DARBAR FESTIVAL is a tribute to the energy, dedication and enthusiasm that Bhai Gurmit Singh Virdee put into his Sikh faith and following his passions of photography, music and tabla.
Born in India, raised in Kenya and then following a move to the UK with his young family in 1975, Gurmit Ji was respected by fellow musicians and the numerous tabla students that he taught over a period of some fifty years.
Gurmit Ji’s interest in Indian classical music arose while doing sewa or voluntary service at a local Gurdwara in Kenya. He began learning violin, but his interest drifted towards tabla and rhythm. He learnt his art from respected masters.
Gurmit Ji went on to become one of the most respected Sikh tabla players of his generation, as well as an inspirational teacher. Some of UK classes attracted 100 students, many of whom travelled miles to attend his classes.
In 1977, Gurmit Ji’s life took on a significant spiritual path after he met Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji, founder of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ). With his blessings, Gurmit Singh Ji carried out sewa through playing tabla with Gurbani Kirtan or the singing of Sikh hymns. He stopped playing tabla professionally and concentrated solely on Kirtan accompaniment and teaching.
In 1983, ‘Ustad Ji’, ‘Guru Ji’, or ‘Sir’, as he was affectionately known to his students, helped set up a beacon music project to teach Indian classical music to school children at the Leicestershire School of Music, one of the most successful schools of its kind in the UK. Gurmit Ji, who was a natural teacher with a warm, open style, developed a unique style of teaching tabla systematically to English-speaking students.
Outside of teaching, Gurmit Ji was instrumental in setting up TAAL - Rhythms of India in 1987. TAAL raised the profile of tabla, elevated the status of tabla solos, gave exposure to UK based players and brought world-class tabla maestros, like Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Shankar Ghosh, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Pandit Sharda Sahai and Pandit Anindo Chatterjee to the UK.
Gurmit JI supported the educational work of his son in law Harkirat Rayatt through Chakardar. Gurmit Ji taught tabla at the Chakardar Tabla Summer Schools in 2003 and 2004 alongside legendary the Pandit Shankar Ghosh and his son Bickram Ghosh
And in 2004, Gurmit Singh Ji helped launch a unique virtual organisation, www.tablaonline.com, aimed at promoting Indian classical music at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Pandit Anindo Chatterjee.
Gurmit Ji was a man of energy and had a quiet way of just ‘getting things done’. Behind scenes, his wife, Mohinder Kaur provided the strength and support for his spiritual quest, as well as his musical and photographic projects. Throughout his lifetime she was his love, companion, friend and dear wife.
Gurmit Ji was a rare individual whose compassionate, caring personality genuinely touched the lives and hearts of thousands of people. He believed that God had blessed him with the luck and good fortune to pass on his knowledge and love of tabla to his students. He recalled that during his lifetime he had been able to contemplate, compose, perform, explore and experience the riches of this wonderful instrument. Tabla, to Ustad Ji, was more than just an instrument. He believed that in the hands of a master, the instrument has the ability instil the rhythm of the divine in the heart and soul of the listener.
He is sadly missed by his family, many friends and hundreds of tabla students.