Actress and vocalist Japjit Kaur finds her voice through the versatility of arts
Based in the UK, songwriter and actress Japjit Kaur is portraying the lead character of Jyoti Singh Pandey in the theatre play “Nirbhaya”, directed by Yaël Faber. This award-winning theatre play is based on the true story of a young Indian woman (Jyoti Singh Pandey) who was brutally raped by 6 men on a moving bus in Munirka New Delhi in 2012, who later died of her injuries.
For two years in a row she’s been touring and giving a remarkable performance on stage. “Initially, I was quite nervous because there is a scene in the play where we try to recreate what may have happened to Jyoti on that moving bus that fateful night”. But this feeling faded away, because next to me, five real-life women also share their experience of abuse and break their silence for the very first time. I am joined by warriors on that stage in those moments”, says Japjit.
“Nirbhaya definitely has made me braver. It is an honor to speak up for every single abused woman, man and child! I feel more involved with the world around me and am always determined to make a change wherever I can. A step is a step, however small or big. Like Martin Luther King famously said, ‘Take the first step, you do not have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Japjit tries to encourage others to own their stories, speak up for themselves and others. “The biggest shift I want to see in our society is for people to know and recognize that the shame lies with the perpetrator and not with the survivor”, explains Japjit with determination.
She feels it’s a shame that the recently made documentary by the BBC “India’s daughter” was banned in India. Even though she understands some of the criticism it has received. “Most of the focus went on to the perpetrator who showed no remorse. I wish the account of Avindra, Jyoti’s friend, was also included as he is a sole witness of that brutal incident.
However, I am glad that the documentary was made. It was good to hear Jyoti’s parents speak. It addresses a lot of issues that needs work on. In particular for me, the lawyer of the perpetrators came across totally unfit to do his job and therefore in my opinion should be removed from his post and not allowed to practice until he is fit to do so. Although the documentary was based on events that took place in India, sexual violence, abuse and rape is not only an Indian problem but a global one! The sooner we own the problem as a global community, the sooner we can face it and deal with it”, tells Japjit.
Japjit was born to a Sikh family in Delhi, and moved to London at the age of 13. Watching TV and listening to the radio were not so much encouraged in the conservative household, so she found inspiration somewhere else.
“I was 5 years old when my grandmother would take me to the Gurudwara”, she shares about her visits to the Sikh temple. “It was there I experienced kirtan, religious chantings, and I would follow harmonium and singing classes”. It was also at the Gurudwara that she developed her passion for another art form: poetry. As a songwriter, she names poets like Sant Kabir, Baba Farid, Pir Bulleh Shah and Jalal ud-Din Rumi as great influences. I am an “old-style” artist in a way. Lyrics mean everything to me. I write about life and philosophies”.
With all this passion, it is hard to believe that Japjit never thought she would do any of it. “I always loved music, songwriting and acting” says Japjit, “but I never dreamt I would actually be doing what I do today”.
Now she is being recognized for her captivating voice. She discovered her singing talent in college with a fellow classmate, composer Shammi Pithia who she continued to experiment with. Her first professional collaboration was in 2007 with the award winning and acclaimed composer Niraj Chag. Over the years she has featured on many albums and written songs like “Ur Jaa” and “Baavaria” .
Japjit has also been active with the fusion ensemble, Svara Kanti founded in 2010 by the acclaimed (award winning) Scottish guitarist Simon Thacker. The quartet has been touring since. She was featured on the 2013 album “Rakshasa” and recently also premiered in India at a prestigious music festival for unique performances.
Japjit: “Simon really does works hard to find quirky and interesting music; it’s beautiful to listen to his songs with Indian lyrics fused with Latin, Jazz and influences across the globe”.
In her theatre career, she has worked with respectable theatre companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, World Stages and Sadler’s Wells in the UK. Currently she is also the music director of “Dara” a Royal National Theatre play set in 1659 Mughal India. “I’ve been very lucky”, Kaur says, “even in theatre I can sing and work with music. It’s all connected!”
With acting, being a music director and a singer, she still strives to achieve more. “Last year I released my first solo song “Jalte Hain Dil”; I want to continue to follow this path and release more solo tracks”, she says firmly.
And since she has no shortage of inspiration and passion, we are sure Japjit will share more meaningful art with us – whether it’s through her music or a theatre role.