Music from within

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Melbourne-born musician Manika Kaur uses her gift to raise funds for the needy

Listening to Manika Kaur makes you feel like sinking into warm, plush grass and staying there all day; gazing at the sky and letting the sound envelope you. She starts off sounding like the soft summer rain, however you can soon hear the underlying strength in her voice and you marvel at the combination of tones.

Speaking to the Melbourne-born singer you feel the same combination of softness of delivery belying the strength of her purpose. This young woman, who currently lives in Dubai, is determined to make a difference and with her talent, affluence and connections she is well on her way to doing so. Her recent video Guru Ram Das Rakho Sarnai generated 4.5 million views on YouTube. All the proceeds of her musical endeavours go towards charitable causes that are dear to her heart.

Next to deep prayer and meditation, music is of paramount importance to Manika Kaur. She never studied music or had formal training, however, according to her, she prayed and meditated soulfully and inside her prayers the power of music loomed large. She then utilised the gift by creating Kirtan for Causes.

Her debut album Bandhanaa (produced by ‘Prince of Bhangra’ Sukhbir) raised over a million dirhams and helped finance the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara in Dubai, the first official Sikh temple in the UAE. The proceeds of her latest album, I bow to you Waheguru, will help to educate children from rural areas of Punjab.

Manika grew up in a household in Melbourne where she was encouraged to explore spirituality through prayers and sewa (selfless service).

“My parents initiated the concept of SOS (Children’s Villages) ten years ago. It helps to educate about 500 children from impoverished backgrounds in Punjab, every year. I always felt very connected to that project and travelled with them to India often to meet the children,” said Manika.

When she married and moved to Dubai, Manika created Kirtan for Causes to contribute towards helping those less fortunate than her.

“It takes around US $5000 to provide full education to a child in rural Punjab,” Manika explained. “Every year I select children who will benefit from education and ensure that we can support them through the entire process, not just the initial one or two years of schooling. I believe it’s better to educate them now than rehabilitate them later.”

Manika is travelling to London in August this year to headline a benefit concert in the Union Chapel where she will perform from her album I bow to you Waheguru, created in collaboration with Jyotsna Srikanth (violin), Talvin Singh OBE (tabla) and Kirpal Singh Panesar (tar-shehnai and dilruba).

“I learnt a lot whilst working with all these renowned musicians,” Manika said. “They gave my simple melody a complexity and expanded my understanding of music.”

Sharing her recording experience with accomplished tabla player Talvin Singh, Manika said, “The day of my recording he had just finished a concert and had to drive three hours to the Strongroom studio in London where we were recording. Never the kind to mince words he said, ‘I do not have the energy to work with an amateur’, however once he heard my delivery in the studio he claimed that the day went relatively easier than he expected,” she said with a smile.

Manika’s singing of Sikh devotional songs to contemporary music and modern instrumental backgrounds has resonated well with the youth. However, it has also met criticism for deviating from traditional renditions of gurbani (compositions of the Sikh Gurus) and kirtan (devotional meditational music).

“I was once told that using a guitar in my music is against the rehat maryada (Sikh code of conduct) and it was not an instrument used by the Gurus,” Manika said. “I informed them politely that the harmonium (traditionally used for kirtans) was also not an instrument used in those times. It was an affordable, portable, musical instrument designed by Danish professor Christian Gottleib Kratzenstein and made popular and modified in India around the 19th century.”

“There will always be naysayers in the world, however they do not deter me from my devotion. I do not start or use even one thing without taking permission from God through my prayers,” said Manika.

When she can spare time from her busy schedule as a mother to a 4-year-old child, and her work as a vocalist, composer and blogger, Manika also enjoys reading devotional and inspirational books.

“I hope to create a spiritual meaning through all my work. Something that is so divine it makes you float,” Manika said. “It’s like I feel when I am holding my son and pouring all my heart, compassion, kindness and love into each rendition.”

Manika Kaur intends to continue composing and hopes to realise her dream of raising funds for a girl’s orphanage in rural Punjab very soon.

More information about ‘Kirtan for Causes’ can be found at http://www.manikamusic.com/

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Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.