A Joyful Noise
In this article written in 2004 by Guru Dass Singh, which was originally published in the Aquarian Times, Winter of 2005 (Vol. 4, No. 4) Edition, he explores the first 35 years of music in 3HO.
I wanted to be a rock star. I had left Puerto Rico for Boston in the hope of enhancing my musical skills, and I’d just finished my first year at Berklee College of Music. However, Kundalini Yoga came into my life that fall. It would end up becoming the venue for my musical expression.
Only nine months into my practice of Kundalini Yoga, in the summer of 1972, I was on my way to my first Summer Solstice gathering in Mendocino, California. I decided to fly there on a chartered plane leaving from Rochester, NY. Upon arriving at the local ashram I met fellow traveling yogis who, when they saw my guitar, asked me to play a chant. I remember thinking, “Wow. You mean you can actually put these sacred mantras to music?” Seeing that everyone was waiting for me to lead them in chanting, and not wanting to put my yogic pride and newfound audience in jeopardy, I grabbed my guitar and started singing “Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru ji/all the love lies within you…let it be, ” thinking how cool it all was.
It was in Rochester that I began to hear about these guys named Livtar, Peter, Gurushabad, and Guru Singh. I discovered that there was already a 3HO musical culture, and I had just joined it.
Mendocino was heaven to me. I met Yogi Bhajan, did White Tantric Yoga and, for the first time, witnessed the 3HO musical scene. Ex-Animals guitarist Vic Briggs—now Vikram Singh and dressed in full Sikh regalia—led us into raga chants with a harmonium. With his classical guitar and deep voice, Gurushabad Singh of Montague, Massachusetts played heartwarming songs from translations of the Sikh scriptures. A beautiful and magnetic African-American woman from Los Angeles, Krishna Kaur, enamored us singing of her “You are My Lover Lord.” I sat each day in awe of, not only the talent of these musicians, but the places where these new forms of music took me.
On the last day, someone approached me and a few fellow Puerto Rican yogis, and asked us to play something “Spanish” for the camp. With a guitar, a conga drum, and a lot of fuego latino, we took the stage that evening and played a rumba-styled Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam y el Siri Wahe Guru that rocked the house and has now become a 3HO classic.
Sat Nam Band and Sat Nam East
The 3HO musical scene had been taking shape since Yogiji began teaching in Los Angeles. Some of his earliest students, ex-folk singer Guru Singh on guitar and Baba Singh with his autoharp, had begun putting mantras to music and writing songs of and for this new and emerging spiritual family. Together with Krishna Kaur, they soon became The Sat Nam Band, and played at 3HO gatherings and celebrations. Vikram Singh had begun learning Indian raga and Gurbani kirtan in England, and later became 3HO‘s ragi par excellence for many years.
In the spring of 1972, a group of musicians from the East Coast including Livtar Singh from Atlanta, “Sat” Peter Blachly of Washington, D.C. and the soon-to-become Gurushabad Singh, joined together to create Sat Nam East. They recruited a young woman from Atlanta—later to receive the name of Sat Kartar Kaur—to sing with them. With a few members of the Montague, Massachusetts ashram singing along, they recorded the very first 3H0 album. It was called Sat Sam East. It contained some writings of the Sikh Gurus that Gurushabad had put to music, as well as songs and chants by Peter and Livtar. It was an immediate success, and the buzz soon got around in 3HO that you could now listen to mantras and chants on your cassette player. Sat Nam East went on to record another cassette in 1972 named Jewels of the East, confirming their stardom in the universe of Kundalini Yoga.
May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You
Yogiji had begun teaching in Los Angeles in 1969. It soon became a tradition for his students to play music before his class. One day as he entered the yoga room a group of students, including Guru Singh, were playing a round of a piece of a song by The Incredible String band titled A Very Cellular Song. The group was singing May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You, All Love Surround You and the Pure Light Within You Guide Your Way On. . Yogiji asked them to keep playing it and from then on requested them to play it after his classes. It quickly became a tradition that continues today at the end of every Kundalini Yoga class taught throughout the world.
The Khalsa String Band
I moved to Ahimsa Ashram in Washington, D.C. right after the Mendocino solstice gathering. I remember arriving at the ashram and soon meeting this endearing, tall and lanky yogi named Peter Blachly (later known as Sat Peter Singh). When he saw my guitar and heard I had studied at Berklee, he quickly whipped out his axe and began displaying his quick and flashy blues riffs and chords. “Pull out yours,” he said, and we proceeded to engage in a kind of musical duel. I must’ve made a good impression, because the next day he asked me to play chants with him at the newly opened Golden Temple Restaurant! And thus began my own 3HO musical career.
Working at the Golden Temple restaurant was a big part of ashram life. Every night, around closing, we’d pull out our guitars, and along with the waitresses and the kitchen staff, we’d bellow out chant after chant to the delight of the remaining customers. Soon other musicians moved to the ashram and joined us in our daily repertoire of yogic tunes. Many chants and mantra melodies emerged from those days at Ahimsa. Amongst them Working at the Golden Temple, Sat Nam (The Grace Within You), Oh, Guru Ram Das Thank You for This Beautiful Day, as well as numerous versions of Guru Guru Wahe Guru, our favorite Ahimsa Ashram mantra.
In the summer of 1973, the members of Sat Nam East were joined in New York City by a number of 3HO musicians to record an album. Guru Singh and Krishna Kaur came from Los Angeles. Sat Nam Singh and a talented young singer named Singh Kaur came from Tucson. Marty Singh (later known as Sant Ram Singh), a classically trained pianist and Amar Singh, a flute and piano player, came from Montague. Sat Kartar Kaur, who by then lived in Ahimsa Ashram, also came and brought with her a fellow female singer named Guruvir Kaur. I was also invited to join them at the Brooklyn ashram. Guruka Singh, a local ashram member and music lover, took us to a studio in Manhattan where this new musical adventure took place. We began with hardly an idea of what we were going to record and after two weeks came out as the Khalsa String Band, the name Yogiji gave us.
Two of the songs in the album, Stand for Righteousness—You Can Make The Sun Shine and Song of Bliss—led us to discover the angelic voice and compositions of Singh Kaur, and were the beginning of a series of albums by her known as the Crimson Collection, that have become part of our musical legacy.
On Tour with Yogiji
In the winter of 1973, we were invited to join Yogi Bhajan on his East Coast teaching tour. The musicians from the West Coast could not join us and thus a new Khalsa String Band came to be. Livtar Singh and I exchanged roles as lead singers and became the band’s main songwriters. Sat Peter was the band’s lead guitarist. Gurushabad from Montague contributed as songwriter and singer, as well as the band’s spokesman. Sat Kartar Kaur was our backup female singer and a newly found drummer, Atma Singh, joined the band.
We’d accompany Yogiji and play after each class he taught. He would usually sit in the front row of the audience and in his masterful way, he coached us and brought out our showmanship. I remember overcoming stage fright and learning how to keep a smile because of him, as he’d always stick his tongue out at me while I sang. There was no way to keep a straight face during his yogic antics.
This tour, which ended in Florida at our Winter Solstice gathering, was the stage for songs that later became icons in our 3HO history. The Sikh National Anthem (aka Chanting Sat Nam, by Gurudass Singh) was played for the first time at that Solstice gathering, along with Gurushabad’s Captain Karma.
In the spring of 1974, we went back on tour. The band grew. Amar Singh, Guruvir Kaur, and Sant Ram Singh joined us, along with our new drummer Guruvir Singh. Sahib Amar Kaur on the viola and Gurudass Kaur on backup vocals joined us later that summer. After rehearsing for three weeks in Detroit, we began a six-month tour across the US. that took us from Kansas City to New Mexico, St. Louis to Madison, up to Vancouver and down to Los Angeles. We played in ashrams and concert halls, churches and parks. We barely covered our eating and gas expenses. We were our own roadies, having to set up and take down our own equipment, often after driving up to 12 hours a day.
In July we moved into the San Rafael, California ashram to record our second album in San Francisco. The outcome was titled Sons of the Tenth Guru, and it included my own composition, Flowers in the Rain. By then, my new bride Gurudass Kaur had joined the band and sang backup on the album.
The band’s biggest and last concert was in Los Angeles at The Troubadour nightclub. After six months of playing and living together, we were super-tight musically and sick of each other personally. The concert was a success; we had never played or sounded so good. Talent agents from various record companies expressed interest in us. And on the verge of that glory and accomplishment, we broke up, never to play all together again.
Song of a Nation
In the coming years, many new songs came to be. Solstices were the platform that we all waited for during the year to share our new songs. These songs reflected the collective consciousness of our family at the time and were emblematic of where we had come from and where we were going. Livtar Singh and I had become an erratic, though prolific song-writing team in those years. Some of the songs we wrote together were Ode to Guru Gobind Singh, The Forty Liberated Ones, and Rise Up Children.
At the 1975 Winter Solstice, Livtar Singh blew everyone away with Song of the Khalsa, a hymn to a newly assumed spiritual identity that many members of 3HO had begun to share. A couple of years later he followed with the ever inspiring The Khalsa Way.
Throughout the years Guru Singh has also contributed numerous songs we all know and love: Golden Temple Song, his early tribute to Guru Ram Das and our spiritual home in India; and All for One, a song celebrating the virtues of our spiritual family. Another of Guru Singh’s contributions from that time is Rise Up, which has become our early morning “wake up tune” at 3HO gatherings worldwide.
Yogiji’s 50th birthday party in Los Angeles in 1979 became another of our musical celebrations. Among the songs that were written specifically for that event, I Love 3HO stands out as a joyous tale of the history of 3HO since his arrival in America.
In 1984, soon after the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I wrote Never Again (aka Cold Marble), a song that Yogiji made a standard for years at many of our gatherings and celebrations. This song expressed our pain at the sacrilege done to the Golden Temple, and the suffering of our fellow Sikh siblings in Punjab. Another song that I wrote in those years was Walking Up the Mountain. It is an adaptation to a poem written by Gurudain Singh, which Yogiji asked me to put to music for one of his classes. It tells the tale of the spiritual journey of the student and the Teacher.
Over the years other musicians contributed new songs to our spiritual heritage. One of them was Gurutrang Singh with his humorous and witty Yogi Tea Song and Get Out of Bed.
Singh Kaur continued recording numerous albums, all filled with new and inspiring renditions of various mantras and scriptural translations. Another female singer, whose Joan Baez-esque voice delighted us at many solstices, was Bibi Bhani Kaur from Phoenix.
New Music and New Artists
In the ‘80s and ‘90s a new wave of musicians emerged bringing new styles and a variety of talent. Another Guru Shabad Singh, this one from Eugene, Oregon at the time, began recording versions of new mantras, all still popular in our Kundalini Yoga classes. His Pavan Pavan and Sa Re Sa Sa, stand out among his creative jewels.
In those years, Yogiji gave us very specific morning sadhana meditations, for which we created new and diverse mantra tunes, and new Aquarian Sadhana recordings appeared. Many a musician in 3HO began recording his or her own musical versions, giving us a wide choice to keep our sadhanas lively and intriguing.
Recordings in those early days were made sometimes in primitive and humble conditions. I remember recording with Gurudass Kaur a version of Aap Sahai Hoa in a warehouse outside the city of Barcelona, surrounded by boxes and with wires going up to the sound booth on the second floor and out of sight. For any communication with the recording engineer (if you could call him that), we’d have to stop playing, jump over boxes and climb up a flight of stairs.
But these new sadhana and mantra recordings were awaited with great enthusiasm and began to create a market that inspired many musicians to record and keep the creativity flowing. This was the beginning of a small recording industry that eventually evolved into companies such as Spirit Voyage, Invincible Music, Cherdi Kala and others.
White Tantric Yoga
In 1986 Yogi Bhajan, as the Master of White Tantric Yoga, began paying the toll for fifteen years of incessant traveling and teaching. His health forced him to stop leading White Tantric Yoga courses in person and a video course was used instead. 3HO music has played a significant role in these courses. Mantra and chant recordings by different artists are used as a meditation tool in the Tantric sessions.
In the early ‘90s Yogiji commissioned Nirinjan Kaur, his personal secretary, and Guru Prem Singh, a healer and musician from Los Angeles, to record certain mantras, shabads, and chants, as well as his own poetry, to be used in the Tantric courses. His request had a clear sense of urgency and imminence. In no time, there came a prolific series of albums that have become musical landmarks in the history of our music. There is hardly a course where Nirinjan’s voice and Guru Prem’s unique arrangements do not delight and help carry us through the physical challenges of White Tantric Yoga. These include Every Heartbeat; Blissful, Bountiful and Beautiful; and Humee Hum.
Our Music in the 21st Century
Personal computers and home recording studios came of age in the mid-to-late ‘80s and with them the easy access to quality recording. By the time the ‘90s arrived, our music had begun to lake a collective turn. Mata Mandir Singh emerged as a prolific creator, coming out yearly with new recordings and such beautiful tunes as Too Mera Pita, Mera Bed Guru Govinda, and many other pieces in his The Yoga of Sound series.
During this time, a new star was also emerging, a young lady with an angelic voice, who soon began to capture the hearts of many, Snatam Kaur. Together with veterans Livtar Singh and guitarist Guru Ganesha Singh, Snatam formed The Peace Family and came out with an album of chants and songs. She quickly became a name in the Kundalini Yoga circuit and her music was being used in many yoga classes. In the next few years Snatam came out as soloist. Her albums Prem and Shanti were a quick sensation, not only in 3H0 but also in the new international genre of sacred music. She was semifinalist for the 2003 Grammy Award in the New Age category, which catapulted her into the international music scene.
In 1998, Gurudass Kaur and I began recording again in Barcelona. This time we had the blessing of working with a very talented producer and musician, Mauricio Villavecchia. In his quaint, but hi-tech studio, we created Adi Shakti. For the next five years, we continued recording there until we moved back to the U.S. in 2002. By then we had put out four more albums and had begun a “comeback” both in Europe and America.
Other artists who have emerged in these years are Sada Sat Kaur, Dev Suroop Kaur, Hargobind Hari Singh, Tarn Taran Singh, Avtar Kaur, Mantra Girl, Sat Kirn Kaur, Guru Nam, Haribhajan Kaur from L.A./Tennessee and many more whose names deserve to be on this list, but would make it never-ending. Haribhajan Kaur deserves credit for a short and sweet song that has become part of our lifestyle: On This Day. There is not a birthday party where Haribhajan’s tune isn’t sung in celebration.
Since we began to travel to India in the early ‘70s, we’ve been greatly influenced by Indian culture and spirituality. Many of us began living and practicing the teachings of Guru Nanak and Sikh Dharma. The singing of spiritually inspired poetry (Gurbani) is a great part of the practices of a Sikh, and thus it became part of our lifestyle. Over the years many musicians began studying, playing and recording Gurbani Kirtan and sharing the spiritual message of Sikh Dharma through music. Sangeet Kaur and Pritpal Singh (Espanola, NM), Guru Raj Kaur (Vancouver, Canada), Sat Kirn Kaur and Sat Kartar Kaur, among others, have made beautiful recordings of shabads (Gurbani Kirtan compositions).
In the last couple of years, a group of three young American men, calling themselves the Chardi Kala Jatha have begun to take center stage. Sada Sat Simran Singh, Jagat Guru Singh, and Hari Mandir Jot Singh went to school in India as children for many years and studied Gurbani Kirtan and classical Indian raag. Their dedication has paid off and for the last couple of years they have become regular ragis (musicians of raag) at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the main holy site of Sikh Dharma. This is quite an accomplishment, because (only once) before had a group of Western-born Sikhs been honored to play at the Golden Temple.
They have also begun traveling and playing in many 3HO venues and events and have put out their first album of shabads. On their heels, is a generation of teenagers who also live and study Raag in India, and who in the coming years will begin to display their own talents.
New Music, New Business
Back in the early ‘80s, a company was created to sell 3HO music. Siri Ved Singh from Los Angeles started Golden Temple Music and began providing us with the latest cassettes of chants and mantras. For many years it was ‘the one source’ for our music and you would find him at every White Tantric Yoga course worldwide, selling his musical wares. He was the first publisher of many 3HO musicians’ recordings, including my own.
In 2000, Guru Ganesha Singh, guitarist-cum-laude and sadhana rocker, launched a new record company, Spirit Voyage, and began producing and selling the music of many artists. Spirit Voyage took the lead in distributing its artists—like The Peace Family, Snatam Kaur, Sada Sat Kaur, Sat Kirn Kaur and Gurudass—not only in the Kundalini Yoga and 3HO yoga centers, but to the wider New Age and Sacred Music markets as well.
The production quality of 3HO and Kundalini-inspired music continues to improve. Professional producers such as Thomas Barquee of L.A. (Spirit Voyage), Jeffrey Cohen of San Francisco (Adi Shakti Music), Liv Singh of Phoenix (Invincible Recordings), Hari Singh of Vancouver and Jeremy Toback of L.A.(Ajna Music), have brought their talent and experience to advance our musicianship as never before.
Today, at the end of 2004, 3HO music has begun to find its place in the homes and yoga/meditation classes of many people all over the world. The mantras and chants we learned from Yogi Bhajan throughout the years are heard and chanted by thousands.
By the Grace of God, the creativity awakened in us by our continuing practice will allow us to keep singing and sharing our music with all.
Author’s Note: Friends, 35 years is a long time to remember, so I humbly apologize to those whose names and contributions have been unintentionally omitted in this article. There are certainly a lot of people who have directly and indirectly contributed to our family’s musical history over these years. Our love and gratitude will be with you always.
View this article as it appeared in the 2005 Winter edition of the Aquarian Times.
Guru Dass Singh traveled the world, teaching and sharing his music. He was a long-time Kundalini Yoga teacher and trainer and one of Yogi Bhajan’s early students. He met Yogi Bhajan in 1971, at the age of 17. Guru Dass was a passionate and heartfelt musician, who opened hearts and touched the souls of thousands of people around the world. His love and dedication to the teachings was such that, even while knowing he was in the last stages of cancer, he traveled to Bali to teach and inspire an international group of students. He departed this earthly abode in 2017. He is survived by his son, daughter and grandson.
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