ANHAD – The Malaysian Sikh Rock Band

ANHAD – The Malaysian Sikh Rock Band

I would like to introduce you to a hot new SIKH ROCK BAND all the way from MALAYSIA called “ANHAD.”  Unless you live in Malaysia, you have probably never heard of them,well, NOW’S THE TIME!

First off, I love their band name (“ANHAD” – Pronounced like “un-hud”) which many of you might recognize from Japji Sahib (by Guru Nanak Dev Ji)  which means the ‘unstruck melody’ and signifies the primordial sound from which all sounds come. Anāhat Nād is a very subtle sound, the sound of the Cosmos which exists by itself. There is no friction involved in the production of Anahat Naad; it was and is, as in the beginning, the “uncreated sound”.

When I first heard of the Anhad Band, the concept of a “Sikh ROCK band” was a bit foreign to me. I wondered what a “Sikh Rock Band” would sound like?? After all, Rock is pretty diverse. Your idea of Rock probably varies depending on your generation and exposure to this music. Rock has spanned so many generations, and with each new generation changed in many ways. Musicians take parts from what was before them and add something of themselves to make it new and unique.

I didn’t know many Sikhs were even into Rock music!? When I think of the types of music Sikh Youth listen to, it’s probably most likely to be Bhangra, Mainstream Pop, Hip-Hop, Rap, etc.  Rock generally doesn’t come to mind these days. I could be wrong though.

During my much younger years of boarding school in India during the 80’s, I listened to all kinds of music that was popular within my circle of friends. Everything from Old school Rock, classic hip-hop, heavy metal to early techno/house, etc.  I never imagined that Rock music would be back “in” in this day and age, and by SIKHS too. Not many kids even learn musical instruments these days. That takes a bit more effort than playing video games or watching TV, which are common passive “hobbies” of today’s youth.

In the past years I have heard of a few Sikh Rock Bands and Musicians (Hargo , Roving Sikhs, Rabi Shergill and even the older “Peter Singh“). Each with their own influence and totally different style, but that’s it; FOUR bands.  So, Sikh Rock is not widespread. Now Anhad is here and that makes FIVE.

One thing I love about the Anhad band is how they merge different western and eastern musical styles and use Gurbani Mantras for lyrics. It is sort of like “Meditative Rock”. It sounds like an oxymoron, but their music has a unique spiritual feel to it that is true to the band’s name. So while some of the tracks really jam and are pretty up-beat, they are different than any Sikh-related music you have heard before. This is a unique sound of joyful devotion, and it  flows in all the tracks. Their music is like a reflection of their world, as Sikhs, and the world around them in which they grew up.

“We needed a band in our lives all these years that combined the spirit of rock n’ roll, with the Guru’s word. We did not want to keep the two worlds apart. We wanted to build a bridge. In the end, we knew that the only way to do that, would be to do it ourselves”.  - Hargobind Singh (Anhad)

Their band is not just a band of friends,  but a family. No really! I think everyone in the album is related (brothers, sisters, cousins, except for a few guest musicians). Another thing which is unique to them is how they embrace their Sikh identity fully. When they perform a live concert they are in their “Uniform”, which is blue/turquoise colored chola/kurta and white turbans. They are definitely proud of being Sikhs and have no issue with standing out and representing the royalty of Guru Gobind Singh. I Like :)

Their debut album “Live/Unheard” appears to be a labor of love. The music in this album and their band in general, has been a journey in development over the past 4 years. Listening to their music, you can tell they put a lot of time & energy into it’s “birth.”

Those Malaysian youth know how to Jam out. I remember my short visit to Malaysia many years ago and remember getting together at someone’s house for an impromptu musical jam session. Guitars, drums, tablas, bag pipes, harmoniums, flutes, etc. Everyone just sang together, meditated and connected. I noticed that Malaysian Sikhs were very different culturally than what I was used to elsewhere in the world. When you go to Canada, England, USA….Sikhs are still very “Punjabi” and have a much closer tie with India. The Malaysians Sikh I feel are really rooted in their local culture and it’s refreshing to see them break away from many of the negative “boundaries” of Punjabi culture. I look forward to the next time I have a chance to visit Malaysia :)

It so inspiring to see youth like them break out of the typical Sikh “mold” and delve into the creative arts. In recent years I have slowly seen more and more youth on this same creative “path” becoming active artists, musicians, video producers, dancers, rappers, etc. No longer are the youth feeling confined to just a “professional life” of being a lawyer, doctor, businessman, etc. They are getting out and expressing themselves artistically. Because this is not the norm, I always want to showcase these youth and share their creativity (on SikhNet), so that they can in turn inspire others to express themselves in creative ways through the arts.

The ANHAD Music…

The whole album is great, but a few of them were my favorites. I put on my headphones and went for a journey. Here are some of my notes…

(2) Shaan starts with a simple meditative vocal track, builds with guitar, adds tabla, continues to build & then kicks off into motion with beautiful vocals chanting “Vaheguru” over and over, followed by nice harmonies & then doubling the pace with the introduction of the more typical “Rock” drums. It’s full on music fusion with East & West. It makes me want to close my eyes and just start chanting along. It has that happy joyful feeling to it that makes you just relax and know all is well.

(3) Ardas Bhaee jumps right in full of energy. No speed bumps here. It has a really nice rhythm and background melody mixed in with the vocals and other instruments.  This is one I love to sing along with while driving my car. The simple lines make it easy for anyone to just sing with the audio. Feels good. It ends with a nice choral type rendition of “Hari Hari”, over and over that reminds me of some Bollywood movies (the chorus sound). It then climaxes with more vocals “Ram Das Guru”, electric guitar and drums going wild. Nice track!

(4) Ik Ongkar - On this track they start with chant of “Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Vaheguru” and then go into a U2 sort of sound with a chorus of “Oh oh oh uh” that I’m sure crowds will love to chant back. Then it really goes Rock style with Electric Guitar and drums with a fusion of India vocal sargams (Rock style, if there is such a thing).

(5) Sagal Dwar - This track starts with beautiful vocals and simple acoustic and electric guitar. It’s like you are coming down off the mountain. Off the peak from the previous track, and moving back into a meditative space. It then picks up the pace with a nice repetition of the mantra that Is another I love to sing with while driving my car. A nice blend of male and female vocals (Harkiren Kaur?).  Great track that makes you feel good and pensive.

 

In my emails with Hargobind Singh (Lead Vocalist & Acoustic Guitar) about the album, he shared the following descriptions and background, which I hope will help you understand the inspiration for each track.

The Following is all in Hargobind Singh’s own words….

(1) Mangla Charan

The opening track is a compilation of verses that are always sung by my dad (Sukdev Singh) before he starts his kirtan. It is a salutation, a worship to the creator. We are all cousins, the members of ANHAD, and once upon a time we used to sit with my dad on stage every time he did kirtan as the Sri Dasmesh Jatha. As a result, when we first started putting ANHAD together, we used to recite this Mangla Charan before every rehearsal. Till today, this continues. since this is our first album, and we always did want him to record the track, we wanted to start it with the Mangla Charan once again. Just like every rehearsal, like every moment we’ve had as ANHAD. Because it was my dad who first influenced me in the evolution of music for devotion, we asked him to honour us by singing the opening track. And he did =)

(2) Shaan
This was actually the first track we’d ever arranged. It started out as an instrumental piece; sort of a build up to the rest of the performance. However one morning after a mountain hike, I was playing the same chords in a circle, and one of our friends began to chant “Waheguru” with it. Soon we added different guitar parts, structures, an alaap or two, and finally, drums. This track was recorded in the spirit of U2′s song: “Where The Streets Have No Name”. It takes us to the same faraway place every time.

(3) Ardaas Bhaee
The chords came first for this one. After having trouble figuring out which verse we could sing with it, another friend suggested Ardaas Bhaee which fit perfectly. However at this point it didn’t feel complete. It was too straight forward.

Jasdev and I bring the creative element to the band, and we’re both huge fans of progressive rock, from Pink Floyd and King Crimson, to Porcupine Tree and Tool; so we needed more. We played it for more than 2 years before finally adding the Hari Hari crowd chant to it, and finishing it off with Jasdev’s fantastic electric guitar chord progression during the second half of the track, which complemented Karamdeep’s killer bass lines perfectly. That’s when we knew it was ready.

(4) Ik Oangkar
This track broke the formula. My mum fell out of her chair when she heard this, and my dad couldn’t hide his pleasant surprise either. This one has a touch of 80’s rock, topped off with stadium anthems. All our tracks have a very concert feel to them, but this is the crowd participation track. It’s straight forward, it’s loud, and it’s easy to love. We wrote this arrangement because we always wanted to fuse a classical sargam with roaring guitars and pounding drums, thinking about our teenage years, when we wished there was a concert, one that had a song like this.

(5) Sagal Dwar
I had written the arrangement for this track a long time ago, based on a conversation with my sister. We were driving home once, and realized that we both chant Sagal Dwar Ko Chaad Kay, Gehiyo Tuharo Dwar every time we step into Guru’s Darbar. I thought that was such a random coincidence, and I wanted to hold on to it forever. And then a few months later, my dear Grandmum, passed away, and we sang this on the day she breathed her last breath. And suddenly, it was cemented forever, as an ode to her. Till today, every time we sing it, we sing it in her memory. It’s when I feel closest to my Guru.

(6)  Pavan Guru
This is a surprising addition to the album, as it sounds nothing like any of the tracks above. This track is here because of its history. What many people don’t know is that ANHAD started off as a 3-piece, me on the acoustic guitar, Dalip on the harmonium, and Jasdev on the tabla. The only thing we knew how to play back then was Singh Kaur’s “Waheguru Satnam Ji” track, since I had only picked up the guitar a month before. At the annual samelan a few weeks later, Kirpal (one of the sewadars from Penang), played a rendition of Pavan Guru on the acoustic that proved to be a huge hit with the participants. We asked him to teach it to us, and that was it. Everywhere we played, that was all people wanted to hear.

Now of course we are a full scale band focusing on Sikhi Rock, and musically, have departed from our more traditional roots. However, we obtained his permission to include it in our album as a bonus track; as a nod to our humble beginnings. The shabad that first brought us together; and now, here we are….

So there it is. The history of our band, told through our first album. It was our way of preserving it; Making sure it’ll live forever..

 

Interview with Hargobind Singh of ANHAD

Why did you choose to use Gurbani for the lyrics of your music?

Hargobind: “We had always hoped of one day listening to a band that merged western music with eastern influences. Growing up, we were exposed to some of the best Kirtan of our day. At the same time, in the world around us, bands like Oasis, Coldplay, and U2 were gaining prominence. And when we weren’t listening to the hymns of our Gurus, we were singing out loud to songs like Wonderwall, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and In My Place, and occasionally, just occasionally, wished that one day the two worlds would meet.”

These days many of the Sikh Youth listen to Hip Hop, Rap, Bhangra or Mainstream Pop. How did you all get into Rock music and become interested in learning/playing this style of music?

Hargobind: “Well, Jasdev, Dalip and myself are the driving force behind the band’s musical direction, and we discovered the world of rock n roll through our older cousin brothers. Dalip is a bigger fan of classical music and Raag, and is classically trained (as well as the only member who has training) so he balances out the energy that Jasdev and I bring to the band. The thing about rock n roll is that, it’s so diverse, you can spend your entire life listening to it and yet every day, there’ll be a song that surprises you. It’s the only genre in the world that has a song written for every moment, for every emotion, for any time of the day, and for every life. As we mention in our album’s acknowledgments, my dad always knew that devotional music would one day be played in a stadium in front of thousands of people, and that was what we set out to do when we first started playing these songs in our heads.”

What do you see as some of your Goals for becoming a band and producing music? Why do it?

Hargobind: “We would love to perform at the Rose Bowl one day Haha! It’s odd, most people grow up on the music they love and aspire to one day be ‘rockstars’, as much as we disapprove of the term. We however have steady jobs and went to college before realizing that, ‘yeah, we want to do this too.’  You walk into any Sikh teenager’s room and all you see are posters of other people. You’ll be lucky to find anything that acknowledges their life as a Sikh. We were the same. Being a Sikh has never been cool. We have no idea why, given there’s nothing about us that isn’t; but that’s how it’s been (especially on our side of the world). So why produce an album? Because we want to see more Sikh bands out there. We want them to headline music festivals around the world. Glastonbury, Reading, Roskilde, Coachella, Rock am Ring, Lollapalooza. We want our kids to be proud of their faith and that rock roll, to quote AC/DC, ‘Ain’t Noise Pollution‘ =)”

I noticed that your whole band appears to have a cool “uniform” of Khalsa Bana (Turquoise!). What made you decide to have this outward appearance for your band, rather than the typical jeans/shirt look.

Hargobind: “When we first started, we were doing Kirtan together, and had made a pact that it would always be in full Banaa. This didn’t change, even if our music slowly did. The coolest thing about our band is that it took us 2 years realize that we had all received our Amrit, a bond which made us stronger than ever. Johnny Rotten once said that rock n roll doesn’t have a uniform. It’s supposed to be the clothes on your back. That’s what made it so beautiful, that you could walk down a street filled with people and not guess who listens to what. We dig the music, not the uniform.”

Is this a hobby? Are you all in college or have regular jobs?

Hargobind: “This is a passion project. I’m a pilot, my sister’s an accountant, and everyone else is in college. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We have careers ahead of us, and we funded this project ourselves. The day we finish promoting this album, we will go back to that life and then return to this one =)”

Who is in ANHAD Band?

  • Bhajanmeet Singh – Tabla
  • Dalip Singh – Lead Vocals, Organ
  • Hargobind Singh – Lead Vocals , Acoustic Guitar
  • Harkiren Kaur – Backing Vocals, Tambourine
  • Jasdev Singh – Electric Guitar
  • Karamdeep Singh – Bass Guitar
  • Tripert Singh – Drums
  • Session Bassist – Tirath Singh

 

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