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Multicultural Minstrel - Sikh-Aussie Dya Singh


Jun 1, 2004
Multicultural Minstrel
by Minna Zutshi

Australia-based musician Dya Singh talks of how his spiritual music connects to the youth and more

Dya Singh, Australia-based musician, calls himself "the musical interpreter of the traditional Sikh hymns (shabad), with diverse influences from around the globe." In Ludhiana on a recent visit, he talked about the start and spread of his musical journey.

How do you connect with the young audience?

I have tailored some of my music for the younger generation. I want kids and teenagers to enjoy listening to gurbani. I also ensure that my group members and I smile on stage and show that we are enjoying ourselves. Sometimes, the older generation that is used to listening to serious-looking religious singers does get annoyed. I apologise to them, but I’m more about the younger generation, not the older generation.

Music, the diaspora and spirituality. How do these relate to one another?

I was born in Malaysia, a Muslim country. My father was a Sikh spiritual minstrel with whom I sang gurbani kirtan from the age of three for about 15 years in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, I was also exposed to western music and my father encouraged me to listen to Hindi film, classical and semi-classical music, including the qawwali, bhajan and ghazal. My style is more of the "world music" style due to my diaspora experiences. As I studied under a traditional master, my father, I can also relate to the older, more traditional India-born listeners.

How have diverse influences shaped your music?

I have had the best of the East and the West. My music remained fairly ‘eastern’ while I was growing up in Malaysia. Once I migrated, first to the UK and then to Australia, I started appreciating different kinds of music.

Has travel inspired your music?

Yes, it has. My travels are mainly associated with music — folk festivals, arts festivals, new age festivals, and multicultural festivals worldwide. I get to listen to some amazing vocals and music, and some of that permeates my renditions. The other day, I heard Mongolian throat singers who internalise their voices as they sing out loud, giving an incredible sensation as if the soul within has started to sing. I am working on that!

Physically, some places like the Niagara Falls, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Games Reserve in Kenya, and the Rockies in Canada are very inspiring.

In an age where music is more about glamorous visuals and facile entertainment, where does mysticism-oriented music find itself?

Interesting question ... First, where does mysticism find itself? In the razzmatazz, glamour and superficiality of the materialistic life, mysticism and spirituality have taken a backstage. Yet, the soul yearns for the ultimate reality. Mysticism-oriented music, if only it could be marketed as much as "pop", can possibly be the salvation of humanity. Unfortunately, it remains a niche — sidelined in favour of sex and violence.

You have a degree in Aboriginal Study. Has it, in any way, enriched your music?

Very much so. Our Australian aboriginal people are nature bound, which means that they are aligned with the elements. Their way of life, culture, spirituality and music are all about being one with Mother Nature. I love that.

What are the projects you’re working on?

I have now ceased my long international tours and only do "one-offs" when requested. In July this year, we were invited for the Manchester (UK) International Festival. Next June, we’d be doing a concert at the Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Besides, we have a pending tour of East Africa — Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

I have done two collaborative works with Craig Preuss — the music director of Gurinder Chadha’s movies Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. One is called "Dukh Bhenjen Tera Naam" and the other is "Sacred Chants of the Sikhs". Both these albums would be released by the end of this year.



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