World music star Manika on her mission to share inner peace
- Credit: Caitlin Mogridge
Her videos have been shared by millions and her albums sell by the thousand, but world music star Manika Kaur can walk down her Highgate street unrecognised.
The mum-of-three's records are familiar to devotees of yoga and the Sikh faith, but she hopes her "unique, niche" music will reach a wider audience this year.
Her new album 'EK' (meaning 'oneness') released on April 16 will be entered for a Grammy by record company Six Degrees after Kaur became the first artist to bring Kirtan music to European world music charts.
And while she is on a mission to reinterpret these sacred chants and share their spiritual message with the world, she won't make a penny from it.
All profits from her records and performances go to her charity ‘Kirtan For Causes’, which provides education to over 200 young women in rural Punjab, India.
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"I started working on the album two and a half years ago and it's very different to my previous ones," she says. "With each album I've learned my capabilities and I don't think I have ever had this confidence. It's interesting that the record company feel it has potential to go for a Grammy - especially for a Kirtan album, Kirtan is like a grain of sand in that world of music."
Kaur, who gave birth to twins while working on the album, explains that Kirtan is usually sung by men in Sikh temples using just two instruments. She has lent it a contemporary twist - Ek blends her vocals with world class players of the tabla, bansuri flute, dilruba, sarod and santoor alongside saxophone, guitar, violin and cello.
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"What makes this unique is working with a host of musicians from different backgrounds and faiths, playing instruments like the saxophone you would never find in Kirtan," she says. "These people are at one with the instruments and what they bring elevates these tracks, it's exciting to see it breathe."
The melodies come to her through meditation. Starting with a passage from the Sikh holy scriptures, she "takes time to contemplate and hear the music in my head, then I start to sing it." She then hands the basic structure and melody to musicians who "close their eyes and freestyle - like jazz."
"My music may be a bit too forward, too modern for my community but spiritual people from the yoga community send me thanks and the younger generation appreciate this new sound and quality production. There are new ways to express love for God and pave the way for other musicians to create their own versions."
Raised in Melbourne Australia in a spiritual home, Kaur sang from a young age at the Sikh temple. "My parents got married and had very little but taught us to share, work honestly and give back and life gifted them beautifully."
An arranged marriage to her Indian husband took her first to Dubai and now Highgate. "I absolutely love it, I always wished I lived somewhere like London and can see my children growing up here."
She and her husband have a thriving business and she has chosen a "compassionate path" rather than making money from her music.
"We have plenty to live comfortably so for me it's about time to create spiritual music, bring peace into this world and find ways to make a difference.
"Kirtan has given me so much. As I faced difficult times in my life and things that felt overwhelming, I always found shelter.
"I want to bring together all these different musicians and instruments to create this expression of love, using these images from the Sikh holy scriptures, to bring this same sense of peace and share that with people around the world. It doesn't matter what language it is, music helps us to open our inner essence. Our souls recognise something deeper because they have been around much longer, it pierces through you."