Bibi Snatam Kaur
Snatam Kaur personifies the meaning of her name: universal, nucleus, and friend to all. These themes have expressed themselves in a variety of ways throughout her life, and are particularly present in her music.
The sincerity and depth of commitment that this artist brings to her music is firmly rooted in a life of devotion. Soon after her birth in 1972, in the beautiful mountain town of Trinidad, Colorado, Snatam’s parents turned to the teachings and lifestyle of the Sikh tradition and became students of the renowned Kundalini yoga master, Yogi Bhajan. Snatam heard Yogi Bhajan’s teachings at her parents’ side and a close relationship developed between the venerated teacher and the very young pupil. One day, before she was even two, Snatam began to chatter away in the middle of class; Yogi Bhajan stopped speaking, looked over at her and said, “You’ll have your turn soon to teach, little one.” Indeed, Snatam has fulfilled this forecast, teaching yoga, chants, and meditation to both children and adults.
When Snatam was two, she and her family moved to Long Beach, California. Her parents always brought her to morning sadhana, the early morning spiritual practice consisting of yoga, meditation, and chanting. Snatam would usually be asleep at her parent’s side for the first part of the practice, but when the music for chanting began, she would wake up. “I loved to get up in the morning and sing with my parents,” she says.
Moving again at age five, Snatam attended a Waldorf School in Sacramento, California. Here she got to explore her creative side, including playing the violin. “I chose the violin because it sounded pretty,” she says. Music was a part of her life every day, either at school or at home. Her father was a great improvisationalist and loved to play the flute, piano, and tablas. Her mother sang devotional songs of the Sikh faith every day. Snatam took easily to this musical environment, and her first creative expression was with her voice. Her mother recalls that the young Snatam would often sing about events happening in her daily life. At age six, she traveled to India and met Bhai Hari Singh, her mother’s kirtan (devotional music) teacher. This was a momentous event on many levels. Bhai Hari Singh’s entire family embraced Snatam like a granddaughter and a lifelong relationship ensued.
The Golden Temple in India, one of the most revered Sikh places of worship in the world, holds a special place in Snatam’s heart and memory. She spent many hours listening to the sacred music, and remembers freely exploring the beautiful inner sanctum of the Golden Temple. She was delighted to learn that she could receive more then one serving of Gurprashad, a sweet and delicious sacred treat served in every Sikh temple. Her love of sacred music and devotion were nurtured there and continue to reverberate in her life. Yet the path has not always been clear.
When Snatam’s father decided to leave the Sikh path, a time of questioning began for eight-year old Snatam. Torn between two worlds, she tried to live a normal American, non-Sikh lifestyle with her father for a few years. But something inside kept calling her to live as a Sikh and she began practicing what she had learned on her own. It was in these challenging times that she recognized even more strongly her spiritual path and this time chose Sikhism for herself. She developed her own daily yoga and meditation practice and returned to wearing the traditional Sikh dress.
As a teenager Snatam found a clear and creative road. During this time, she lived on a 300-acre ranch outside of Bolinas, California, near the ocean, with her mother and stepfather Sat Santokh Singh, whom she endearingly calls “Pitaji”. She arose every morning with her family for sadhana and chanted every night before going to bed. Her mother, Prabhu Nam Kaur, played kirtan every day and for both mother and daughter, music was part of a deep and rich healing that took place. Snatam remembers, “I learned to go to the family meditation room and sing as a way to pray and release emotions. I learned the power of healing through sacred chant.
Playing kirtan in Sikh temples with her mother was a constant part of Snatam’s teenage years. She also played violin in the school orchestra, learned to play the guitar, and settled more deeply into songwriting. After performing her song “Save Our Earth” at a school assembly, Snatam and ten of her friends, coached by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead performed the song for 70,000 people at an Earth Day concert in San Francisco.
In addition to the chance to spread her musical wings, Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California also opened wonderful opportunities for Snatam to become an active leader. She served as president of the Social Action Club, which started a campus-recycling program, organized a Rainforest Awareness Week, and created educational assemblies incorporating music. The club also initiated the change of the school’s mascot from the Indians to the Red Tail Hawks out of respect for Native American peoples and cultures.
Snatam attended Mills College in Oakland, California, in the fall of 1991. Her intention was to become a physician and she received a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. “Mills College was very supportive in helping women develop their skills. I actually had not been too good at math and science until I attended this wonderful college, and in a certain sense watched as the impossible became possible within myself. By the time I graduated I was very good in math and science! This was a great life lesson,” says Snatam. “In the process I became more in touch with my inner self and its capacity, and realized how important sacred chant and music was in my life, and knew that I wanted to give and provide healing in this way. I prayed for guidance and watched how beautifully my life unfolded to fulfill this longing.”
Snatam returned to India after college to study music with Bhai Hari Singh, the same teacher her mother had studied with years earlier. For Snatam this was a beautiful completion of something begun a generation before. While in India, Snatam lived next door to the Golden Temple where music constantly flowed. “I spent many hours meditating there and soaking up the beautiful vibration of the kirtan,” she recalls.
In 1997, Snatam began a career as a food technologist for Peace Cereals in Eugene, Oregon. She used her scientific training to help create the Peace Cereal line, among other cereal flavors and healing foods.
As a musician she shared sacred chants and music at the 3HO Summer and Winter Solstice celebrations in New Mexico and Florida, events that bring together the American Sikh community with yoga students and other spiritual seekers. While practicing with Livtar Singh and Guru Ganesha Singh, all three realized the power of their music together and under the name Peace Family, they recorded an album entitled “Reunion.” The group produced two other recordings: To Heaven and Beyond, and Carry Us Home.
In 2000, Snatam signed a record contract with Spirit Voyage Records in Sterling, Virginia, and remains with the label to this day. Guru Ganesha Singh, the founder of Spirit Voyage Records, has served as her guitar player and manager. He has been a positive support in Snatam’s music career, and has helped to bring together many energies and people in the mission of getting the sacred music out.
Since 2001, Snatam accompanied by the Spirit Voyage Ensemble musicians, has been a bright star in the popular chant music genre. Grace, her most recent recording, quickly rose to the top of industry bestseller lists. Shanti, her previous recording, was her second solo effort and an impressive follow-up to her highly acclaimed first solo release, Prem.
Snatam’s uplifting vocals on all three recordings are tastefully enriched by cross-cultural instrumentation. Rhythmic tabla beats punctuate the chants. Piano, sitar, santour, and flute melodies delightfully enhance the spirit of the recording. Thomas Barquee’s brilliant production makes it all shine and the power of Snatam’s devotion is the force that inspires and moves.
“My Guru is the sacred Sound Current, or Naad,” states Snatam. “The experience of creating an album or preparing to perform is for me tuning into the living and breathing consciousness of Sound Current, which for me is the Guru, or Divine Teacher.”
Many of the songs on Snatam’s recordings are ancient chants sung in Gurumukhi, the sacred language of the Sikhs. Other songs are in English. This aptly reflects her upbringing, which frequently bridged two worlds.
“The way that I relate to these sacred chants is that the chants are a living spirit and they enter into my life to bring healing and blessings or whatever I need at that time,” explains Snatam. “I learned about the importance of sound currents from Yogi Bhajan, and I experienced how the energy of these sacred words can have a very real, positive effect.”
For Snatam, the sacred chants of the Sikhs as well as chants from other faiths are an important expression for healing, peace, and social change.
“September 11, 2001 was a pivotal day for me,” she says. “On that day I was totally shocked and saddened by the state of affairs. At that time I attended a nation wide interfaith gathering to pray for peace. Each faith shared a sacred chant or prayer from their tradition. I was so uplifted from my sadness because of the coming together; there was a sense that as a collective community we have the power to overcome any hardship, and give each other the courage and strength to feel peace inside no matter what.”
A few days after this service, Snatam met with religious leaders of various faiths in Eugene and proposed a regular monthly gathering that now continues to take place on the 11th of each month. “We’re meeting with open arms, to share with each other who we are. These services have created a strong network of neighbors and friends that bridge many walks of life.” The profound effect of these services has inspired Snatam to include this type of interfaith sharing in her concert events.
Accompanied by Krishan Prakash on percussion and GuruGanesha on guitar it became apparent that Snatam would need to move full time into music, as the demand for her appearances was astounding. In 2005, Peace Cereals promptly moved Snatam from her position as food technologist to peace ambassador. This progressive company donates 10% of its profits to peace, and saw Snatam and her tour, which was given the name “Celebrate Peace”, as an avenue to cultivating peace in the US and abroad. The tour encompasses Snatam’s love of music, children, and service.
Snatam’s concerts break from popular convention to offer something even more encompassing, even more heartfelt, even more inclusive. Each concert is an experience of peace. Somehow the music, and the sacred chants, without fail enter into people’s hearts, and they are given that priceless experience of peace, and the faith that it exists within each of us.
Snatam teaches children’s yoga and meditation classes, and often invites children up on stage during her performances to sing. Snatam’s passion in working with children comes from her recognition of their role as future leaders. “I always see myself as being a part of initiating children into their role as leaders and peacemakers. It is how my parents raised me and how my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, treated children.”
She and her musical colleagues also travel to many schools, impoverished communities, and jails to perform music for people that do not always get the chance to have live music. This is all in the spirit of peace, and is as rewarding for the musicians as it is for the participants in each program.
On January 8th, 2006 Snatam was married to Sopurkh Singh. The two live happily together in Eugene, Oregon. They are both dedicated to the mission of ”Celebrate Peace”, as Sopurkh serves as the tour’s graphic artist.
The Celebrate Peace Tour will continue to go throughout the US and abroad offering prayers and chants in the spirit of peace. Snatam describes the tour as “rewarding, humbling, and inspiring.” She delights her audiences with her innocence, obvious love of people, and dedication to peace.
- Akal Sahai Singh, Spirit Voyage Live Events Tour Manager
- GuruGanesha Singh, Spirit Voyage Live Events Business Manager
- Snatam Kaur, Ambassador for Peace, for Peace Cereal, Spirit Voyage Music, Sikh Dharma, and 3HO
|Kirtan:||Raga · Taal · Ragmala · Classical Music · Sangeet · Dhuni · Divan · Asa di Var · Jatha · Simran · Shabad · Tuk · Rababi · Dhadhi|
|Ragas:||Asa · Bairari · Basant · Bhairon · Bihagara · Bilaval · Devagandhari · Dhanasari · Gauri · Gond · Gujari · Jaijavanti · Jaitsri · Kalian · Kanara · Kedara · Maajh · Malaar · Mali Gaura · Maru · Nat Narain · Prabhati · Ramkali · Sarang · Sri · Sorath · Suhi · Tilang · Todi · Tukhari · Vadahans|
|Ragis:||Harjinder Singh · Maninder Singh · Amolak Singh · Darshan Singh · Balwinder Singh · Harbans Singh · Anoop Singh · Niranjan Singh · Amrik Singh · Avtar Singh · Snatam Kaur ·Kamaljit Kaur · Dileep Kaur · Joginder Singh · SS Maskeen|
|Saaj:||Harmonium · Tabla · · Tanpura · Taus · Rabab · Sarangi · Dilruba · · Saranda · Sarode · Sitar · Santoor · Pakhawaj · Dhadh · Dholak · Dool|