Sonny Singh: Chardi Kala - Music To Uplift And Ignite 

When we look at Sikh history as well as the current ongoing protests led by millions of Punjabi Sikh farmers, we get a glimpse of the true chardi kala spirit

Sonny Singh 
March 10, 2021 | 2.5 min. read

Chardi kala is a practice, a vision, and a call to action.

Often oversimplified as simply meaning “optimistic,” chardi kala is deeper than an individual’s positive mindset, it is a collective steadfast determination of Sikhs, a resilience, a yearning for justice, and the will to achieve it. When we look at Sikh history as well as the current ongoing protests led by millions of Punjabi Sikh farmers, we get a glimpse of the true chardi kala spirit.

After over a decade of touring with the bhangra brass band Red Baraat, my idea to launch a new musical project emerged in the winter of 2018. 

Feeling a sense of despair in the wake of white supremacist acts of terror in the US and the rising tide of fascism globally, I found myself returning to kirtan after a two-decade hiatus. I made short videos on Instagram revisiting some shabads from childhood, accompanied by a trumpet, a dhol, percussion, and a harmonium. It was cathartic to dig back into this rich spiritual-musical tradition that had been bubbling beneath the surface of my creative voice for years. 

A few months later, the idea to make an album emerged. 

I started diving into more Sufi poetry and Gurbani, and began writing my own music to these beautiful verses written by Kabir, Guru Arjan Dev, Baba Farid, and Guru Gobind Singh, to name a few. This sacred poetry was written hundreds of years ago, but the message of denouncing tyranny, oppression, and dogmatic ideologies while uplifting Oneness, Divine Love, and radical equality resonate deeply today. 

I decided to call the album Chardi Kala. 

Chardi Kala is a celebratory anthem of hope. For months, millions of farmers and workers in India - many Punjabi Sikhs alongside farmers of various faiths - have been protesting pro-corporate policies that threaten their livelihoods in what is called the largest protest in human history. They refuse to back down after months of struggle against a system that prioritizes profits over humanity, epitomizing the spirit of chardi kala - ever-rising spirits against all odds. This was the perfect moment for my music.

Remaining in chardi kala is not always easy - it is critical to process, reflect, and heal individually and collectively. Remaining in chardi kala in tough times does not mean accepting exploitative or oppressive conditions, or ignoring our trauma, fear, and pain. Rather, chardi kala means acting, it means organizing, it means fighting to change oppressive conditions and knowing that we can win. 

My music does not have a set of strategic and tangible goals like that of an effective organizing campaign. We artists attempt to tap into the emotional, subconscious, and spiritual realms. With our sounds and visuals, I simply hope my work makes people feel something. We are living through desperate times and I hope my music becomes a place of solace for listeners. I hope my music helps listeners begin to envision the world they want to live in. Once we can imagine it, we have no choice but to act. 

I am calling my album Chardi Kala because this is precisely what I hope to accomplish through my music - to lift our spirits and fuel our work for the liberation of people. 

Last week, I released the single and video for the album’s title track. 

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Sonny Singh is a Brooklyn, New York-based musician, social justice educator, and writer. He is an original member of the bhangra brass band Red Baraat, and his music as a solo artist has been featured by NPR Music, Rolling Stone India, and HuffPost. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @iamsonnysingh.


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