Introducing Navjeevan Singh aka Dholwala Singh

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Introducing Navjeevan Singh from Hoshiarpur City who was into music and dance since his childhood. Since the age of 2 years old, he would hold any small object like spoon in his hand, etc, and pretend that it is a mic, and would ‘jiberrish’.


He quotes "The real break came in my life, when I was introduced to Bhangra at the age of 8. I was trained in Bhangra by Ustad Jagtar Singh from Hoshiapur, who was a dhol and bhangra apprentice under Ustad Des Raj Khan from Jalandhar. I picked up the Bhangra vibe and feel at quite a pace and I was soon coaching Bhangra at my school for all cultural festivals.

Other than getting trained in Bhangra, I was always supported by my parents for my endeavours in other music forms and musical instruments, like harmonium.

After practicing Bhangra for nearly 11 years, I took up Dhol. I was trained in Dhol by the same master who trained me for Bhangra. Having surplus experience performing Bhangra to the beat the dhol, I picked up Dhol quite easily and comfortably. Soon I was experimenting the dhol beats with various Punjabi folk boliyan.

I arrived in New Zealand in February 2008, as student of computer graphic design. I remember it was my first week in Wellington. I was staying at a motel in Petone and I was playing dhol in room, when someone knocked at my door. There was an Indian person standing at the doorstep. He was worked as a chef for some Indian restaurant. The first thing he said was “Sat Sri Akal Paaji, Do you play dhol?” My obvious answer was yes. He invited me to his room cause he wanted to listen to Punjabi Dhol and music. He had private party going on in his room. He had few mates over at his place. I sang few Punjabi folk songs. Later someone from across the bar had heard the beat of drum, so someone came to us and asked if we would like to entertain the guests at the bar. I played just outside the bar, entertaining the kiwi guests. Quite a few people danced to the beat of the dhol, some stood watching in utter surprise, some threw money at me, while others was busy taking pictures with me. Surprisingly someone had come out of the bar and had put hand on my shoulder. I turned and my face and he was man of big stature. The first words that came out of his mouth were, “mean drumming bro, play some more”. And I did. After about 20minutes drumming, I left from the bar with about 150 dollars in my pocket. That was my first income that I have made during my first week in New Zealand. Later on I was told that the person with the big stature was Jonah Lomu (former rugby star from All Blacks).

Since that first night of my dhol busking, I have not looked back. For last three and half years in New Zealand, I have travelled through the length of New Zealand, showcasing the Punjabi Dhol to a completely different crowd. My audience consists of Kiwis, Europeans, Africans, Islanders. I have been approached by quite a no. Of musical bands from New Zealand for collaborations at live performances in bars, restaurants and music festivals. Few names that I would like to mention are Sam Manzanza (from Afro Beat – African music), Liva Falaniko (Fusion Soul), The Overseas Experiment (World Music), Carlos Navarette (Salsa/Mexican music), Elaine Abras (from Samba Funk), Los Jinetros (Cuban Reggaeton Band), DJ DESI (Indian Dj), also RDB (from UK). Music is an ever learning process. Working with various different styles of music, has added a lot to my knowledge about music. Apart from playing the traditional beats of dhol, now I am very much confident to follow and camouflage into any style of music from around the world. The most influential music styles have been African drums and Reggaeton.

Also, I have been actively involved in promotion Bhangra as well. My team mates have performed at Diwali Celebrations at Parliament house in 2009, with chief guests being NZ Prime Minister John Key, and other delegates from various government and non government organisations. Dhol and Punjabi bolian are always a hit at Wellington City Diwali Celebrations.

Recently I was invited by Kapiti Coast deputy Mayor to conduct a three day demonstration programme (for Bhangra and dhol) for kids at various schools in Kapiti Coast. I visited about nine schools, sharing Bhangra and dhol beats with nearly 1200 kiwi kids.

It has been a very beautiful journey so far. I feel, music renders a feeling of oneness between its listeners as well as the performers. Music has a major factor in my life that has connected with the people around me. I have travelled extensively in New Zealand playing music, and New Zealand been such a small place that one always bumps into people that someone has met somewhere. And I don’t feel surprised anymore when someone approaches me with a smile and question, “hey you the drum guy” (while I am waiting for train at train station at Wellington, or sightseeing in Taranaki, or travelling in a plane, when the passenger sitting next to you, happens to be one of my audience at one of my musical performance).

I have recently started writing music and poetry as well. My life experiences are my inspiration. Inspiration can strike at any time. It might come from cultural issues, or from my identity as a turbaned person, looking odd out of a crowd of westerners, or sometimes when someone says, “hey you are a Sikh and you should be doing kirtan, instead of playing dhol.”

“AS A TURBANED SIKH”: Seems funny to me, as human beings are born equal, but they are all born different to one another as well. I feel, the stereotypical analysis of life experiences, by humans, lead to confusion. Western stereotype about a turbaned and bearded person is quite obvious, which most of us are aware of. I was at this one bar in Wellington with my Afro band mates, and we were performing later that night. I was dressed in Tohre and Shamle wali pagg along with kurta chadra. A kiwi bloke called me ‘bin-laden and showed me his middle finger’. And I replied ‘bless you.’ I remember this very well. Later on that night we played music for about 1.5 hours and after we had finished, this same gentleman who had called me ‘bin laden’ approached me said, “Dude! That was awesome, you are a mean az drummer, sorry I called you bin laden.” We talked about Turbans, Sikhs and Punjabi culture. I felt like I won a battle. I might have tore down his stereotypical frame of reference about the turbaned-bearded person being bin laden. It might happen that next time he sees a Sikh gentlemen, and not call him bin laden.

Talking about wearing Turban in Wellington, it feels just as normal wearing a turban in Wellington, as I would have felt back in my homeland, Punjab. I would like to rephrase it and say “I have never felt so comfortable and lively and tall and proud wearing Turban, as I feel now.” It is matter of consciousness, I guess. We do as we please. As long as we are pleased with what we do, we need not care about pleasing others. The most common lines from my poetries is “we do as we please, let our minds be at ease.” The socio-cultural boundaries stir agitations deep inside our own foundations. The soul can’t find a place to rest. Hence, we tend to change ourselves to please the ‘socio-cultural boundaries’. No one cares about someone who follows the ‘rules’. Rule breakers are always picked out. And it takes a lot of courage to stand out of crowd. “Groundation to our true foundation, renders our soul happy and content.”

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