Dya Singh is fresh off a plane after seven weeks leading a spiritual retreat in India, and his stomach isn’t happy about it. He is, though. “I’m sitting on the toilet, just in case,” he says, laughter rattling down the phone. “That’s what you get when you’re old.”
At 66, Melbourne-based Singh is one of the world’s best Sikh musicians. He is also one of the jolliest chaps around. Not even a stomach bug gets in the way of a chat about his upcoming concert in Adelaide.
“The body can be exhausted but you mustn’t lose your optimistic outlook in life,” he says. “We must never stop laughing. That’s really what my music is all about: helping people find their happy place.”
Singh has performed his interpretations of traditional Sikh hymns (shabad) across the globe, including at WOMADelaide and Woodford Folk Festival.
He was born in Malaysia, where his father was a spiritual minstrel of the Sikh faith. “He was always singing,” Singh says. The youngster didn’t follow in his father’s musical footsteps immediately; instead, he studied accounting in the UK and followed his vocation to Australia.
The number crunching didn’t last long. “My direction changed very quickly,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, accountancy is a great profession, and I’m sure many accountants find it very fulfilling. But I found it soul-destroying and needed something that would revive me.”
The Indian Army’s deadly attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 was a turning point for Singh. “It made me want to change my life’s work,” he says. “I wanted to die having at least contributed something to humanity.”
After 26 CD releases, it’s clear that his contribution is music. “It made me a much poorer person but much more enriched where life is concerned,” says Singh.
When he hits the stage on June 4 as part of the global music series Nexus Live, he’ll be playing chipper, chanting, rhythmic stuff. “You won’t understand a word of what I’m singing but it won’t matter,” he laughs. “It is two hours of moving on a magic carpet into an ethereal world. An enriching experience of spiritual beings on a human journey.”
Dya Singh plays Nexus Arts, Lion Arts Centre, Corner Morphett Street and North Terrace, Adelaide on June 4 at 8pm. Tickets $25–30.