Jasdeep Singh Degun
With no musical family background, Jasdeep's story is truly inspiring for us. At the young age of 25, he already has countless awards to his name, and more recently was awarded a Sky Academy Arts Scholarship. Jasdeep has worked with various musicians from Guy Chambers, Cerys Matthews, Melanie C, and Vangelis and many more. We have both had the privilege of performing numerous times alongside Jasdeep Singh Degun - the young Sitarist from Leeds who is well on his way to becoming a rising star in the Indian Classical music scene.
Tell us about Jasdeep Singh Degun
I’m 25 years old, and have been learning Indian Classical music since I was about 8 or 9. I started off as a vocalist and only picked up the sitar quite late on in high school - I think I was around 15 at the time. I have been really lucky to have been trained and encouraged by my teacher Ustad Dharambir Singh MBE and an army of different support mentors and tutors over the years.
I still to this date don’t know what attracted me to classical music - but it quite quickly developed into a passion. I ended up studying Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London and continued to perform classical and non-classical concerts regularly across the country.
I’ve quite recently taken to composition and musical direction for a number of projects and productions, and I’m currently working on a debut album of contemporary and classical music.
What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis, or have you faced in your line of work?
At the moment, I think the main challenges are trying to juggle the many different projects going on, as well as trying to keep my practice up - if only I could practice on trains!
A more broader challenge is trying to make a sustainable career within the music industry - especially as an Indian classical musician. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for artists to find success purely on talent alone. Musicians need to be more entrepreneurial in their approach to music encompassing skills such as networking, management, and strategic planning, as well as being overall more musically versatile. And even then, it’s still an uphill struggle!
Listen to a short recording from Jasdeep: BBC Asian Network - Raw & Ready
If you had to, what would you get tattooed on your forehead?
Either ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ or ‘Aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll still end up among the stars’
How do you stay motivated?
I think in the knowledge that I’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface. There are so many great musicians who have contributed so much to Indian classical music - that’s them devoting a lifetime of practice, hard work, and applying thoughtful creativity to their music. When you think about these genius musicians, you realise how little you have done and how much there still is to do. They’ll never be a time where a musician can claim to have ‘learnt everything’, and so we remain students all our lives.
With regards to my own training as a classical musician, I was never the best student or as naturally gifted compared to my peers. I began playing the Sitar quite late on and I had a lot to catch up with - not ever being satisfied with the way I play. Even now, after almost every concert I always feel like could have played better. I’m my own biggest critic, and to be honest, that has always motivated me to carry on going.
What makes you feel good?
Pizza and a 10 hour binge of Game of Thrones.
What’s been your greatest struggle, and how do you generally overcome negative emotions?
There have been many struggles over the years and I totally expect more to come.
One that I remember quite vividly was when I joined SAMYO (the national South Asian Youth Orchestra) as the first ever vocalist - I must have been around 13 or 14 years old. As there had been no previous vocalists within the orchestra, there wasn’t much for me to sing. And when vocal parts were soon added, there were already instrumentalists there who could sing so much better than me. I felt that there was actually no point of me being there! I returned a year later with a Sitar (having only learnt for around 6 months) and tried and tried and tried to keep up with the other sitarists - all of who had been playing their whole lives. I wasn’t very good at that either haha, and some tutors and students tried to discourage me from playing. I didn’t really care about what anyone else thought about it and I knew I had it in me to get better, so I persisted.
Another more recent struggle was when I took on the challenge of writing a concerto for Sitar and string quartet. I was writing and notating a 40-minute piece for new instruments in a classical style that I had little training in. It took me around 2 months to complete and I’m still not completely happy with it.
I feel that struggles are a necessary part of life that help you grow as a person/musician. In both situations, I put myself into a very challenging position - whether consciously or unconsciously I’m not sure - but I knew that I wanted to be a better musician and that it could only be achieved through hard work. There are no shortcuts and the thought of giving up simply never even crossed my mind.
How have your family and friends encouraged you to pursue what you are doing?
I’ve been really lucky with my family - they’ve never openly encouraged me to pursue music, and they’ve never stopped me from doing it. I have always been free to do what I wanted. However, I come from a very typical Panjabi family and the only music that is ever really listened to, and appreciated, is Bhangra. My family aren't musicians and they would never consciously choose to listen to classical music - they probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Sitar and a Tanpura. Classical music is a really big part of my life, and in some sense it has been very difficult to connect with my family on that level. I think my Dad will always want me to get a ‘proper job’, and I’ll still get told off for doing nothing all day when I’m shut up in my room composing! Having said all that, however, my family still love me and often do come to support me at my concerts - what more can I ask for!
I have, however, had more musical support from so many others over the years, particularly my Ustad, Dharambir Singh ji and his family. Also, I have to mention the arts organisations SAA-UK and Milapfest, who have always supported my musical training and development as an artist, as well as countless other organisations and individuals who have had a big impact on my journey in music.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your music, or who/what inspires you?
I draw inspiration from listening to loads of different musicians and artists. I’m particularly interested in pure Indian Classical music and listen to musicians such as Ustad Vilayat Khan, Shahid Parvez, Irshad Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Kaushiki Chakrabarty to name a few. I also enjoy listening to artists who have a more contemporary approach to Indian music such as Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Anoushka Shankar etc.
I’m particularly inspired by the careers of Indian Classical musicians who have been born and brought up in the UK such as Roopa Panesar, Soumik Datta, Kirpal Singh, Pirashanna Thevarajah, Shahbaz Hussain, and Bhupinder Singh - check them out if you get the chance!
You are having a dinner party – which three people would you invite, and why?
Ustad Vilayat Khan, Nitin Sawhney, and Zakir Hussain.
Obviously, I would have nothing worthwhile to say in front of these legends, but to be a fly on the wall…
Tell us an interesting fact you would like to share about yourself/ your life!
I’m a total music geek - talk to me about musical analysis all day. I want to hear about the intricacies and finer details about Raag Darbari Kanada, harmonic progression in western classical music, or even music production in pop music. Sorry, not sorry.
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