British Indian sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun has been announced as Songlines Best Newcomer 2023. Launched in 2008, the awards shine a light on the best new music from around the world. Jasdeep has been influencing the music industry here in the UK with his unique blend of Indian classical and western music. In an interview with Yorkshire Bylines, Jasdeep reflects on his dynamic musical journey, sharing insights into his most memorable moments, the significance of winning this award, and his aspirations for the future.
Reflecting on the musical whirlwind
Jasdeep is known for his groundbreaking compositions and performances, breaking down cultural boundaries with his extraordinary artistry and new approach to composition. As his website says, “He’s redefining genres and passionate about exposing music from his heritage to audiences across the globe”.
Talking with Yorkshire Bylines he expresses his gratitude for the whirlwind of experiences he’s had over years, acknowledging the support of his guru (Hindi word for teacher), Ustad Dharambir Singh, and all the musicians, artists, and organisations who have been a part of his musical career.
Since featuring as a Songlines ‘introducing’ artist in March 2020, the whirlwind of experiences has included releasing his debut album Anomaly (with Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records), performing in Westminster Abbey at the Royal Commonwealth Service in 2022 and being announced as artist-in-residence at Opera North and the first Innovate Fellow at Royal Northern College of Music.
One of the highlights of his career was in 2022, when Jasdeep composed, co-music directed and performed in the critically acclaimed Orpheus, an Indian classical take on Monteverdi’s 17th century opera, commissioned by Opera North and South Asian Arts. This production seamlessly blended Indian classical and western baroque music, bringing together the best Indian classical and European baroque musicians in the UK. Reflecting on the project, Jasdeep describes it as challenging, yet remarkable and rewarding.
Songlines Best Newcomer award
Being recognised again by Songlines, a publication he has followed for a long time, holds special significance for Jasdeep. He hopes the award will draw more attention to Indian classical music, opening doors for fellow Indian classical musicians who are based in the UK.
I asked Jasdeep whether he felt great Indian classical music produced by British artists is sometimes overlooked. In response, he emphasised the many talented musicians in the UK who he would encourage music enthusiasts to follow, such as Pandit Sanju Sahai, Roopa Panesar and others. He considers himself fortunate to have been able to make a name for himself in such a competitive industry and he hopes that his experience will open the gateway of opportunities for other Indian classical musicians here. He says, “In my way, I want to do all I can for my fellow musicians”.
On receiving the Best Newcomer 2023 award, Jasdeep said:
“I’m delighted to be receiving [this] award, it’s a really nice surprise! I see all of these awards as a spotlight on all the wonderful Indian classical musicians in this country. I want to use this opportunity to say ‘go and listen to British-Asian classical musicians’. Anomaly might be a good starting point, but start digging into these other great musicians. It’s got my name on the award, but for me it’s very much a coup for all of us, and that fills me with pride.”
Indian classical music tradition
Although Jasdeep’s collaborations across genres reflect a diverse range of musical styles, he clarifies that, at the core, he remains an Indian classically trained musician. Growing up, he learned both western and Indian classical music: being taught western music in school, while taking tutoring sessions in sitar from his guru. He even went to India to learn sitar for a few months.
Knowing the basics of both styles of music, he feels like a communicator who can bring the best of both worlds. He claims that he is not a ‘fusionist’, he just brings bits and pieces together to compose music that highlights both styles of music in their raw forms. He feels it is not essential for Indian classical music to combine with these other elements to achieve a wider appeal, as he believes it possesses a unique power that transcends the need for commercial integration. Hence, whilst collaborating with artists from various genres, his primary goal is to maintain the integrity and respect for the Indian classical music tradition.
Musical delights for the year ahead
As our interview took place just before the new year, I asked Jasdeep if he had any new year’s resolutions, but he chuckled and confessed he hadn’t thought that far ahead. He did admit though that he would love to collaborate with composer Max Richter, who he has admired for many years.
Jasdeep is looking forward to the release of his next contemporary album this year. He also has various concerts coming up as part of his current tour, including shows at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, and the Cambridge Music Festival. The audience can expect his sitar performances to be interspersed with chunks of improvisation.
When asked about his own musical inspirations and what music means to him today, Jasdeep reflected on the evolving significance it has had throughout his life. He is in awe of how music has the power to move people, and he tells me that Abi Sampa and Rushil’s Orchestral Qawwali Project are currently dominating his playlist, showcasing his appreciation for diverse musical influences.
Jasdeep will be performing later in the month at the Playhouse in Sheffield and at the Cambridge Music Festival on 7 March. For more information on his upcoming performances and projects, visit Jasdeep’s website: www.jasdeepsinghdegun.com.