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Musical Tribute for a Guru Sikh (Read 7208 times)
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Musical Tribute for a Guru Sikh
14. Feb 2006 at 22:45
 
Musical Tribute for a Guru Sikh
 
Some of the world’s finest musicians in Indian classical music are converging in Leicester in next month when the city hosts one of the largest festivals in south Asian classical music in this country.  
“Darbar – South Asian Music Festival” (3rd to 5th Mar) is a tribute the energy, dedication and enthusiasm of Bhai Gurmit Singh Virdee’s life, a long term Leicester resident who left this world in spring 2005.  
 

 
Bhai Gurmit Ji was one of the most talented Sikh tabla players of his generation, an inspirational teacher, a creative photographer and a deeply spiritual person. A practising Amritdhari Gursikh and Sevadar at the Birmingham-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ), he was also a tireless Keertania. Young tabla players sat in awe listening to marathon long tabla playing during keertan programmes that ran for several hours.
For almost 30 years, Bhai Gurmit Ji accompanied ‘panthic’ and world respected Keertania, Giani Amolak Singh Ji, a prominent figure of the Akhand keertan Jatha and Jathedar for the GNNSJ till his last breath in late 2005.
Some of the world class musicians performing at Darbar include Pandit Jasraj, a doyen of Indian classical music, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, a gifted and versatile vocalist and Pandit Swapan Chauduri, a master of the tabla.
The performances and other Darbar events reflect many of Bhai Gurmit Ji’s Sikh values, his selfless sharing of his talents and his tireless efforts to provide opportunities for young people to progress.
One of the artists includes Bhai Baldeep Singh who was born into a family that has sustained an unwavering devotion to preserving the Sikh spiritual heritage of Gurmat Sangeet since the Guru’s times. As well as performing, Bhai Baldeep will lead a musical conversation about the Amritsari baaj, one of the oldest surviving percussion traditions in India.  
The festival also gives the stage to some of his students, who affectionately knew Bhai Gurmit Ji as ‘Ustad Ji’, ‘Guru Ji’, or ‘Sir’. Some of them graduated from the Leicestershire School of Music, a beacon project that Gurmit Ji helped set up in 1983 to teach Indian classical music to school children. There he developed a unique style of teaching tabla systematically to English-speaking students. Pandit Shankar Ghosh a veteran tabla maestro said “Gurmit Ji single handedly worked towards popularizing tabla, especially in the UK where he trained numerous students to a high degree of finesse”.
Today, many of the Sikh youth Bhai Gurmit Ji gave ‘tabla parchar’ to over the last 30 years are playing in Gurudwaras around the country. He used to openly say ‘No’ to those that wanted to play just with Bhangra and playing with musicians that detracted from good values.
 

As well as a number of evening concerts over three nights, there are concerts before midday to provide an opportunity for morning ragas, conversation sessions introducing the audience to different elements of our rich heritage and free workshops introducing instruments for young people.  
A significant offshoot from the festival is an exchange programme between young UK musicians and the prestigious Ahmedabad Saptak festival in India. The programme gives young talents first hand exposure to Indian audiences. Last month, Gurdain Singh Rayatt, grandson of Bhai Gurmit Singh Ji, performed in Ahmedabad after he was selected as the first person to be part of the exchange programme at this year’s festival.
Immediately prior to the music festival, Darbar is hosting the 2006 Sangeet Sabha which brings together musicians, promoters, venue managers and arts organisations to discuss the development of south Asian classical music in Britain.  
Again in the spirit of co-operation and sharing of Bhai Gurmit Ji, Darbar is making the musicians available to perform at other venues across the country. More than 30 organisations are supporting the festival. Several of the concerts are taking place in other British cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Manchester and Newcastle.
Energy, dedication and enthusiasm ran through all of Bhai Gurmit Ji’s interests. He was instrumental in setting up TAAL – Rhythms of India in 1987. TAAL raised the profile of tabla, elevated the status of tabla solos, gave exposure to UK based players as well as bringing in world-class tabla maestros, like Ustad Zakir Hussain. In 2004, Gurmit Singh Ji helped launch a unique virtual organisation, www.tablaonline.com, aimed at promoting Indian Classical Music at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.
The spiritual journey often merged with Bhai Gurmit Ji’s creative endeavours. His interest in music arose while doing sewa at a local Gurdwara in Kenya where he spent his childhood. He learnt his art from respected masters like Bhai Mohinder Singh Bharaj, a disciple of Ustad Lashhman Singh, a much sought after tabla player from All India Radio. Later from Bhai Gurmit Ji became a disciple of Ustad Bahadur Singh Ji, a contemporary of Mian Kadar Bakash who also taught Ustad Alla Rakha Ji. Finally, he learnt from Pandit Samta Prasad Ji, a doyen of the Baneres gharana.
But it was only after 1977, when Bhai Gurmit Ji met Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji founder of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, that he devoted his life to the faith. With Baba Puran Singh’s blessings, Bhai Gurmit Ji stopped playing tabla professionally and did his sewa through playing tabla with Keertan and teaching.  
In recent years, he commited vast amounts of time to sewa through GNNSJ projects in UK, Kenya & India. He engaged local Leicester Sikhs in holding Sukhamani Sahib paaths and donated the funds to GNNSJ projects. These included the Sone Di Kar Sewa of Darbar Sahib, the extension to the parkarma of Thakat Sri Keshghar Sahib, and later the Langar Hall of the Thakat Sri Keshghar Sahib, Thakat Hazur Sahib and lastly Bhai Kanhaiya Ji Asthaan.
Just before he died, Bhai Gurmit Ji was putting together a photographic exhibition of hundreds of thousands of Sikhs manually removing silt from the sacred pool at the Darbar Sahib. The silt removal, which took place on March 25th 2004, was part of an officially organised Kar Sewa. It marked the 400th anniversary of the Aad Sri Granth Sahib Ji being placed in the Darbar Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev Ji and prepared the sacred pool for a new filtration system. The ‘Labour of Love’ exhibition, which was put on posthumously, has been shown in Leicester, London and will also be on show at the newly built Nishkam Centre in Birmingham on 25th February 2006. It can also be seen on the internet on www.labouroflove.org.uk.  
Bhai Gurmit Ji was a man of energy and had a quiet way of just getting things ‘done’. Behind scenes, his wife, Mohinder Kaur provided the strength and support for his spiritual quest, and his musical and photographic projects. Throughout his lifetime she was his love, companion, friend and dear wife. He was a was a rare individual who’s compassionate, caring personality genuinely touched the lives and hearts of thousands of people. He believed that God has blessed him with the luck and good fortune to pass on his knowledge and love of tabla to his students. He recalled that during his lifetime he had been able to contemplate, compose, perform, explore and experience the riches of this wonderful instrument. Tabla, to Bhai Gurmit Ji, was more than an instrument. He believed that in the hands of a master, the instrument has the ability instil the rhythm of the divine in the heart and soul of the listener.


 For more information about Darbar and the month long series of events around the country see www.darbar.org.uk
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