As time passes, oral histories and memories of a rich Sikh musical history die with the elders.
Building on current research, we want to capture the knowledge and memories of the elder generation.
Together we can collect and immortalise one of the most vibrant and rich musical histories of South Asia.
We are fundraising for a unique and unprecedented project involving:
- Two fieldwork trips, to India and Pakistan respectively, in order to conduct the necessary archival and interview work for our PhD research project on gurbani kirtan, the sacred music of the Sikhs.
- The production of a documentary on gurbani kirtan, based on this research work.
Sikhism is unique among the world’s major religion for at its heart lies music. The sacred scriptures of the Sikhs contains devotional songs, or shabads, of the gurus, their poets and musicians, and some of the most influential Sufi and Hindu saints of medieval India. Representing the living source of guidance, or guru, for the Sikhs, the scriptures transcend religious boundaries and operate through the powerful medium of music. Each shabad is a sonic entity which encapsulates a divine message inspiring the qualities of devotion, consciousness, remembrance, and love for humanity.
The onslaught of the forces of colonialism, modernisation, commercialisation, westernisation and popularisation over the last century and a half, has led to the decline of a once thriving oral tradition. It has resulted in the loss of priceless intangible heritage, in the form of music, that was once as important as the written word. The sacred music tradition of the Sikhs has been transformed such that it bears almost no resemblance to the past still remembered by some of the elders.
Want to learn more and help raise awareness of this fascinating musical tradition? Please support our work!
The Research Project
Kirit Singh is currently undertaking his PhD, titled ‘Kīrtan and Kalā: Patrons and Musicians of Gurbāṇī Kīrtan and Hindustani Music in Punjab, 1801 to 1947’, at SOAS University, London, under the supervision of Prof. Richard Widdess. This study is the first of its kind to explore in detail the tradition of gurbani kirtan in relation to Hindustani music in the Punjab region, during the unique period in which both traditions came to enjoy significant patronage from the Sikh princes and aristocracy. The study aims to document the outcome of the interactions and exchanges in such environments by drawing on written sources and oral histories. It will also focus on the major religious centres, such as Amritsar, which fostered a flourishing musical environment.
The university fees for this PhD are generously being supported by the Yogi Tea Foundation. With your support we will be able to carry out the necessary archival and interview-based fieldwork in the Punjab region that will underpin the findings of this unique and unprecedented PhD study. The fieldwork will involve six months spent in India and three months in Pakistan.
With your support we will be able to share the fascinating story of the gurbani kirtan tradition through the accessible medium of film. This documentary will be unprecedented. Not only will it be founded on the highest level of PhD research and academic integrity, but it will be produced by two passionate researchers, who are themselves musicians and have an intrinsic understanding of the musical tradition which they are studying. It will shed a new perspective on the kirtan tradition by featuring input from some of the most influential names of Hindustani music today.
"We hope to portray the richness of the Sikh musical tradition in its former glory, prior to the influence of colonialism, the rise of Bollywood music, and the catastrophe of Partition. Our aim is to raise awareness and inspire a change in attitudes towards one of South Asia’s richest musical traditions."
Here is an example of the musical legacy from a bygone era of Sikh musical excellence:
With an MEng in Computing from Imperial College London, Kirit Singh left his promising career as a programmer, early on, to follow his passion for Hindustani music and gurbani kirtan. He has studied gurbani kirtan from senior musicians of the Namdhari community, who are primary custodians of the rababi tradition in the 21st century. He is a disciple of one of the leading torchbearers of dhrupad vocal music internationally, Pt. Uday Bhawalkar. Cultivating his research interests in the field of gurbani kirtan, he went on to complete his MMus in Ethnomusicology at SOAS in 2016, and is now undertaking a PhD on the subject.
Jasdeep Singh was initiated into the Tabla and Jori by a leading maestro of the Benares and Punjab traditions, Ustad Sukhvinder Singh ‘Pinky’. He has gone on to widen his understanding of the instruments by studying under some of the other leading percussionists of our times including, Pt. Ravi Shankar Upadhyay, Pt. Sanju Sahai, and Pt. Yogesh Samsi. He is one of the few musicians of his generation carrying forward the unique but dying art of the Jori of Punjab. His research interests lie in the gurbani kirtan tradition and, especially, the percussive aspects of the Jori, Pakhawaj and Tabla.
Together, Kirit Singh and Jasdeep Singh, with their shared passion and musical bond, have collaborated successfully on several musical projects. As performing artists, they are dhrupadhamar, one of the few representatives of the dhrupad style within gurbani kirtan internationally. They have also been instrumental in setting up the London based South Asian Music Forum, targeted towards cultivating a community for South Asian music in the UK, that not only supports young artists, but encourages a more authentic and intimate mode of music consumption. Last, but not least, their common research interests have brought them together in their academic work on the gurbani kirtan tradition in which they are collaborating on a significant PhD project and the production of a documentary.
All figures are estimated based on average prices and current exchange rates.
- International Travel (return flights & visas for 3 people to India & Pakistan) - £2,400
- Maintenance Costs
- for interview & documentary filming (accommodation, food and local travel for 3 people) - £4,200
- for extended archival research (accommodation, food and local travel for Kirit Singh only) - £6,300
- Audio-visual costs (videographer & equipment) - £5,000
- Echange rate margin (5%) - £895
- Crowdfunder fees (8%) - £1,505