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Bhai Dya Singh

Discussion in 'Sikh Personalities' started by Aman Singh, Nov 10, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Nusrat's Heir: Dya Singh

    By Manpreet Kaur Singh

    He was born in Malaysia, completed his professional education in the UK, lives in Australia and sings Indian music. And that's only the smaller 'fusion' story of Dya Singh's life. The real fusion story, which has now become his legacy, is his music. With the spirit of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to reach a wider audience and a mellow voice that reminds you of Jagjit Singh, he mostly sings devotional music in traditional raga format, complete with translations in English. Sounds impossible, but its true, and the admirers Dya Singh has won worldwide bear testimony to his uniquely blended style.

    YouTube- Bhai Dya Singh

    YouTube- bhai dya singh australia...

    "I'm not very religious", he says, "but I'm a strong advocate of spirituality. I want my audience to be touched, even if they don't understand a word of what I'm singing. I want to touch their soul, specially the younger people." A typical Dya Singh concert will have shabads, bhajans, ghazals, sufi qawwalis and old Hindi songs. And typically each of the renditions is accompanied by a full translation in English for those who don't follow the language. Dya says," I regard music as a vehicle to spread the message and the best medium to use is English. So although I sing Gurbani, I explain the essence in English and try to connect with the audience". Which probably explains why he also has his fair share of detractors. He has been accused of singing Kirtan at unconventional places, to atypical audiences, without much regard to the accepted norms of singing and listening to Kirtan.

    YouTube- Dya Singh Nth America Tour 2007 Pt 1

    YouTube- Dya Singh Nth America Tour 2007 Pt 2

    YouTube- Dya Singh Nth America Tour 2007 Pt 3

    But it's obviously an attractive package for youth and the non-Sikh community at large, if his concerts are any yardstick to go by. Most recently Dya Singh's group performed to packed audiences on the sidelights of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Every show was applauded, many people touched. According to him, the best moment of the whole event was when he received a phone call from the Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Shiela Dixit who was in Melbourne to accept the Commonwealth Games Federation flag as the host of the next Games. "Hearing that this regal lady is my fan, who I had greatly admired as the only lady on stage among all the officials during the Closing Ceremony of the Melbourne Games, was my crowning glory indeed", says Dya.

    His accompanying musicians come from all parts of the globe and so do the musical instruments. As his Irish bouzouki player, Keith Preston says," our tag line is, we take Sikh music to the world and bring world music to the Sikhs". Therefore, you have traditional Indian instruments like harmonium, santoor, tabla and dilruba going hand in hand with bouzouki, guitar, bohdran (Irish war drum), violin, flute and the didgeridoo, an aboriginal Australian wind instrument. In fact, the first ever album they recorded was called Australian Sikh rhythm and soul and the genre was "mystical music".

    Dya believes in giving each of his musicians a free flow, so every now and then, a raga might be followed by a typical rhythms and blues piece on the guitar. He doesn't seem to set any parameters for his accompanists, which makes the music more exciting and unexpected. "I don't want them to blindly imitate Indian music. They imbibe the spirit of our music and cross-pollinate it with their own creativity".

    Says Keith, who also plays the santoor and the bohdran apart from the bouzouki, "Dya's music is not like Bhangra music or other commercial music. You can't manufacture this music or create a formula to copy it. Frankly I don't think any other musician has Dya's ability to collaborate so effectively with other musicians and to communicate so freely with a non-Indian audience".

    But fusion wasn't always the mantra for Dya. As a child, he remembers accompanying his father Harchand Singh, singing shabad kirtan in Malaysia. "My father had learnt kirtan from sadhus in India before he went on to learn the ragas, so his style was very folksy. That was my first musical influence". As he grew, Dya remembers imitating all the famous singers like Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar, often featuring on the local radio stations at eleven or twelve years of age, singing the latest Hindi songs back then. "Growing up in Malaysia was wonderful for me because I was open to all influences. In any case my father never restrained my creativity and always encouraged me to imbibe various musical styles".

    But equally, his father never encouraged him to become a professional singer or ragi, so soon he found himself in the UK, completing a degree to become a chartered accountant. Thereafter, he migrated to Australia and ran a thriving practice for many years. But then, something happened that made him give up his practice forever and devote his life to music instead. "After the events of 1984, I just wanted to do something for my community. I wanted to show the world that Sikhs are non-violent, that we are not terrorists. I knew I had the gift of the voice and decided to use it."

    So in 1992, Dya Singh's group formally came together to embark on a musical journey, from which they have never looked back since. "Had I continued as a chartered accountant, I might have made my millions, but I wouldn't have had the satisfaction that I feel so deeply today. That, to me, is invaluable". Seeing him make that statement at his simple yet elegant home in Melbourne, one doesn't have much trouble in believing that he really does mean it.

    Dya's group has traveled to many countries in the world and performed at venues ranging from humble homes to mandirs, gurudwaras, halls and even iconic venues like Royal Albert Hall. They have performed in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and of course Australia. Regular performers at Adelaide's famous world music festival Womadelaide -- where Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a frequent performer too-- they were named World Music group twice in Adelaide and awarded "Vocalist of the Year" at World Music Awards in Sydney in 2000. The subject of many documentary movies, he has been featured on Australian television a number of times.

    But it hasn't always been accolades and bouquets for Dya and his group. The accusations and brickbats have also followed them around. Purists think he is too radical, even heretical, performing shabad kirtan on open stages, alongside other music. "I have got into a fair amount of hot water for my singing. Some people love us, some hate us and some have even banned us", he admits. So does that bother him? "It used to, before", says Dya, "but not anymore. At first I felt, that it would be the end of me. But slowly I realized that I had a different objective. There are thousands of ragis out there to sing in the gurudwaras but I sing for the mainstream. Also, how are we to reach those who do not go to gurdwaras? Well I sing 'Gursangeet' for those who don't".

    Even Keith Preston says," Dya is probably more accepted by the white community in Australia than the Sikhs. But I think he has done more to bridge the gap between Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the world, much more than any other singer even aspires to. Dya is no saint, he's just an ordinary guy but he is unique. Even if you don't agree with his form of music, you must give him credit for what he has achieved".

    Even Dya doesn't make any false pretences about his role as a singer. "I'm not a Ragi or a 'kirtani', I just follow the aspiration of my soul. My target audience is in the mainstream, especially among the youth of the world. I don't want to convert anyone but am conscious of the universal truth as revealed by Guru Nanak. I believe if the youngsters of today connect with their own spirituality, they would appreciate life more and have a better value system".

    So what's next? "Well, I've never consciously set any milestones or goals for myself. My main desire was to produce one CD and now I have 16. Everything else is now a bonus." But he is looking forward to performing in India, something he has deliberately avoided up to now, in search for the right occasion. Right now, he is working on a CD called "The Other Side", which is purely based on ghazals and sufi kalaams. But his ultimate satisfaction comes from the fact that he is "leaving a strong legacy of music behind". Dya says, "I have presented a different, more palatable music for the younger generation. After I'm gone, at least one of my daughters will pick up the threads and give purpose and direction to this form of music".

    So while some people credit him with starting a 'quiet revolution' in the world of traditional Punjabi music and some others despise the 'pop' status he has given to religious music, the fact remains that Dya Singh is a contemporary musician who has reinterpreted devotional music for a modern audience. He is a proud father of three daughters Jamel, Parvyn and Harsel, who have also taken an active part in this evolution process. Having lived in Adelaide for over two decades, he now lives a life of contentment in Melbourne, both as a musician and as a doting grandfather of two little children. His wife Jessie, a committed rights activist is a global traveler, involved with many NGOs around the world. She says," Dya has the gift of music and I have the gift of the gab. We both try to use it in the best way we can."

    And that is undisputable - whether you like Dya's brand of music or not, its hard to remain untouched by it. It is both soothing and stirring at the same time, and above all, it is original - and probably that in itself is his biggest achievement.

    Courtesy: India Today
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    Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Dya Singh's impact on the world music stage has been short of phenominal. He sings about spirituality in his native Punjabi (with occasional English explanations) and blends traditional music with modern and contemporary trends. He has single-handedly taken the traditional Sikh spiritual music of his ancestral Punjab (frontier province on the border of present day India and Pakistan, south of Afghanistan) into the world music stage reaching out from his source indigenous music to fusion with music from other parts of the world. He attributes his unique music to his birth and formative years in multiracial Malaysia, to staunch Sikh parents (his father was a Sikh missionary and minstrel sent to Malaysia from Punjab), and the multicultural opportunities in Australia. Today Dya Singh heads one of the foremost 'world' music groups in Australia named after him and has six albums in seven short years. The group was born in 1993. He has twice been awarde d 'Instrumentalist of the year' by SAMIA (South Australian Music Industry awards). The group has twice been nominated 'World Music Group of the year' winning it once. The group now travels widely throughout the world and is highly acclaimed by both Sikh and alternative mainstream audiences.
    The basis of the music is Sikh (spiritual), Punjabi and North Indian (in that order). This, being Dya Singh's narrower background. It then embraces music virtually from any other part of the globe including blues, jazz, folk (all kinds), country & western, country, Australian indigenous, bush, etc. The only criteria laid is that it should enhance the universal spiritual messages of truth, love, peace, harmony, equality and justice that Dya Singh stands for. Influences to date within the music of Dya Singh include Vietnamese zither (dang thranh), Southern European gypsy violinist, European flute, Polish dolcimer, blues and electric guitar, bouzouki, didgeridoo, Nepalese drums and tabla, Irish bohdran and irish fiddle.
    Dya Singh finds that 'Sikh' music currently strictly means kirtan (hymn singing with harmonium and tablas) within the confines of Sikh gurdwaras (houses of worship). This narrow and static music has reached a stalemate played by (in the majority) less than proficient musicians who are being churned out without proper coaching from Punjab and heard by diminishing numbers of Sikh adults who listen to it not because they enjoy it but because it is one path to salvation; and even less numbers of Sikh youth and children because it is not attractive and also because the profound message it carries, is not relayed sincerely and with music pallatable to the younger generation.
    Dya Singh believes Sikh music needs radical 'evolution' towards universality and greater acceptability especially to the younger generation of Sikhs especially those born overseas (outside India). The only other group of Sikhs who appear to be doing something towards this greater universality of Sikh music are white American Sikhs who have effectively introduced gurbani (Sikh scriptures) to western music.
    The music of Dya Singh firstly digs deep into the vast reservoir of Sikh and Punjabi classical, spiritual and folk music. It then reaches out to music from other parts of humankind, giving it a truly universal feel. This helps to portray the universal messages as espoused in the holy writings of Sikh and other Indian sages included in the holy scriptures and 'guru' of the Sikhs, the Guru granth Sahib.
    Dya Singh sings in his native Punjabi with the occasional explanation in English. But the true joy and upliftment of the music of Dya Singh is the spiritual feelings and passion with which the group presents its music and sentiments.
    In the southern hemisphere, away from the stern and restraining eye of the traditional Sikh establishment, no less than a revolution in Gurbani sangeet has been taking place over the last decade. With the production of Dya Singh's highly acclaimed CD "300" which won Dya Singh the "Male Artist of the Year" World Music Awards held in Sydney, Australia, in March, 2000, that revolution is now nearly complete. Dya Singh of Australia is a household name in the multi-cultural "world music".
    Formed in 1992, Dya Singh's "World Music Group" has emerged as one of the most sought after music groups in Australia, Southeast Asia and western countries like the USA and Canada. The group has performed in countries as far away as Japan. Sardar Tarlochan Singh, Vice Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities (India), wrote to Dya Singh in June, 2000:
    "Let me thank you and your colleagues for doing a pioneer work in spread of Gurbani and attracting large number of non-Sikhs all over the world. I have been feeling for long time that people at large are not aware that Guru Granth is the only religious book which is composed in music. This aspect has not been publicised by us."
    Press quotations give some idea of the Dya Singh's impact and range of music blends:
    "In the space of two hours, Dya Singh's material ranged from incantations to...Sikh hymns, ragas and Asian classical music. The talent of the performers, the range of the music they played, the deep spirituality which infused their performance, all made this a memorable evening." - Sydney Morning Herald
    "A unique blend of mystical North Indian music with Western Folk.......that has captivated everyone who has heard it." - (Singapore Arts Festival)
    Says Barbara Roberts of InFOLKus Magazine: "Dya Singh's incredible voice amazed me, at times quietly sensitive, at others overwhelmingly powerful, and always with the purest melody." Indeed, Dya Singh's voice range appears to have no limit, yet it always remains well controlled and melodious. Another commentator has described the experience of listening to Dya Singh simply as "A voyage into the heart".
    Dya Singh's unique experiment with the globalisation of Gurbani sangeet could only have happened in Australia, that remote continent. Born on the Vaisakhi day in 1950 in Malaysia to a devout Sikh couple, Dya Singh inherited Gurbani and sangeet from his father, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaysia. Expert press comment and the universal popularity of Dya Singh confirm that he is regarded as one of Australia's best examples of the dynamics of multiculturalism at its best. He has collaborated with many leading musicians in Australia. His choice of musical instrument's and talent is equally adventurous. In addition to his three highly gifted daughters, Dheeraj Shresta, a classical tablchi from Nepal, provides the beat on various "drum" instruments as required (tabla, mardang, dhols, drums etc.), Keith Preston, another highly talented artist (and Group Manager), plays Greek bouzouki (a cousin of ancient Sikh rabaab or rebeck), electric guitar, san toor and bohdran. Andrew Clermont, another member of the core gr oup, specialises in violin and the Australian didgeridoo - a sacred deep sounding Australian aboriginal wind instrument - the Group has special permission from the elders of the aborigines to play this forty thousand years old instrument in their spiritual music. This is the core group but other well-known Australian artists e.g. Cicilia Kemezys (European flutes), join in as guest artists from time to time. The group is popular at festivals and on the local and national television and radio.
    Gurbani shabads (including English translations), provide the entrancing meaningfulness to the popular and semi-classical tunes (bandash) played by the musicians. A retired Sikh Indian Airforce Wing Commander (speaking to the author) said once that he was not a very religious man and did not have an ear for Gurbani kirtan. That is, not until, he heard Dya Singh. After that, without fail, when driving, he turned on his car cassette player to listen to the Dya Singh and children and was immediately enchanted by the introductory Mool Mantar sung to eastern/western musical instruments and the hum of the Australian didgeridoo..
    Initially, the music appealed more to the next generation Sikhs and Western ears. Observers commented that the group created an entirely original genre of World music. Gurbani is the central theme but the strong spiritual impact of Gurbani is such that it harnesses and guides the raag, rhythm and beat, (even western beats) and promotes an atmosphere of joy and peaceful contentment.
    What about Dya Singh's impact on the eastern ear more used to traditional Gurbani kirtan? A well-known Sikh classical ragi used to say "Dya Singh Ji you have great talent but you are sometimes careless about the rules of raag. Stay with me for one or two years and you will be amongst the best in the Sikh world." Dya Singh's typical jovial response used to be "But Giani Ji, that is precisely the reason why I am avoiding ragis lest they put me in the straight-jacket of raags !" But Dya Singh has in fact heeded the advice of great Sikh ragis and based his popular music on classical raags even for mixed eastern-western performances. His latest albums "Gurbani Yatra" and "Bandagi" based more on traditional kirtan have been widely acclaimed by lovers of traditional Gurbani kirtan.
    Yet, his style remains unique and has great appeal for the new generation. So much so that during his globe trotting tours, young Sikhs travel long distances to listen to him. Outside south-east Asia, Dya Singh is becoming increasingly popular. The American Sikhs who have adopted Sikhism from a western (ideological and musical) background are keen to know more about traditional Sikh music. They readily relate to Dya Singh bridge building effort and after some coaching in interpretation by Dya Singh (accompanied by Dhiraj Shreshta, the Nepalese Tabla maestro) they have begun to develop a "taste" for traditional Gurbani sangeet. In the year 2000, Dya Singh spent over a month with American Singhs who are keen to know more about traditional Gurbani sangeet.
    While Dya Singh already has a wide audience base in the USA and Canada, his music albums are also in great demand in the UK and amongst the East African Sikh community.
    Outside the Gurdwaras, this talented and pioneering Sikh sangeetkar is successfully taking the message of Guru Nanak to the young Sikhs and the multi-cultural audiences world-wide. While some traditionalists may frown at his novel but popular approach, the Sikh community world-wide will be hearing more from and feel proud of Dya Singh of Australia. Others are likely to follow in his footsteps, as part of the process of taking the universal message of Guru Nanak to the world and into the 21st Century.
    Dya Singh of Australia and the Sikh Gurbani tradition: The underlying criterion for the raag bases selected by Guru Sahiban was that Gurbani kirtan should enhance the spiritual message of Gurbani and induce a mood of meditation and spiritual equipoise (sehaj anand).
    Dya Singh's interpretation - Dya Singh always stresses - of Gurbani sangeet in the language of world music needs to be looked at in the light of some facts about traditional Sikh music as popularised by Guru Sahiban. Dya Singh's underlying base is distinctly that of Gurbani raags the popularisation of which also remains his ultimate goal. This is what Dya Singh's Internet Web site says about his Gurbani sangeet interpreted into World Music: "The basis of the music is Sikh (spiritual), Punjabi and North Indian in that order. This being Dya Singh's narrower background. It then embraces music virtually from any other part of the globe.....Dya Singh finds that Sikh music currently strictly means kirtan (hymn singing with harmonium and tablas) within the confines of the Gurdwaras (houses of worship). This narrow and static music has reached a stalemate played by (in the majority) less than proficient musicians who are being churned out without proper coaching from Punjab and heard by diminishing number of Sikh adults .....and even less number of Sikh children....Dya Singh believes Sikh music needs radical "evolution" towards universality and greater acceptability especially to the younger generation of Sikhs especially those born overseas (outside India). "
    Gurbani sangeet tradition It needs to be remembered that Guru Nanak Dev Ji took the universal message of Gurbani out to the people. Gurbani is in the popular languages of India, including many middle eastern languages. Gurbani is to be sung not only in classical raags but also popular folk tunes, rhythms and beats.
    Some facts about Gurbani kirtan, the raag bases, folk tunes, beats and rhythms are as follows:

    • It is believed that there are main (stress) 31 raag bases used in Guru Granth Sahib.
    • In addition there are almost as many mixed raags, popular folk music bases called dhunee (rhythm and beat) used. Some examples of popular folk music are the different types of vaars (songs about of heroes, wars and popular love stories) in popular beat and rhythm:

    • Tunde Asraje ki dhunee
    • Malik Mureed tatha Chandra Sohian ki dhunee
    • Rai Kamal Maujdi ki vaar ki dhunee
    • Jodhe Vire Purbani ki dhunee
    • Rai Mehme Hasne ki dhunee
    • Lalla Behlima ki dhunee
    • Raaney Kailash tatha Maaldey ki dhunee

    1. Popular folk tunes included ghorian, satta, bir-harhey and alahonian etc.
    2. Guru Gobind Singh Ji composed Gurbani extensively in popular raag bases, folk tunes, rhythms and beats. Guru Ji was an accomplished musician in 235 raags. Indeed, Dasam Granth reputedly includes bani to the beat of "Ferangi Taal" !
    3. The Sikh dhadis to this day sing martial songs of Sikh heroes to music bases of popular vaars and love stories e.g. those of Mirza, Heer etc.
    4. Non-Sikh ragis: Some popular ragis of Darbar Sahib and other major Gurdwaras e.g. Bhai Chaand at Darbar Sahib and Bhai Lal at Nankana Sahib have been Muslim (response to those who sometimes in their ignorance do not allow non-Sikh musicians on Gurdwara stages.)
    ... In short, Dya Singh is following in the Guru's footsteps: taking 'gurbani' (the 'word') out to the people, (and not confining it to the gurdwaras) in their own language and in popular beat and rhythm to which the audience can relate. Guru Nanak Dev Ji did exactly that. The underlying criterion is that of deep spirituality and equipoise - also the main criterion for Gurbani raag bases. Gurmukh Singh, Rtd. Principal, (Sikh Missionary Society, UK).
    "...electrifying..." I.J.Singh (New York), Occasional Sikh Writer & Guest Editor of Sikh Review.
    Dya Singh is a landmark Australian musical and cultural accomplishment...Its time to take to the world stage has arrived. David Sly - The Advertiser, Adelaide, Sth. Australia
    Dya Singh's incredible voiced amazed me...at times quietly sensitive, at others overwhelmingly powerful...and always with the purest of melody. Barbara Roberts - InFOLKus Magazine, Australia
    In the space of two hours, Dya Singh's material ranged from incantations to Punjabi spiritual folk songs, meditations, Sikh hymns, ragas, qawali singing and Asiatic classical music. The talent of the performers, the range of the music they played, the deep spirituality which infused their performance, all made this a memorable evening. Bruce Elder - Sydney Morning Herald
    Their amazing music is on the cutting edge of 'multi-faithism', the dialogue within faiths which the whole world is now experiencing. Father Jeff Foale, CP, AM.
    1. Copyright © Gurmukh Singh "The pioneering initiative of Dya Singh of Australia"
    2. Contact Bhai Dya Singh ji at dyasingh@khalsa.com
    3. Keith Preston, Manager - Dya Singh World Music Group GPO Box 1601, ADELAIDE, SA 5001, AUSTRALIA Ph. (618) 8354-4606 Fax. (618) 8354-4609 Email. Kpreston@senet.com.au
    Courtesy: Ragi Bhai Dya Singh ji Australia wale
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