My mother converted to the Sikh religion when I was 4 years old. Sikhism was founded in India by Guru Nanak almost 550 years ago and was based in the belief of one universal God and equality for all human beings. A succession of 10 Sikh Gurus shaped the religion. Their teachings were written in poems to specific musical compositions called Raag to evoke certain feelings and moods. The Sikh scriptures are unique because they contain a variety of Hindu, Muslim and Sufi writings as well. Guru Nanak used to sing his teachings so people could better relate to his message. When these poems (shabds) are sung, we call it Gurbani Kirtan.
I learned to play the harmonium (a traditional Indian instrument) and sing my first shabd when I was 10 years old. The next year I went to a Sikh boarding school in India where we had kirtan competitions. When it came time we were asked, “who can play the harmonium?” I quickly raised my hand thinking I was the shit for having such vast experience at such a tender age. (We lost and I was devastated.)
However, I continued to be the harmonium player for the next 5 years at the school. During school breaks when we would travel around northern India, I always played the harmonium and lead the kirtan for our little band of American Sikh kids. I played in mountain top temples, on the back of open trucks in crowded cities, in colleges, in parks, in school, in the dorm, and in competitions. I sang my heart out during those years – and as loud as I possible could.
When I returned to the US from India, I continued to sing. There is something that just comes over me when I sing Gurbani Kirtan. I feel calm and relaxed and that is what keeps me connected to my soul, the divine, what the source feels like.
I still practice this spiritual lifestyle and continued to play throughout my life’s journey. Even knowing that my voice is not perfect, often flat or sharp, the love I have for it drives me forward. The creative process of learning something new, working on mashups of different shabds, adding chants to enhance the message and experience has always been a drive for me as well as how deeply I feel peace singing Gurbani Kirtan. I sing loud and proud and leave my heart on my harmonium.
I taught myself how to create tracks on my computer at home, and I enjoyed a new creative process of experiencing and sharing this incredible tool of connecting within. One day recently my friend, Jaap Gardner, said, “You know, these are really good. I would love to share these with the world. Just let me know when you’re ready”.
I never thought I would share my music, but I believe in the power of these words. It goes beyond religion and into the sacredness of the message that remembering the divine in every instance, pain departs and we are filled with peace.
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