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Sukhwinder Singh Unveils his Experiences with Sufi Mystics and Sufi Folk Traditions

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Very few musicians I have come across who have such a mystical sense about music and Sukhwinder Singh is one such performer who relates his music to one true mystic supreme power ‘Ik Omkar’ which exists from the ‘Adi’ (beginning) to Anant (infinity) of this world, nurturing every sound of this universe which he believes encompasses in his very existence, his very own voice…A true believer in the Sufi mystic doctrines Sukhwinder Singh talks about Sufiana Mousiqui which has been his soul’s inspiration, as he decodes Sufism and his journey from folk music towards Indian cinema and world music which he is all set to present at the Paddy Fields festival, talking his heart out to writes Priyaankaa Mathur.

Having born in Amritsar Punjab Sukhwinder Singh has seen and experienced Sufi mystics and traditional folklore and Indian classical music at a very transcendental level. Talking about the folk music culture as he defines it saying, “So what is folk in Hindi it’s ‘Sabyata’, ‘Shishtachar’ is called Culture in English, which has come out of a tradition, a culture of a native place. If we see in Punjab which is my native place, there are two kinds of Folk traditions one is the ‘Rural Folk’ which includes the songs like ‘Balle Balle Shawa Shawa’ which are in the regular repertoire and the other is the ‘Sufiana Folk’ which depicts the relationship of a ‘Murshid’ (Guru) and a ‘Mureed’ who’s his disciple or a Follower (Shishya) There is a very strong bond between the two, wherein not only the disciple seeks a master for attaining knowledge and his blessings, but also the master also seeks, searches and prays to get an ideal disciple to whom he passes all his knowledge and powers to spread to the world after him. This is the purest form of Sufism which is prevalent in the Dargahs till date and which I follow.”

Elaborating further Singh says, “The guiding principle behind the Sufi mystics is of ‘Ik Omkar’ (there is only one God) which is one supreme power which we may call with different names be it Allah, Eishwar or Bhagwan which is Karta Purakh ( who’s the creator) Nirbhau (which is fearless), Nirvair(with no hate) Akaal Moorat ( which is timeless and omnipresent)  Ajooni Saibhan (Unborn and self-illuminating) as recited by Gurunanak Devji. The teachings of the gurus have the supreme power and no mortal being. If we talk about the word ‘Sai’ it a kind of respect we give to an enlightened one and this tradition is prevalent in Punjab which extends till Peshawar while we find the roots of Sufism till Lahore and Amritsar, where I was born.”

Going further deeper in the musical aspects Singh says, “I saw this philosophy very closely in all the Dargahs and had the privilege of listening to Sufi singers from Malerkotla from Punjab who used to sing the Kalams of Sufi saints like Shah Hussain, Baba Farid who was a warrior and Baba Bulleh Shah. It’s believed that the third eye of Sufi’s is of being a warrior which shows the world a path against injustice and has tremendous strength and all the Sufi’s had all these qualities which also showcased in their voices.”

Talking about his musical inspirations from the Sufi Mystics Singh says “The blessings of the Wali’s, Paigambers,Gurus and Saints cannot be measured. I have been in a process of learning from them which is still happening. These saints never stay at one place and so I have been a nomad too who has been in search of knowledge and so came across many to enlighten me, there is this Sher by Dr. Bashir Badr, which says it all,

“ Kai sitaron ko main janta hoon bachpan se

Kahin bhi jaun mere saath saath chalte hain”

Singh goes back to refer the Murshid-Mureed bonding saying, “In the Dargahs the Sufi saints were given a grand welcome as they would always come with two people one being a Historian who would write everything that the Murshid says as he is considered as the messenger of God and his voice bani is regarded as the ‘Gurbani’ and another one is his Mureed a Sewak. The Murshids would eventually transfer all their spiritual energy and knowledge to his principle disciple and so did his teachings and tradition continued, all this has been evident since the time of Gurunanak Devji.”

Referring to a popular legend of Sufi Mystics of Persia about the bird called ‘Huma’ which is considered equivalent to the phoenix of the western world which rises from its ashes every 500 years, is immortal and happens to be a kingmaker, Singh says, “So when a ‘Huma’ flies above someone’s head he becomes a ‘Shahenshah’, which happened in Baghdad. While the Wali’s (mystics) who are addressed as ‘Shah’ meaning a king, sent messages to the bird that ‘My head is not at your mercy’ as the day I had a glimpse of my lord,  I was blessed to be the one.”

Making a point Singh says, “Today we see many people claiming to be Sufis who are far away from the seeking spirit of the Sufis. Merely having long hair and singing while looking up at the sky is not Sufi music, they have neither heard nor experienced the Sufi Ang (element) that we find in performers like Wadali Brothers, Tufail Niazi and Lata Mangeshkar which has a Sukoon(peace) in their music as they belong to a different world of the Sufi mysticism.”

Further adds, “As it’s commonly phrased ‘Zindagi ek  jang hai’  i.e life is a war, to which Sufi’s say that it is your aggression or the face of your mistakes that you believe in such thoughts, which are very misleading for the society of today. According to the Sufi philosophy ‘life is beautiful’ it’s like if one tries to create an internal synergy with the environment through one’s thoughts and actions to shine brightly from within that is one choice or like if you are in a garden and instead of getting attracted to bloom like a flower you try to be the garbage spread around that can be again your choice. So it’s all in your thought and actions which helps beautify your soul and your entire being, your aura and your voice which eventually becomes mystic and that’s why these musicians have that ‘Asar’ effect in their voices. ”

Singh tells how even Indian Cinema took inspirations from the Sufi thought saying, “When you change things with time it is not corruption, but acts as a quality which AR Rahman possesses. Over the years Rahman has done many songs like Chaiya Chaiya, Ramta Jogi which are based on Sufism. When I met him for the first time, I told him that I’ll tell you a song, which we will present in a different way and so he made the song Chaiya Chaiya which has been inspired by its original Sufi version  ‘Thaiya Thaiya Tere Ishq Nachaiya ‘ of Peer Baba Bulleh Shah’ which he did in a very different sound, although dance was already there with it as part of it. Eventually the song Chaiya Chaiya was written by Gulzar Saheb in the traditional Sufiana style. I think only he can reach that thought as his poetry has the true color of the mystic poetry of those yester years of poetry which I saw in a Sufi culture very closely. Just look at the words in the song Kaminey ‘Massom sa kabootar nacha to more nikla‘,what an imagination he has!”

Talking about working with Shahrukh Khan on Chaiya Chaiya, “My first song came with Shahrukh and I will give all the credit to him. The concept of dancing on the train top in Dil Se was so unique in itself, with the energy he danced along with Malaika Arora and the entire group of dancers, and then that sound all together made the song a hit. I feel so blessed to have worked on that song, and Shahrukh is someone who actually gives me the love and has shown in my voice time and again giving me songs like ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’, Chak De India, Happy New Year, Raees, Dard e Disco.

For Sukhwinder Singh music has no genre as he says, “For me, Music is similar to ‘Ik Omkar’ no genre, one language. For me it’s true spelling is Mousiqui (which is a Persian word for Music which is associated with Sufiana Mousiqui), which is exhilarating has no form like Sufi, folk, western or a Bollywood song it could be any  ‘Dard e Disco’ or ‘Chak De’ or be it ‘Jai Ho’, I don’t differentiate music in categories nor moods be it a sad, a romantic or a patriotic song I sing all  and only thing that works is my passion for it.”

On working with different music directors and lyricist Singh says, “Music directors and the lyrics writers create the first face of the song. I don’t talk about those who write filthy lyrics or create mediocre tunes, but those who have worked hard and understand the gravitas of the art form. I am talking about lyricists like Gulzar Saheb, Javed Saheb, Irshad Kamil and music composers like AR Rehman, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Salim Suleman, Vishal Shekhar, Ajay Atul and a few upcoming composers who create masterpieces, are a few but rule the industry with their thoughts and creativity. I feel a very strong spiritual connection in Lataji, Ashaji, Rafi Saheb and Kishore Da who I feel was a saint and his voice had a very different effect.”

So what goes on when you are live on the stage, “I don’t do work seriously, I work sincerely, so when I am on the stage I don’t wear white clothes to sing a Sufi song but I am surrounded by pretty girls dancing on my songs along the sides, but there is always a divine intervention of ‘Bholenathji’ (Lord Shiva) who’s the lord of the stage, and that awareness is always there with me. I believe in the ultimate supreme power and don’t categorize the Gods!

Talking about his forthcoming performance in the Paddy Fields Festival in Mumbai Singh Says, “It’s a great effort to propagate the music of India and creating something different, which I appreciate as an initiative to keep our traditions alive.  If we see even in commercial music above 60% of songs are influenced by some form of the folk or a classical raga of the Indian classical traditions. The folk songs have a Tarz (a tune) which have traveled in time from generations to us I thought of presenting a journey of music giving the audience a glimpse of what relation Indian cinema has with the folk traditions, so some will be original compositions from Bollywood, and some will be folk-influenced compositions which will be interesting yet entertaining.”

Talking about the new generation of digital stars who are gaining popularity in the digital space, “I myself left the digital media four times, but was again pursued to come on it although I don’t believe in it, as at some points its lot of technical gimmick happening. Today some people are using abusive language, presenting obscene content, and are still getting views, which is painful to see. Those who are actually the deserving talents are busy mastering their art to become ‘special’ ones as they have no time for all this. My message to the youngsters of today is that the world is known for special people and special people are very few.

‘Wo bheed me se nahin milenge, wo bhakton main se milenge’

i.e ‘You won’t find them in the crowd you will find them in the devotees’! ”


A Hindustani Classical Vocalist and a Musicologist. Pursuing Ph.D. in the same from Delhi University. Presently working with exchange 4media writing across domains ranging from Digital, Marketing, Advertising, Events, Music, Artforms, Artists and lots more... Getting better with time!

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