LOS ANGELES, California, USA—The team at Sikh24 had the opportunity to interview “The Turbantor” from this year’s American Idol contest. Gurpreet Singh Sarin is a practicing Sikh who made it to the American Idol by impressing all four judges with his mellow voice and by singing notes from a classical Indian raag. Following his successful “ticket to Hollywood” Gurpreet Singh found many fans worldwide, across various social networks. Gurpreet Singh’s confidence and comfort in his skin is an inspiration to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.
Following is the transcript of the interview –
Question: How did you get into music?
Answer: Shabad Kirtan and North Indian Classical Music have always played a huge role in my family. Music has been something our family does as a way to bond! As my passion for Indian classical music increased, I began to explore American music. I got interested in blues/jazz/soul/r&b music because it is based on improvisation and free-form, a concept which is utilized in Indian classical music.
In college, I joined an acappella group, Taal Cappella, and gained more interest in public singing. My guitar was gifted to me 5-6 years ago and actually remained untouched until last year, when I decided to give it a try. I learned some basic chords, just started jamming, and created a YouTube channel to convey my passion for singing. Listening to what viewers and music enthusiasts feel when listen to me is really motivating.
Q: What role does your family play into your musical training?
Music has been passed down from grandparents. My grandmother has been one of my biggest inspirations – she is the daughter of Giani Gian Singh Almast, a well-renowned composer, instrumentalist, singer, and musician with exceptional talent of the 20th century.
Shabad Kirtan and North Indian Classical Music play a huge role in my family- My grandmother, mother and sister are the singers of the family. My sister also plays dilruba, while my brother plays flute, and my father plays sitar. I’ve been playing the tabla ever since I was a toddler. I now accompany my family jatha (Raag Rattan Jatha) and I love rhythm as much as I love music -they go hand-in-hand!
Q: What is your educational background? Are you in/done with college? What are you studying/did you study?
I’m currently completing my Bachelor’s in Computer and Information Science at the University of Maryland.
Q: In what ways has training in Gurmat Sangeet helped you in your music? Likewise, in what ways has knowing other forms of music and various instruments helped you in learning keertan?
I’m no expert on Gurmat Sangeet and I haven’t received any formal training; however it is my understanding that Gurmat Sangeet has two main components: Gurbani (The Gurshabad) and Raag. The Guru Saabs wrote Shabads in particular Raags as they would evoke particular emotions which would relate to the Shabad itself. Through my little knowledge of raags, I’ve learned to utilize melodies and try fusing them with American music (especially blues, which has a pentatonic scale). Thus, my knowledge of raags has made me more versatile, as I can utilize those techniques for American songs.
Though I’m no professional, I have a lot of interest in learning how to play instruments. My interest in tabla, violin, mandolin, drums, and guitar, has allowed me to explore the realm of fusion. I enjoy incorporating an ‘East meets West’ fusion style into keertan – although I refrain from going overboard, since the main purpose of Keertan is to reflect on the GurShabad
Q: What made you audition for AI? Were you hesitant at all to sign up? If so, why and what helped you get past your hesitation or fear?
My passion for singing and music gave me the strength and motivation to audition. After following the show for a couple years, I observed that all the contestants had a genuine love for singing. I felt that American Idol was an amazing opportunity and too great of a platform to pass out! In addition, I knew that no Sikh had been shown on television auditioning for American Idol, so I was positive that my involvement would bring Sikhi to the limelight. I thought it was a wonderful way to educate America and the world about Sikhi. I wasn’t hesitant to sign-up – in fact I was encouraged by the fact that, if I made it on the show, I’d be able to pave the path for future generations of Sikhs who want to conquer their fears and enter new realms.
Q: What has inspired you to keep your Sikh identity intact?
My family spent a lot of time and energy introducing me and my siblings to the beautiful Sikh religion. After reciting Gurbani and learning about the rich Sikh History, I was innately inspired to keep my identity intact.
Living in a world where conformation and assimilation seem so frequent, I understand the value of connecting with your roots. Freedom of religion is a 1st Amendment right in the US, and I believe that we are all entitled to keeping our identity.
In fact, I get my strength and courage from Gurbani. Whenever I feel down, I like to recite Gurbani:
thoo(n) maero piaaro thaa kaisee bhookhaa ||
You are my Beloved, so what hunger can I have?
thoo(n) man vasiaa lagai n dhookhaa ||1|| rehaao ||
When You dwell within my mind, pain does not touch me. ||1||Pause||
jo thoo(n) karehi soee paravaan ||
Whatever You do, is acceptable to me.
saachae saahib thaeraa sach furamaan ||2||
O True Lord and Master, True is Your Order. ||2||
Q: Do you feel that your unique appearance is an advantage or disadvantage to your professional career?
I’ve always believed that Sikhs have an advantage because our unique identity inherently separates us from others; however, it’s important to note that we shouldn’t solely rely on our appearance as a method to succeed. That being said, from my experience studying in college and interning, I’ve never found my appearance to be a disadvantage.
I want to let Sikhs around the world know that our identity does not hinder us from accomplishing anything – there are times when people give-up because they assume that their identity will act as an obstacle. That is not true! If you put in 100%, you can accomplish anything!
Q: In what ways do you think the AI experience has changed you and/or helped you grow as a person, as a Sikh, and as a musician?
Idol has helped me grow in various ways!
American Idol brings in so much talent every year and it’s humbling to even get a chance to perform in front of the judges. Receiving validation from some of the most popular and talented superstars of the generation is very encouraging! At the same time, it’s a blessing to have the chance to represent Sikhi in a positive manner.
The basic principles of Sikhi advise us to remain humble and always remember Waheguru. This concept has helped me through my journey. As Sikhs, we are inherently ‘learners’ and I believe that my experience on American Idol has increased my eagerness to learn.
Q: What keeps you motivated to keep practicing music — tabla, sangeet, keertan, western music, etc.?
My love for music keeps me motivated.
There’s an excellent phrase that I like to remember and tell others: “you learn the most when you’re having fun.” Whenever I’m practicing music, whether it’s Indian classical or American, I always have fun – it keeps things interesting and helps me learn more about myself.
Q: Where do you see yourself headed after AI?
After Idol, I want to spend time exploring my singing and song-writing style – I’ve written songs in the past, but have gotten busy with schoolwork. After I graduate in the Spring, I want to take some time off to continue song-writing.
Life is a journey and we are all growing and learning – the more I sing and listen to songs, the more I develop unique style. I will continue to reflect on my vocal style and practice my singing technique. Regardless of how things shape up this season, I will continue to follow my passion for singing!
I would love to tour around and share my love for singing and music with the world, while at the same time inspiring others to follow their dreams!
Q: Any advice for people with stage-fright?
The beauty of art is that it you can connect with individuals in such a profound manner – the key is to truly love what you’re doing. When the audience notices how passionate you are, it too will feel your passion and enjoy your performance!
I used to do public speaking competitions when I was younger, so I have grown accustom to performing in front of crowds. I know it’s easier said than done, but my only advice is to not be afraid!
Before every performance, I do ardaas (prayer) asking Waheguru Ji to give me the strength to do my best and remain is Waheguru’s Hukam. All you can do is give it your 100%!! Then, regardless of how things turn out, you’ll know that you performed your best!