Jin Prem Kiyo - Ushering 2019 with a lesson in love

A few years ago, I finished this composition of Jin Prem Kiyo (an edgy Raag Asa) with some collaborators from around the world. But I didn't like this arrangement when I was done.  It has been growing on me and I am now releasing this as part of Guru Nanak's 550 year celebration.  Here is the shabad:

Here are some rambling thoughts on this shabad and its arrangement ...

The composition of the shabad is in Raag Asa. Raag Asa is often used to express Love. Whether it is "Haun Vaari" by Bhagat Kabir, or "Man Prem Ratanna" by Guru Ramdas or "Oha Prem Piri" by Guru Arjan Dev, they are all prescribed in Raag Asa. That was my logic of composing this shabad in Raag Asa even thought there is no written prescription.

While I have had this arrangement sitting in my hard drive for a few years, I chose not to publish it widely.  The reason I haven't shared this earlier is because I always thought the music was too overpowering. What is the point of have music overshadow the message? Especially when you are composing music for Gurbani.  But, I think I was wrong.

Let me take you through the process for a bit.  I sang the shabad and sent it to some friends to listen and improvise upon.  I did not tell them what the meaning of the shabad was. I wanted them to just feel it from the way it was sung.  And within a few days, I started getting different ideas from musicians around the world.  One from Indonesia, another one from Italy, one from Canada and another from Europe.  I put these ideas together and accepted all of them as they came. 

The result was a lot more percussive and upbeat than I had ever imagined. At that time, I thought there were too many percussive elements in this, including loud drums and guitars.  But when I would take them out, the feeling and completeness went away. I was not sure I would be proud of this. I kept it away like I do with many compositions. 

I was wrong.  Guru Nanak says that God lives in sound and in color (Rang Ratta, Japji 27). And all colors are His. All kinds of music is His.  Doubts are ours.  Limiting Gurbani to just one style is a disservice to the past and future of Gurbani, to the aspirations and love of the musicians, and to the needs and desires of ALL listeners.

This was one of my earlier collaborations and it taught me to better give control away. The result is unexpected. Much learning and excitement can come from such a process. The best learning is around love, incidentally the subject of this shabad.  The most important element of any composition is love. And this is even more important when composing music for Gurbani.  Whether the music is sparse, dense, soft or loud, is a matter of preference.  The message is most important.

For the purpose of love, often what I do in collaborations, I do not give much specific directions for musicians who are playing with me. I do assume that they are good musicians and can follow melody and chordal structures by ear. But I don't give specific direction to prevent all the music sounding the same -- the way I want it to sound.  Instead, in any collaboration, I want the true love of any collaborator to speak through the music. It takes less mental and compositional effort, and most musicians improvise using their heart vibes. It is also a great way of letting go of your control. Because in the end, Gurbani and its music is a gift of the world, to the world and from the world.

I will personally always have an inclination of minimalistic music, so I am not sure this will ever be one of my favorite arrangements.  But I can tell you that it has been growing on me.  Hopefully love is growing on me too.