This is an interview with the singer and filmmaker Sukhdeep Singh whose video “Just 2 Live Another Day“ is featured in the Second Annual SikhNet Youth Film Festival.
Man, we really enjoyed your video! What came first, the images or the words?
Thanks a lot. I first wrote this song a few years a go, in 2005. But the idea came to me when I was listening to an Akon song. I’m not a huge Akon fan but there was one song I heard called “Senegal” in which Akon was describing his home nation and the love he has for it. I was inspired to write a song similar to some extent.I wanted to write something that would reach the Sikh youth and make them feel as inspired as I was after listening to that song. When I wrote the song, I wanted to make it as universal as possible so that people who weren’t Sikh could relate to it as well, but at the same time, I wanted to reach the Sikh youth who are well emersed into Westernised culture. As I was writing the song, I had images in my head of the basic principles taught by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the many teachings of Sikhism. I wanted people to be able to visualise the song while listening to it, in other words, I wanted them to see the images that I saw. The historical images you see in the music video are the images which inspired the words. Sikh history is full of inspirational accounts and I wanted to be able to effectively expose that inspiration to the youth. The images of Sikh history have always been there and those images inspired me to write this song.
How did the inspiring theme of the video come to you?
I’ve always wanted to do a music video. I was just waiting for the right time. This song had to be the first song I did a music video to. The song itself is so graphic in that while listening to it, you can visualise what is being said, so the video was always there within the song. It was just a matter of putting it all together. The video had to be historical in a sense that those images which inspired the song had to be there. At the same time, we (Mangaldeep Singh and I) wanted to incorporate Westernised culture and hip-hop culture to some extent so people could see that Sikh history still poses relevance today.
Not many Sikhs are rappers; what do you like most about rapping?
I love being able to express myself. The beauty about hip-hop music is its versatility and that’s what I love most about it. There are songs that can make you smile and laugh, songs that can get you to relax and chill out and songs than can touch your heart and even make you shed a tear. Hip-hop music appealed to me when no other music genre did. It reached me because it spoke to me. Whenever I listened to hip-hop music, I felt as though it was listening to me at the same time. Another aspect which I love about hip-hop music is that there are no limits. There are no restrictions as to what you can and cannot say. The music is so raw, in that it comes straight from your heart without being filtered. So it’s pure music. There is a misconception as to what is hip-hop music these days considering the mainstream music of today, but the music that I listen to is music that inspires me to achieve. And it is that kind of music that I wish to create.
Many of the rappers from Punjabi/Sikh families try to portray the “gangster”/violent/macho persona that is very common in rappers of this day. How do you relate to rapping as a Sikh and how do the two parts fit for you?
Before I get into the question specifically, I just want to say, that if you’re ever in a position where you are presenting yourself to the people then it’s best to be yourself and be true to yourself rather than to put on an image in attempt to try and fit in with the crowd. I mean fair enough if you have lived that lifestyle and it has made you who you are and through music you want to express how you feel about it. But there’s no respect to gain in trying to glamourise what shouldn’t be glamourised. But anyway, back to the question. I don’t rap as a Sikh. I’m a Sikh who raps. The two fit together harmoniously. If you look back at Sikh history Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji addressed the importance of music in liberating and purifying the soul when it is expressed straight from one’s heart and soul. That developed into Kirtan. On top of listening and practising Kirtan, hip-hop music attributes to liberation within me.
It totally works as a music video. How did you sync up the music and the video?
Like I was saying before, when you listen to the song, it’s like a picture is being painted within your head. The video exists through the words and it was just a matter of executing it in the best way possible. It took time to choose the best scenes for the video. I had to select the scenes that were most appropriate. But once that was achieved, it all fit into place nicely.
Who is Mangalddeep Singh? Was it a joint project from the beginning?
Mangaldeep Singh is a good friend of mine. He informed me that Sikhnet was holding another youth film festival and asked if I was interested. I had a look at the site and Mangaldeep Singh showed me some of the videos from last year’s festival. I told Mangaldeep Singh about the “Just 2 Live Another Day” song and explained the song and the idea of submitting a video for it developed from there. During the time of developing the video I was also working on the re-mastered/remixed version of the song with brothers Swaren Singh Veygal and Kabir Singh Veygal. The re-mastered/remixed version of the song is the song you hear in the video. Swaren Singh, Kabir Singh and I are actually working on an EP project at the moment, which is aimed at expressing many issues that affect Sikh youth around the world today. “Just 2 Live Another Day (Remix)” will be on the EP along with some other tracks. We feel that we can reach contemporary youth through hip-hop and we feel that this project will contribute positively to the Sikh youth community. So I suppose the timing of the festival was just right. It gave me an avenue to expose some music that I’ve had for quite some time. I’m thankful to Mangaldeep Singh for telling me about the festival and expressing his interest in it as well as assisting me in developing and contributing to the completion of the video.
You’re from Sydney Australia, right? Tell us about your local sadhsangat.
There’s a strong, positive Sikh community in Sydney, which is continuously developing. There are numerous Gurudwara’s around and it’s inspiring to see the community participating in acts of sewa within the Gurudwara’s and throughout society. The Sikh community are also slowly becoming recognised within society. Recently the Sikh community marched alongside diggers at the ANZAC Day Parade and we’re once again participating and contributing to World Peace Day. The people here are very dedicated to their Sikhi and it’s a good thing to see. Whenever Ragi Jathas, Saints, Kathakars or Dhadi Jathas come here from overseas it’s amazing to see the number of people who attend as sangat in Gurudwara. The community is very positive. They’re very supportive. Like with this film project the people were very supportive of what we were trying to achieve with the music video and were glad that we were taking part in such an initiative.
Did you record the music in a studio? How did you edit the film?
I recorded the music at home. I have a decent sound set up here on my computer. The film was also edited on my computer. I learnt more about the program as I used it. This was the first time I used it to create an entire video. Normally I use it for quick edit jobs, adding credit scenes and small stuff like that, so making the video was a new experience for me. I had help from my little brother, Bikram Singh, who has worked on developing and editing videos for quite some time. He assisted me when it came to adding effects that would make the project look professional. It was a long process trying to choose which shots would go where. I had many shots to play around with because we went to a lot of locations around Sydney and we took a wide range of shots. Once I synced the audio with the video, it was just a matter of choosing shots that best suited the vocals in that section. I searched for many historical images to put into the film on the internet and chose images that best fit within the video. It took a lot of time to try and get it all done properly, but it was worth it in the end. I’m happy with the final product.
You did such a great job. Do you have any advice for other young film makers?
Thank you. I’m not really a film maker so I can’t really give much advice with regards to making films. But it doesn’t matter what creative avenue you choose to explore, just don’t be afraid to express yourself to the fullest extent. And don’t hold back because you may be afraid as to how other people may perceive you. If you stay true to yourself, your roots and your faith then ultimately you will succeed.