Music is a Platform

Rap music, Australians and the Sikh diaspora have travelled far and wide. I never imagined that one day I'd meet an Australian Sikh rapper but I had the good fortune of doing so recently when I met L-FRESH The LION just before his first performance in London.

We had a lengthy interview, which you can read more of below. This interview is part of an ongoing series of documentary shorts that explore the Sikh diaspora and Hola Mahalla. This one touches on some of the concepts of music, others in this series include Meditation and Sacred Sounds depicting the role of Sikhs during WWI. 

L-FRESH has recently released a new album called 'Become' available from his website.

Below is a longer interview with L-FRESH The LION. 


Introduce yourself

My name is L-FRESH The LION. I'm a hip-hop artist from Australia, the land down under. I was born and raised in the city of Sydney in a particular place called Liverpool, in South West Sydney; currently residing in Melbourne. Active within the music scene back home and now internationally actively working in the field of human rights.

 

How did you get into hip-hop?

So hip-hop came to me when I was a teenager in high school. I would have been about 13, 14 at the time and I had friends sharing music, all different kinds of music with me and you know up until then you experiment with a whole different types of sounds and styles. I had friends give me hip-hop music, they'd buy albums and burn me copies. I'd listen to it and at first be shocked by how raw and how upfront and direct hip-hop music was but eventually fall in love with the medium of it. 

It wasn't the stories that I connected with, because we have hip-hop artists that I was listening to talking about things that I didn't personally experience, but the style and medium really spoke to me. The emotion being shared throughout the music really connected with me, growing up as a Punjabi Sikh in Australia, you know in a space where there weren't many particularly at that time. There weren't that many living in that area where I was growing up. So, like I said the sound, the style really appealed to me and over time I kind of just started attempting to write my own hip-hop music, just raps and showing it to friends. My early friends, particularly at that time were very encouraging and just continued to be like “you should keep doing it”.

I started to perform at school and got quite a good response and continued from there. Once I started making music I couldn't stop and it became such a big passion that I continued and continued, fortunately enough to this day 12 years later I'm about to do my first show in the UK, what a blessing.

Can you talk about the work you did with Street University? 

Hip-hop music back home, particularly a number of years ago, I'm talking may be five/six years ago was definitely not at the space where it is now. Now it is pushing, to be, if it isn't already, one of the most popular forms of music in Australia where hip-hop artists are doing really well in the mainstream, on different levels. May be five/six years ago that wasn't the case, we probably wouldn't have envisioned it to be at the space it is now. So back then the focus, purely for me, it's always been this way but also for a lot of artists was that community aspect. You know when I think about hip-hop as a culture not just music, but hip-hop as a culture it's not just music it's a way of thinking, a way of being within it, and there's forms of expression that make up the culture music being one, hip-hop music being one of those aspects. There are others: dance; dejaying; visual arts like graffiti; and other ways people express themselves using a hip-hop mentality which is that of pushing the boundaries of innovation, bringing the best of you, using whatever resources you have, making the most out of nothing. I mean that's kind of a hip-hop mentality. So from it's inception it's always been about community. 

I grew up in Liverpool, South West Sydney, quite a marginalised community, when we talk about socio-economic status, hip-hop is huge out there for us, so using hip-hop in workshop formats, alternative educational formats was big. For four/five years I worked in that space using hip-hop to not just to learn about the community but to build with the community and to empower not just the community but myself. So from there I delved from working with communities for five years whilst I was there for University I finished a Law degree and an Arts degree at University. Once I finished that, finished my work in south west Sydney I took a trip to Melbourne and did the same thing working with the community out there, using hip-hop as an entry point. I cant remove that community aspect from hip-hop.

What was it like performing on Triple J?

Back home the music industry isn't as big as it is in the UK in terms of music industry institutions where artists can go to build and establish themselves, utilising those platforms. One of them is Triple J and it's a great platform for musicians to get their music heard and it's the national youth broadcaster. I suppose it comes under the ABC, which is our equivalent to the BBC. They have a segment on their Breakfast show called 'Like a Version' where they invite artists who are active and doing quite well to come on the show, do an original song live in the studio and also do a cover song, and the cover song part is really popular, that's what people really appreciate the creativity the artists put in to developing a creative cover song. So, to be provided with that opportunity at a time when I just released my album a couple months removed from putting out the album and doing my own national tour, to getting opportunities to perform in many different states across the country, it came at quite a pivotal time for me, and I'm very appreciative of the opportunity. I took my team, we went on their and did 'Survive' which was one of the original songs, which the radio station had been playing on rotation for a while up to that point. And then the second thing we did, we did a cover of the 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' theme song with Punjabi MC 'mundian to bach ke'.

So, you know, it was a cool fusion thing. My thing was I wanna go on their and take an element of my culture with me and the most popular song that people back home know that's in Punjabi is Punjabi MC 'mundian to bach ke', so you know it was an obvious choice. I love the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, it was a cool fusion thing. We had so much fun, it was received really well, it was quite popular, it got added to the 'Like a Version' CD for last year which is great. People received it really well. So from there we were able to do a whole bunch of things because more people were taking note. 

It gets people more aware, it's a platform, a platform where when you talk about music industry back home it's a really important one to try and get on if you can. And it helps in many ways, because the festivals are all watching what's happening, what's coming off Triple J, as well as other platforms, but Triple J is quite an open platform. Recognition in terms of audience recognition is always a positive, that was an immediate thing, as soon as that happened that just jumped, coverage jumped across the board and thankfully we were able to do a whole six to eight months of none stop festival performances across the entire country. So it really helped extend the life of the first album, I wouldn't say it was the only thing, there was a whole lot of other things happening at the time as well which kind of as well added to the momentum and definitely played a roll. 

Talk about the song 'Survive'

So my song 'Survive' for people that haven't heard my music, or for people that have, it's probably the first song that they've heard. It's a kind of an introduction. It's a song about an experience that I've had a lot back home, which I've notice doesn't really happen out hear as much as it does back home. May be because there's more Sikh people here, but back home when I see another Sardar or another Sikh person I can immediately recognise them and they can recognise me. So the song is about that connection we have, and we have a conversation about life, history and legacy, experiences and those kinds of things and the last thing we tend to ask each other is our name. So that essentially is what the song is about, that idea that we're connected to other people more so than we think and that we can connect with people beyond just superficial things to begin with. There's a lot of depth there and we appreciate that. So that's what the songs about and it starts off with an 'Ardas' sample, a prayer sample.

When it came time to make the music video, it was all about I want to represent the diversity of faces within our community to a wider audience. So that to me was really important because we haven't had anything like that in Australia back home - get any type of coverage. So that was definitely going to be part of the focus. I wanted to ensure that anyone around the world who was of Sikh faith could play it and feel proud that this exists. How it's been received? Immediately the community back home, I definitely felt a strong sense of support. 

We don't have a creative 'Asian scene' back home established like it is here. It's starting to emerge now but we don't have that, so that song was quite pivotal for me to get more recognition and support from the Sikh community back home. In terms of wider community, of all the songs on my album we released it as the third single, that song got the most radio play out of all of them and that's the song that most people when I do shows back home, know the words to. People that come to my show are predominantly a huge mix, a small fraction are Sikh people at the shows, it's mostly a huge mix. It got national play on Triple-J, it got play on MTV World based in the US. The video itself got coverage on TV as well back home. It opened doors and it kind of spread a message to people to let them know what I'm about but it also kind of provided an honest and genuine portrayal of the diversity of the Sikh community in Australia, well specifically Sydney and Melbourne. 

Talk through your experience of meeting KRS-One

KRS-One finally came to Australia a couple of years ago and it's taken him that long because he doesn't fly. He came by boat. He came on a cruise. He came to do a tour, which was a massive success for him. He was well received everywhere he went. He did a few community engagements where he could and one of them was in Liverpool, South West Sydney where I grew up. He came to the space and did a lecture at the Youth Centre, the Street University and it was great. Rarely have I been in a room for three or four hours where someone's been speaking for that long and no one moved. Everyone was sitting there and there was multiple generations in terms of ages of people there. Once he did his talk, we spoke afterwards for a bit, just hung out, shared ideas and just connected and it was just a buzz man. He's got the title of 'Teacha' in hip-hop you know, the guy who's been allocated to go around the world and speak to people about the essence of hip-hop culture and philosophy. It was cool, but he's like each and everyone one of us, he's just another man, you got to give respect where respect is due for sure 'cos he's a pioneer in many ways and it was an honour and privilege to kind of chill with him. 

As part of that meeting, we had cameras around so we asked him to do a little freestyle for the album. Actually we asked him to do a little shout-out and he was like “yo shut the door... close the door” and as soon as you close the door he just goes into it you know. Goes into this freestyle and we caught it on film. I was like “man okay we got to figure out how to use it, hopefully the footage is clear and the audio is clear for us to be able to use it on the album”. Thankfully it was, so you know – that was a privilege. It's a cool way to kick off your first album – to get a shout-out from KRS-One, it's not bad.

What are your live shows like?

My shows, my live shows are all about movement. There's a lot of movement, physical movement but ultimately it's about moving people physically, mentally and emotionally in the same space at the same time. I think a live show is a moment in time that cant be repeated. Each live show is individual and there's certain experiences that happen at one live show that won't happen again. So for me it's about being present and having the most fun possible. I want to see smiles on their faces, on the people in the audience and if their not smiling, I'm gonna be smiling anyway. Like I said, a lot of movement, a lot of interaction with people. Ultimately it's about having a good time, connecting with people in a meaningful positive way. 

Talk about what Seva means to you? 

I'm thankful to be brought up in a family that instilled positive values in me. My mum and dad really gave me such a solid foundation in understanding 'self' and understanding 'history' and 'legacy' and understanding my role within the world. For me 'seva' has played a big part of understanding my purpose in the world. Everyday I think about how I can become a better person so I can contribute positively to the world. Ultimately that's what I think about. I don't think about seva as an exclusive thing for the Sikh community. I try to think about it, for me how can I have and how can we have an impact on what's happening around the world in areas of most need. So back home I'm quite active in human rights issues. In particular at the moment I'm focussing on racism and trying to tackle that at an institutional and systemic level working in schools, working with young people to try and breed racism out of the next generation. Working with indigenous communities, with young people who have been battling with homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse. Working with asylum seekers and refugees. These are things that I'm passionate about. It comes from a sense of understanding a concept of seva and understanding how important that is in the Sikh faith but also understanding the amount of privilege that I have, that I have been given. That my parents sacrificed to be able to set up for me, to be able to live in a beautiful country like Australia where I have access to so much privilege, to horde that would be an insult to the sacrifices my parents made, and their previous elders made. It's definitely an integral part of me, regardless of music, regardless of anything else, it's at that core, it's in the fibre of my being, it's there. 

What are your Aspirations?

You know, it depends on how deep you want to go with this question. There's things that I would love to do on multiple levels as an artist. There's in my head a vision of being able to perform in-front of a sea of people. An unending sea of people on a stage with the people that I love performing with, my band, my crew, performing music that I love the most. I don't know where that's gonna be... not just in Australia but somewhere around the world. So using music as a passport to travel and see the world. Ultimately music for me it doesn't stop at music. Music for me is the ticket, the hook – that's how I get to be where I get to be but it's these conversations that I really value. It's the people that I get to meet at the shows with whom I have conversations long after the show. It's the discussion I'm able to have in the media to hopefully build and raise awareness. To get people to ask questions because I'm asking questions and finding out more and more questions everyday. It's what impact can music have on peoples lives beyond just having a good time, how can we utilise that to uplift people in ways that are positive. Music can definitely be a catalyst for so much positive change. 

Then there's a vision for me, ultimately where I'd like to get with music. I see myself on a beach with a guitar in hand, beautiful day with family looking back and seeing a house and being like “oh snap that's my house” and the beach is my back yard. Whether that's a home or a holiday home or whatever, that to me is peace right there. That's the vision. Self created home because of music and kind of living and breathing twenty-four-seven, that brings me joy. There's different levels there. There's the entry point of “yeah I'd love to perform and build” and the fun aspect of it, but then there's the depth aspect of it. Look at things beyond music, how can we have positive impact on the world and is that personal goal and dream, the lifestyle that I'm trying to create.

What are your highlights? 

So many highlights for me, where to begin. There are awesome moments, there are moments that I've had, being able to do certain shows and take certain opportunities that you know writing a biography,  you're trying to capture peoples attention by saying “hey, I've done this”, you know like performing at the Asian Cup opening ceremony, it's the biggest gig I've ever done. It's broadcast to millions and millions of people around the whole world and I'll never forget moments like that. 

There are other moments where it's like looking at the faces of people at a show and seeing the impact it's had on the stadium, the individual person, and having those conversations with people afterwards. When they come up and tell you why and it's like they feel the same pain, the same emotion that I felt when I wrote it and it's like yeah – that's why I do this, because that's the role music played for me. You know music changed my life in such a positive way because I could relate to the emotions people were exploring in songs and it just felt like I was being listened to and being understood. I think that's one of the greatest things people can feel in life - is that they feel understood and when you find that in music it's such a beautiful feeling. So to see that at a show and have that conversation with people, that's such a highlight man, that's bigger than any opportunity you get because that's real right there, you know. That hit's the heart man. So yeah man, too many highlights man, too many highs of amazing shows, opportunities. Man, being on stage there's no better feeling, crowd surfing, man it's ridiculous, being in the studio working on jams for hours and hours and hours, seeing the impact that it has on people, you cant measure that. 

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.

Meditation

A few years back while filming the Hola Mahalla documentary, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of Sikhs at Harimandir Sahib from a variety of backgrounds. A couple of American Sikhs who were of a Punjabi descent, nothing new there, Mexican Sikhs that looked like Punjabans, an American Sikh of Iranian descent and a very striking German Sikh called Angad Singh Khalsa.

I found Angad to be a man of few words, very humble and just a great source of inspiration. When we were out in Amritsar, Angad would often be of interest to fellow tourists and Punjabis visiting Harimandir Sahib. His sense of self assurance and belonging at Darbar made it easy for me convince locals that Angad was in fact a fellow Punjabi too and that he was in fact from Phagwara. People just accepted this partly because I can hold a straight face when I'm in the process of telling these tall tales, but also because Angad just seemed to be part of Darbar. 

The Golden Temple, Harimandhir Sahib is one of the most important places for Sikhs. It's seen by many as the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. Many regard it as a Sikhs birth right and absolute duty to visit Harimandhir Sahib. For many it's just referred to as Darbar. 

For those of us lucky enough to go, we get this unique opportunity to visit Darbar, listen to the Parth, Kirtan, do seva and join our guru. How many of us really recognise this unique opportunity and take it? Angad had with both hands. People had seen him doing seva, washing the marble floors, washing the dishes, staying in the Pakarma often on his own doing his own Parth and Simran. 

This interview is part of an ongoing series of documentary shorts that explore the Sikh diaspora and Hola Mahalla. This one touches on some of the concepts surrounding meditation, others in this series include Sacred Sounds depicting the role of Sikhs during WWI. 

Here's a short documentary with Angad.

Below is a longer interview with Angad. 


"My first experience was like in the Kundalini Yoga class and they were singing these mantras. I didnt like it at all, but it had an affect certainly and I got caught in it. So I liked practising Kundalini Yoga first and when I first like did my 40 day Kundalini Yoga I ended up at the Kundalini Yoga Festival. And there I met my teacher Professor Sunder Singh and I was sitting in the workshop.

 

I had nothing to do with Sikhi. I didnt know what is turban. I saw the first woman in baana and I was like “oh my gosh, what is that?”. I was just like normal guy you know, travelling around, living day by day and stuff. So I was sitting in this workshop and they were like aliens to me actually. Everybody was beautifully dressed and they had these strange instruments, and then they started to play and I was sitting there closing my eyes; and it was like something in me stopped moving. And I was just sitting there seeing like an old guy and he told me “Angad” my name wasnt Angad at this time. “Angad, you don't need to worry anymore”. So I was really touched by this music. This was not the moment I became a Sikh, this was like a process that took months, but my soul in this time directly knew I have to learn this science of Gurmat Sangeet. This was the moment that I was sitting in the workshop, the first time I listened to the Gurus kirtan, the Gurus way, using the Gurus instruments. My soul was touched and it reminded me of something which I always knew but in this life still had not realised. 

Am I a Sikh?”

Then after some time, you have to ask yourself a question “am I a Sikh? Do I follow a religion? What is the religion?” I'm not following any religion, Im just following my Guru. But I was asking myself am I a Sikh? I mean I wake up in the morning, I do my sadana, I was telling myself, I study the holly scriptures of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, this is what Im doing but I have nothing to do with Sikhi and Gurus, but I was realising what I was doing and yeah Sikh just means student, so I was studying really hard. It was not a choice to become what I am. I feel like something was pulling me. Something chooseme to do what I have to do in my life. To meet my destiny somehow. 


So then there was a point where I was like “Okay, yes I'm a Sikh”. Just I never decided “Oh I'll become a Sikh” it just happened. I guess I met my destiny. It was like this. Then when I realised that, then I had to decide by myself “do I want this life, this commitment” and my soul was like “yes this is what you have to do”. Since then if somebody asks me, I say “yes I am Sikh”.

Being at the Golden Temple its like a really special blessing because for me its like the heart of everything. Just being here its a blessing. Just touching the soul the heart. 

I love to be here because there are so many things to do so you're never unemployed actually. You can do seva actually everywhere and help the whole thing going on. And for me this place is like a pure healing place. 

Yeah washing dishes, I mean I really don't like it, so I choose the dishes as a seva actually because I hate it, I do it as a seva to drop my ego a little. That's the reason I do this. Cleaning the marble, it just feels like so natural to do for me to do it for whatever reason. Afterwards it feels so good I dont know whether its even seva what Im doing because it has such a positive effect so like its very difficult to do it completely not with the ego you know. Because we do it and we feel so good afterwards, I get more than I give so for me its a seva/its not a seva".

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.

 

"Sacred Sounds" Sikh participation in WW1

Over the summer I filmed several documentaries linked to the Sikh diaspora, this is the first in a series of shorts I will be releasing to accompany the Hola Mahalla documentary film, trailer at the bottom of this page. 

This Remembrance Sunday I wanted to share something fitting about the Sikh participation in the World War One. The short documentary and article is about “Sacred Sounds” which is an amazing project put together by Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith from Alchemy and the team at SAA UK. It features talented artists made up of Jasdeep Singh Degun, Seetal Kaur Gabir, Prabhjot Singh Gill, Christella Litras, Kirpal Singh Panesar, Keertan Kaur Rehal and Joe Williams.

Musicians Jasdeep Singh Degun, Seetal Kaur Gabir, Prabhjot Singh gill, Christella Litras, Kirpal Singh Panesar, Keertan Kaur Rehal and Joe Williams

Musicians Jasdeep Singh Degun, Seetal Kaur Gabir, Prabhjot Singh gill, Christella Litras, Kirpal Singh Panesar, Keertan Kaur Rehal and Joe Williams

The performance tells “The story of Sikh Soldiers from WW1 using music, vocals and spoken word”. It's an immersive experience and if you ever get the chance to see it performed again I highly recommend it. 

Below is a short documentary I made about the “Sacred Sounds” project. 

I discovered the “Sacred Sounds” project over the summer and missed it's initial performance at Opera North but caught the next two performances at a Gurdwara in Leeds and Bradford. It's a very unique project that offers something different while exploring Sikh participation in the First World War. At less than 2% of the Indian population at the time, Sikhs made up around 20% of the British Indian Army which is a staggering statistic. I was keen to interview Nima about the project and explore this area. During the research for my documentary about the Sikh festival Hola Mahalla I'd discovered how the British saw Sikhs as a warrior race, and were keen to include them in the army. There were discussions about having a Sikh Battalion once again before the election but that topic seems to have gone dormant along with other pre-election talking points. 

It's good to see the various centenary projects explore and celebrate Sikh participation in the First World War. It's great to hear their stories and for people to be given a chance to pay their respects to these warriors that fought in a battle away from home. It's a shame that it's still not common knowledge that Sikhs and other minority groups fought in both WW1 and WW2. Hopefully projects like “Sacred Sounds” will help bridge that knowledge gap. 

From a warrior perspective Sikhs may not be at the same stage they once were, its interesting to look back around 100 years and see how the Sikh diaspora has evolved. What will the next hundred years have in store for us?

Below is an extended interview with Nima about the project. 


"I'm Nima Poovaya-Smith, the director of Alchemy and curator of “Sacred Sounds”, Sikh music traditions and the First World War.

Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith - Alchemy

Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith - Alchemy

“Sacred Sounds” has several elements in it or several factors that made me think of this project in the first place. The obvious one of course being the fact that it is centenary of theFirst World War.

And then it was the timeless beauty of the Shabads themselves. Amongst all holly scriptures, this is the largest body of verse I know that is set to song. Thats meant to be sung and is seen as a direct spiritual channel to the creator, to God. 

Looking at a number of images of Sikh soldiers from the First World War. There was something about the self containedness, the dignity of the soldiers that struck me quite forcibly.

And I wondered what role the Shabads had in infusing them with fortitude and courage to face the First World War in countries that they had no experience of. In climates they had no experience of. And there were three key images that particularly caught my imagination. 

One was of sikh soldiers performing Kirtan, in a French barn in 1915, it didn't look a particularly comfortable place but again you saw that aura of self possessions and self containedness and I knew something special was happening.

 

And then on the march in Mesopotamia in 1918 theres another image which I think is better known of Sikh soldiers marching with the Guru Granth Sahib aloft on top of one persons head with a Chor Sahib being wafted over the Guru Granth Sahib. And its almost like its a sequential images. 

 

The next image I saw of them was again in Mesopotamia, again 1918, again the same photographer Ariel Varges. They are sat around the elevated Guru Granth Sahib performing Kirtan. 

Then I discovered a number of folk songs from the First World War notably of women singing about the war and they had a very different take on the war. They didn't understand why their men had to fight in a war that was not exactly their war and those songs were penned of grief, of loss and anger. We thought it would be quite an interesting thing to mingle the two and to also have elements of spoken word with the Shabads and with images. 

India on the whole had contributed nearly 1.5 million combatants and none-combatants, just under half of them came from the Punjab. This includes Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, but even then it was a disproportionately heavy figure. And out of these around 97 thousand or so were Sikhs who fought in the First World War. When you consider they comprise only 2 percent of the population, that is a staggering figure.  


Tabla

Tabla

Then there was the musicianship of the artists, the contemporary artists of today. I knew I had fantastic vocalists, fantastic musicians both of the Sikh faith and not of the Sikh faith who we could bring together to create this project. 

Kirpal Singh Panesar who is an absolute maestro when it comes to a variety of stringed instruments particularly the Esraj, the Taos and Dilruba. 

Kirpal Singh Panesar

Kirpal Singh Panesar

 

Jasdeep Singh Degun is a very good sitarist and of course both of them are marvelous vocalists. 

Almost coincidentally I had heard Keertan Kaur Rehal and she has such a golden voice and Prabhjot is only eighteen years of age and plays with great virtuosity. He plays the tabla of course, and the nagara as well as the dholki. 

Prabhjot Singh Gill and Joe Williams

Prabhjot Singh Gill and Joe Williams

 

For the spoken word elements I was particularly keen to have the actor and spoken word artist Joe Williams. He has what I call a basso profundo voice, its extremely deep, its beautifully articulated. So we thought it would be fantastic to have someone like him come and do the narrative. 

Christella Litras is a vocalists and a music producer, as a musician in her own right and she and Joe, they love being exposed to new challenges, to new music traditions, so we brought them in. and I think that has worked extremely well. 

Joe Williams

Joe Williams

One final point, in one of the opening sequences is Prabjot, he beats on the nagara, and then he starts playing on the tabla, and then you have Kirpal Singh Panesar come in on the esraj, and Joe then narrates a poem called the Gift of India” which perhaps not many people have heard of. It was written by a woman poet in 1915, an Indian woman poet called Sarojini Naidu and that was a poem I was familiar with, so it was a bit of my childhood coming to the fore as well – where she says: 

Is there ought you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
— The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu (India, 1915)

“Is there ought you need that my hands withhold, Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
 Lo! I have flung to the East and the West, Priceless treasures torn from my breast”. (Read the poem in full below)

And when I matched the statistics to this very eloquent poetry, it was quite extraordinary because India's contribution had not just been in its young men, and a country mourning its many dead, but it had also been in the form of minerals, you know mica, manganese, iron ore. It had been in the form of hard cash, and plenty of it. It had been in the form of military hardware and livestock. So there were different strands coming together for different people.

I think the dominant emotion in terms of audience response is that they were very moved, because I think what we have tried to create is an atmosphere of great delicacy. The Shabads are foregrounded in all their power and glory. And the Shabads have acted as sort of luminous framework through which all the other elements take place. So the first reaction is one of people being moved and by this I include Sikhs as well as none Sikhs.

And then I think the second one is of surprise, because some of the elements startle them, some of the images startle them, some of the statistics surprise them.

And the third one we're very pleased about that, people have said its a fresh and distinctive approach and I have to at this point pay credit to the other major Sikh based projects on the First World War that have taken place last year and this year, and they've been excellent. So we had to find a different angle and of course with Kiran (SAA-UK) and me belonging to the art sector it was inevitable that was a route we would take."


Is there ought you need that my hands withhold,

Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?

Lo! I have flung to the East and the West

Priceless treasures torn from my breast,

And yielded the sons of my stricken womb

To the drum-beats of the duty, the sabers of doom.

Gathered like pearls in their alien graves

Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,

Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,

They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,

they are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance

On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France

Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep

Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?

Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair

And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?

And the far sad glorious vision I see

Of the torn red banners of victory?

when the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease

And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,

And your love shall offer memorial thanks

To the comrades who fought on the dauntless ranks,

And you honour the deeds of the dauntless ones,

Remember the blood of my martyred sons!”
— The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu (India, 1915)

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.

"There's a Tradition" - Baba Nihal Singh

Checkout the latest clip from the documentary 'Hola Mahalla: The Forgotten Festival'.

It features the following quote from Baba Niahal Singh.

"There is a parampara (tradition) with Nihang Singhs, that if a Nihang Singh does not attend Hola Mahalla he is presumed to have merged with God (died). Meaning that every Sikh regardless of where they lived, tried their utmost to attend Hola Mahalla”

if a Nihang Singh does not attend Hola Mahalla he is presumed to have merged with God”
— Baba Nihal Singh
    

 

 

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

BBC schedule programs celebrating WW1 Sikh participation

BBC Commissioning Editor for History & Business, Martin Davidson recently confirmed that the BBC are planning a series of programs to celebrate Sikh participation in the First World War. After being asked what the BBC was doing specifically about Sikh programming Martin responded “I'm talking to two Indian filmmakers who want to do a big film for probably either 2016 or 17, which is going to be taking a whole body of Sikh letters home, written by Indian soldiers who arrive, well first of all in Mesopotamia on the western front. Whose letters and experiences when they get back to India would trigger some of the early days of what would become the independence movement. We will do that, and one of the ideas of that will be the music and the reading of the letters will be done in the original language”. Martin Davidson was speaking during a panel discussion organised by the Sandford St Martin Trust. To read further information about the discussion click here.

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After being asked what the BBC was doing specifically about Sikh programming Martin responded “I'm talking to two Indian filmmakers who want to do a big film for probably either 2016 or 17, which is going to be taking a whole body of Sikh letters home, written by Indian soldiers who arrive, well first of all in Mesopotamia on the western front. Whose letters and experiences when they get back to India would trigger some of the early days of what would become the independence movement. We will do that, and one of the ideas of that will be the music and the reading of the letters will be done in the original language”. 
Martin Davidson was speaking during a panel discussion organised by the Sandford St Martin Trust. To read further information about the discussion click here.

Whilst no official announcements have been made, it is positive the BBC are looking at creating such programs.

The involvement of Sikh and Indian soldiers during the great war spanning from 1914 to 1918 is regretfully not common knowledge, despite over a million Indian soldiers participating in the war. It has been a long standing criticism from some of the Sikh community that the heroic efforts of these soldiers is often overlooked despite their bravery and great numbers. Sikhs were involved in both WW1 and WW2. Even today there are still Sikh soldiers part of the British army. You can watch an interview with one British Sikh solder below.

Above you can see the trailer for 'Hola Mahalla: The Forgotten festival'.

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

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