In my last review from Howard Assembly Room I ventured to suggest that the featured artist, Ron Sexsmith was a really decent kind of chap. I will not make the same speculation about tonight’s artist, Jasdeep Singh Degun, as I have had the privilege of meeting him on a few occasions and I can testify that he is one of the most humble, dignified and pleasant people I have ever met. He has overcome major traumas in his life but they seem to have given him strength rather than defeated him, a fact which is proven by the way in which the album, Anomaly, was eventually realised.

Jasdeep Sing Degun

Jasdeep was born and studied in Leeds and, as such, when he began his musical career he wanted to redress the balance which existed by making mainstream performance and recording more accessible by bi-cultural players like himself. The tracks on the album are written in the raag style, no, not Scott Joplin, but a classical form of Indian music which is not linear as western music is with bars, but circular where the beat repeats itself throughout the piece. He told us that there can be all kind of weird numbers of beats, including one which he played, Enigma 7.5, which has seven and a half! He said that he found this difficult at first but his teacher, who was sitting in the audience, put him right by saying that you do five beats and then five half-beats, total 7.5.

He told us that he had been awarded a grant by Sky and decided that he would make this record, not just for himself, but by involving the best of Leeds-Asian musicians along with some western instrumentalists to add variety. When he approached the various record companies they all said that either the music didn’t fit into their market or, more shockingly, he didn’t! Undeterred he eventually approached Realworld Records, launched in 1989 by Peter Gabriel of Genesis fame, and they gave him the chance he needed.

It was not as though Jasdeep was without form, I first saw him at Huddersfield Town Hall in February, 2020, when he premiered Arya: a Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra which was incredible. He did have a slight advantage in that the orchestra in question was that of Opera North. Since then he has performed in various settings and his recordings can be heard occasionally on Radio 3. He then went on to write an opera – as you do – co-writing Orpheus which was staged by Opera North last October, another masterpiece. Anyway, the album got made and what we witnessed on Wednesday was the first date on the promotional tour. Now that I have declared my interest I will review the concert itself. About time I hear you say.

Harkiret Bahra.

There were nine musicians in all with a mixture of Indian and Western instruments, although the line-up was constantly changing with the variation of the styles on each track. Jasdeep played sitar, obviously, accompanied by Harkiret Bahra on tabla; Kaviraj Singh on santoor; Glenn Sharp, guitar; Kirpal Singh Panesar, esraj; Prathap Ramachandra, mridangam/kanjira and ghatam; Aisling Brouwer, piano; Liz Hank, cello and John Pope, bass.

Prathap Ramachandra

The first tune was Veer, a plaintive piece with the backing provided mainly by the strings. This set the tone nicely and we were led through the rest of the album, the title track kept until the end. I must say that the mix of the fusion tracks and the Indian classical ones was a great way to maintain interest. There were a few pieces which, had the sitar been replaced by a piano or violin, would have been very pleasant, but thankfully it wasn’t so the whole thing was raised to another level.

The banter in-between tunes was very amusing as well. He related the story about hawking the record and one or two other gems, but he said that he always talked a lot which helped fill in the gaps whilst the musicians tuned their ‘temperamental’ instruments. In this case the tuning was necessary and done professionally rather than for effect, like some acts I have seen lately. I was mesmerised by Prathap Ramachandra who used what seemed to be a large pebble to get his mridangam, a type of drum, to the tone he wanted. It is hardly surprising that his instrument needed constant maintenance as his fingers were a blur whilst beating it, I am surprised it lasted the evening intact. I was also in awe of the ear of Kaviraj Singh whose santoor needed a tweak between pieces. I say this as the instrument is a type of dulcimer which is played with small sticks, but it has a hundred strings so his pitch must be incredible.

Kirpal Singh Panesar with John Pope

Rather than go on any further I have added a link here to the Howard Assembly Room website where there is a chance to listen to the album and get more information. You can even download the programme should you wish. I suggest you begin with Ulterior Motives and Enigma 7.5.

Left to Right. Harkiret Bahra, Aisling Brouwer, Kaviraj Singh, Liz Hank, Jasdeep Singh Degun, Kirpal Singh Panesar, Glenn Sharp, John Pope and Prathap Ramachandra

The concert was presented by the wonderful South Asian Arts-UK in association with Concerted Artists and Realworld Records.

Should you wish to read more about Jasdeep then please go to his website at where you can also find tour dates and buy tickets.

To see what is coming up at Howard Assembly Room then it is

To see what South Asian Arts-uk has in store go to might I recommend the Summer Solstice Festival at the Corn Exchange.

Feature image from Howard Assembly Room. Photographs by Stan Graham

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