Jasnam Daya Singh: Wearing a turban and composing music for justice #HeliumRadio
This week I interviewed Jasnam Daya Singh, born in Brazil and a Latin Grammy-nominated concert and jazz pianist and brilliant composer. He is Sikh, after growing up Catholic. Jasnam is one of the kindest, most gentle people I know.
Earlier this year, Jasnam led a 12-piece band in playing his composition, Ekta: The Unity Project. The piece embodies Jasnam’s musical interests but also expresses personal truths drawn from his journey as an immigrant and his conversion to Sikhism. You can listen to the composition on YouTube or on Spotify, or purchase it on BandCamp.
Jasnam was born in a suburb of Rio De Janeiro to loving parents, and he lived there until he was 25. He began studying piano at seven. He always thought he might move to Europe. But in 1987, when a friend told him about life in Los Angeles, Jasnam decided to move there.
He arrived in California with two pieces of luggage and $1,000, but on the second he had only $400 when the person hosting him rent free announced he had to pay rent and a deposit.
Living in LA for 2-1/2 years, Jasnam worked all kinds of day jobs while gigging at night. In 1990, he landed a gig near Monterey, and when it became a full-time gig, he decided to move there. Living there for 20 years, he was able to do music full-time. He had a daughter with his first wife, and then he met his second wife in Monterey and they had a son together.
When his son was a year and a half, his wife moved to Vancouver, WA, to get help from her parents. Jasnam joined them a few years later in 2008.
Born as Weber Ribeiro Drummond, Jasnam has changed his name twice. In 1998, he adopted the last name Iago as an homage to the Roma people. Twenty years later, he changed his name to Jasnam Daya Singh with his initiation into the Sikh religion in 2009.
“When I came across the teachings of Sikhi, they resonated with me…how universal the teachings are, the acceptance of all spiritual paths, and there’s one practice in Sikhi called Naam Simran, which is a constant remembrance of God…that idea of thinking of God with each breath really spoke to me…”
Jasnam is drawn to the core beliefs of Sikhism: remembering God through all times of day, standing up for anyone who needs you; and selflessly sharing your wealth and resources.
I asked Jasnam how people treat him in his turban. Unfortunately, people perceive turban-wearing Sikhs as threatening, foreign, and even as terrorists.
“I wish they understood what a turban stands for. That very person who might be bullying us…could count on us if he or she needed something….we are the opposite of the threat they think we are…the turban represents social justice and equality.”
In addition to wearing a turban, Sikhs carry five Ks, or kakars, on their body:
“If you read about Sikh history, (you’ll see that) they have gone through persecution, injustice, violence against them, and they did not allow that to change who they are….Their hardship and resolve is part of what inspired me to become one as well.”