WORK by SONIA PANESAR
Sonia is a singer, songwriter and lead vocalist of a contemporary Punjabi folk band, Sur Sangeet. She has experimented and sung in a number of different music genres that, in part, is due to the influences around her growing up and living in London.
Sonia was born in west London in the 1980s and grew up at a time when Punjabi music was becoming a significant part of the cultural production of communities that had settled in the UK from Punjab and East Africa. Sonia’s parents migrated from India and Kenya respectively, giving her and her brother Bobby exposure to different styles of music.
Sonia’s musical training started at a very young age, first learning shabad kirtan (Sikh spiritual hymns) in classical raag while also being influenced by Punjabi music at weddings and celebrations in the family and community. Sonia, who is multi-lingual in English, Punjabi as well as Hindi, spoke Punjabi at home and learned music as part of her upbringing and educational experience for which she credits her mother. She recalls how family events were a time when women would sing lively, animated songs. Sonia learned Punjabi folk songs by attending and participating in sangeet gatherings in a family who have a strong tradition of retaining Punjabi cultural heritage through women’s music.
While it is common and acceptable for women of the family to sing at weddings as part of festivities, professional entertainment at weddings tends to be run by men, which has resulted in the rise of DJs and sound systems over live performance. Despite this, Sonia has established herself as a vocalist in the male-dominated British Asian music industry. She has thrived in terms of performing at weddings, festivals and other events as well as in recording her own music.
As Sonia comments, women as professional performers do not always get the respect that they should get as artists. Denigrating judgment about status seeps into how women musicians are often looked upon, even by other women, in terms of hierarchies of caste and respectability.
She, along with her brother and two other musicians, has established the band, Sur Sangeet, which perform at weddings and have developed their unique style of Punjabi geet and boliyan with harmonies, guitar, and dholak (double-sided drum).
Sonia’s awareness of these dynamics comes through in her music that boldly reflects both a ‘traditional’ as well as a modern, professional interpretation of how musical heritage is listened to, recomposed and voiced in the diaspora.
Sonia’s lyrics explore the plight of women as they navigate patriarchal constraints, which reach into the emotional, practical and material aspects of women’s lives.
Urhne Do (‘Let us fly’)
Har kisi, ko-ne mein, hai meri jaisi titaliyaan
In every corner, (everywhere) are butterflies just like me
Urhne ki hai khwaaishein, chaahti hai vo bhi manzilein
There have wishes/desires to fly, they also want/desire to reach those stellar levels of height/ (break free/be successful)
Duniya bhar pukaar hai, suno zaraa,
There is a worldwide calling (for this wish), just listen a little bit
Hawaaon mein, pankhon se, mujhe urhne do zaraa
In the winds, the air, with wings, let me fly a little bit
Urhne do, Urhne do...
Let us fly, let us fly...
Written by Sonia Panesar. Copyrighted to Sonia Panesar.
On the lyrics of this song, Sonia explains: ‘Butterflies are a metaphor for girls/women everywhere in the world, who have an inner calling voice and want to be heard, valued, respected, want to be seen, want to be independent and equal to men, break free from entrapment/abuse/control, wish to follow their dreams/passions and are struggling in one way or another.The theme of the song is about a woman pleading on behalf of all women worldwide, to be allowed to be set free and allowed to be themselves. The irony of the theme is she is asking permission to be released - Urhne do (Let us fly).’
Sur Sangeet artists:
Vocals: Vinni Virdee and Sonia Panesar
Dholak- Bobby Panesar