In 2019, in celebration of their 50th Anniversary, 3HO released a 9-volume album of iconic music from our community from all 5 decades.
Here are the stories of the songs on the 1st volume.
Song of the Khalsa ~ Livtar Singh, 1970
I’ve been playing and performing music ever since my early teens. But I only began writing music after I started practicing Yoga and Meditation. That was 1969 in Orlando, Florida.
Through the fog of the ’60s, I was miraculously led to my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan. I discovered there was a way to live in this world yet still serve my higher self. Since then, I have taught and practiced Kundalini Yoga and meditation.
My meditative experiences opened a channel in me that I had never been able to touch. Energized and experiencing astonishing new things, music became my way of explaining. My way of transmitting the experiences I was given.
I have played the Troubadour in L.A. I sang before 120,000 screaming fans at Baton Rouge Pop in 1971. I toured the US with the Khalsa String Band. Seal once backed me on stage. I was a founding member of Peace Family with Snatam Kaur and Guru Ganesha. But my greatest honor was to write “Song of the Khalsa“, a song that is sung by Sikhs and seekers all over the world. – Livtar
ReMan ~ Guru Shabad Singh, 1978
“O my mind practice yoga in this way. Truth be your horn, make sincerity your necklace and apply meditation as ashes on your body…..the demons and demigods in their chariots will be astonished. And the silent sages intoxicated with delight.”
It was the most beautiful thing we’d ever heard. “And this is for you,” and said as he handed me the sheet of paper. “Put this to music.”
It marked the first time that a Shabad had been composed to western style guitar and melody in both Gurmukhi and English. He would say that it is the only realistic way to play Gurbani Kirtan. You have to know the meaning of the Shabad. Reading it doesn’t work. Knowing Gurmukhi so well that you know the English translation is very difficult. Sing the English with the Gurmukhi. “You have to choreograph in your mind what the Gurmukhi is saying.”
I think about these words still, choreographing in my mind what the Guru is saying as I sit down to put more Gurbani or mantras to music. – Guru Shabad Singh
About the Artist:
Guru Shabad Singh Khalsa has inspired thousands of yoga teachers, their students and their student’s students for over twenty-seven years with his long line of heartfelt songs and yogic chants and mantras. His music has been sung and chanted in temples and yoga centers around the world. Other artists have recorded Gurushabad Singh’s music, most notably a European group who made Sa Re Sa Sa a disco hit on the Dance charts in Italy!
Guru Shabad Singh resides in Espanola, New Mexico and La Jolla, California. He owns a successful natural foods company that produces all natural and organic frozen foods. He is also the Founder and owner of Tenth Gate Music, a record label that he and other notable musicians record under.
Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur ~ Sangeet Kaur, 1985
My story begins in 1976 in the Toronto ashram. I had recently moved in and was familiar with the words of only one shabd, Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur. I wanted to set it to music, so I brought my guitar upstairs to the Gurdwara, to ‘work’ on it. Now, I don’t actually play guitar. But I knew four chords that I learned from a guitarist friend. I also had never ‘composed’ music, although I was a professional singer at the time. It was one of those magical moments of creation, when the shabd simply ‘downloaded’ – in about 10 minutes. At the time I was quite shy and reticent to sing it in Gurdwara– it seemed so ‘operatic’ compared to the folk-style kirtan that was popular in those days.
Fast forward to 1985. I was married and living in the Millis ashram. Though our marriage was difficult and challenging, I still hoped for a miracle to save it. So I decided to chant the ‘miracle’ shabd, Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur, 11 times daily, while taking my morning walk. Three days later I received a phone call from a woman unfamiliar to me, Hari Kaur (Katy Houlihan). She was counseling with Guru Charan Singh, who had advised her to get a recording of Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur. She got an Indian recording and told him she couldn’t relate to it. He said, “Why don’t you get Sangeet to record it?” This extraordinary woman offered to cover all the expenses – from flying in my violinist and flautist, to all the production costs at a fine recording studio, to all the manufacturing costs to duplicate the first 1000 tapes etc. etc. This was indeed a miracle, although not the one I had prayed for!
There was a second miracle, more subtle, but to me it remains the most healing in all my life. I had had a cold the weekend we recorded; when I listened to it for the first time, all I could hear were my flat notes. There was no satisfaction, just my old pattern of extreme self-criticism. Shortly afterwards, Yogiji came to Millis for a Tantric course. I shyly handed him the cassette tape and then went back to my spot in the Tantric line. The next day, when he returned to L.A., I received a phone call that he needed 200 tapes immediately! From then on, he used the recording during classes in L.A. and wherever in the world he traveled. The miracle that I experienced was this: It felt as though Yogiji ‘had gone into the studio and remastered the tape – tweaked all my flat notes.’ That was a miracle of Yogiji’s healing for me, that I could for once let go of my hyper-critical self and surrender to the self-love that exists in the reality of the shabd. And isn’t that exactly what Yogiji did with all of us – tweaking and remastering parts of our broken selves to become whole?
About the Artist:
A longtime student of Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan, Sangeet Kaur teaches, composes, and records Gurubani Kirtan, the sacred music of the Sikhs. She offers coaching and mentoring in vocal production, harmonium, performance, and Gurubani Kirtan in person and via Internet video (Skype). Contact her at email@example.com
Rakhe Rakhanhar ~ Singh Kaur, 1986
At one point in her musical journey Singh Kaur collaborated with Amar Singh Khalsa. He recounted her effortless creativity: “We were sitting in the St. Louis airport with Yogi Bhajan, who was waiting for a connecting flight to New York City. He asked Singh Kaur to put Rakhe Rakhan Har (a Sikh verse) to music. I was sitting next to her as Yogi Bhajan tapped out the heartbeat rhythm on an empty Styrofoam cup. I wrote the rhythm down, and when we got home, we put the rhythm into Singh Kaur’s drum machine. This is the beat heard on the final recording. The next day I went off to work. When I came home that evening, I asked Singh Kaur about it, and she played a rough recording – basically the finished piece. She had sat down in the morning and the music just flowed through her. I was always amazed and awed by her ability to put the perfect music to any words that came her way – English or Gurmukhi.”
About the Artist:
Laura Drew, a.k.a. Singh Kaur or Lorellei (1955–1998) was a new-age music composer, vocalist and instrumentalist, who had a prolific career that lasted from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, releasing 23 albums. With her angelic voice and haunting melodies, Singh Kaur was a pioneer in the growing genre of Western interpretations of Indian chanting music.
Narayan Shabad, Guru Raj Kaur Khalsa with Bhai Kalyan Singh and Bhai Meg Singh, 1987
When we sing in Song of the Khalsa: “Give our lives to God and Guru, mind and soul, breath and bone,” the meaning penetrates deeply in me. Over the years there have been moments when these words have held profound personal significance. One of those moments was back in 1987. The devastation of 1984 had occurred and the global Sikh Panth was still reeling from the horror of it. At the same time a great rebirth of commitment to the Dharma was taking the place of anger. Reconstruction not only of the bricks and mortar of the Akal Takhat, but of the spirit of the Khalsa was occurring; and I was pregnant with twins! At this time in the Dharma, there was a remarkable number of miscarriages and difficult pregnancies, unfulfilled births as well as several mothers carrying twins. I was carrying two beautiful girls: Nirinjan and Narayan. In those days Siri Singh Sahib ji used to ask me to record certain shabds which were needed to carry us through specific time periods. At this time he asked me to record the Narayan shabd, to invoke and carry the victory of the spirit of the Panth. I was delighted. In those years in Vancouver, we used to bring many Ragi jathas for kirtan. They would perform at the many local Gurdwaras. (By the way, that’s actually how I learned kirtan. Over the years I would ask many of these jathas to teach me a shabd or two.)
At that time in 1987 there was a wonderful jatha in town—Ragi Kalyan Singh and his angel-voiced side-walla, Meg Singh. I approached Kalyan Singh and asked if he had “a nice tune for Narayan sabh ma-eh nivaas.” He replied, “Hunhji, yes.” We sat right down and he opened up the space with this beautiful melody. I quickly learned it and we made a date for the ragis to come by our home for my husband Hari Singh to record us. A few days later we were sitting in our living room, recording equipment set up, ready to sing. We practiced a little, then recorded it in one take. Hari Singh commented on how completely “in the flow” it was. I remember being swept away by Meg Singh’s angelic alaaps (improvisations). To this day, having listened to it thousands of times, I still am transported in the same exact way every time I hear it. And (if I may say) I experience my own voice in its powerful innocence, delivering these uplifting words with much love.
My ability to sing Gurbani kirtan was a direct answer to prayer, and that is never away from my awareness when I sing. It has always been a gift, not mine. So, the recording of the Narayan shabd (which Hari Singh reminds me was before the days of digital recording!) was made as a service to the Panth, and has sustained through these decades, uplifting the sangat to the victory of their spirit, through the very personal experience of God sustaining them through their very mind and soul, breath and bone.
I have always wondered if those difficult unfulfilled births were the souls who lost their lives in 1984 while in prayer at the Golden Temple– coming in for just a touch of Grace, in the wombs of the mothers of the Khalsa. My Narayan Kaur and Nirinjan Kaur were born at only 26 weeks. Narayan Kaur lived only 12 hours outside of my womb. Hari Singh sat with her for those 12 hours, chanting. When he left, she also left. We have always felt she was fulfilled, and just needed to bring her sister in, hold her hand, deliver her to the Khalsa. Nirinjan Kaur spent her first three months in the “premie” unit. Against the objections of the doctors, we had a little tape recorder pasted into her incubator, which piped Gurbani kirtan into her little environment, bathing her in the healing pool of the Shabd Guru:
Naam niranjan neel naraayan rasnaa simrat paap bilaayan The Name of the Immaculate Sustainer is like cool water. Chanting it with the tongue, all my mistakes are washed away.
As you all know, Nirinjan Kaur survived, thrived and is now an awesome married Khalsa woman, whose voice carries the Guru’s vibration, penetrating and uplifting all hearts who hear it.
Naraayan sabh ma-eh nivaas, naraayan ghat ghat pargaas. Narayan (Sustainer) lives in everyone, Narayan illumines every heart. The Khalsa Panth prevails through time and space.
Epilogue Update: It was amazing many years later when Nirinjan was recording Puta Mata Kee Asees for one of her albums in the exact spot in our living room where I had recorded The Narayan Shabd with her in my womb! Oh my, what a moment!
-Guru Raj Kaur Khalsa
About the Artist:
Guru Raj Kaur Khalsa was in the group of the first ladies to become ordained as Sikh Dharma Ministers, in 1972. She has been active as a minister since then, in interfaith work, with Sikh youth, and as assistant to the Bhai Sahiba of Sikh Dharma. She is the editor of Victory & Virtue, active in the Sikh community in British Columbia, Canada, and one of two women who have served as Chairpersons of the Khalsa Council. She has also served as a Kundalini Yoga teacher and teacher trainer in British Colombia for many years.
Guru Ram Das Lullaby, Mata Mandir Singh & Gurudass Kaur, 1988
The wonderful, old version from Women’s Camp, digitized and enhanced as far as possible, plus the version of Mata Mandir Singh and Gurudass Kaur, as well as a wonderful Guru Ram Das Chant for meditation.
The “Guru Ram Das Lullaby” is an English song written by Stephen Joseph, formerly known as Guru Shabd Singh (not the same person as mentioned below), former member of the legendary “Khalsa String Band”. It is a beautiful “lullaby” intended for (small and large) children and touches the essence and life of all gurus, in the blessings of Guru Ram Das.
About the artist:
Mata Mandir Singh was born in 1952 in the USA. He has been teaching Kundalini yoga and gatka (Gatka is an ancient martial art used by the Gurus to help defend the religious beliefs of Sikhs and also those of other religions). Mata Mandir has been a student of Yogi Bhajan for 20 years. An expert in vegetarian cooking, he is also the owner of Golden Temple restaurant – Amsterdam’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. Mata Mandir Singh specializes in yoga of sound, naad yoga, and has produced more then 25 CD’s and tapes with mantras where he plays guitar and sings.
Sa Re Sa Sa, Guru Shabad Singh, 1989
My wife called me from ladies camp and said “The Siri Singh Sahib has given us the most amazing mantra you should write it down and maybe put it to music? It’s a really long one. Are you ready to write it down?” “Yes,” I replied. “OK, here it is: Sa re Sa Sa Sa re Sa Sa sa re sa sa Sarang…..”.
“Whoa, what a trip! Amazing mantra!” I said. I ended up putting it to music and my thinking was ‘don’t make it for the community, make it for him. Let it be in a perfect naad (in flow with the natural rhythm of the syllables in the mantra), that maybe he’ll want to use it to teach with. If he does, great. If not, we’ll just let it die on its own’. So, that’s what I did. The melody had some kind of special magic in it and the recording captured. Back in those days we didn’t really loop things much. So I played the whole 31 minutes live to tape. We sent it to Yogi Bhajan, and when he heard it, he said “Perfect. Now write this down… Pavan pavan pavan pavan par para pavan guru….” It felt like kind of a continuation along the same lines as Sa Re Sa Sa. He then finished with yet another new mantra Kal Akal Siri Kal. Yogi Ji spoke to his secretary to pass on the information to me, “Tell him to now put these to music. I want them done immediately!” When he had the recordings I made he began using the music in class he said, “ This is a new style of music. It is called Kundalini Music”, a new term he used, which is mantra put to music in the naad of the mantra. In other words, not just music, but music and melody with the correct naad, pronunciation and rhythm.
Back at ladies camp, my wife had Siri Ved Singh play the mantra over the sound system there and everyone was completely mesmerized. She recalled to me after Ladies Camp was over, “All of the women were just in this trance and asking with great curiosity, ‘What is this. And WHO is this?’” The SSS went on to teach those three mantras in many yoga classes and tantrics around the world.
-Guru Shabad Singh