January 28 2017
Rising star eschews professional tag and says faith and charity work at the heart of her music…
MANIKA KAUR is already a singer known to many Sikh households around the world.
Now, a new album produced by former Mercury Prize winner Talvin Singh will propel her towards a much wider level recognition of her gifts.
She focuses only on ‘Kirtans’ – Sikh religious songs, inspired by the Holy Sikh scripture, “The Guru Granth Sahib“.
She takes inspirational sayings from the book and turns them into lyrics.
It has proved hugely popular and when she was last in London, she spoke to www.asianculturevulture.com about her new project with Talvin Singh and her upcoming other work. It is likely that she will return to the UK to sing in Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) and spread the word about her charity work in educatetosave.org. this year.
It will be a new departure for the mother of one whose music continues to grow and actively spread a message of love, compassion and the joy that comes from helping others.
Deeply stirred by the notion of ‘seva’, which carries notions of service, duty and selfless actions, she wants her music to help children in her native Punjab to be educated and go on to support their impoverished families.
The charity she and her family founded, ‘Educate to serve’ now has its own website and she sees it as her mission to raise awareness and seek out funds to help promote learning and hope.
She expects the album, “The Sacred Word” to be out be later this year – Singh and Kaur worked on it for much of 2016 and are already talking to US music labels about its release. There is a real buzz around “The Sacred Word” – industry sources feel it could be a real contender for The New Age category in The Grammys for 2018.
Kaur, who lives in Dubai, with her husband and seven-year-old son, is naturally self-effacing about that, but it’s clear that working with Singh has given her added impetus.
“We have the same manager (Vinod Gadher),” Kaur revealed. “He sent him some old tracks and asked if he would be interested in working with me.
“We worked on one track and really got on well in the recording process and Talvin Singh doesn’t really take on projects he isn’t interested in – he simply does not have the time.”
Singh, a notable producer in his own right, is a hugely accomplished tabla player and composer and won one of UK Music’s most prestigious awards in 1999 as the Mercury Prize recipient. As a producer he has worked with the likes of stars such as Madonna, Jay-Z, and on a whole album for Björk.
On this album, Kaur is singing with a range of musicians she would not normally get such privileged access to – a bass player from the rock group Kane, Singh himself on Tabla, Tunday on African harps (Dhinda) and Kirpal Singh Panesar on the Santoor.
Kaur, herself, isn’t a professional singer and has no desire to be, but the kudos and wider attention of working with someone like Singh is important to her in raising awareness and encouraging people to help others and the charity she has set up in Punjab.
“It was Vin who said I had the voice but he told me you need the right musicians to bring to life your compositions,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com late last year.
Kaur does not see her music in terms of a career – it is more of a vocation or calling and if you look at how she has developed you can better understand that.
She first came to music and into singing because she was looking to raise money to build a Gurdwara in Dubai.
“As a community, we had been trying and then Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave permission and gifted the land.
“That’s when I had a dream and in it I was holding a CD and there was a picture of the Gurdwara and it said the album was raising money for the building and then I looked on the back and there was a picture of me.”
That first album in 2006 was produced free by Sukbir Singh, a well-known figure in the Sikh influenced music scene and the printing similarly was done without charge because it was all seen as raising money for a good cause.
“I recorded it in my prayer room at home and we raised about a Million Dharams (currency of the UAE), about £300,000,” revealed Kaur.
Her basic mantra, ‘Kirtan for causes’ continues and as we have seen, evolves.
“It always starts with a purpose, then the music comes. In the beginning it was about building the Gurdwara in Dubai and wanting to be involved.
“Then it was about wishing to educate the children in Punjab.”
She had grown up in Melbourne and her family run a fashion business there. She studied business and fashion and it was only after marriage and moving to Dubai that her singing began to take shape.
A second album emerged, devoted to a Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das. It made waves and got her noticed and won her awards in the UK and the US.
A short animated feature accompanied her voice, and clocked up some 4.5 million views (see below) and it is the springboard to her latest ventures.
This time it is all about ‘educatetosave’ – she visits Punjab once or twice a year and her commitment to seva increased witnessing the local situation – one made notorious by the 2015 hit but controversial film, “Udta Punjab” and increasing levels of poverty and destitution in the north Indian state.
“In seven out of ten households in the Punjab, there is one drug addict.
“I remember going to interview someone (for her charity to assist) and the father was absent. His parents and children were there. I learnt that the son/father had committed suicide.
“They were still waiting to do the interview. How could they do this? I couldn’t fathom it, their son was gone – suicide had become the new normal in Punjab. It was over a debt of just £500.”
Educate to save provides money for boys and girls to go to school and is constructed to give them a stake in a stable future.
“For less than 90p a day, people can help. It is not just about going to school, each pupil gets a meal, a uniform, books and a place to escape.”
Her recent trip to the UK saw her pick up an an accolade at The Sikh Awards and she will be in the country to work on tracks with the non-profit Dharam Se record label and popular DJs and mix artists, Tiger Style.
All are about and inspired by the Kirtans.
“I did grow up listening to Kirtans and connecting to it.
“Now, I have my own son and I just think to myself it needs to keep evolving so that people listen to it and when you start to listen to it, you fall in love with it.
“It speaks to the soul, to the light within, devotional music has another level of depth to it, it brings peace to the listener and the more peaceful we are as individuals the more peaceful the world will be,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com
Manika Kaur video