There is a moment in the introduction to the film Field of Dreams where the main protagonist, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), declares that his subject at university was really the 60s and that he “tried to like sitar music”. While that might have seemed funny to a baseball-loving American audience of the late 1980s, we at the OperaWatch offices in Northern Soul Towers can declare, without fear of contradiction, that “we love sitar music”.
This is largely due to sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun. I first encountered Jasdeep when I went to see Opera North’s production of Orpheus. It was a fusion of Monteverdi’s 1607 L’ Orfeo and modern Indian classical music. In my 10 years as an opera critic, it was one of the best operas I had ever seen. The Asian parts were written by Jasdeep as part of his artist-in-residence at Opera North and SAA-uk. To some extent it outshone the Baroque and drew me in like no other music had done for a long, long time.
I actively sought performances by him and found a lunchtime performance at the University of Manchester’s Harris Centre in December 2022, with Harkiret Bahra on the tabla. Again, it was brilliant and further engrained my passion for Indian classical music. We connected through social media and I’ve followed his career with avid interest ever since. The last encounter was the release of his first album, Anomaly, earlier this year on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records. I downloaded it immediately and it has become a regular on my playlist.
He also released a single on the same label. Aapki Khushi (feat. Ashnaa) is the first piece Jasdeep wrote for Orpheus. It is four minutes of pure mesmerising beauty in a world full of asinine and bland pop gum. Also, when a so-called ‘distinguished’ royal historian can call a Hindu prime minister “not grounded in our culture” on mainstream news media and be allowed to get away with it unchallenged, we need to defend diversity where we find it. As the right-wing uses culture as a battleground on which to fight, Jasdeep’s music is not only beautiful, it is profoundly relevant.
To promote the LP and single, Jasdeep is embarking on a British and European tour. The Anomaly series of concerts kicks off in Leeds on May 17 at the Howard Assembly Rooms and continues at venues in the North including Nottingham and Liverpool. It comes to Manchester’s Stoller Hall on June 8. It should be a great night and I’m really looking forward to seeing Jasdeep and his band. Everyone should try and like sitar music.