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Sonam Kalra: Unifying many voices of faith

Sonam Kalra
Sikh-born Sonam Kalra has always been drawn to gospel music as a child.

ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter

Delhi-based singer Sonam Kalra draws inspiration from Indian and Western music traditions for The Sufi Gospel Project, aiming to create common bonds through music and religion.

Sikh-raised Sonam says the idea for The Sufi Gospel Project came about when she was asked to sing at the birth centenary of the Sufi saint Inayat Khan back in 2011.

"I truly believe this was divine intervention because I just thought a girl who belongs to one religion (and) sings the music of another religion, gets invited to sing at a space of a third religion and I thought the universe and God were trying to tell me something," she told ABC's Rhythm Divine program.

"The Sufi Gospel Project is an attempt to take the many voices of faith from different genres, languages and religions and try and create one universal, unified voice of faith.

"Sufism means an acceptance of all humanity - to be equal. It's not specifically a religion. It's a way of life, and a path."

The result is a meditative form of gospel that reflect Sufi, Hindu and Christian texts and traditions.

Sonam Kalra at the Sydney Opera House
Sonam Kalra performing at the Sydney Opera House.

Supplied: Gandhi Creations

"(The hymn) Amazing Grace... is the reason I started singing gospel. It's just the song that's been stuck in my head for years... and I would sing at every opportunity I got," she says.

The grief and tragedy she has experienced in her life has become a source of inspiration for her music.

"I lived through the 1984 riots where the Sikhs were targeted," she says.

I lived through not understanding why people were killing other people based on a tag or religion. I lived through the tsunami. My husband and I were underwater in Sri Lanka; we saw people literally drift past us.

"I've questioned God; I've questioned faith. But I've always come back to a very strong place within," Sonam says.

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Watch Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel Music Project perform 'Abide with me'. YouTube: Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel Music Project

While her personal story is one that's grounded in faith, Sonam says she is not preaching.

"We all have our own truth - you might find it in a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church - but what's important is that each truth is just as valid," she says.

"As long as there is truth in the moment, there will be beauty, because it will be your story, that you're telling with absolute truth and integrity."

If we would listen carefully, we might realise that we're all saying the same thing, we're just saying it in different ways.

Sonam recently performed in Australia for the first time as part of the Confluence festival in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.

"It was amazing to reach out to such wonderful audiences who responded with so much love and kindness," she says.

"I loved every minute of this tour and everyone I met was so wonderful: I've come back filled with love."

During her Australian tour, she also collaborated with didgeridoo player Si Mullumby.

"I've always been drawn to the didgeridoo and have collaborated with other didgeridoo players as well before coming to Australia," Sonam says.

I think what's always a wonderful revelation is that no matter how different we are, we can always find a connection through the arts that transcends language and borders. 

Sonam Kalra on stage
Sonam Kalra on stage.

ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter

Listen to Sonam Kalra's full interview with Radio National's Rhythm Divine here.

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