In 1987 when Bhai Baldeep Singh was 18,he came to stay with his granduncle Bhai Avtar Singh at Gurudwara Mata Sundri in Delhi. Here,the Chandigarh boy who considered himself a misfit,chanced upon the voluminous 497 shabd-reets (compositions) published in 1977 in two volumes called Gurbani Keertan: Pracheen Reet Ratnavali. Little did he know then that he would go on to become the13th generation exponent of Gurbani-Kirtana tradition over five centuries old and that he would archive 2,000 shabad-reets of legendary musicians like Allabande Rahimuddin Dagur,Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh.
In the early Seventies,my granduncles,Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh,had accepted a request by Punjabi University in Patiala to pen down the compositions dating back to the 16th century that our family had been singing. These compositions are set to the ragas of Guru Granth Sahib, says Singh,now 39,who founded Anad Foundation in 2004,a music conservatory focusing on the revival of the rababi kirtan.
Sitting in his dimly-lit audio-restoration studio in Nizamuddin,surrounded by a custom-made spool machine ATR102,an analogue to digital converter,and traditional instruments played in the Gurus court such as saranda,taus and dilruba,Singh,is now digitising the shabd-reets. So far,he has restored the music of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan,Ustad Munnavar Ali Khan,Ustad Mohammad Sarahang and Gyani Gyan Singh Almast. The goal is also to make it available online so that people can access it. So,in addition to the audio-visual publications,the content would be available on an interactive site and a discussion forum would also be hosted, says Singh.
Working for over a decade on the project,he has travelled extensively from Ludhiana and Jalandhar to Aurangabad,Appegaon and even Lahore. I remember seeing shocked passengers in Punjab Roadways buses when I would buy three tickets on a bench seat one for myself and two for my travel bag which was packed with manuscripts and diaries, remembers Singh.
The project cost him over a crore till now. People are not really aware of the need of documentation and restoration and so support is scant. I have supported this project through my concerts and lectures and with help from students and friends, says Singh.
With a background in Indian classical music,(Singh learnt percussion from Bhai Arjan Singh Tarangar and traditional instrument making from Gyani Harbhajan Singh),he has done amazing editing eliciting perfection from the last note and has restored old tapes which were nearly destroyed. The two titles to be released soon are The Mind and Art of Allbande Rahimuddin Khan and The Lost Rabab.