Remembering Singh Kaur
by Sat Kartar Kaur Khalsa
Reprinted and amended with the permission of Aquarian Times Magazine
Before Enya, before Deva Premal, and before today’s burgeoning chant music movement, there was Singh Kaur.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s Singh Kaur was the best-selling vocalist in the New Age music scene. She was the first American Sikh musician whose music reached beyond the 3HO(Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Kundalini Yoga community and impacted the worldwide spiritual community. During that time, I traveled to many Kundalini ashrams and yoga centers as a chant vocalist and kirtan teacher. Everywhere I went, two things were always a given: 1) you would always smell the warm cinnamon aroma of Yogi Tea cooking and 2) you would always hear Singh Kaur’s voice emanating from the stereo, bringing a heavenly frequency into the spaces where we were growing a spiritual life. These sense memories, along with music legacy she left, remain today as cornerstones of 3HO historical culture and tradition.
Amar Singh, a multi-instrumental musician who worked extensively with her, recalls: “We were sitting in the St. Louis airport with Yogi Bhajan (spiritual leader and founder of 3HO American Sikh/Kundalini community), who was waiting for a connecting flight to New York. He asked Singh Kaur to put Rakhay Rakhan Har (a verse from the Sikh Scriptures) to music. I was sitting next to her as he tapped out the heartbeat rhythm on an empty styrofoam cup. I wrote the rhythm down, and when we got home, we put the rhythm into Singh Kaur’s drum machine. This is the beat heard on the final recording. The next day I went off to work. When I came home that evening, I asked Singh Kaur about it, and she played a rough recording – basically the finished piece. She had sat down in the morning and the music just flowed through her. I was always amazed and awed by her ability to put the perfect music to any words that came her way – English or Gurmukhi(language of the Sikh scripture).”
Sat Jiwan Kaur, her close friend, recalls, “One night at Winter Solstice Retreat, around 3AM, I was stirred awake by this beautiful sound. I arose and went through the camp, to see where it was coming from. Finally, I came upon the cabin where the Akhand Path (the unbroken day-and-night reading of the Sikh Scripture) was going on. Singh Kaur was literally singing the Siri Guru Granth Sahib(holy scripture of the Sikhs) as she read her time-slot of the scriptural reading . I sat and listened in a near tearful awe, then went and asked security to broadcast it through the camp. She had no ego, and she’d let anyone chant with her. I loved singing with her.”
My own approach to composing and singing was expanded in one of our mutual hold-each-other-up conversations. One day, I told her, “ I just can’t get the tune or words on this song to come out right. I feel so blocked.” “Silly girl,” she said, “Don’t you know that the song has its own spirit? If it wants to visit you, it will come and play you.” Play me? “You’re the instrument that the song is playing upon. Works much easier that way, you know, ” she explained. My perception of the musical process has never been the same since.
Towards the end of Singh Kaur’s life, violist Sahib Amar Kaur played on two of her ethereal recordings, Fairy Night Songs and This Universe (Sequoia Records). Sahib Amar recalls: “She told me that she wanted This Universe to be her gift to the [3HO] family. I think it was her way of saying thank you, and of making peaceful closure with everyone. The message is so beautiful: ‘To the one who meditates upon him, there comes a perfect peace, and all pain and sorrows depart.’ She was someone who was able to uplift the souls of many, many people through her pure, angelic voice and her ability to fit words and mantras perfectly to music. Up to the very end of her life, she was creating music for all the rest of us to enjoy.”
To explore Singh Kaur’s full discography, visit www.spiritvoyage.com
Sat Kartar is a kirtan vocalist who has led sacred music experiences worldwide for over 30 years, and is currently touring her latest CD, FLOW, which can be heard on the current Sacred Sounds playlist. For more about her music and tour dates, visit www.satkartarmusic.com.
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Remembering Singh Kaur
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