Multi-talented singer-songwriter Manika Kaur has returned with her second album – I Bow to You Waheguru, an ethereal modern spin on Kirtan, Sikh devotional music. The album features contributions from celebrated producer Talvin Singh, a pioneer in fusing the traditional tabla with modern electronic, ambient sounds, as well as several notable Western and Indian classical performers including Rakesh Chaurasia on bansuri/flute, Jyotsna Srikanth’s sinuous violin and Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s percussion.
An internet sensation with over 9 million views on her YouTube channel, Kaur was an unlikely recording artist. Though a gifted singer from an early age, with no formal training, Kaur had never considered a career in music, let alone dream of a future for herself as an international vocalist and songwriter.
Kaur’s natural musical talents were nurtured by a lifelong family connection to the complex and beautiful traditions of Sikh devotional music, Kirtan. It was these soul-restoring moments during her childhood and adolescence that stayed with Kaur. Together with her siblings, she performed at temples as well as at home. As an adult, Kaur would often find melodies and musical ideas that came to her in prayer. “The tunes pop into my head in the prayer room,” says Kaur, explaining her process. “I would start singing the prayer instead of speaking it.”
She released her debut album Bandhana in 2009 to international praise; all the proceeds from the album’s sales were donated to help fund the building of a new temple in her home city of Dubai.
In 2013, Kaur released a beautifully crafted video to a track Gur Ram Das Rakho Sarnaee which captured the world’s imagination. A moving tribute to Guru Ram Das Ji, the video masterfully depicts the life story of the Guru through the medium of shadow puppets and has so far notched up over 4.5 million views on youtube. A reworked version of the immensely popular track has been developed for the new album.
On I Bow to You Waheguru, the contemplative, spiritual origins of Kaur’s music are clear. Arrangements are envisioned in detail: a desert springing to life when the drought breaks, a river running past birdsong. Vivid imagery turns to vibrant, complex sound. Kaur’s tender voice floats through layers of instruments imbued with the understated emotional and contemplative power of the traditional prayers and the tales of the teachers from whom Kaur draws her inspiration.
Modern and classical, East and West meet in I Bow to You Waheguru’s production. Breathtaking violins sweep through the songs Aukhee Gauree and Waheguru, while a dynamic flute soars in Gur Ram Das Rakho Sarnaee. In the title song I Bow to You a shimmering swarmandal (Indian zither) glitters over Talvin Singh’s tabla, the meditative steadiness holding as Kaur’s lilting voice glides over downtempo ambient-electronic beats. Much like Kaur’s debut, Bandhanaa, the gentle lulling washes of sound flowing throughKaur’s second album are nuanced by an intricate fusion of delicately textured layers, creating a Kirtan that feels both traditional and contemporary.
Kaur’s depth of devotion is reflected in her ongoing commitment to use all proceeds from her music to further charitable causes. Proceeds from I Bow to You Waheguru’s sales will go to Manika’s ‘Kirtan for Causes’ Foundation, a charitable trust which this year will be supporting impoverished children in the Punjab throughout their education. Kaur will also be performing at a one-off concert in London, proceeds from all ticket sales will also be donated to the charity.