My first introduction to Hardeep Chana and his younger brother Jasmeet (Jammi) Chana was about 13 years ago. I was recently married and was invited to Newark for kirtan programs. After the program, I met their father (Balbir Singh) who was eager to invite me and my new bride to his home in Connecticut. There was no way I was going to refuse his invite; one because of his warm and loving personality, and two, his genuine love for kirtan and more specifically Gurmat Sangeet and Raga. About a few hours later, we were sitting in their living room listening to Bhai Avtar Singh compositions over a cup of my favourite good ‘ol desi cha (cardamom, fennel….yummy!). That evening, they invited me to the local Gurudwara to do kirtan, where if memory serves me correctly, I sang a shabad in Raag Kalyaan J. At that time, the Chana brothers were just 2 young little Singh’s whose interest and passion for music was clearly evident even at that time. Over a decade later, I have been fortunate to have been connected with Hardeep and Jammi more closely as they have now become “locals” to us.
I can remember the first time I invited Hardeep and Jammi to accompany me for a kirtan at an Anand Karaj. My initial call was received with great enthusiasm and eagerness. You can always sense the passion in the voice of those who simply live for music. For them, music is not a mere hobby, but a calling, a reason to breathe, or shall I say the reason that they do breathe. When the day finally came, we took a few moments to tune the saaz (musical instruments). Even tuning can be so grounding, so centering. I am sure most musicians who take it seriously know exactly what I am talking about. It’s that moment when you can begin to set the mood, set the “tone” (no pun intended), the ambience…when you can for a moment be so grateful for “sur” (musical note). Moreover, is it not so amazing, so inspiring, when the tuning hits just the right note? Again, those who are familiar with the importance of the same will totally know what I am talking about here. If the instruments are not “in tune”, the experience of the kirtan or any musical performance for that matter, cannot meet its potential….or rather, I don’t believe it will have the same impact on the listener and the performer; indeed, sur is equated with wholeness, creation, the creator….the universal sound. You can always tell the depth of an individual’s musical journey with the way they handle their musical instruments. Just notice how they care for it, be it the unpacking and packing of it, the time that they devote for its care, the respect that they show towards the instrument before even playing it (as a sacred gift if you will…). Without a doubt, I have seen this in both the Chana brothers.
As we sat on stage, you could feel a comfort…a poise….the tanpura resonated on “c” and we began with an alaap (opening melodic piece before musical composition)….keep in mind, we did not really sit down for any reyaaz (practice) sessions prior to this. Very quickly, Hardeep brought a “brilliance” to the darbar hall as he complimented the alaap and kirtan with beautiful strokes on the Taus (Gurmat Sangeet stringed instrument) in Rag Bilawal….we were singing Bhai Avtar Singh’s bandish, Gur Pooray Meri Raakh Layee (one of my favourites). He played effortlessly and to top it, brought excellent vocal support to the kirtan. What can I say about Jammi? Like his older brother, he was a superstar on the tabla. I am often amazed at his control, precision, innovation and improvisations at such a young age….but then again, I am not surprised…they are both gifted, blessed….and they continue to be blessed because they are just plain and simply, genuine and humble dudes J Jammi was hitting every “sum” and challenging me at times as well J. Kirtan with them seemed “just what the doctor ordered” – healing, balanced, inspirational. I look forward to playing with these 2 whenever the opportunity presents itself. I had a chance to ask both of them about their training and motivation for getting into music.
This is what Jammi had to say:
“I’ve been playing tabla since 7-8 years old. I started learning from my family and picking up a few things from tabla players of raagi jaathas that used to come stay at our house (Bhai Avtar Singh, Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shant). When I was about 12, I started to learn from Ustad Avtarjit Singh Ji (also known as Honey). I learned from him for about 2 years before he passed away. I continued from his father Ustad Prof. Ranjit Singh Ji. About 2 years ago, I met Pinky Ji (Ustad Sukhwinder Singh ji) and started to learn from him. The two gharanas that I belong to are Punjab and Benaras and I play jori-pakhawaj as well as tabla.
This is what Hardeep had to say:
”With me… I learnt from all the raagi’s that used to come over to our place. I was heavily influenced by Gurmeet singh Shant and Bhai Avtar Singh Ji. I was officially a shagird of Pt. Kinnar Seen for Sitar, although I never spent very much time with him. We are now back in touch and he helps me out with palta’s for my Taus. Professor Ranjit Singh Ji is a huge inspiration for me. I learned vocals from him as well as accompaniment (for example, following people with Taus). Prof Ji learned from Almast Ji as well as many other esteemed tabla and vocalists . Then came Pt. Vinayak Phetak… a vocalist of the Gwalior gharana. His lineage of music goes back to DV Paluskar. And now very recently, I’ve only literally just begun with Tanmay Deochake for harmonium . Honestly… the reason why we are into music is because of our dad as he inspired us in this direction. All of it started with doing Kirtan and listening to old recordings of Bhai Shamsher Singh Zakhmi and all those cool guys …that’s where my motivation and passion began… and it just escalated from there .”
Without a doubt, the Chana brothers take their music training seriously but on the other hand, you will not find two guys are who are more “chill”, fun to be around, humble, and just want to live life to the fullest. In my interactions with them, one thing is always clear, they both seem to have a connection with each other when it comes to music….a connection that is beyond that of brothers….it’s the connection that has a common theme of “sur” and “taal”…they are 2 unique individual’s….yet their song is one….