Kids Corner


The Minstrel:
Sikh-Aussie Dya Singh




Sikh-Aussie musician Dya Singh calls himself "the musical interpreter of the traditional Sikh hymns (shabad), with diverse influences from around the globe."

In Ludhiana, Punjab, 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 filmi, classical and semi-classical music, including the qawwali, bhajan and ghazal. My style is more of the "world music" style due to my diasporic experiences. As I studied under a traditional master, my father, I can also relate to the older, more traditional, old-country 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 United Kingdom 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 Studies. 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 (U.K.) 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 Bhanjen Tera Naam" and the other is "Sacred Chants of the Sikhs". Both these albums will be released by the end of this year.


[Courtesy: Tribune. Edited for]

November 13, 2011




Conversation about this article

1: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), November 13, 2011, 11:24 AM.

I agree with Dya Singh ji that kirtan should be done with more modern or new instruments. Currently, all kirtan is being performed with harmonium and tabla, which is completely different from the original tradition started by Guru Nanak with his rabab. We're always looking for the easy way out. We need to learn new instruments, with the proper raags from gurbani.

2: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), November 13, 2011, 10:38 PM.

I think when it comes to gurbani - there is no need for reinvention or to include worldly props. Musicians have not even learnt to sing the way the Gurus have composed it. If there is a musician who can get back to the simplicity of sound and just sing from the space of humility and grace - the resonance with any sangat, including the Queen in Buckingham, will be felt and appreciated as the best healing vibes for the heart and soul. Such musicians are bound to have appreciative and respectful audiences.

3: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), November 14, 2011, 5:30 AM.

Gurjender Singh ji - there are new and modern instruments. God forbid, Dya Singh will not use the synthesizer organ but there is no such thing as modern or new sound. There are different qualities to the human voice or sound systems but none are modern or new. It's either got soul or no soul. Simplicity is what good artists strive for - not easy, in a not so simple world.

4: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 14, 2011, 10:44 PM.

Just as the shabad's sole vehicle of transport is 'pawan', so is it with music. We should be very careful of not making it 'kan ras'. Our Gurus didn't go to any music school but the shabads that were revealed to them, together with the raags, have a distinct composure in the spiritual dimension.

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Sikh-Aussie Dya Singh"

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