhadi Singers”. This hurriedly assembled rag-tag “Dhadi Jatha” became very popular, in rural Punjab, within a very short duration of time and this switch over earned a lot more money that he could not earn as a professionally trained “Kirtania”. He told me that he has brought a “Sarangi” for this tour also. He confided to me that there may be some places in America, where proper classical “Kirtan” may not find acceptance.
    Bhai Didar Singh lamented that since the nineteen sixties, the appreciation and respect for real good musicians has been declining steadily. Those with virtually no training and having uncultured voices, but possessing good managerial skills, are in great demand. The genuinely good musicians are always seen struggling and the not so good ones are flourishing.


    At such places “Sarangi” will come to his rescue. He told me that his new companions on current tour Sarbjit Singh and Sukhdev Singh have been trained as “Dhadis” and they can make good money. I asked him as to why his voice has never been heard on the airwaves of All India Radio. He told me that no body from the radio station ever approached him and the idea of going uninvited to the radio station did not occur to him. But he said some of the folks who took lessons in music from him are now radio artists. Later on I did hear his voice from All India Radio Jalandhar. In an answer to another question, Bhai Didar Singh said that he has been invited every year to perform “Shabad Gayan” at the famous “Guru Ram Dass Birth Anniversary Kirtan Darbar” at “Gurdwara Manji Sahib” located within the Golden Temple complex, but his “Shabad Kirtan” has never been broadcast from the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple. He said that some genuine lovers of music in Punjab have really given him a lot of respect and he is thankful to them.



    Bhai Didar Singh was all praise for Late Bhai Samund Singh ji. According to him Bhai Samund Singh was the only “Kirtania” who will render all the “Shabads” in a “Chowki” in pure classical formats, everybody else renders the first “Shabad” in a classical “Raaga” and then switches to semi-classical or light “Reets”. Bhai Didar Singh lived most of his life in village Nangal Khurd in Hoshiarpur District. On the death of his illustrious “Ustad” Darshan Singh Komal, Bhai Didar Singh became the successor of his legacy. Bhai Didar Singh continued to teach “Shabad Kirtan” to the prospecting “Raagis”. Occasionally he visited foreign lands too. In reply to another question, Bhai Didar Singh said that he has a lot of admiration for the Rababi Kirtanias and they have certain advantages too. Being musicians by profession, their kids are introduced to “Pakka Raag” at very young ages. This grooming at an early age gives them a lifelong advantage.


    We did not know how two hours went by and how we reached the parking area of Gurdwara Bridgewater. We were not sure of the “Sangat’s” response to his voice and art. But contrary to our fears, the weekly Friday and Sunday congregations at Gurdwara Bridgewater thoroughly appreciated his “Kirtan Kala” and he was not compelled to use his “Sarangi” as a “Dhadi” during any of the “Diwans”.


    Bhai Pargat Singh, a long time resident of New York, is himself a very well trained classical musician. Bhai Pargat Singh learnt proper classical music from a highly accomplished classical maestro Master Rattan of Phagwara. He is also a great connoisseur of all kinds of classical music. Bhai Didar Singh was one of his most favourite “Kirtanias”. I invited Bhai Pargat Singh to an evening “Kirtan Darbar” at Gurdwara Bridgewater. He was asked to bring his string instrument “Taanpura” too. He came with his musician family. Together they performed very melodious “Kirtan”. After that he accompanied Bhai Didar Singh also as a side musician and he was accompanied by his “Taanpura”. This performance came out to be a historic event. I am glad I have been able to preserve its transcript.


    During a month long stay at Gurdwara Bridgewater, Bhai Didar Singh invariably performed the first “Shabad” in pure “Khayali” classical format and the subsequent “Shabads” were rendered in “Reets” based on classical “Raagas”. I personally made a number of recordings of his renditions. But before we could schedule his repeat visit in 1989, he was already no more. He was diabetic and no one in India got his heart checked up like we do in America. He died before attaining the age of sixty. He is not physically with us but his voice has been preserved for the unborn Sikh posterity. Bhai Didar Singh was a masterly Sikh religious musician, who never got his due.
     
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  3. Hardip Singh

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    Dass will be highly obliged if some one could post any of his recordings, if availible, on SPN
     
  4. spnadmin

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  5. spnadmin

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    This one was a problem to navigate. Here is the link. They all end up saying the download is free but you have to pay. Each link for Bhai Didar Singh ji leads to a different download site.

    Didar.zip download from Megaupload
     
  6. spnadmin

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  7. spnadmin

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    This is another AKJ smagam performance in Glen Rock NJ - It may be a duplicate of one of the other 2 I posted.


    I was able to download without a problem.
    NY/NJ Local Section: Keertan Gurudwara Glen Rock NJ 09-17-2005

    That is the sum total of what I could find -- not a lot -- and I did not check the for pay sites thoroughly. His story is a poignant one.
     
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  8. Hardip Singh

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    Narayanjot jeo,
    I think the link you have found for Raagi Didar Singh is wrong. He died in 1989 and the link is of Kirtan darbar of 2005. This Deedar Singh jee seems to be of AKJ and not the purattan keertaniya we are discussing.
     
  9. spnadmin

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    I checked that -- The link is 2005 because that is when the AKJ posted it. That is the same Didar Singh. It is the same voice as the other ones. If you read on in the article -- Didar Singh traveled to the US and was situated in New Jersey for some time -- where he was very popular. But --- if I am wrong, we can find out. I can write to AKJ and ask them.
     
  10. Gyani Jarnail Singh

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    Narayan Ji..
    IF its a KIRTAN DARBAR..and its in 2005..then its a LIVE Kirtan darbar held on that DATE.
    So the Participants have to be ALIVE in 2005.

    One can post a "Kirtan darbar 2005" in 2009...( as a RECORDING)..BUT not the other way around. So I think that this Didar Singh may be idfferent...just a thought..
     
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  11. spnadmin

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    I have to check on this then -- the voice is identical -- and also the tempo of the music. When I can find an opening to check, then I will do that. Maybe new learning will emerge.
     
  12. Hardip Singh

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    You could be right. But one typical thing I have checked in all these link downloads is the simran style of the raggi in question. It is typical of AKJ raggis which I think the classical singers like Didar Singh would have never sang. You could better confirm from AKJ.
     
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  13. spnadmin

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    Yes I will do that and let you know.
     
  14. Admin Singh

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    Hardip Ji, seems to be right in his observation as in the article there is no mention of he even being remotely associated with AKJ or any other Jatha!!
     
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  15. spnadmin

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    Thanks Aman ji
     
  16. 108dbd

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    Bhai Didar Singh or in my case Uncle Didar Singh will never be forgotton. He was a true talent just like the rest of his fellows like the late Uncle Giani Gurbachan Singh Hamdard and Uncle Giani Gian Singh Surjit. They all practicised at our Gurdwara in India with the Prof Darshan Singh Komal. I have heard many Kirtan and was lucky that they all attended my sisters wedding in the early 80's. One can only practice and try and carry on the tradition of these fine pioneers.
     
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  17. spnadmin

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    Thank you very much 108dbd ji

    Can you inform us whether there are tapes or music files or CD's of his kirtan available in any store or internet site.
     
  18. 108dbd

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    Good Morning
    I am pretty sure that my cousins have lots of his music, so firstly I will need to ask them to locate the material. I will have to convert to mp3 in order to place on the net. They may even have vinyl or cassette I really dont know I will ask. Some of these items may be in India I suspect. So tell me why the interest, what attracted you to his style of Kirtan if you dont mind me asking? I take it that you are from the US or Canada.

    Many Thanks.
     
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  19. spnadmin

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    Dear 108dbd ji

    I wasn't asking you to do all that work! Please do not trouble yourself. It is so nice that you offered but please do not think I was asking you to do that.

    We are wondering as a matter of general interest whether there are any of his kirtan on the commercial market in the event that someone would want to purchase them.

    Please forgive me for seeming so brash!
    Narayanjot Kaur
     
  20. Admin Singh

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    I don't mind if we you could take trouble to locate Bhai Sahib's performances and we can kind of preserve this treasure for the future generations. I think all the effort would be worth it even if we are able to find a few hours of his recordings...

    :wah::wah:
     
  21. 108dbd

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    Hi
    To my knowledge there is nothing commercial, however I do not claim to know everything. My cousins should have all his stuff as they own the Komal Academy, it's just a case of digging it out. If they have it readily available I will convert the recording and share it out. Not just for you young brash lady but for the rest of the world to enjoy as well. As Aman Singh has mentioned, it would good for future generations to enjoy. If we dont know our history how can we make a better future for our kids? No offence taken, nice to know that somebody appeciates decent music.
    Regards
    Mr Singh. ;o)
     
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