Sitar virtuoso Jasdeep Singh Degun paves the path for other Indian classical musicians

Jasdeep Singh Degun

I am very passionate about helping other musicians and propagating Indian classical music’

We connected with Jasdeep online when he had just returned from a 2 month intensive training program in India to prepare for his upcoming concert tour. Sitting comfortably on a couch and sipping a cup of chai, Jasdeep took the time to tell us about his music and the remarkable path he followed to get where he is now.

First classes at school

From a very early age Jasdeep showed a keen interest in Indian classical music. At his primary school it so happened that the children could attend music classes as a side subject. On the teacher’s question who would like to learn tabla, the young boy raised his hand enthusiastically, and all the boys with him. When the teacher asked who would like to learn harmonium and vocals, he again raised his hand, this time together with all the girls. 

Jasdeep smilingly recalls being slightly disappointed to be picked for the harmonium class, being the only boy who raised his hand. His biggest interest at that time was of course percussion. That moment would turn out to be a golden choice for his passion to flourish into a professional career.

His first music teacher would become a second mother to him. Mrs. Gunwant Kaur initiated him in Indian classical music and opened a new world to the young Jasdeep. For about 7 years he would learn vocal music from her and he loved it. The music class room was his playground, he would come in and try to play all the instruments within his reach.

Musical family and typical Punjabi family

The refined musical education he received at school was in stark contrast to the situation at home. The big smile appears on his face again. ‘I was a normal kid, I come from a normal Punjabi family, knowing nothing about Indian classical music. My parents don’t listen to Indian Classical music. At home Bhangra music would be on TV all the time. The closest I would get to classical music was singing Kirtan at the Gurdwara.’

Mrs. Gunwant Kaur lived very nearby and Jasdeep would spend a lot of time at their place. Her husband was no one less than Ustad Dharambir Singh, the influential sitar player and teacher who has inspired a whole generation of Indian musicians in the UK. Around 15 years of age, Jasdeep decided to switch to the sitar as his main subject and started learning from the Ustad.

The knowledge and attitude of Jasdeep’s parents towards his music did have one big advantage. They did not have any expectations regarding the musical career of their son, they just wished for him to be happy and to develop as he liked. They did not stop him from doing music and did not demand from him to become a doctor or a lawyer, although he was a clever boy at school getting good grades. 

This is normally a big thing for Punjabi parents. As soon as the kids hit 16, they have to focus on education. My parents said I can do music and that is the biggest blessing that I got from home.’ 

This allowed Jasdeep’s talent to develop in a natural pace without any burden on his shoulders. The funny thing is though that his siblings DID become doctors and lawyers.

In the meantime, his musical mum and dad would take him to concerts of big artists to further sharpen the understanding of the musical field he had embarked on. During those concerts Jasdeep’s intention to pursue a career in music solidified. ‘I first saw vocalist Kaushiki Chakroborty perform when I was 12. I had heard her album called Pure. The concert blew my mind and I thought: Wow this is amazing, I want to do this.’

Anomaly’, album release at Real World Records

Jasdeep is one of the few Indian classical music artists to be signed by a record label. 

Only Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and Anoushka Shankar have been signed to a record label so far. Real World is such a prestigious label and independent label, pretty well known. That was a big thing for an Indian classical musician. That was really a big step in my career. It was not easy to achieve though. I had so many rejections from other record labels while pitching my album Anomaly. Great album, they would say, but you are not fitting into the family of all the people that we have got. Which were white guys playing cello.’

His latest album is called ‘Anomaly’ for a number of reasons. First of all he felt it best described his situation, with his family being a typical Punjabi family and him being an atypical Punjabi becoming an Indian classical musician. The other reason is that every track is an anomaly within the album. For example ‘Sajanava’ is the only track with vocals. The first track has been recorded using 360 degrees sound stereo effects. The track ‘Veer’ is the only one with only sitars and strings.

Promoting other musicians

Jasdeep uses his position in the music industry to promote other Indian classical musicians as well in the scene. 

I wanted to open the doors for many others and for that reason I have invited no less than 33 musicians to participate in the album. Everyone I could I put on. Also in the opera project Orpheus I tried to put as many Indian classical musicians as I could. That is my ethos. I have a WhatsApp group with 70 to 80 classical musicians whom I give musical advice to. I constantly help them with their careers, giving them label advise and helping them to apply for funding. I am very passionate about helping other musicians and propagating Indian classical music in the UK.’

The movement shows that more artists are getting concerts in the UK. Things however don’t happen to classical musicians. Hopefully we can create more opportunities. It’s all about networking and finding these connections so the sector can thrive. It helped that for the opera Orpheus there was so much press attention. We are still very young and so much work to do…’.

And how about his connection with the Dutch? He smiles broadly: ‘The statistics show that the Netherlands are ranking third in streams of my latest release ‘Aapki Khushi’, after the US and India. The love is mutual and I am looking forward to come to Rotterdam on May 21st!’

By Prewien Pandohi-Mishre

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